Back when I was a kid in the early 1970s, Mad magazine was the gateway drug to corrupted morals and a skeptical perspective. And not only for me: figures as varied as Art Spiegelman, Graydon Carter, Joyce Carol Oates (!), Terry Gilliam, Jerry Seinfeld, Roger Ebert, and Patti Smith have all attested to its warping effect on their own consciousness (those attestations can be found on the Wikipedia page for the magazine). As Spiegelman noted, “The message Mad had in general is, ‘The media is lying to you, and we are part of the media.’ It was basically … ‘Think for yourselves, kids.'” Still good advice, especially today, though it should be noted that the magazine’s founder and editor William M. Gaines defined Mad‘s editorial philosophy as “We must never stop reminding the reader what little value they get for their money!”
I moved on from Mad to National Lampoon sometime in the mid- to late-1970s, but no doubt I’ve never lost the raucous comic skepticism and even cynicism about the media, politics, and so many other things besides that Mad implanted. (Just ask my wife.) My daughters are just about the age at which I started reading Mad, and I’m very much looking forward to corrupting them similarly. As it happens, Mad magazine recently moved from New York City to Los Angeles and launched a minor revamp of its design, resetting the issue count back to Number 1 (though, as you’ll note from the cover image above, it ain’t all that different after all). No time like the present, perhaps, to start their subscriptions. (Last month Wired‘s Brian Raftery crossed his fingers for the success of the revamp.)
Though Mad was founded in 1952 and has spread its influence far and wide since then, it’s surprising that there’s been no American Masters-style documentary about the magazine (Marla Reidelbach’s 1991 history of the magazine, Completely Mad, is still the best resource for those hoping to trace its influence and checkered past, though the book is out-of-print). Back in 1987, Morley Safer from 60 Minutes put together the below profile of the magazine, which is as good as we’ll get for a while, apparently.