How MAD Magazine Covered The '60s: What, Me Hippie?
By | April 16, 2019
In the ‘60s, MAD magazine covers grappled with issues of the day as much as any newspaper's editorial page. The images frequently played to both sides of an issue, whether it was drugs, mysticism, or politics. MAD was hip, in its way, but its mascot Alfred E. Neuman was, as ever, an idiot. The easy joke, especially when you're trying to sell magazines to younger people, would be to make fun of the out-of-touch older Americans. MAD, though, took the contrarian position, poking fun at the goofiness and even hypocrisy of the flower children. Neuman was often chasing trends, jumping on whatever ridiculous bandwagon was getting press. The writers and artists (namely Jack Davis and Norman Mingo) behind this unsuitable periodical delivered fierce indictments of anything they saw as important, hypocritical, or just plain stupid - anything and everything was in the crosshairs of MAD.
In the drugged out, love obsessed '60s, MAD lambasted the hippies and took politicians to task. The magazine wasn’t subtle, and it played devil's advocate whether its readers wanted it to or not -- but it was funny as hell.
January 1968: Take A Trip
In January 1968, MAD magazine offered readers to “take a trip.” This cover is obviously playing off the idea of young members of the counter culture getting high and taking a trip, but because it’s MAD they boiled it down to its most simplistic and moronic (in a good way) in order to offer up that most classic of comedic visuals - the banana peel.
This cover presents an obvious joke, but MAD never pretended to be above making a joke that anyone could have thought of. After all, someone else may have thought of it, but MAD printed it.
A Facebook follower reminds us of another level to this gag -- that some hippies (broke ones) were known to smoke banana peels in the mistaken belief that they contained a hallucinogen. What may have started as a joke evolved into a bona fide hoax when hippies actually offered instructions for extracting the fictional chemical "bananadine."
A Don Martin cartoon entitled "A San Francisco Trip" within the pages of this issue ties it all together. A shirtless longhair stands in his kitchen eating a banana. He scrapes the inner lining of the empty peel (that's where the bananadine lives) into a frying pan, then drops the remainder of the peel on the floor. He fries the scrapings, puts them in his pipe, and attempts to smoke it, but to no avail. He angrily throws his pipe, slips on the banana peel, bangs his head on the stove and falls into a dazed, hallucinatory state.
Confusing a slip on a banana peel with an acid trip demonstrates a classic MAD tactic: Picking up on a term or phenomenon from the cutting-edge culture and intentionally misunderstanding it. The "trips" people were taking in 1968 were voyages of the mind -- MAD misses the point completely, on purpose.