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Michael Levin: Mad magazine is heading for reruns – blame leftist political correctness

Mad magazine mascot Alfred E. Neuman


Michael Levin: Mad magazine is heading for reruns – blame leftist political correctness


You could tell Mad magazine was in trouble when President Trump hilariously compared South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg to Alfred E. Neuman, the perennial man-child cartoon mascot of the satirical publication – and Mayor Pete claimed he’d never heard of   Neuman.

“I’ll be honest. I had to Google that,” the 37-year-old mayor and candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination said in May in response to the Trump put-down. “I guess it’s just a generational thing. I didn’t get the reference. It’s kind of funny, I guess.” 

Someone who wants to be president of the United States has never heard of one of the major figures in American history? Amazing. But hey, odds are that Neuman has never heard of Buttigieg either. It’s a generational thing.


Unfortunately, the fact that younger folks like Mayor Pete – particularly those on the left – are not fans of the humor magazine is a big factor leading to a sad announcement this week: Alfred E. Neuman and the magazine that I and millions of others grew up loving are headed for retirement.

The publisher of Mad magazine announced that after its fall issue Mad will largely stop running new material and simply reprint material from its 67-year run that produced 550 issues. Special editions at the end of the year will have new material.

In other words, like a lot of older folks, senior citizen Neuman (who looks remarkably good for his age) and his elderly colleagues at Mad will spend their golden years telling old stories from decades past. And a lot of young people won’t care.

Mad magazine mascot Alfred E. Neuman

You can blame the shuttering of Mad on changing demographics, the demise of the magazine industry and other factors. But a major reason the magazine is disappearing is simple: the left can’t take a joke.

Never have I met a more humorless group of people than oh-so politically correct progressives. Nothing is funny to them, because everything is potentially offensive to someone. Heaven forbid that a delicate little snowflake should be triggered by a microaggression and be traumatized for a minute or two.

I’m not talking about inappropriate humor or ethnic jokes. I’m just talking about life in general. As the expression goes, if you don’t recognize that the joke’s on you, you’re missing the whole point of human existence.

You can blame the shuttering of Mad on changing demographics, the demise of the magazine industry and other factors. But a major reason the magazine is disappearing is simple: the left can’t take a joke.

Mad magazine was a mainstay of my adolescent and teenage years, and I confess I still buy a copy at the airport every so often to entertain myself on a long flight.

The magazine’s editors, artists and writers have long had an amazingly uncanny ability to recognize – and take down – anyone or anything taking himself or itself too seriously. That included movies, TV shows, Democratic and Republican politicians, social mores, and even the Cold War itself.

The struggle between the U.S. and the evil communist menace out to conquer the world was brilliantly spoofed in cartoons called Spy vs. Spy, in which the good guys and bad guys were pretty much indistinguishable due to their similar tactics and cluelessness.

It’s easy to dismiss Mad’s aesthetic as puerile, but the humor was much more sophisticated than many people realized.

The genius behind Mad – shaggy-bearded publisher William Gaines – was legendary to us adolescents, because he made us laugh by skewering the rich, famous and powerful. At home we were taught to be polite and respectful to our elders – but Mad magazine enabled us to laugh hysterically at their stupidity and pomposity.

Gaines’ magazine might have been low art, but he loved high culture, too. When I was in 11th grade, I remember seeing Gaines in the sculpture garden of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, where he was presumably drawing inspiration for the next issue.

The great funnyman Steve Allen made a comment in a book about humor, saying that “the jester performs at the pleasure of the king.”  In other words, it’s up to whoever rules in society to decide what’s funny.

Today the people who dominate public conversations are essentially humorless individuals who couldn’t tell a punchline from a punch in the nose. Jokes once considered funny are now considered offensive and sometimes even branded as hate speech.

As a result, few things are considered acceptable targets for ridicule. And frankly, that ridiculous.

These days, comedy itself is a dying art. Young alleged comedians go on stage in comedy clubs not because they have a dedication to humor, but because they want to be noticed by talent scouts and get into the movies.

Comedians think they’re being funny when all they’re doing is dropping f-bombs and saying truly abusive things about conservatives, who apparently don’t get protection from triggering.

As we saw at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner last year, when White House press secretary Sarah Sanders was insulted by “comedian” Michelle Wolf, anyone can swear and call someone names – but that’s not humor and it doesn’t require any talent.

It seems like the only thing that’s acceptably funny to the left is making fun of President Trump or anyone who supports him. Jay Leno and Johnny Carson were pussycats compared to the way Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel trash the president and his team on late-night TV.

Just a few years ago, comedians would skewer Democrats as well as Republicans – but going after the Dems and leftist sacred cows today generates so many complaints and calls for advertiser boycotts that many comedians shy away from it.

Make a joke about anyone or anything on the Democratic and progressive side of the ledger and you will quickly find yourself banished to social media hell. You’ll be called every name in the book, shamed forever and sometimes even lose your job.

Is the anti-Trump and anti-Republican humor that is now dominant is funny?  Sometimes. But it is the only thing you’re allowed to laugh at.

In a humorless world like ours, it’s no wonder that Mad magazine succumbed. No longer will we have that silly face of Alfred E. Neuman to remind us not to take ourselves so seriously, which is advice the left sorely needs to hear and heed.

When I was still in high school, my buddy and I knocked on the door of the offices of Mad Magazine (on MADison Avenue), and were given a tour of the place, right on the spot. The people there couldn’t have been nicer. When it was time to go, the receptionist pointed to a low table in the waiting area covered with copies of Mad.

“Take a few,” she said, and we did. But the joke was on us. When we got in the elevator, we realized the issues were in Swedish.


So thank you, Mad Magazine, for decades of laughter, inspiration, cleverness, and a break from the drudgery of real life. Somehow, the world will go on without you and we’ll survive the trauma.

As we struggle to get over our loss, we Mad fans will eventually put the grieving behind us and embrace the wise saying made famous by the great philosopher and cover boy Alfred E. Neuman: “What, me worry?”



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