When I was a kid, I thought Mad Magazine sucked. The humor was too obvious—like it was hitting you over the head. There was no subtlety. It was like a bad joke teller who nudges you, “Get it?! He thought she was making fun of his eye, but she was really just surprised, ‘Would I?’ Get it?!” That was the magazine.
But then yesterday, they came out with, If Norman Rockwell Depicted Today’s America: the Militarization of Officer Joe. And I was blown away! They nailed it. This is good satire. It isn’t even about what’s happened to our policing, because in a fundamental sense, that hasn’t changed so much. What has changed is the way that the mainstream of America sees the police.
When Rockwell created the original in 1958, if he had painted a black boy, the officer would have been saying, “What are you doing on that seat, boy?! Don’t you know this is the white’s section!” So for a great many people in 1958, the parody was accurate at the time—at least in the general sense.
Of course, it isn’t only about the representation of the police. There have been far too many Ferguson-type shootings and many of them have gotten a lot of attention. What’s more, nice white middle class people have found that increasingly their local police forces do more harm than good. Now instead of just fixing problems, police seem focused on getting arrests. As though it makes any sense to arrest a 16-year-old boy for a Facebook posting that he shot his neighbor’s pet dinosaur.
So what I’m thinking is that maybe Mad Magazine is just as stupid as it ever was. It is just that America—and especially American policing—has gotten so stupid that Mad looks good by comparison. In its defense, Mad has never claimed to be anything but stupid. On its website, it offers for readers to, “Get more stupidity delivered right to your mailbox!” But when Mad Magazine is clearly more serious and insightful than the Very Serious Chorus of the likes of David Brooks (much less the right wing loonies), I fear we have past the point from which we can return.