What. Me worry?

I just got off the air with CBS radio in Chicago talking about media issues on the afternoon business report. One of the things we discussed was MAD magazine’s move to publish once a quarter. This was intended to be a sort of the “kicker” element of the show, designed to give us a chuckle and remember the days when MAD was a hit. AlfredEN

But my take is much different. I think the demise of MAD is a “canary in the coal mine” type of indicator of the kind of trouble we’re facing as a society and a representative Democracy. Why?

Well, in order for satire to work – the audience has to have a very informed frame of reference. You have to know who the characters are and why the things they’re saying are outrageous deviations from, or over-the-top exaggerations of their real-life positions. In other words, to “get” MAD magazine you actually have to be fairly well informed.

Think of it this way: Imagine showing a MAD spoof on a “Day in Washington” with the Obama administration to a Chinese farmer, or a Taliban-suppressed woman in the Swat Valley of Pakistan. They would have no idea of who the players are, or why what they’re saying and doing is funny. There is simply no foundation for understanding.

The same thing is happening here. Satire, sarcasm, irony, commentary and analysis simply can not work with out the frame of reference provided by day-in, day-out journalism often read in a newspaper or digested in a TV news show. Without exposure to journalism, MAD’s satire is meaningless.

This void is what’s allowing the shrill voices of the punditry to command so much attention. If you’re not willing to develop a point-of-view, there are plenty of people who are willing to do it for you.

The Associated Press attributes MAD’s demise to, “The usual suspects: bad economy, drop in advertising, changing demographics.” Well I think those are merely symptoms of a much deeper, underlying problem: That we’re entering post-literate era in human history where the very idea of sitting down, holding something, and trying to understand information that takes a little effort to grasp – is dead.

Alfred E. Neuman is now the smartest guy in the room.