The 1968 Exhibit: MAD magazine, April 1968


Turn On, Tune In, Drop Dead

Sooner or later, this blog was going to have to get around to MAD, right?  We could have done the 1968 election issue, with all of the candidates' pictures scrambled (and maybe we'll get to that one eventually).  But this issue -- this cover, at least-- is priceless:  Alfred E. Neuman-- by this date universally recognized as the archetypal dope--decked out as a "hippie," with a decorative border incorporating some distinctive five-part leaves and a classic MAD motto:  "Turn On, Tune In, Drop Dead."  ("Drop dead" was a favorite MAD expression.) Here, Al is sporting a scraggly beard and longer red hair than usual, but he has the familiar gap-toothed grin, freckles, jug ears, and vacant expression.  Plus beads, flowers in the hair, cowbell and bear-claw necklace-- like, wow.

"The Hippie": Becoming a laugh line and a stereotype

To land on the cover of MAD in the 1960s was to achieve some sort of pinnacle of pop-cultural notoreity; MAD editors wouldn't have bothered with you if you weren't somehow culturally "of the moment."   But the famous individual, or trend, or icon, or sacred cow had to have attained enough breadth of recognition to allow for sufficient pungency as a MAD lampoon.  And so the arrival of the hippie get-up on MAD in April 1968 tells us quite a lot about the hardening and the codifying of this stereotypical "Sixties" character.

It all happened pretty quickly.  Etymologists generally point to an early-1965 usage of "hippie" (in TIME magazine) as the first "conventional" use of the word, as opposed to earlier, more marginal uses-- as variants of the beatnik-era "hipster," for example.  So throughout 1965 and 1966-- and especially by the January 1967 "Be-In" in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park and, later that year, the "Summer of Love"-- the hippie moved rapidly from being "sub-cultural," socially detached, and "different" to being an utterly familiar archetype--AND a figure of nearly bottomless hilarity.  I would not be surprised if there were "hippie" Halloween costumes in stores by 1968--as there are today.   I wonder when the first sitcom hippies appeared-- 1968 again would be a pretty good bet. ( I know that some kind of nadir was reached the following year, when Lawrence Welk showed up in wig and full hippie regalia on his show:  not hard to find--but hard to watch--on YouTube.)

A "weird sub-culture"

So here's MAD, throwing its considerable weight behind this process of Stereotype Formation.  I remember this issue well (I was 17 when it appeared on the newstands, its price now "30 cents-- Cheap" instead of 25), not so much because of the cover but because of the hilarious (well, maybe you had to be there) send-up of one of my favorite TV shows, "Mission: Ridiculous."   But the issue also includes an extensive "cover story"-- a mock magazine called "Hippie: The Magazine that Turns You On (if you're cool enough to light it up and smoke it!)"  The introduction says:  "There's a wild new group of people who have become prominent in America recently.  They have their own unique language, their own strange behavior, and their own bizarre philosophy which is commonly misunderstood by many oldsters.  The group is known as 'Moderate Republicans.'"    It goes on to explain that there's another "weird sub-culture" kn0wn as hippies, and MAD is going to explain them in this magazine as a public service.

For sentimental hippies?

The magazine includes fake movie ads ("The Wild Freakout Acid Trip at the Hippie Teeny-Bopper Love-In Orgy on the Strip"); classifieds ("Help! I'm being held prisoner in my Hi-Fi and TV-equipped own room in the suburban home of my materialistic, conformist parents"); a takeoff on the Peanuts "warm puppy" bestseller, this one called "Uptight is a Dry Sugar Cube"; a gossip column ("Drachma the Digger has made arrangements for starving N.Y. orphans to receive food packages from Vietnam War Orphans"); and a gift guide for "sentimental hippies who want to collect relics of the past:  shoes, ties, soap, bras, draft cards, combs."

You get the picture.

Finally, it's been so long since I looked at MAD that I forgot that they carried no advertisements--except gag ads, like this takeoff on ads for "100 millimeter" cigarettes from the back cover of this issue: