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 Brussell. 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.