The Lost Bridge Between Mad and Wikipedia

In 1958 Paul Krassner set out to create a Mad magazine for adults. He was well-qualified for the task, being both a former Mad contributor and, in fact if not always in spirit, an adult. The result was The Realist, a journal whose great innovation was to refuse to label which articles were journalism and which were satire, and sometimes to add just enough truth to a piece of fiction that readers would be left completely befuddled as to what, if anything, they should believe. Some call it a prelude to the underground press. I call it a prelude to the Internet.

Krassner's most infamous hoax (and probably his best article) was "The Parts Left Out of the Kennedy Book," which posed as a series of outtakes from William Manchester's The Death of a President. It begins with some stories about JFK that were well-known but had not yet been reported, grows steadily less reliable, and concludes with Lyndon Baines sticking his Johnson in the president's throat wound. It's a testament to Krassner's literary skill -- or the average reader's gullibility, or LBJ's unpopularity -- that many people were fooled.

During the Nixon years, Krassner became a hard-core conspiracy theorist, and his magazine started running articles by the likes of Mae Brussel. I've often wondered how many people saw her mix of truth, fiction, and speculation and just assumed it was another Realist satire. (For a funny account of Krassner's conspiracist days, track down his essay "Memoirs of a Conspiracy Nut," published in the late, lamented Argonaut in 1994.)

Anyway, Ethan Persoff is now archiving the full run of The Realist on the Web, at a rate of four issues per month. The first batch includes the Manchester parody and Wally Wood's "Disneyland Memorial Orgy," among other famous features. And hey: Here's a letter to the editor from Karl Hess:

I occupy a political position which, I am sure, would be anathema to you, i.e., conservative. But I nevertheless find your publication lively, legitimate and interesting. Also I am curious as to why you have never realized that the conservative (particularly the Goldwater-style) position is basically libertarian, anti-establishment and thus closer to yours than, for instance, that of the institutional socialist.

Maybe the letter had an impact. A decade or so later Krassner would be contributing to Cato's Inquiry magazine and speaking to at least one Libertarian Party convention.

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  • ||

    In 1958 Paul Krassner set out to create a Mad magazine for adults.

    Pretty much describes National Lampoon from the 70's and 80's

  • dhex||

    wooo

    http://www.ep.tc/realist/41/05.html

  • highnumber||

    Cool stuff. Thanks, Jesse.

  • poco||

    Awesome. I love Paul Krassner. He was listed in the phone book back in the 90s when he lived in Venice Beach; I wish I'd met him. Check out his hilarious memoir, Confessions of a Raving Unconfined Nut.

    On the Antiques Roadshow a while ago, some old geezer got a fairly high estimate (I forget how much) for his extensive collection of Realist back issues.

  • crap-action-jackson||

    I'm pretty sure that story about Johnson's Johnson in Kennedy's neck wound is true.

  • ||

    Now that old issues of the Realist will be online, I wonder how long it will be before conspiracists start using it as a reference source.

    "It's all true! Follow this link and you too can drink the Kool-Aid!"

  • Matt Welch||

    Another great Krassner stunt was to produce a poster that showed nothing but the American flag and giant block letters saying "FUCK COMMUNISM." Very similar, in the way it was adopted, to South Park's "America, fuck yeah!" (Liberals embraced its knowing satire, conservatives bought the saltily expressed message.)

    The sale of this poster was one of the most commercially successful things The Realist ever did, and they used the proceeds to help send a young underground reporter named Robert Scheer to Vietnam in the early '60s. There he wrote what I believe is the first book-length condemnation of U.S. military involvement there, published by the also-lamented Hutchins Center up at UC Santa Barbara.

    The Hutchins Center, if I'm not mistaken, co-existed in SB at the same time Reason had its worldwide HQ there. So basically Karl Hess ran the world....

    (This is all from memory, probably full of errors, etc.)

  • Paul||

    I call it a prelude to the Internet.

    Or perhaps a prelude to The Onion?

  • robc||

    On the Antiques Roadshow a while ago, some old geezer got a fairly high estimate (I forget how much) for his extensive collection of Realist back issues.

    Darn it poco, I was going to mention that. I never watch that show either, just caught that bit.

  • ||

    It's gonzo journalism.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    Several of my friends had that Disney Orgy poster (or something very, very similar). Never realized at the time that it was connected to the Realist. And maybe it's not.

    Several of my friends had the Fuck Communism poster that Matt Welch is talking about. He's right, lefties and conservatives, both.

  • ||

    I never watch that show either

    Yeah, me too. In fact, I really don't even own a television.

    Now that I think of it, I don't even know what 'television' is.

  • Jim Lippard||

    With Krassner's permission, I put excerpts from copies of The Realist as they were published up on the web here, from the Winter 1995 issue to the final Spring 2001 issue.

    Matt Welch: Krassner's account of "Fuck Communism" poster usually includes that a student at some university held it up during a group photo for the yearbook. They blotted out the "Fuck," only to realize that what remained was a sign saying "Communism," so they blotted that out, too--yielding a photo that showed the student holding up a blank sign.

    Krassner's _Confessions of a Raving Unconfined Nut_ is one of the best autobiographies ever.

  • poco||

    Meant to add that Krassner knew everyone who was anyone in the '60s (Lenny Bruce, Groucho, Abbie Hoffman et al) and took drugs with many of them, so he has a lot of good stories. Rather like a hippie Dick Cavett.

  • Gene Berkman||

    Paul Krassner lives in the Palm Springs area now, and I met him several years ago at a Legalize Marijuana rally.

    He signed my copy of his essay in "The Fringes of Reason." His essay had treasures like "I used to believe in reincarnation, but that was in a past life."

  • Jesse Walker||

    The Fringes of Reason was one of my favorite Whole Earth Catalog spinoffs.

  • ||

    Another great Krassner stunt was to produce a poster that showed nothing but the American flag and giant block letters saying "FUCK COMMUNISM."



    For anyone curious.

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