‘MAD’ man speaks about First Amendment

The Daily Collegian, Penn State, By Ricky Morales
November 5, 2009

Ragging on politicians, religion and the media, MAD Magazine senior editor Joe Raiola took a humorous approach to First Amendment issues in his lecture on campus Friday.

Gesticulating wildly, he pretended to be a nun slashing the air with a metal-tipped yardstick, acting out a scene from his days as a seven-year-old attending a Brooklyn Catholic school in 1962. He told a laughing crowd that the nun wrongfully “beat him about the flesh” as punishment for losing his communion gloves.

This was only one part of his program, “Joy of Censorship,” which he presented to a crowd of about 130 people in Pattee Library’s Foster Auditorium, celebrating the end of Banned Books Week.

Raiola introduced the lecture by reading an excerpt from Tropic of Cancer, a book by American novelist Henry Miller.

“The worst is not death but being blind, blind to the fact that everything about life is in the nature of the miraculous,” he read, adding that the book was banned in the United States because of obscenity.

Using this example, he pointed out flaws in the ratings system.

“I am proud to tell you that this program is unrated,” Raiola said, referring to his own lecture. “It is my intention today to completely uncensor myself.”

He followed with a comedy segment about his Catholic and public school experiences, moving on to critiques of American prudishness. In ads for one of his comedy shows, “Almost Obscene,” Raiola is depicted sticking up his ring finger, suggesting a more provocative gesture. Many venues declined to display the ad, he said.

“This is one uptight culture,” he said. “I can’t get this printed in most places.”

He then gave a rundown of MAD’s history, displaying a slideshow of some of the magazine’s most controversial covers. He also discussed the adversity MAD founder William Gaines faced when he founded the magazine in the 1950s.

Brielle Taylor (junior-English education) said she thought Raiola’s address of banned words was the most interesting part of the program.

“It’s not normally talked about in everyday conversation,” Taylor said. “America is free, and why wouldn’t words be free?”

After the program, Raiola held a question-and-answer session. Caroline Wermuth, outreach coordinator for the Pennsylvania Center for the Book, said she was impressed with the audience’s thoughtful questions.

“The censorship that’s done doesn’t always eliminate the things people see or hear,” she said. “Because of that, you might as well be open about it, sometimes laugh about it, and usually, no one gets hurt.

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