Are you a MAD Person?

Nigel Watson
Talking Pictures alias talkingpix.co.uk

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The barometer for the values, attitudes and obsessions of the United States isn't Newsweek, The New Yorker, CNN or Time magazine. For the real view of what is going on across the pond get MAD magazine, it never fails to hit the spot.

To the ignorant it is just a comic but for connoisseurs it is a concise and wacky attack on all that the U.S. holds dear. The central icon of MAD is the nerd, enshrined in the person of Alfred E. Newman. His philosophical musings are quoted at the front of each issue. The January 1994 issue has him declaring "Learn from the mistakes of others, 'cos you'll never live long enough to make 'em all yourself".

Many of the pages show you the mistakes of hapless individuals, celebrities and organisations. In the same January issue there is a two page spread on the differences between a sports fan and a sports fanatic. The former will stay at a game through rain or shine, the fanatic will stay even when the stadium is demolished around him.

Celebrities are told how to recognise when their career has hit rock bottom, one good example is when "...the telethon you're appearing on is for you!". There is also a look into "the MAD Nasty File. Volume VII". This includes Al Gore, Macaulay Culkin, The Ren and Stimpy Show and that old favourite Woody Allen who has "finally found a way to attract widespread public interest, which is something his movies never did."

Automobiles are a constant source of humour for MAD. Under the banner of "A MAD Look At Cars" we have a traffic warden digging the snow off an offending car to find that it is a "snow car" built by sniggering kids. Car salesmen and garage mechanics are frequently and justifiably given the MAD treatment. I still remember an old issue of MAD that took a hard look at car safety. Starting with a flashy finned 1950s model they stripped it of all its dangerous features to end up with a Model T Ford. Obviously an early case of back to basics!

The medical profession is also regularly given short shrift. In the pages of MAD they are always represented as being more money grubbing than the average car salesman. In the January 1994 issue there is a mock (perhaps not as mock as we'd like to think) Doctors Supply Catalogue that is full of products that will part your patients/clients from their cash. The catalogue proudly claims the company has been "Helping you bilk the sick & not-so-sick since 1924".

All such features are mere bread to the meat of the magazine which are its razor-sharp spoofs of current Hollywood movies. So in this issue we get a send-up of The Fugitive titled The Stooge-itive and In The Line Of Fire gets re-titled In Line To Be Fired.

You get the most enjoyment from such features if you have already seen the film. Silly stories and characters are an obvious target. In The Stooge-itive Harrison Ford is shown with a Han Solo T-shirt and later, with an Imperial Trooper, to indicate his previous successes in the Star Wars movies. The Tommy Lee Jones character who chases after Ford throughout the film, orders: "I want road blocks and bridge blocks! And a set of blocks for me to play with while they're setting them up!"

In The Line of Fire send-up includes such lines as "Hey, we've been trained to deal with professional assassins, not cab drivers!" and when the president is being rushed from a dinner by his special agents, "That's to save his budget! They do that at every dinner just when the check arrives at the table!"

The best part of such pages are their sharp drawings of the situations and characters. There is no attempt to reproduce the story, they just poke fun at the main scenes and dialogue. It isn't biting wit in the sense that Spitting Image uses it but it is a humour of recognising something that is slightly distorted and magnified. It's the type of humour that runs as a slightly jaundiced or cynical commentary to such films. This can be very irritating if deployed by some wise-cracking person sitting behind you at the cinema (sit in front of me to discover this!) but it works when you are deprived of the power of the big screen to make you believe all sorts of rubbish whilst the images flash before your eyes.

Certainly MAD doesn't have the satirical punch of Private Eye or the downright rudeness of Viz but it does benefit from better drafted illustrations and an irreverent sense of humour that lacks malice or viciousness. For anyone who has the slightest interest in American culture it shows the underbelly of a society that is so often regarded as lacking insight, irony or sense of its own ridiculousness. For the less cerebral it's a damn good laugh and you have to be MAD not to like it.
 
 
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Material Copyright © 2001 Nigel Watson