Thursday, May 1, 2014

‘Remembering a philosophical giant’

I would be remiss if I didn’t share the sad news of the death Tuesday of Mr. Albert B. “Al” Feldstein, 88, editor of the invaluable and dauntless journal of opinion I read devoutly throughout my childhood: Mad magazine.

In its obituary today, The New York Times remembers:

“In his second issue, Mr. Feldstein seized on a character who had appeared only marginally in the magazine — a freckled, gap-toothed, big-eared, glazed-looking young man — and put his image on the cover, identifying him as a write-in candidate for president campaigning under the slogan ‘What — me worry?’

“At first he went by Mel Haney, Melvin Cowznofski and other names. But when the December 1956 issue, No. 30, identified him as Alfred E. Neuman, the name stuck. He became the magazine’s perennial cover boy, appearing in dozens of guises…. [Neuman] signaled the magazine’s editorial attitude, which fell somewhere between juvenile nose-thumbing at contemporary culture and sophisticated spoofing.

Mad made fun of itself as well. The staff was referred to on the masthead as ‘the usual gang of idiots,’ and the magazine warned readers not to take it seriously even as it winkingly promoted its importance.”

That last graf captures what makes the work of Mr. Feldstein and his writers and artists essential to a thinking, sentient person’s sense of self, which I believe to be a reminder—sometimes nagging at the most inopportune moment—of the absurdity of life and, consequently, of each of our own earthly existences.

Cartoonist Dave Berg, best known for his longstanding “The Lighter Side” series for Mad, published his book My Friend God in 1972. Amid its closing pages is this:

“One reason for Mad Magazine’s
phenomenal success,
kein ein houra
(it even outsells Colliers)
that at a time
when we are becoming
so overpopulated in the inner city
that the huddled masses
are TRULY yearning
to be free,
that at a time
when we are polluting
our pollution,
that at a time
when we are being computerized to death
by making us all
nothing but numbers,
that at a time
when a single nut can
light a 50-megaton firecracker
and end all Fourth of July’s for all time,
at a time of all this idiocy—
one idiotic kid
named Alfred E. Neuman,
says ‘I’m not concerned’
in his ‘WHAT, ME WORRY?’
It’s a calming influence in a world that’s uptight.”

Well done, good and faithful servant.

Courtesy The New York Times

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