Wednesday, September 17, 2008
I WAS A ‘50s TEEN AND MAD MAGAZINE HELPED SAVE MY LIFE!- Part 2 of 2
By Jeffrey Paull
THE ‘50s: SETTING THE SCENE
My ‘50s teen-aged world was a newly
peacetime world of corporate culture, mass
entertainment, status consciousness, the TV sitcom
with laugh track, the advertisers’ invention of
teen-agers as a separate market, and the end of polio
and the Hollywood studio system.
‘50s culture, at its sanctimonious worst, gave us uniformity, stereotyped symbols of men’s and women’s possible roles, hypo-cracy, consumerism, a false sense of freedom of choice, and a self-satisﬁed smugness as a nation that dismissed women, other nations and, as we called African Americans back then, Negros.
DO NOTHING TO ROCK THE BOAT!
DRESS, TALK, THINK, BUY, LIKE EVERYBODY ELSE!
DON'T CALL ATTENTION TO YOURSELF EXCEPT IN WAYS THAT HEW TO CURRENTLY APPROVED MYTHS.
BE ANODYNE! STAY ANODYNE!
BE ENTERTAINED BY ANODYNE!
And if it’s a movie, you can’t use the word
I didn’t know that this middle class culture I moved through puberty in was anything other than the way things were meant to be. Like one sun in the sky, that’s all there ever was. This middle-class culture determined how I was supposed to deal with the world, but it didn’t determine how I experienced the world.
MAD MAGAZINE TO THE RESCUE
No wonder there arrived in our lives, the artists and writers and publishers of MAD magazine. No longer a comic book, MAD spoke to middle class white teen boys by humorously puncturing and deﬂating the self-important corporate and status-seeking parts of our lives. It gave us a way that we teens could question and mock the pushy, dopey (but catchy) ads, our enchantment with “our own” culture, and the everyday irritations of school, parents, and siblings. It ridiculed what we had no power over, and the goody-goody (sexless) expectations that attempted to quench our God-given hormones.
Only later would we understand that the silences, repressions, and hidden gaps in our lives came about because people were afraid to have ideas that were “different” or sensual. “Different” because they might be accused of being “pinkos”, “fellow travelers”, “dupes”, or Communists. “Sensual” because Americans have always sustained a Puritanical streak, and the anarchic energy of sex would have made hash of the simplistic ‘50s myths. So, of course and anyway, sexuality and sensuality oozed through the slick surfaces of our lives like blood through a bandage.
SIGNIFICANCE OF MAD’S HUMOUR
MAD wasn’t just funny-funny, like I Love Lucy or Jack Benny, it was funny in ways that mattered, that were attached to the powerfully convincing and overweening culture that surrounded us. MAD gave us a version of The Outsider’s point of view, and with its humour, gave us kids a way to talk to each other. It was an early clue to a new direction.
Other early clues to that new direction came from the Beat poets, Bridget Bardot’s naked tush, Elvis’s thrusts & Rock&Roll, '50s stand-up (Lenny Bruce and others) – Playwrite Lillian Hellman, song satirist Tom Lherer (he a Harvard - HARVARD! - mathematician!), Playboy magazine, Bettie Page, tranquillizers, and, eventually, the so-called '60s.
MAD taught us that if you used humour, you could shake off some of the oppressivenes of being a teenager living in a culture that wished to be as simplistic and sexless as an early TV sitcom. Like the local Hamburger Heaven, it was an island of temporary respite in a world that saw teenagers as what they weren’t: paper dolls that advertisers and anxious status-seeking parents wanted us to be.
MAD was a way of laughing and finding community rather than complaining. Which we did at other times.