Those craving attention live in a mad, mad world


With the sun spreading its vast Technicolor glow along York Road, and with thousands streaming into the Towsontown Festival, and with the music of their laughter filling the weekend air, this kid was spotted outside the Towson Library. Immediately, he made you want to cancel spring and issue a factory recall for winter.

He was maybe 14 years old and wore a black T-shirt and a smirk. The T-shirt said "Nazi Punk." The smirk said: I am a geek who thinks this is cool, and I have no idea what I am doing.

I thought I might enlighten him with a punch in the nose. The last time I checked, I still had traces of a bicep where I left it about 30 years ago.

"Leave the kid alone," I was instructed. "You'll make a scene."

"I just want to ask if he knows anything about history," I said. "He probably doesn't even know what a Nazi is. They never mentioned it in school. I'll explain it very gently, and then I'll kill the little twerp."

Even at my age, I'm pretty certain I can handle a 14-year-old. At 14, I wasn't wearing my politics on my T-shirts, I was going steady with my baseball glove. What social consciousness I had, I picked up from the comic anarchy of Mad magazine.

"You'll make a scene," I was told again.

Then I saw the others, half a dozen of them now, lolling outside the library and dressed in black: one kid with his hair pomaded and spiked several times in a row across the top of his head; a girl in black jeans that seemed to have gone through a shredder; a few more kids with pins sticking out of various areas of their faces where pins shouldn't go.

"At my age," I muttered, "I was reading Sport magazine and taking all my fantasies out to the ball field."

"Of course you were."

I was becalmed by a walk across York Road to Borders Books, where I searched for comfort in old friends. I looked for Sport, and remembered issues featuring Mickey Mantle and Jackie Robinson. I looked for Mad, and remembered its old parodies.

I found Sport, and wanted to cancel all calls to my remembered youth. I found Mad, and wanted to go home and pull the covers over my head.

On the cover of Sport, there was Dennis Rodman, the basketball player who finds his need for attention unmet by his vast money, or the NBA spotlight, or his association with former girlfriend Madonna. Rodman informs us he likes to wear women's clothing, that he had an affair with a transsexual and that he plans to change his name. To Orgasm. And there he was now, on the cover of Sport -- my Sport, the magazine that took me through junior high school with tales of Mickey Mantle overcoming bad legs to hit prodigious home runs, and Jackie Robinson overcoming racism to help give a conscience to America - and here was Rodman in a two-piece bikini bathing suit, hair dyed blond, hand cupped behind his head in the traditional feminine bathing beauty look.

"Too much Dennis Rodman?" the magazine's headline coyly asks.

Too much Sport magazine, too, and too much Mad. It's changed. Last month, its cover featured Alfred E. Neuman with his butt sticking out. On the back cover was a spoof of those Absolut Vodka ads. Some guy's outlining the familiar bottle shape in the snow. He's urinating on it. This month, the front cover has Howard Stern and the ubiquitous Dennis Rodman. They're in matching wedding gowns.

It's all part of the same deal, isn't it? Dennis Rodman and Sport, Mad magazine and those kids on York Road. Rodman, hungry for attention, poses in a ladies bikini for a Sport with circulation troubles. Mad, desperate to halt its circulation skid, decides to invent a new publication under the old name. It's Mad, all right, but it's also witlessly vulgar.

Pay attention to me, they're all saying. The field of modern media's too crowded now, so they're all flapping their arms like crazy, and putting on weird makeup, and throwing obscenities in our faces.

The same with these kids. Towson's such a nice, respectable place, with so many nice, respectable families. The kids outside the library are looking for a little attention, so they're doing what we do in America when we want to be noticed: anything that seems outrageous.

The message itself means nothing; marketing is all. We put "Nazi" on a shirt, as if it stands for something. We put a guy in a woman's bathing suit on a magazine cover, or show a cartoon character with his modesty removed. They mean nothing. They're just voices in the wilderness crying: Won't someone around here please pay attention to me?

Pub Date: 5/06/97

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