MAD is an American humor and parody magazine that began publication in 1952. With MAD, no topic is off limits. They tackle movies, television shows, politics, news makers, celebrities, and more. It is known for its over-the-top parodies and stylized artwork. Being featured in MAD was a point of pride for some, just like being parodied on NBC’s Saturday Night Live is. In the 1970s and early 1980s, MAD took on M*A*S*H four times. It began in 1970 by publishing a parody of the Robert Altman film MASH. That was followed by two parodies of M*A*S*H the series, then a final parody of AfterM*A*S*H. These parodies were sharp and changed in tone toward the concept of M*A*S*H between 1970 and 1984. Let’s look at each of these issues!
October 1970 (MASH film)
Robert Altman’s MASH was billed as a dark comedy, and it proved to be popular when it was released in 1970. At the height of the Vietnam War, the anti-establishment tone of the film caught on with audiences. MAD‘s take on MASH mocks it for not being a “traditional” war movie. The MASH parody opens with actors like John Wayne and Dana Andrews calling MASH “an affront to good taste.” The stylized artwork continues by introducing the main character, Squawkeye, and parodies the movie itself. It is funny at times and is clever in how it depicts the seemingly casual humor in a war movie. But that is what made MASH great! It captured the sentiment of the American public and reflected it on the big screen.
It didn’t take long for MAD to take on M*A*S*H once it was on television. The tone of this parody is very similar to what was published for the movie MASH. The story in the parody is heavy on comedy and mocks the “hijinks at the front” humor in the early seasons of M*A*S*H. We know, of course, that the show runners were very careful with balancing the humor and realities of war, but that isn’t something MAD would care about, nor would some members of the television audience. Ironically, the parody ends with “Cockeye” and “Crapper John” trying to get out of the series and them being trapped by the CBS logo. We know now that the early seasons of M*A*S*H were heavily limited by the network, and the storylines would become far more serious and dramatic and series went on.
MAD didn’t parody M*A*S*H until late 1982, just before the finale. The tone of this parody is different from the one in 1974 in that it opens by acknowledging the success of the series. Then, it begins to examine what it calls the “sins” of M*A*S*H. The “Sqwakeye” name returns from the film parody, and MAD takes on several several issues including the serious nature of the show in the later seasons. This is kind of ironic considering the first parody didn’t appreciate the humor in the series. The parody goes on to show “Klinker” trading in his dresses saying that the clothes can be sent to Busom Buddies. The parody also takes on the cast changes, which I have said before I think were always well done and helped keep the show fresh. This parody isn’t as witty or sharp as the first two, but it seems to be MAD‘s way of grudgingly showing M*A*S*H some respect.
June 1984 (AfterM*A*S*H)
If their final take on M*A*S*H showed signs of respect, MAD‘s take on AfterM*A*S*H is very critical in how it took everything M*A*S*H stood for and seemingly threw it out the window. There are many criticisms that can be thrown at AfterM*A*S*H, and MAD takes on just about all of them! The series felt disjointed and didn’t have the same balance between comedy and drama. The parody is harsh, and by the time it was published in June 1984, the ratings of AfterM*A*S*H had suffered. Season two would bring major changes before the series was cancelled in early 1985. MAD‘s parody ends with one of the characters discussing how AfterM*A*S*H has ruined the M*A*S*H name. I wouldn’t go that far, but the series did prove that you couldn’t take those characters out of the MASH unit.
April 2020 (Reprint of October 1982)
In 2020, MAD published an issue with its greatest tv parodies. They included the “M*U*S*H” parody from their October 1982 issue. This issue includes parodies of other series including RuPaul’s Drag Race, Sesame Street, Friends, and 30 Rock. There are also more generalized parodies of television and the commercial industry scattered throughout. While this is not new artwork for M*A*S*H, it is interesting that they revisited a series that had not been on the air for over 35 years.
MAD magazine has its place in publishing history as it took on many popular shows, movies, and figures over the decades. The fact that it parodied the M*A*S*H universe (yes, if Marvel can have a universe, so can M*A*S*H!) four times shows the cultural impact of the film and the series. While critical of the tone of the movie and series at first, MAD certainly respected the series and even defended it when AfterM*A*S*H was on the air. These magazines are fun because they show how M*A*S*H was viewed in its time. MAD is still published today and just celebrated its 70th anniversary in October 2022.