Harry Potter, Spartacus, Alfred E. Neuman and the cable gods

Expanded from the 12-1-2002 Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune

Back at Our Lady of Perpetual Perplexity High School, I was subjected to censorship of the worst sort. Getting caught writing criticisms of teachers brought public shaming, detention, writing hundreds of lines of penances and occasional threats of physical harm. God save you if you got caught hinting anything about s-e-x.

Sister Stephen passed over me when I was supposed to be a lock for school newspaper editor. She accused me of being "too antagonistic."

Perceptive woman.

Alfred E. Neuman,
Commie Threat

In its November, 2002, edition, Harper's Magazine published some letters from the FBI's 35 files on Mad Magazine, "all of which were compiled between 1955 and 1971 during J. Edgar Hoover's tenure as director. Ed Norris, who publishes a newsletter for Mag Magazine collectors called The MAD Panic, obtained the letters through the Freedom of Information Act last year," Harper's noted. Here are excerpts.

Dear Mr. Hoover:
My 14 year-old son has been reading Mad for several years. The entire magazine is "too cleverly" filled with Communistic intent...Satire is one thing, but disrespect to our American heritage and our way of life, in these days when our survival is at stake, is startling to see...the leaders of our country are made to look like fools. In the October 1959 issue, YOU are ridiculed!

I pointed out my feelings to my son, and he said "Write to Mr. J. Edgar Hoover. If he agrees with you, I'll go along with you. Otherwise, let's forget it." Therefore, Mr. Hoover, it is imperative that I receive a reply from you...

Dear Mr. Hoover:
We have a committee in Fond du Lac for "Citizens of Decent Literature" of which I am the chairman...Many of our teachers feel that "Mad" magazine is catering to Communistic principle. I know the articles leave you with a doubt as to what's what. We are certain you could clarify the matter...Also, do you have any material available that deals with pornographic literature? If so, would you please send us some, as we so want to broaden our field.

Dear Mr. Hoover:
There are no advertisements and no photographs in the entire magazine. It costs millions of dollars to produce this type of magazine and the single-copy cost is only 25 cents, which leads me to believe that someone is subsidizing the cost of this publication...

This magazine attacks every phase of our American way of life...I feel (it) is a diabolical form of Red Propaganda used to infiltrate the minds of our Teenagers to destroy our American way of life. A word used at the bottom of the first page by their own admission is a good way to describe what they are doing: Satiric.

Dear Mr. Hoover:
Could you please send me a list of magazines published in our country with a communistic slant? A group was told last evening that Alfred E. Neuman, an editor and writer for MAD magazine, was an avowed Communist. Is he?

Dear Mr. Hoover:
Does the Constitution require that we permit Communist publications such as this to undermine and defame our nation's purpose and strength? We have refined our laws to such an extent that, under the guise of freedom of the press, Communist writers are given a free hand to serve their purpose of bringing about the downfall of our nation. Will you take action to clean up these media?

Dear Sirs,
During an Anti-Communism Study Course at Sylvania Heights High School, the speaker named Mad magazine as a "Communist front" publication, giving as her authority a Naval Training Unit film she had seen.

Please tell me whether it is true that the magazine is a front for Communists, subtly influencing our youth away from good American ideals; or whether it is just the satiric comedy it appears to be panning the foibles of humanity wherever they're found.
Our PTA wishes to take up the cudgel against Mad, and I want to ensure it's the right information we have.

Dear Sir,
I have written to the agency before, and now find it wise to write to you concerning the matter at hand. Some of my teachers say that Mad magazine is communistically written. I would like to know if this is true.

Thank you very much.

P.S. I am still interested in becoming an agent for the FBI.

The following was submitted by a sixth-grade class:

Dear Mr. Hoover,
It has been said in our area of Indianapolis that Mad Magazine either is Communist-controlled or has Communist articles. We would like your help in clearing up this rumor. If it is true, we shall take action against the sale of this magazine. If it is not true, we shall feel free to buy it.

Could you please explain the truth to us?

For the sin of reading non-assigned material during class, I had copies of Spartacus, Mad Magazine and other nefarious works of subversive literature torn up in front of my face.

Never did finish Spartacus, but losing it only cost me a 50-cent paperback. Getting caught red-handed with the gospel of William Gaines and Alfred E. Neuman landed me in detention.

As always, Mad remains a dispenser of old-fashioned morality, albeit with an occasional touch of bitters. The Usual Gang of Idiots has advised several generations that life isn't always fair, good guys don't always win, dare to challenge authority and never, ever trust advertising.

Strange Brother Ernest frequently admonished us young sinners that reading things like Mad would lead us into living "licentious lives." He pronounced it "lie-sensuous." We never could find it in a dictionary but figured we could start down that road as soon as we got driver's licenses.

Little has changed. Yesterday, it was Alfred and Elvis. Today, it's Harry Potter. Some nutsos back east recently burned Harry Potter books just in time to promote the second installment of the movie series.

A few weeks ago, a Sparks elementary school teacher asked if I would volunteer to read to her class. She's trying to teach proper word pronunciation and said I could read from whatever book I want. I'm going to bring Harry Potter.

The stories accomplish magical things. My granddaughters taught themselves how to play chess after reading about the game in J.K. Rowling's books. I did the same thing five decades ago after seeing Mickey Mouse use a chess game to outfox some bad guys.

Millions of TV-fried little eyeballs have become voracious readers because of Harry Potter. The books are full of wisdom for young and old: Don't live in the past or dwell on dreams to the exclusion of the world around you. Live your life fully and actively. Standing up to your enemies is hard, standing up to your friends, even harder.

Perhaps my favorite insight is not advice at all, just an accurate observation as Hagrid the Giant mutters how he could not imagine living in a world without magic — the harsh reality through which you and I wander every day. The denizens of wizard world marvel at how difficult we make life for ourselves.

Indeed, we certainly lose something important when we abandon our sense of wonder as we wend our ways toward adulthood.

Harry Potter reawakens childhood aspirations in the fortunate who can rekindle their appetites for fantastic adventures of the mind and spirit. The phenomenon is nothing new. Why did Huck Finn make springing Jim the slave from lockup much more difficult than necessary?

"Because I wanted the adventure of it," he tells an exasperated Tom Sawyer.

The Bible is nothing if not a succession of magical stories. Every society's fabric is a finely spun tapestry of legends and lessons. Take them literally and you end up at war. Take them as old wisdom conveyed in an interesting manner and you will live covered by the impervious mantle of the golden rule.

Harry Potter attends Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, a fantastic place where students are placed in physical jeopardy quite often. They also have magical healers who can instantly fix anything. That's a pleasant fantasy for an uptight world. Indeed, Hogwarts with all its fantasy horrors is far safer than Columbine High School.

For aspiring writers, Rowling's work is a truly textbook example of how to construct a compelling novel. You don't need to buy a book on how to write. Just study how the Potter series is built. (It also helps to have a very fertile imagination.)

I've seen the first Potter film on cable, but will not view the second in a local movie house. I refuse to go to any Syufy Theater and have not since the company tapped taxpayer and construction worker wallets so badly in Sparks in 1997. Which is one reason I am very interested in cable television...

CHARTER CABLE UPDATE. The first meeting of the City of Reno's new Citizens Cable Compliance Committee has been tentatively set for Wednesday, Dec. 11, at 4:00 p.m. at Reno City Hall.

The date coincides with a visit by Bob Sepe, the city's consultant on the renewal of Charter Cable's 15-year franchise. Mr. Sepe should have his draft report with him, as its final version is due for presentation to the Reno City Council on Jan. 21.

This inaugural session is open to the public but will not be televised on Sierra Nevada Community Access Television (SNCAT) because the video-equipped council chamber is not available that day.

A couple of weeks ago, the Reno City Council selected seven citizen volunteers to serve on the new panel. Named to two-year terms were Karol Gorman, Jackie Inman, Kathleen Marshall, Barbara Stone and Noel Thornsberry. Serving three years before the mast will be Peter Padilla and an obscure writer from this newspaper.

The council chose a good cross-section of people with diverse skills from among 27 applicants, some of whom were ineligible because they live outside the Reno city limits.

Washoe County residents who wish to serve on the county's panel or otherwise participate should contact John Balentine at (775) 328-2280. Washoe has five members, each selected by a member of the Washoe County Commission.

Mr. Balentine informed me that on Dec. 17, commissioners may extend the county's current franchise with Charter Communications for one year to March 21, 2004.

This will "enable our committee to do a thorough job with the renewal process," he said.

"This extra time will allow for a thorough community needs survey, plenty of opportunity for citizen and subscriber input and a thorough compliance audit of Charter Communications, including both financial capacity and technical capacity. Needless to say, we are a ways away from the citizens and subscribers input portion of this process, but when that time comes, we will certainly be encouraging all of the input we can get," he stated.

Washoe County's cable panel will next meet in January. While Charter's franchises with Reno and the county expire in 2003, Sparks remains a few years away.

It is thus high time for the Sparks City Council to establish its own consumer panel to coordinate with the other bodies. Several good people are waiting to apply.

The disastrous Cable Deregulation Act of 1996 was supposed to foster competition but instead stuck consumers with deregulated monopolies. The law severely limits the authority of municipalities over cable companies. I have posted material at which generally describes the boundaries.

As with any for-profit utility or de facto monopoly, the franchise renewal process presents a very rare opportunity to put in place some positive protections for ratepayers.

We'll need all the help — magical and otherwise — which we can get.

Be well. Raise hell. | U-News | C.O.P. | Sen. Joe Neal
Guinn Watch | Deciding Factors


© 2002 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 34-year Nevadan, a member Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of and He hosts Deciding Factors on several Nevada television stations. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.)Tribune since 1988.

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