"In Its Heyday, Mad Magazine Was a Lot More Than Silly Jokes" By Michael J. Socolow, SMITHSONIANMAG.COM, MAY 11, 2018
The publication taught its readers how to be healthy skeptics—a lesson that media consumers need more today than ever. At its apex in the early 1970s, Mad’s circulation surpassed 2 million. As of 2017, it was 140,000.
As strange as it sounds, I believe the “usual gang of idiots” that produced Mad was performing a vital public service, teaching American adolescents that they shouldn’t believe everything they read in their textbooks or saw on TV.
Mad preached subversion and unadulterated truth-telling when so-called objective journalism remained deferential to authority. While newscasters regularly parroted questionable government claims, Mad was calling politicians liars when they lied. Long before responsible organs of public opinion like The New York Times and the CBS Evening News discovered it, Mad told its readers all about the credibility gap. The periodical’s skeptical approach to advertisers and authority figures helped raise a less credulous and more critical generation in the 1960s and 1970s.
Today’s media environment differs considerably from the era in which Mad flourished. But it could be argued that consumers are dealing with many of the same issues, from devious advertising to mendacious propaganda.