Friday, October 19, 2007

Mad magazine and Peanuts – moralists for today?

Mad magazine and Peanuts – moralists for today?

By Dov Silberman*

With all the messianic overtones that the Jewish people are regaled with over Tishrei, one beloved by Chassidim is the Zohar's view (I, 117a) is that we are privileged to live in an era where similar results occur in both the natural and religious worlds, where "the gates of knowledge above, and the fountains of knowledge below, will be opened".

Academics and scientists are always aware that similar breakthroughs in knowledge occur at approximately the same time in different places without either party knowing about the other.

But it can occur in the realms of book methodology as well. Many readers will be familiar with the utilization by Rabbi Abraham Twerski of the Charlie Schulz "Peanuts" cartoons to make his points in several of his popular selling self help books.

In an interview in the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle in 2000, Twerski said that Schulz's wisdom first appealed to him when he was trying to teach students and found that the cartoons made effective tools. The first time was in his 1988 book When Do the Good Things Start.

But this was not the first time a religious writer used popular culture in the form of comic strip characters to illustrate religious ideas for students. Not twenty years before Twerski used Schultz cartoons, in 1970 Vernard Eller B.A., B.D., M.A., Th.D. (1927-2007) wrote "The Mad Morality" first published by Abingdon Press, subsequently by Signet in the 1970's Mad book form. It was a book trying to explain the Ten Commandments which illustrated them with examples of similar messages from Mad magazines.

Eller was an Xtian professor of religion at La Verne College in California. He was trying to reach teenagers at church camps without success, so he asked them what popular culture they were interested in.

On being shown Mad magazines, he found that Mad's satires of deceptive advertising, racism, phoniness, white lies and hypocrisy taught morality but did so without preaching. "...Beneath the pile of garbage that is Mad there beats, I suspect, the heart of a rabbi."

But Mad publisher William M. Gaines and editor Al Feldstein, were uncomfortable with that. "We reject the insinuation that anything we print is moral, theological, nutritious, or good for you in any way, shape, or form."

Compare this to what Schulz told Twerski before he died, "Abe," he said, at their last meeting, "you keep on saying I'm wise. That's just not true. I'm not a philosopher or a psychologist. I'm just a cartoonist."

Similar scenarios. We must truly be living in wondrous times.

*Dov Silberman is a commercial litigation lawyer in Melbourne Australia, and is overjoyed to find that he can now justify the time he spends at second hand bookshops.


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