The letters column of the July ’61 number of Mad comics under the banner, “A Mad State of Affairs,” features a photograph of the daughter of the governor of North Carolina smilingly enthroned in bed with a batch of Mads. “Thought you might like to know,” writes the fan who’d sent in the item, “that Mad has even reached the Governor’s mansion.” Mad’s cup runneth over.
Other tributes come regularly from high school and college teachers and from college-bred mothers concerned with finding a synthetic antidote to the influence of pop culture on their children’s minds. Yet in its comic book format Mad is exactly like what it is supposed to be panning, and its drawing is even more crass than that of the ordinary “funnies.” The cartoon strip —in the rhythm of its potted “plotting,” in its simplistic reduction of materials to a one-dimensional, escalator-like descent to an anticipated “surprise”—shares the basic pattern of all kitsch. It is impossible to use this form without dependence on its stereotypes —stereotypes already fixed in the public imagination, like the Gaunt Thinlipped Hero (Dick Tracy or Gregory Peck), the...
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