What, Me Worry?
David Von Drehle recently published a piece in The Washington Post about the fact that Mad magazine will no longer publish new content after October of this year. Von Drehle called the piece, “Mad magazine’s demise is part of the ending of a world”. I don’t agree it’s part of the ending of a world. Rather, it’s symptomatic of the ending of a culture, of cultural unity, of unified purpose, of unifying ideals.
And I don’t agree with Von Drehle’s opinions about the magazine (“targeted with exquisite precision at middle-school boys”), his political leanings (“America elected the world’s oldest seventh-grader in 2016”), or his conclusions (“Everyone’s a court jester now, eager to expose the foibles of kings and queens”). But I do agree with his premise; although I suspect he didn’t intend the irony, nor would he recognize it:
To be subversive … requires a dominant culture to subvert … [we] watched the same networks, flocked to the same movies and saluted the same flag … subversive humor is funny only if there’s someone up front attempting to maintain order.
I agree with Von Drehle’s premise because, when everything’s important, nothing’s important. When every interest is special, nothing is special. When biological realities can be reduced to social constructs, nothing is real. When every squeaky wheel gets (at least a promise of) oil, nothing rises to the level of priority, let alone coherent public policy or social order. And when the rule of law is superseded by embracing mob rule, we’re nearing the finish line, kids.
Speaking of social order, the photo above shows a group of people demonstrating its commitment to diversity, tolerance, and inclusion by beating the shit out of people who don’t agree with them, regardless of their races, colors, creeds, religious affiliations, or gender identifications. They’re wont to fire-bomb buildings on occasion, but they’re careful to go about it as demurely and respectfully as possible. And they show their aversion to identity politics, of course, by concealing theirs. To paraphrase Dr. Johnny Fever, that’s so deeply warped, not even Mad could have imagined it.
May The Farce Be With You
Von Drehle’s dismissing Mad as being targeted with exquisite precision at middle-school boys is the equivalent of dismissing The Three Stooges as being just slapstick, too violent, or lowbrow. Like the Stooges, the purpose of Mad was to poke fingers in the eyes (as Moe so often did) of everything pompous, pretentious, or self-important — to explore the fine, preening, affected line between dignity and farce.
Farce requires objectivity. It requires the absence of narcissism. It requires the ability and the steel determination to question everything, everyone, and — above all — oneself. Von Drehle telegraphs his lack of objectivity, his sense of self-importance, his inability to stand apart from himself enough to question, and his abiding emotional and intellectual status as one of the middle-school boys he purports to disdain when he refers to those boys as:
Nature’s neglected travelers, parked on an apron while the girls they used to know go racing down the evolutionary runway and take flight into the wild blue of adulthood.
The Stooges remain popular because they were champions of the underdog. Their misbegotten means and methods never obscured the goodness in their hearts and their determination to do right things. Sadly, Von Drehle is capable of relating to the underdog only by his abiding existential commitment to remaining one, even as he parks on the apron, whining about the extinction of the adult establishment.
We Share This Loss
Was Mad presumptuous? It was, indeed. It presumed its right to free speech. It presumed the intelligence and the maturity of its readers and the thickness of their skin. It presumed the self-inflated were fair game for needling. It presumed that, if we were willing to laugh at each other, we damn-well better be willing and ready to laugh at ourselves. And, so, it presumed a spot in its own crosshairs, referring to itself, as it did, as the usual gang of idiots.
The demise of Mad is not the ending of a world. But it is the end of something precious, valuable, and increasingly rare: Along with unity, it’s the end of humor and maturity. In a culture that’s spawned — invites, encourages, perpetuates — a victim industry, there’s no time or place for mature, discerning tolerance anymore. There’s only taking offense and blaming.
Isolating oneself into a narrowly defined victim group promotes a view of others as irrelevant at best and dangerous at worst, which eventually only leads to further alienation. Gangs, extremist political parties, and religious cults may provide solace, but they rarely foster the mental flexibility needed to be fully open to what life has to offer and as such cannot liberate their members from their traumas. Well-functioning people are able to accept individual differences and acknowledge the humanity of others. (Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D., The Body Keeps the Score)
This is precisely the absurdity Mad understood: Victimhood is the ultimate us-and-them model. (“If you’re not of us, you’re against and necessarily harming us.”) Finding grievances in everything is self-justification unto self-defeat. (“Because we believe you’re out to get us, we’ll never be liberated from trauma.”) Identity politics negates individual differences and precludes us from accepting them. (“Because we’ve decided some of us belong to a class [group identity], we’ll incite class warfare to prevent class warfare.”)
And so it goes.
As a pre-teen discovering Mad, I knew I was on to something. I knew Mad was irreverent and hilarious. I knew it held no cows sacred. I knew it had faith in its conviction that nothing and no one should stand above satire or be immune to skewering. I didn’t yet know it was a printed manifestation of the First Amendment right to satire, but I knew it was correct in its audacity. As an adult, I know what its loss means. It’s neither good nor pretty.
To all those who are happy to see Mad go — who preach tolerance while engaging in Advanced Whining, who claim special anything status while preaching equality, and who practice violent, abusive intolerance without even being able to take a joke — I can only offer this:
Cry me a river. Then build a bridge and get over it.*
I miss Mad already.
*My son, Quinn, and I were in the gym one day. He recounted the story of a former girlfriend who’d done him dirty, then had the cluelessness to call and ask to see him again. I stole the line above from him, which was his response to her. And I did it without shame. 😁