MAD Magazine is the only major voice in American media that tells children to disbelieve what they're being sold. Disney won't do it, the toy companies won't do it, and Lucas and Spielberg (buy the toys! Get the special edition DVD!) didn't know there was a problem. The Simpsons compromised itself long ago with t-shirts and liscensing, and even Matt Groening has apologized for the anti-intellectual backlash that lionized Bart Simpson's sociopathy and helped elect George Bush. Saturday Night Live maintains contempt for its targets while retaining very high regard for itself. The contempt for craft that used to be a running joke at Adult Swim has itself become an ethos.
In print, Mad stands alone-- not that they wouldn't welcome the chance to sell themselves and their grandmothers (Cheap!) Most satire, in whatever format, pretends to share superiority with its audience: "They're stupid, but you and me, we're smarter than that". The "Usual gang of Idiots" that produces Mad have nothing but contempt for themselves, and you? You were dumb enough to buy the magazine. Both John Stewart and Stephen Colbert acknowledge their childhood debt to Mad, and offer birthday tributes to idiots like Al "Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions" Jaffee.
How important is this sensibility? Ask yourself why Hillary Clinton and John Edwards voted for the war in Iraq, and why Barack Obama didn't buy it. He recognized Bush and Cheney from the magazine. And for all the pontificating about church and state in adult publications, only Mad made a head-to-head comparison between George Bush and Jesus Christ.
I was immensly cheered by the following poorly spelled exchange between anonymous youths on a discussion board for Mad readers at the DC website. They're discussing whether the humor in MAD is "age appropriate":
* I'm only 12 but I understand everything (also cause i'm wierd) but 13 is not too young. It's just middle age. Not really a teen not really a kid
*** Middle-aged at 13??? Wow! Do you get to retire at 21?
* I picked up a copy of MAD at a gaming tent at the state fair when I was ten, and loved it. I am now 13, and have been reading MAD ever since.
*** It's taken you THREE years to read it??? If schools are supposed to be turning out the future of our country, our future looks like it consists of the nickel deposit on a beer bottle.
* you can never be to young to read mad
even if u were 5 and didnt understand it at all you can still admire the awesome freakin pictures
*** Don't say that, you're getting the MAD writer's egos all big and blown up, but when the Nobel Prize list comes out they'll be disappointed again.
*im 12. been reading since I was 10. I get most of the jokes.
*** That's what I said about Hustler, too, but my parents didn't buy into it.
For all that Americans profess to care about their children, we really do exploit and indoctrinate the little darlings with a thoroughness that makes the Nazi Youth programs seem slipshod. This survival of the Mad sensibility (What Sort of a Man Reads Mad?) into the next century makes me a little more confident that our posterity might still avoid an American brand of fascism, and Orwellian groupthink, and slavish worship of Mammon. Or not. What, Me Worry?