Jeffrey Paull is a life-long student and teacher of images, both
static and moving. His insights will appear on this blog upon
occasion, and we'll all be the wiser for it, I think. The second part
of this piece will be published next Wednesday.
I discovered MAD magazine just about when I got to
jr. high - 7th grade -1952. This article describes a
bit of the culture back then, that made us kids need
MAD magazine didn’t just happen to happen. The artists,
writers, and publisher who transformed it from a comic
book into a magazine of satire and parody had histories
that led them to think in ways they did. Their history
overlaps my history, which is why I didn’t just love MAD
magazine, I, and millions of other kids my age needed
MAD magazine. It was a light at the end of a tunnel, an
umbrella during a miserable rain. It gave as much
pleasure as waking up on Saturday morning thinking
it’s only Friday, and then realizing . . .
But that ‘50s culture was a reaction to the earlier
unstable and unreliable world my parents generation
had lived their lives in.
So my story of MAD magazine begins by going back in
time to the unstable and unreliable world of my parents
to help explain why ‘50s culture was as it was.
Pre-'50s BACKSTORY: MY PARENTS
My parents grew up in a world that seemed ﬁlled with
misery. Their parents escaped to the USA because of
pogroms in Poland and Russia. And on a larger scale . . .
- In 1914-18: WWI caused 20 million people to die.
-In 1918-20: The Spanish ﬂu killed 25 million more
people around the world.
- From 1929-36: The Great Depression: about 27% of
Canadians couldn’t ﬁnd jobs. There was no social
- From 1931-33: The Great Drought meant that very
little would grow over vast areas of North America,
and a plague of grasshoppers ate most of what was left.
For a sense of the scale, in Alberta alone 47,000 farmers
are driven off the land. In Saskatchewan, farmers’ income
- From 1942-46: WWII and the Nazis killed 60 million more
- The Unites States, at war with Japan, dropped two atomic
bombs– “Little Boy” & “Fat Man”- on the cities of Hiroshima
and Nagasaki, killing about 220,000 people, mostly civilians.
On the bright side, women were found to be quite capable of
working “men’s”jobs in factories, Penicillin was developed,
and Preston Sturges’ classy comedies were poking fun at American
Pre-'50s BACKSTORY: ME
Before I was of school age, I remember air raid drills and blackouts
during WWII, andthe neighbourhood air raid warden making sure all our
lights were truly out. Myparents, Aunt Evelyn and my grandmother waited
in the blackness for the “all clear” siren.
The war ended as I went to Grade 1, and my awareness of the world began
to extend beyond our house and my street. All I ever knew was peacetime
prosperity and people who looked forward, and never ever talked about
“back then”. This American optimism, however, hardened into a rigid code
of living that became The (Ugh!) ‘50s!, just as I approached my teenagery.
Part 2 will appear next Wednesday.