To face a 21st-century newsstand and pick out the familiar gap-toothed mug of Alfred E. Neuman is to realise, with a jolt, that we live in a world where Gourmet magazine no longer exists but MAD sallies forth, its 505th issue currently on sale and taking aim, as it happens, at the gulf oil spill. The satirical magazine, now in its 58th year, recently announced that it will be increasing its annual frequency from four to six issues, and the Cartoon Network has also introduced plans for a MAD-based animated television show to premiere this fall. MAD, in other words, has not only survived these dark days of print media but appears to be thriving. Who knew?
David Hajdu, writing in the New York Times in 2008, characterised MAD as a “wild and wildly successful" magazine "for 14-year-old minds." This neatly sums up its tone and audience. Among the topics parodied in the most recent issue are Justin Bieber, the "Twilight" franchise and Sarah Palin: MAD has always been predictable in its targets and consistent in its approach.
Also consistent is the magazine’s mascot, Alfred E. Neuman, who finds his way into every issue. (He appeared on the August cover lining a birdcage with an iPad, with the caption, “WE DUMP ON THE iPAD”.) Yep, 14-years old sounds about right. Neuman debuted on the cover of the magazine’s 30th issue, in 1956, and has since appeared in the guise of everyone from Lawrence of Arabia to George Washington to Darth Vader.
According to a statement from the Cartoon Network the MAD television component will be a sketch-comedy series combining a “chaotic mix of animation styles and twisted humor to pull back the curtain and expose the truth behind movies, TV shows, games, pop culture and, of course, curtains.” Naturally. The show also promises to incorporate classic MAD characters, such as Neuman and Spy Vs. Spy, and aims to “revitalize the cherished MAD brand across all media.” If we are indeed witnessing a revitalisation—and expansion of any kind, in this climate, is a fair indicator of vitality—then fans of print casualties like Gourmet would be wise to avert their eyes from Neuman’s leering grin. Like the publication that spawned him, the big-eared adolescent provocateur is apparently here to stay.