By Wick Fisher
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

'What, me worry?'

Wick's World

 

September 28, 2017



Mad Magazine has been around almost as long as I have. Founded in 1952 by Harvey Kurtzman and William Gaines, this was the magazine that introduced me to satire. It began as a comic book, but soon morphed into something greater and deeper than a comic strip that tried to elicit a laugh. It was a magazine-style combination of “Doonesbury” and “The Far Side,” two journalistic cartoons that became way more successful than their creators ever dreamed possible.

The face of Mad Magazine was undeniably a character named Alfred E. Neuman, America’s first heroic nerd. He looked as nerdish as the sound of his name. His motto, “What, me worry?” was created decades before the generation of slackers even hit the planet. The attitude of the baby boomers generation seemed to overlap with Alfred E. Neuman’s “What, me worry?” Unbelievably, the catchy phrase failed to become the baby boomers mantra. Rather, the '60s gave birth to LSD’s spokesman Timothy Leary who coined the phrase, “Turn on, tune in and drop out.”

Now that the baby boomer generation is deeply tied to their Social Security checks, at least a part of Mad Magazine’s motto survives with them. Today, Alfred E. Neuman’s, “What me worry?” would sound more like, “What was I saying?”

Mad Magazine was built on characters such as “Spy vs. Spy,” which featured the good guy in the white hat and cape against the bad guy as the man dressed in black. Was the message sent out by this magazine a clear form of racism already built into our society or was it simply a case of two enemies with spy costumes of opposing colors?

Indeed, in the 1950s, country singer Johnny Cash was known as the man in black. Although he liked to sing songs about prison, drinking and divorces, he was very well liked by everyone who ever met him (except perhaps his ex-wife, the first Mrs. Johnny Cash).

The cartoons from Mad Magazine were as simplistic as its satirical humor and readily understandable. One might say it was a black and white issue. I highly doubt racism had anything to do with Spy vs. Spy, but in today’s world I bet the editors would have given this one a hard second look before sending something as volatile as this to the printers.

The phrase, “What, me worry?” did catch on with my best friend from high school. My buddy Warner went so far as to have the motto painted on the tailgate of his pickup. As I am sure most of our classmates would agree, Warner and I were the most slacking and lackadaisical students in our high school. The difference between us was that only one was a nerd. That nerd was me. Warner was the hot-rodding slacker who lived to “spin cookies” in the school parking lot. He spun his tires as often as our current president spins tales.

I generally had to watch in envy because I could only afford my parents' hand-me-down 1954 Plymouth, a car that was never meant to squeal tires or lay a strip of rubber on the freshest of asphalt. Meanwhile, Warner was buying, trading or fixing up so many vehicles that one year the state of South Dakota sent him a letter. They informed him he would have to purchase a dealer’s license in order to apply for any more car titles. Rather than slow down as most of us baby boomers did upon maturity, Warner simply became a used car salesman.

Today, Warner is sitting around without a worry in the world, collecting his Social Security checks. Meanwhile, Wick is still being a nerd asking, “What was I saying?”

 

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