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

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

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

FBI’s “Vault” Web Site Reveals Declas­si­fied Files on Hem­ing­way, Ein­stein, Mar­i­lyn & Oth­er Icons

Read 113 Pages of Charles Bukowski’s FBI File From 1968

The Exis­ten­tial­ism Files: How the FBI Tar­get­ed Camus, and Then Sartre After the JFK Assas­si­na­tion

Who Was Afraid of Ray Brad­bury & Sci­ence Fic­tion? The FBI, It Turns Out (1959)

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.

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