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Permission granted by author for anyone to distribute this
writing free of charge (including translation into any
language)...under condition that no profit is made therefrom,
and that it remain intact and complete, including title and
credit to the original author.
Ezekiel J. Krahlin
© 2004 by Ezekiel J. Krahlin
(Odin's Queer Witness)
I grew up reading Mad Magazine, as one of my childhood escapes from the doldrums of elementary school and catechism classes...and a rather conservative, cold Protestant/Catholic family. Now, I realize Mad's not for most adults who enjoy more sophisticated parody, but it sure was a satisfying "forbidden fruit" for loner kids like myself, whose nerdiness and strange allergies often forced us into isolated lives, even at school among our peers. For us, Mad Mag was a wholesome rebellion against conformism and bullies; for our kind grew cynical at an early age, already awakened (at least in part) to "family values" hypocrisy and adult dictatorship.
I discovered Mad at a large variety store (across the street from Nunley's Happyland & Jolly Rogers on Hempstead Turnpike), where I'd often lose myself among science fiction paperbacks and fantasy mags...somewhere around the age of nine or ten. (I was a precocious reader...instead of praising me, my father'd often taunt: "You think you're such a know-it-all." My fantasy world was my compensation.)
Many Sundays were spent with relatives in Brooklyn, who played Michigan Rummy and Pokeno while I sat like a diminutive elf on a vast, cushiony couch bursting with flower petals and butterflies. I often took pleasure then, reading the latest issue of Mad Magazine, after purchasing a copy at the corner candy store run by an old, old man with thick eyeglasses, whose face I no longer remember...and in fact, never even thought about until this very moment.
I do remember discovering exotic candies, like gummy-red "silver dollars" (raised impression of a founding father on one side), pastel candy buttons on long scrolls of blank white paper, cherry-flavor whistle rings, and other sweetly edible curios I never imagined. I was a child of the sterile 'burbs. Surrealistic candies like these did not exist in the outlands of Long Island. Our housing tract was called the "Arrowhead Development", because living on Shawnee, Mohawk, or Iroquois Drive, one could easily find real arrowheads simply by digging a garden in the backyard.
My childhood was indeed lonely in a profound way--though not at all unusual for children raised in dysfunctional Amerikan nuclear-family homes in the post-war, pre-Beatles 50's. Fortunately I was bright, and blessed by a vivid inner world. Which world was happily populated by many characters out of comic books, sci-fi movies, and, thankfully, Mad Magazines.
But when I became an adult, I put away childish things (as the saying goes), including Mad Mag. Not that I felt "above" such material, but I truly came to enjoy other kinds of humor and parody. It wasn't until a week or so ago--here in The Castro where I've lived and/or hanged out since 1973--that I decided to buy my next issue of Mad...the first one in over 32 years. Truly, nostalgia forced my hand...though in a gentle, friendly manner. It was the June 2004 edition.
"$3.50 - Cheap!" the cover boasted.
Yeah. What a laugh. I remember when it went up to 35 cents, then a couple years later 50...and how offended I was over such drastic increases. (50 cents was a lot for a kid back then!) Now, with the hindsight of eight or nine days (as I type this), it occurs to me that I bought this latest issue of Mad out of gratitude for the fact this magazine was still kickin' ass, and waiting here for me, like a faithful guardian who years ago, watched over me to make sure there'd be smiles scattered throughout my difficult formative years. Waiting for me to awaken to that level of appreciation where I can look back and say:
Thank you Mad Magazine!
For, just like Looney Toons, Crusader Rabbit, Soupy Sales, Froggy the Gremlin, and Abbot & Costello: the wonderful authors of Mad Magazine made sure that so many of us children living lonely lives were granted these oases of laughter and parody, that we may not only survive a stark childhood, but hopefully thrive as adults, thanks to the peals of laughter they brought to our wizened little hearts. I remember once, in 5th grade, reading a Mad that I had surreptitiously slipped inside my grammar book...and our teacher Miss Murphy sneaked up from behind, pulled it right from my tiny birdlike hands. She chastised me for exposing my innocent widdle mind to such trash, and sent me home with a letter. What a delicious memory!
So, last week having purchased a copy of Mad in a local Walgreens, I went on home, prepared a snack, then sat down to read that delightful collection of crazy satire, like I used to as a little boy, a long, long time ago, sitting by myself at the kitchen table while my brother played his 45 rpm's in the bedroom, and my parents dressed up for a dance at the American Legion Hall (Post 86, Bethpage). And there on the front cover, were the unmistakably familiar freckled nose, mischievous eyes and gap-toothed grin of Alfred E....staring at me through a very broad, green face, with these strange, tubular ears that poked out like stalks. At the bottom of the slick cover, stamped in a large, bold, vegetable-green, electric-aura 3-D font was the title: "Shrek!". (Beneath that, in smaller purple letters: "Yecch!")
With that, my love affair with Mad Magazine burst forth anew. The fabled slogan "What, me worry?" soothed my troubled heart like a wholesome balm, and for a while I forgot all about the Religious Reich, homophobia, Dubya, Iraq, the increasing violence in San Francisco's own black ghetto, Bay View/Hunter's Point...and my advanced middle age of almost-54.
As if reunited with a beloved friend on a higher level than before, a special treat lay in store for me on page 33:
and then again (back peddling), on page 7:
Looking at them in brief, you might not comprehend why my present gratitude for Mad increased in leaps and bounds after viewing page 33...and then, once more on page 7. For both pages were parodies that give honor to sexual minorities, not ridicule! (Page 33 presenting in a casual, fun, and non-bigoted manner, two males who suddenly discover romance in each others' arms...Page 7 a satire on the hypocrisy of the "ex-gay" movement.)
For Mad Mag is doing exactly what society needs, to rise above its evil hatred of gays and other sexual minorities: exposing America's youth to humorous entertainment depicting gays as normal and decent as any hetero you'd ever want to befriend. For it is in these formative years that prejudice takes root...and if children do not witness gays as a healthy part of our every-day lives, in cartoons, plays, TV shows, Sunday comics, and magazines...then they will not grow up to respect and appreciate gay people for their own special brand of humanity...as one more facet on the brilliant diamond of cultural diversity.
So, with all my heart--with all my child within that heart--I say: "Kudos Mad Magazine! You're one great bunch of fine, outstanding crew of artists, and challengers of the status quo! As you always have been, and always will be (I'm sure of that, now)."
And guess what? Mad Magazine now has a website! With a message board! So why not go there now, and tell them "thank you", too!
Tonight after uploading this article, I'm replacing one of the posters in my bedroom (that depicts a hot dude standing naked in a wooded copse, which I found in a calendar someone discarded), with a poster of Mad Magazine's own Saint Alfred.
May Alfred E. Neuman's smile grace all our queer lives with joy, and affirmation of our Great Destiny soon to emerge across this sorry, tired, jaded little homophobic (but not for much longer) planet we call earth.
What, me worry?
Did you know that Mad Magazine was (probably) the only comic medium that refused to sign the McCarthy-era "Comics Code Authority" covenant? Their happy work-around was to morph from a comic book into a magazine. Did you also know that Mad Mag's circulation is now down to 500,000 annually, from a peak of 2,800,000 back in '73? To read more, click here.
I think Mad well deserves my subscription payments, for all the good they've done throughout a most difficult childhood; don't you? Don't let Alfred E. Neuman down at this, his most challenging last-minute trump, about to be played on the human race. Show Mad your love, TODAY!