Can the 21st century cultural sphere make room for a revived version of a treasure of the 1950s? Satire and humor magazines once had loyal followings that would even outlive that of the topics they were mocking.
Reality has become stranger than fiction in 2022. Which makes doing satire tricky, because extreme imaginary scenarios are already playing out even faster than the satirist can think. Consider transgender athletes competing in women’s sports. When “South Park” lampooned the idea in 2019 with the character of Heather Swanson/“Macho Man,” the show was already behind the curve. And it wasn’t a joke for the female MMA fighters beaten to a pulp by trans athletes such as Alana McLaughlin and Fallon Fox.
Besides the surreal nature of daily life, another obstacle to creating effective satire is the censorship by media organizations and cancel mobs on social media. The censoring of the Babylon Bee by Twitter was one of the catalysts for Elon Musk’s on-again, off-again proposal to buy the social media company. While some are finding their way to alternative platforms in order to skirt restrictions, one couple is going for a more low-tech solution: Selling an illustrated magazine, delivered by mail directly to the reader.
I spoke to Scott and Christy McKenzie, who launched Flip City Magazine in 2020, about the challenges they face and the goals they have for their home-spun creation.
McCoy: It’s been a long period of time since print magazines were really in vogue. People would go down to the newsstand or get a subscription, and they’ve survived in some form but they’ve been on decline, especially since the turn of the millennium. What made you decide to start one yourselves, and in the even more difficult satire category?
Scott McKenzie: Well, yeah the satire magazine of course has been in deep decline back in the 1970s and ’80s. You still had quite a few titles going. And as it got into the ’90s focus shifted to men’s magazines like Details and Maxim and lifestyle magazines. And the humor magazine went into decline for the most part. And seeing as so much media is web-based right now and stays on the web, we thought there was a big opening, and an opportunity for a print magazine that people would enjoy being able to hold in their hands and read the pages. And of course your only other option in the satire market is Mad magazine. And you know in the 1980s, Mad magazine became corporate and by now it’s an extremely woke publication and doesn’t reflect our interests or values. So, we thought this was something that we needed in American culture.
McCoy: Before you started this magazine, what exactly was your main focus in life? Were both you and Christy into art and satire, whether in writing or in visual form, or is this something that you gravitated to because of the void that you’re talking about since Mad has kind of disappeared from the scene.
Scott McKenzie: No, I’m an old fan of Mad magazine and Cracked especially, and I grew up with those and with things like the Dr. Demento radio show with the funny songs. And I’d done cartooning since I was a teenager off and on, independent projects and stuff. So, I had the arts education. We were set up and we had a lot of ideas, and we needed to take them somewhere.
McCoy: You already mentioned Mad, which is iconic, as I actually would say Mad is one of the reasons that I became literate because I used to spend a lot of time at the library often trying to avoid going to school. And I just read a lot of magazines, but especially every month Mad would come out, I’d read it cover to cover. Do you see Flip City being able to tap into the same audience or are you looking to build a totally different type of following?
Scott McKenzie: Well, yeah, I think we can tap into that audience. I think there’s a burgeoning audience of people who want funny takes instead of corporate takes. So, there’s lots of people I think would be anxious for something like this.
Christy McKenzie: We do have a good number of subscribers that subscribe solely because they were Cracked or Mad fans, so yeah, I mean we really are appealing to the Mad and Cracked fans and a bit of nostalgia at this point. We’d love to “youngen” our audience a little bit and give them the experience of holding visible media that makes you laugh, and we’re bringing in more and more parodies, the classic parodies of the satire magazines. And we’ve done “The Walking Dead”; ours was “The Woking Dead.” We’ve got a “Stranger Things” parody coming up for our Halloween magazine. So you know we try to tap the pop culture elements to, I don’t know, to try to keep a wide range of audiences.
McCoy: From your material at Flip City, you seem to draw a lot of influence from internet memes that are popular among conservatives. Do you have a strategy to appeal to the more mainstream normie types who are used to watching shows like “The Bachelor”? Or do you think it’s a waste of time and those people are not really going to look at a product like Flip City?
Scott McKenzie: No, I don’t. I think that’s why we’re emphasizing bringing modern mainstream parodies in, because you know we’ve actually made an effort in this magazine to not make it so partisan. It’s not a political magazine. It doesn’t champion any politician’s causes. And so we really are trying to leave it open for the middle-of-the-road person to understand why such things are worth laughing at.
McCoy: You also call Flip City “America’s last laugh,” so it’s an ironic take on the declining creative freedom and censorship. Comedians and humorists basically have to hold their tongues a lot. Have you considered directly taking the issue on, such as dropping off copies at college campuses and places full of people likely to be unexposed to this type of humor?
Scott McKenzie: You know, we’ve considered that. We’ve got to find which campuses those are, but you know in the web age it’s like you have the potential of reaching so many more people online quickly rather than trying to find them by distributing paper copies or something like that. So that’s just a matter of resources and time and effort.
McCoy: You’ve decided that the magazine wouldn’t pull punches when it came to conservative politicians or commentators who don’t follow through on their promises. Do you have people who write back to you, even let’s say from the beginning and they get defensive, they call it friendly fire—you know the Dan Crenshaw types—and they tell you that you’re being disloyal.
Scott McKenzie: Yeah, we took a few shots at people on the conservative side who we think are acting like gatekeepers. And we also gave our full explanation of why these people deserve criticism. For instance, we took a shot at Dennis Prager for going after Ben Garrison and trying to get him disinvited from a White House event. A lot of people in Conservatism, Inc. have their message they want to stick with. They’re not necessarily free-speech purists. And so what we do is maybe a little too real.
For the full interview with Scott and Christy McKenzie of Flip City Magazine, watch here.