The Revisionist History of Mad Magazine

(Or, watching culture evolve in real-time.)

I love Mad Magazine. My mother introduced it to me as a child. Although half the jokes flew over my head, I was hooked. I've spent years scouring bookshops for ancient Mad paperbacks, and picking through the discard pile at comic-book stores. One thing which always struck me was how progressive Mad was. Even back in the 1960s, it was an equal-opportunities satiriser - men, women, blacks, white,s straights, gays - a quick flick through the yellowing pages of the back issues shows a good-natured ribbing of everyone.

I'm sure that some of the caricatures probably wouldn't pass muster these days, and I'm equally sure there must have been the occasional cartoon which wouldn't be published today - but it's impossible to find a thread of hate, bile, and discrimination among the cheap sheets.

Except, of course, that's not quite true. Every work is a product of its age, and Mad is no exception.

To "celebrate" Donald Trump's ascendancy, Mad have released a free online comic with all the skits they've published about him.


Here's page 12 of their comic:

MAD says of Donald Trump - he was a moron with a stupid haircut

For those too young to recognise it, this is a riff on the original Forest Gump movie poster.

Forest Gump Poster

What's interesting to me is that this is Mad's third revision to the spoof poster.

Here's what the original looked like in 2005 (Mad #449, page 29).

Mad Magazine calling Donald Trump a retard

Let's be quite clear. Even a decade ago, using the word "retard" as an insult was not OK. It may have been popular in youth vernacular - but that doesn't make it cool.

Indeed, by the end of 2010 President Obama signed Rosa's Law which required the US government to replace the term "mental retardation" with "intellectual disability" - in recognition of how the word was being used to stereotype and abuse people.

When Mad Magazine next republished the comic, in 2012, the wording had morphed.

He was a mentally-challenged loudmouth with a bad haircut and a Twitter Account

A seeming recognition that using abusive language isn't acceptable.

With the 2016 reprint at the top of this page, the writers have again revisited their language. Going from "retard" to "mentally challenged" to "moron" - a word with its own unfortunate history.

My point here isn't to shame Mad Magazine. Language and culture evolve - and it is fascinating to watch it change. We shouldn't necessarily be ashamed of our past - but we should seek to understand the impact it has. Mad Magazine hasn't gone through its archives bowdlerising and deleting - to do so would be culturally irresponsible, not to mention futile. But it has sensibly taken steps to ensure that it doesn't amplify abuse for the sake of a chuckle.

I'll leave you with a Mad spoof from 2015 which, sadly, isn't included in their special Donald Trump issue.

Make America Insensitive to the Disabled Again

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One thought on “The Revisionist History of Mad Magazine”

  1. says:

    I remember Mad Magazine using the word "retard" at least two other times in the mid-2000s: calling Beavis and Butt-head "retards" in a 90s nostalgia article that had a bit about their fire controversy and a "Chef Retardee" parody of Chef Boyardee mocking Isaac Hayes' Scientology-related departure from South Park.


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