Mad Magazine, RIP

We read that Mad Magazine has announced it will soon stop offering new content, and it’s perhaps the most disheartening obituary we’ve read in a while. As embarrassing as it is to admit, the “usual gang of idiots” at that comic book rag was one of the formative influences on our lives.
Back in the late ’60s and early ’70s when Mad was at its peak readership we were exactly the school age and exactly the pretentiously intellectual type that the magazine targeted. It was all cartoons and captions, except for the brilliant Cold War tale of “Spy vs. Spy” feature that had no words at all, but for a precocious sixth- or seventh-grader it was satisfyingly literary. The magazine lampooned the politics of the time, respectfully assuming its young readership was well-read enough to get the jokes, and did hilarious parodies of the vast wasteland of television as well as old movies we’d watch on late night TV and the new movies we weren’t allowed to see, and it generally conveyed a smart-alecky attitude about everything.
Some of our friends’ parents wouldn’t allow them to read Mad Magazine, as they considered it subversive, which it undeniably was, but our parents were always willing to pay the 50 cents or so per month to buy us a copy of the latest edition. They’re both big Bob and Ray and Coen brothers fans with sophisticated senses of humor, and they’re both inveterate readers who encouraged their children to read anything they might come across, and they also got an occasional chuckle from Mad.
It worked out well for us, as far as we’re concerned. Mad made satire our favorite literary genre, and we wound up reading Jonathon Swift and Mark Twain and Evelyn Waugh and all the great satirists of the English language, and writing our attempts at satire. Along with W.C. Fields and Jack Benny and the Marx Brothers and “Laugh-In” they formed our sense of humor, which has often come in handy in this world of troubles, and we think it makes us less susceptible to whatever nonsense the current politics and popular culture are peddling. These days there’s more than enough subversive satire around to jade any youngster, but that’s largely due to Mad magazine.
Before we hit high school we had graduated from Mad to the National Lampoon, which had the same subversive and sophisticated satire as Mad but also lots of words and complex sentences and gratuitous profanity and nudity that we’d have to hide from our parents. That led to Saturday Night Live and modern comedy, with the “Airplane!” movies and Mel Brooks spoofs mimicking Mad’s movie parodies, which we can’t say has worked out well, but we don’t blame Mad for that.
One way or another, we hope the youngsters will learn to read and get wise to all the nonsense that politics and popular culture are peddling.

— Bud Norman</p<

The She that Was a He and How He Got Lost to Time

As we await today’s Super Tuesday presidential nomination race results with a grim sense of foreboding, we’ll take a moment to grimly chuckle about Time Magazine’s recent revelation that Evelyn Waugh is one of the most-read female authors in America’s colleges today.
If you’re not familiar with Waugh’s work, you really should be. Waugh is arguably the English language’s greatest fiction writer of the past century, the author of such masterpieces as “Brideshead Revisited,” “Scoop,” “The Loved One,” “Vile Bodies,” “Black Mischief,” “Decline and Fall,” that terrific “Sword of Honour” trilogy, and other worthy fare, all works that have a special relevance for these grim times. Waugh’s is a certainly a name that the supposedly hip-and-well-read folks at such a once-august magazine as Time should know, and they should also know that, in addition to being unfashionably dead and white, Waugh was also very much male.
It’s a common mistake, and even such a supposedly important journalist as Matt Yglesias “tweeted” his confession that he had also assumed Waugh was a woman, “Evelyn” being a name he associates with women, and we recall asking the clerk at a local locally-owned bookstore that prides itself on a well-read staff about a Waugh title and hearing him cheerfully admit that he’d never heard of her, and we suppose he got a lot of “Boy Named Sue” style kidding about it while growing up. He was married to a woman named Evelyn, and although his name was pronounced Ee-vellin and hers was the more common feminine form, their friends liked to distinguish them as He-evyln and She-vylyn, so some confusion is understandable. Still, we note that in a more literate age not so long ago the staff at such a highfalutin rag as Time would have been embarrassed not to know who Evelyn Waugh was, because their middle-brow readers sure did, and that in that not so long ago age the world was bit more civilized.
If the youthful staffers that Time can still afford to employ were to dip into some Waugh, despite deadness and whiteness and maleness, they’d find themselves brilliantly satirized by “Scoop,” that smart set they hope to mingle with had already been ridiculed by “Vile Bodies,” that their hollow understanding of war and peace has been shamed by the “Sword of Honor” books, and that the age they live in was witheringly described decades ago in “Decline and Fall.” If their middle-brow readers were more familiar with Waugh they might have been better prepared to avert the glum outcomes of today’s Super Tuesday voting.
Perhaps the glummest part of our slightly amusing story is that Waugh came in number 97 on that list of most-read female authors. It’s not that we’re altogether sexist, but as much as we love some good old Barbara Pym and Muriel Spark, who remind us very much of Waugh, and Dorothy Parker, who was a more American sort of dame, and Zora Neal Thurston, who is dead but black and female, and although we can think of others and freely acknowledge there are a lot more than we have had the opportunity to read, we seriously doubt that there have ever been a full 96 women of any color or original genitalia who deserve to be more widely read than Waugh. Literary quality takes a back seat to identity politics among the Democratic party’s mart set these days, though, and we don’t expect that either former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or the self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie sanders with the intellectual hairdo and academic elbow patches pay much heed to Waugh’s warnings against modernity.
Nor are we particularly elitist in our literary tastes, and we’ll also go on about our enthusiasm for Jim Thompson, the alcoholic white trash Okie whose delirium tremens dime novels expressed our cultural failings with a self-loathing religiosity that is much needed these days, and we’re suckers for Dan Jenkins’ sports novels and certain Stephen King works and corny old O. Henry short stories and the occasional cloak-and-dagger tales that our Pop so loved, but we do think the Republicans could stand some more reading of those dignified dead white males who suddenly seem out fashion even in the Grand Old Party. As the party enters the modern reality show stage of its long history, forged in the Civil War, it would do well to recall an exchange between two characters in “Scott-King’s Modern Europe.” A stuffy old headmaster declares that “Parents are not interested in producing the ‘complete man’ anymore. They want to qualify their boys for jobs in the public world. You can hardly blame them, can you?” The protagonist responds that “I can and do. I think it would be very wicked indeed to do anything to fit a boy for the modern world.”

— Bud Norman