When MAD Magazine Ruffled the Feathers of the FBI, Not Once But Three Times

Many of us grew up reading MAD, the soon-to-be-late illustrated satirical magazine. But only the generations who went through their MAD periods in the publication's first couple of decades, from the 1950s through the 1970s, enjoyed it at the height of its subversive powers. As hard as it may be to imagine in the 21st century, there was even a time when MAD came under scrutiny by no less powerful an organization than the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation, and faced the wrath of its first and most feared director J. Edgar Hoover at that. But did the heat stop its creators from doing their necessary work of irreverence? Most certainly not.

"In a memo dated November 30, 1957," writes Mental Floss' Jake Rossen, "an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation identified as 'A. Jones.' raised an issue of critical importance." That issue had to do with what the FBI file on the case described as several complaints made "concerning the 'Mad' comic book," and specifically "a tongue-in-cheek game about draft dodging. Players who earned such status were advised to write to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and request a membership card certifying themselves as a 'full-fledged draft dodger.' At least three readers, the agent reported, did exactly that." Agent Jones also weighed in with a judgment of MAD itself: "It is rather unfunny.”

You can see all this for yourself in the documents from the FBI file, excerpts of which are available to download at thesmokinggun.com. "Criticizing or lampooning the FBI has become standard media fare," says that site, "but when J. Edgar Hoover ran the joint, the bureau wouldn't stand for such swipes — and often retaliated by investigating its foes. So that's why it's great to see that MAD magazine wasn't intimidated by Hoover and seemed to take pleasure in needling the Director." It did it again in 1960, two years after publisher William Gaines promised never to mention Hoover's name in the pages of MAD, when it made fun of the FBI's top man twice in a single issue, once in a faux advertisement for a vacuum cleaner called “The Honorable J. Edgar Electrolux.”

The exchanges that ensued, says thesmokinggun.com, reveal the FBI's possession of "one lousy sense of humor." But they also reveal no small degree of courage on the part of a still-new humor magazine in the face of an intelligence organization more than empowered to seriously disrupt lives and careers. Not long thereafter, MAD would become a recognized American institution in its own way, poking fun at seemingly every phenomenon to pass, however ephemerally, through the national zeitgeist. But now that its own run, which adds up to a highly non-ephemeral 67 years, has come to an end, we'd do well to reflect on what its history tells us about satire and the state. The condition of that dynamic today may cause some of us to do just what MAD mascot Alfred E. Neuman never did — worry.

via Mental Floss

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

The End of an Era: MAD Magazine Will Publish Its Last Issue With Original Content This Fall

As a cultural reference, MAD magazine may have died decades ago. This is a not a disparagement, but a statement of fact. The kind of satire the august, anarchic comic first unleashed on the world of 1952 debuted in a cultural milieu that is no more, and a form—the illustrated, satirical periodical—that is increasingly niche. MAD left an indelible impression on American publishing’s past, but as the magazine’s legendary cartoonist Al Jaffee tells The Washington Post, “it’s mostly nostalgia now.”

Responding to the market’s cues, MAD will more or less disappear from newsstands, publishing legacy content on a subscription-only basis and on the direct market, “a.k.a. specialty and comic book stores,” writes Gizmodo, “like the vast majority of DC’s comics output is already.” MAD shaped itself in opposition to Cold War paranoia and never seemed to find a new edge after favorite targets like Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan left the scene. The magazine turned almost exclusively to pop culture parody in the 90s. As ABC News reports, MAD “peaked at 2.8 million subscribers in 1973,” then began its decline, with only “140,000 left as of 2017.”




The magazine’s founding editor, cartoonist Harvey Kurtzman, passed away in 1993. His successor Al Feldstein, who brought the magazine to international prominence, died in 2014. MAD's longtime, tight-knit staff of writers and cartoonists are mostly retired, and most are sanguine about the winding down. “It’s been a logical development,” comments another MAD cartooning legend, Sergio Aragonés. To wit, after Issue 10 (MAD re-numbered last June) comes out this fall, there will be no new content, “except for the end-of-year specials,” notes The Post. “All issues after that will be republished content culled from 67 years of publication.”

This still represents a great way for newcomers to MAD to catch up on its wildly skewed view of the last half of the 20th century, though some imagination is required to appreciate how subversive their humor was for much of its run. MAD inspired countless offshoots in the decade after its founding, setting the tone for radical campus publications, countercultural cartoonists, and comic writers, some of whom went on to become Stephen Colbert and Judd Apatow, who both wrote in the pages of MAD about how much the magazine meant to them during their apprentice years.

The list of MAD devotees, both famous and not (I count myself among the latter), runs into the millions, but it runs along some obvious demographic divides. As the magazine is poised to become a gift-shop version of itself, tributes have poured in for its editors, writers, and cartoonists—all of them, to a man, well, men. And most of those tributes—those from prominent cartoonists and writers claiming MAD as a formative influence, at least—are also from men of a certain generation, most of them straight and white.

Such market segmentation, one might say, speaks to the way MAD's brand of political satire remained embedded in its heyday. As laid-back cartoonists Jaffee and Aragonés recognize, you can’t stay young and relevant forever—though MAD had a remarkably good run. The Post offers a notable example of Mad’s passage into history. When the current president “mockingly referred to Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg as Alfred E. Neuman”—the once-ubiquitous, gap-toothed symbol of take-no-prisoners irreverence—the 37-year-old Buttigieg replied, “I’ll be honest. I had to Google that.”

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Was Jackson Pollock Overrated? Behind Every Artist There’s an Art Critic, and Behind Pollock There Was Clement Greenberg

Abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock is one of the few painters whose work is easily identified by people who don’t care much for modern art.

More often than not, they’ll cite him as a prime reason they don’t want to spend a sunny Saturday at MoMA with you.

They’re entitled to their opinions, just as author Phil Edwards, host of the Vox series Overrated and a Pollock fan, is entitled to his.

In the most recent episode of Overrated, above, Edwards examines the driving force behind Pollock’s enduring fame.




His conclusion?

The muscular support of a highly influential art critic, Clement Greenberg, who was chummy enough with Pollock and his wife, Lee Krasner, to frolic with them in the Hamptons.

(Jeffrey Tambor appeared to have a ball playing him in Ed Harris’ Pollock biopic.)

Greenberg said one glimpse of Pollock’s 1943 “Mural” was all it took to realize that “Jackson was the greatest painter this country has produced.”

Greenberg was interested in what he called “American-Type” painting and Pollock, with his highly physical, booze-soaked macho swagger, was a “radically American” poster boy.

He was one of the first to mention Pollock in print:

He is the first painter I know of to have got something positive from the muddiness of color that so profoundly characterizes a great deal of American painting.

His cheerleading resulted in a LIFE magazine profile, “Jackson Pollock: Is he the greatest living painter in the United States?,” that took a travelogue approach to the artist’s drip painting process.

Their stars rose together. Though Greenberg's attention eventually wandered away to newer favorites, Pollock's career owed much to his forceful early champion.

We remember the artist better than the critic because of those giant, splattered canvases—so accessible to those looking for illustrations of why they hate modern art.  The critic’s art is more ephemeral, and unlikely to show up on umbrellas, tote bags, and other gift shop swag.

Those with an interest in Pollock—pro or con—would do well to follow Edwards' suggestion to bolster their understanding of Greenberg’s taste, and his role in promoting both Pollock and his fellow Abstract Expressionists.

Watch Seasons 1 and 2 of Overrated free online.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, October 15 for another monthly installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Believer Magazine Has Put Its Entire Archive Online for Free

Founded in 2003, The Believer magazine gained a reputation for being an off-beat literary magazine with a commitment “to journalism and essays that are frequently very long, book reviews that are not necessarily timely, and interviews that are intimate, frank and also very long.” Founded by authors Vendela Vida, Ed Park and Heidi Julavits, and originally published Dave Eggers' McSweeney's, The Believer has featured contributions by Nick Hornby, Anne Carson, William T. Vollmann; columns by Amy Sedaris and Greil Marcus; and also interviews--like this one where director Errol Morris talks with filmmaker Werner Herzog.

Now published by the Black Mountain Institute at the University of Nevada, Las VegasThe Believer has entered a new era. It has launched a brand new web site and made its 15-year archive freely available online. It's a first for the publication. Enter the archive of the "highbrow but delightfully bizarre" magazine here.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

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Every Cover of MAD Magazine, from 1952 to the Present: Behold 553 Covers from the Satirical Publication

For 65 years and counting, the pages of Mad magazine have entertained readers by satirizing all the cultural items, social fads, news items, and political issues of the moment. Throughout that span of time the covers of Mad magazine have done the same, except that they've entertained everyone, even those who've never opened an issue, whether they want it or not. Though on one level designed purely as disposable visual gags, Mad's covers collectively provide a satirical history of America, and one you can easily browse at Doug Gilford's Mad Cover Site, "a resource for collectors and fans of the world's most important (ecch!) humor publication."

Gilford started the site back in 1997, a year that saw Mad's covers take on such phenomena as The X-Files, the Spice Girls, the Tamagotchi, and Seinfeld. That last seizes the presumably irresistible opportunity to draw Jerry Seinfeld scowling in irritation at "Neuman" — not his nemesis-neighbor Newman, but Mad's mascot Alfred E. Neuman, who appears in one form or another on almost all of the magazine's covers.




These sort of antics had already been going on for quite some time, as evidenced, for instance, by the June 1973 cover above in which Neuman dons a Droog outfit to take the place of Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange — or, in Mad's, view, A Crockwork Lemon.

To see the archive's covers in a large format, you need only scroll to the desired year, click on the issue number, and then click on the image that appears. (Alternatively, those with advanced Mad knowledge can simply pick an issue number from the pull-down "Select-a-Mad" menu at the top of the page.) Gilford keeps the site updated with covers right up to the latest issue: number three, as of this writing, since the magazine "rebooted" this past June as it relocated its offices from New York to California. Recent targets have included Donald TrumpDonald TrumpDonald Trump, and, of course, Donald TrumpMad's longevity may be surprising, but it certainly doesn't look like America will stop providing the ridiculousness on which it has always survived any time soon.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

A Big Digital Archive of Independent & Alternative Publications: Browse/Download Radical Periodicals Printed from 1951 to 2016

The consolidation of big media in print, TV, and internet has had some seriously deleterious effects on politics and culture, not least of which has been the major dependence on social media as a means of mass communication. While these platforms give space to voices we may not otherwise hear, they also flatten and monetize communication, spread abuse and disinformation, force the use of one-size-fits-all tools, and create the illusion of an open, democratic forum that obscures the gross inequities of real life.

Today’s media landscape stands in stark contrast to that of the mid-to-late twentieth century, when independent and alternative presses flourished, disseminating art, poetry, and radical politics, and offering custom platforms for marginalized communities and dissenters. While the future of independent media seems, today, unclear at best, a look back at the indie presses of decades past may show a way forward.

Paradoxically, the same technology that threatens to impose a global monoculture also enables us to archive and share thousands of unique artifacts from more heterodox ages of communication. One stellar example of such an archive, Independent Voices—“an open access collection of an alternative press”—stores several hundred digitized copies of periodicals “produced by feminists, dissident GIs, campus radicals, Native Americans, anti-war activists, Black Power advocates, Hispanics, LGBT activists, the extreme right-wing press and alternative literary magazines during the latter half of the 20th century.”

These publications come from the special collections of several dozen libraries and individuals and span the years 1951 to 2016. While examples from recent years show that alternative print publications haven’t disappeared, the richest, most historically resonant examples tend to come from the 60s and 70s, when the various strains of the counterculture formed collective movements and aesthetics, often powered by easy-to-use mimeograph machines.

As Georgia State University historian John McMillian says, the “hundreds of radical underground newspapers” that proliferated during the Vietnam war “educated and politicized young people, helped to shore up activist communities, and were the movement’s primary means of internal communication.” These publications, notes The New Yorker’s Louis Menand, represent “one of the most spontaneous and aggressive growths in publishing history.”

With publications from the era like And Ain’t I a WomanBread & Roses, Black Dialogue, Gay Liberator, Grunt Free Press, Native Movement, and The Yipster Times, Independent Voices showcases the height of countercultural activist publishing. These are only a smattering of titles on offer. Each issue is archived in a high-resolution, downloadable PDF, perfect for brushing up on your general knowledge of second-wave feminism or 60s Black Power; sourcing scholarship on the development of radical, alternative press over the past sixty years; or finding material to inspire the future of indie media, whatever form it happens to take. Enter the Independent Voices archive here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

 

National Geographic Has Digitized Its Collection of 6,000+ Vintage Maps: See a Curated Selection of Maps Published Between 1888 and Today

As some of the finest fictional world-builders have understood, few things excite the imagination like a map. And despite the geographical limitation implied by its title, National Geographic’s maps have surveyed the entire globe and beyond. The magazine’s articles have not always presented an enlightened point of view, but for all its historical failings, the richly-illustrated monthly has excelled as a showcase for cartography, over which readers might spend hours, projecting themselves into unknown lands, journeying through the carefully-drawn topographies, cityscapes, and celestial charts.

Started as the official journal of the National Geographic Society, the magazine has amassed a huge, 130-year archive of  “editorial cartography,” the National Geographic site writes. “Now, for the first time,” that collection is available online, “every map ever published in the magazine since the first issue of October 1888.”




The entire archive is only available to subscribers (however you can find curated selections on the NatGeoMaps Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook accounts), but we can still see an astonishing quality and variety on display in dozens of maps on social media of every conceivable location, topic, and event, beginning with the very first published map, depicting the Great White Hurricane, “one of the most severe blizzards to ever hit the United States” (above)—the “start of a long tradition… of enhancing storytelling with maps.”

As longtime readers of National Geographic well know, the maps—often separable from the magazine in fold-outs suitable for hanging on the wall—function as more than visual aids. They tell their own stories. “A map is able to connect with somebody in a different way than a text will or a photo will,” notes the magazine’s director of cartography Martin Gamache. Maps “engage with a different part of our psyche or our brain.” From its earliest articulation, geography has inclined toward the poetic. The ancient geographer Strabo credited Homer as “the founder of geographical science,” who “reached the utmost limits of the earth, traversing it in his imagination.” Maps present us with a visual poetry often Homeric in its scope.

Though so many of these maps are detachable, it often helps to understand the specific context in which they were created, which doesn’t always appear in a self-contained legend. The map above, for example, published in March 1966, shows the Kremlin “in unprecedented detail,” as the magazine’s Twitter account points out: “Soviet regulations prohibited aerial photos, so artists collected diagrams and ground-level photos to draft a sketch that was brought to Moscow and corrected on the spot.” Further up, we see a map of Mexico from May 1914, “one of the first general reference maps of the country” from the National Geographic archive. The map at the top, from the December 1922 issue, is the magazine’s very first published general reference map of the world.

There are maps celestial, as above from 1957, and architectural—such as recent digital recreations of King Tut’s tomb, lately revealed to have no hidden chambers left to explore. Maps of planets beyond the solar system and planets (or “dwarf planets”) within it, such as this first published map of Pluto. Maps of rivers like the Rhine and spectacular natural formations like the Grand Canyon. There are even maps of flowers, like that published below in May 1968, showing “the origins of 117 types of blooms.” Some maps are much less joyous, like this recent series showing what the world might look like if all of the ice melted. Some are purely for fun, like this series on the geography of Star Wars and other fictional franchises.

If we can imagine it, National Geographic suggests, we can map it, and conversely, when we see a map, our imaginations are immediately engaged. Learn more at the NatGeo blog All Over the Map, and connect with many more curated maps from this huge collection at the magazine’s Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook accounts.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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