- Brian RafteryThe Return of MAD Magazine and Its All-New Gang of Idiots
- WIRED StaffMorgan Spurlock Maps The Simpsons' Supersize Impact
- Bess Kalb
The Onion Is the Last Newspaper
That Jaded Cynics Still Read
More surprisingly, MAD opened a portal to the past. Even while publishing monthly, the magazine resold its older content in annual digests and paperbacks, forcing kids to catch references made about the modern adult world and the adult world a decade or more before. As a Reagan baby, I wasn't just reading trickle-down economics jokes, but ABSCAM and Watergate ones as well. Funny thing about topical humor: when it's done right it ripens into a history lesson.Meanwhile, for a relic of the '70s and '80s, it managed not to pass its era's shortcomings along to its readers. All the bad stuff was there—gender chauvinism, racial assumptions, anything else that we sound the Problematic horns for now—but it was there coded explicitly as bad stuff, the world as seen by phonies and fogeys and lazy screenwriters. MAD assumed the most of its young readers, and while its jokes could be juvenile, they were never venal.Young readers grow up, and while they leave MAD behind, they do so having inherited something. The Simpsons, The Onion, The Daily Show, even The Lego Movie all exist in some part because their creators learned from some perfectly idiotic teachers. But what's left for today's kids? Yes, The Lego Movie is self-aware enough to be fun for parents. Yes, Steven Universe and Gravity Falls and Adventure Time encourage imagination and inclusion and other wonderful things that kids should internalize early. To raise free-thinking kids, though, you also need to let them know that it's OK to question the way things work. You need to give them things that they read again and again and again, until the dumb puns and televangelist jokes and sarcasm sink deep enough into the brain to carry into teenagerdom and adulthood.And now you'll be able to again. Like so many other people who count MAD among their earliest, most formative influences, I'm saddened by its passing. But as long as its earlier self can start to breed a new generation of smartasses with a frame of reference that extends beyond Fortnite and memes with fruit-fly lifespans, then what—me worry?
For decades, no piece of popular media had better taught kids how to be skeptical. Never cynical—it wasn't humans MAD loathed, but hypocrisy.
- The second coming of the robot pet
- The infrastructure mess causing countless web outages
- How nine people built an illegal $5 million Airbnb empire
- Disney's new Lion King is the VR-fueled future of cinema
- YouTube's “shitty robot” queen made a Tesla pickup truck
- 📱 Torn between the latest phones? Never fear—check out our iPhone buying guide and favorite Android phones
- 📩 Hungry for even more deep dives on your next favorite topic? Sign up for the Backchannel newsletter