There’s this extremely awkward period in a young boy’s life that, for me, occurred around 1996, when I was 12 and 13. I suppose Americans call this middle school, but in New South Wales we go straight from primary school to high school, so I can’t demarcate this time in such a fashion. But this period is when a boy, though he is physically manifesting some of the characteristics of adolescence, has no real capacity to be much more than a little kid, as much as he suspects he should no longer be. The world and your body are ushering you into adulthood, but, mentally, you’re not really interested in maturity. Sam, Neil, and Bill in Freaks and Geeks are probably the most realistic fictional portrayal of this. When I was 12, I crushed on a real life girl for the first time, but there was probably lego at Toys R Us I crushed harder on.
I’m sure there’s an analogous period in a young girl’s life, but I don’t really know how it works, because I wasn’t paying attention at the time and also because markers of adulthood are different for boys and girls.
Anyway, this is the exact time that a young boy discovers Mad magazine. (Sometimes a young girl does too. But less often, I think.) At recess and lunch time in seventh grade, I had a group of friends who were united by our habit of going to the school library and reading copies of Mad. (I don’t know what the cool kids were doing.) And soon after discovering Mad, one also discovered that there was a mysteriously awful publication called Cracked, which, for some reason, insisted on trying to imitate the inimitable.
And then the Internet came along and now Mad is nostalgia and Cracked is a flourishing online timesuck that has established the perfect balance between addictive listicle and obnoxious linkbait. Seriously. I’m 28 years old and I read Cracked on a not irregular basis.
12 year old me would be mortified.