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The Funniest Pages

International Perspectives on Humor in Journalism

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Edited By David Swick and Richard Lance Keeble

Charles Dickens, celebrated novelist and journalist, believed that his greatest ability as a writer was to make people laugh. Yet, to date, humor has been strangely marginalized in journalism, communication and media studies.
This innovative book draws together the work of seventeen writers to show that, starting in the 1640s during the English Civil War, and continuing through to the present time, humor has indeed been an important ingredient of journalism. Countries studied include Australia, Britain, Canada, Chile and the United States. The Funniest Pages is divided into four sections: «Seriously Funny, From Past to Present,» «Unsolemn Columnists,» «This Sporting Life» and a final section, «Have Mouse, Will Laugh,» which looks at humor in online journalism. Chapters examine Joseph Addison, Richard Steele and the birth of social and political satire; Allen Ginsberg, Mad magazine, and the culture wars of the 1950s; John Clarke and the power of satire in journalism, and more.
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Chapter Five: Howling Mad: Mad Magazine, Allen Ginsberg, and the Culture Wars of the 1950s

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← 66 | 67 →CHAPTER FIVE

Mad Magazine, Allen Ginsberg, and the Culture Wars of the 1950s

MARK J. NOONAN

In July 1955, the first issue of Mad magazine appeared, with an urgent request to readers serving as its frontispiece: ‘This new magazine is vital for you to read and inside you will find an extremely important message from the editors.’ Interest piqued, the reader would turn the page to find the editors on their knees, pleading in unison to ‘PLEASE BUY THIS ISSUE.’ Apparently, the plea was heeded, for the magazine, published by William M. Gaines, achieved unprecedented commercial success and wielded enormous cultural influence across four decades. (Mad continues to be published—albeit with diminished importance—today.)

Just three months after the appearance of the first Mad magazine, a 29-year-old poet by the name of Allen Ginsberg helped to spark a counter-cultural movement of his own, reciting his poem ‘Howl’ at the Six Gallery in San Francisco. The piece began: ‘I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness’ (Ginsberg 1956: 9). Striking both witty and somber notes, Ginsberg explored themes such as mass conformity, communist hysteria, anti-intellectualism, and market-driven culture, as well as the threat of nuclear annihilation provoking deep anxiety for his coterie of ‘angel-headed hipsters’ and other young Americans yearning for an alternative, saner way of life. Although Mad lampooned beatniks, the magazine was actually closely aligned with the movement it so frequently maligned. Like ‘Howl,’...

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