MASH

MASH was a comedy/drama in the 1970s that lasted a decade. The show told the story of a “Mobile Army Surgical Hospital” (MASH) stationed near the front, in the Korean War.

I’ve watched MASH in reruns every few years throughout most of my life. It was a well made show and still holds up well, 38 years after its first season. It will still make you laugh, hard, and occasionally make you cry. I recently started watching it again. It has been interesting for me to see how my attitudes about various aspects of the show have changed over time.

Perhaps the biggest change is that this time around I enjoyed the latter episodes more than the earlier ones. The ones after the characters of Henry Blake, Trapper John and Frank Burns left. I found the earlier episodes to be meaner in spirit, more didactic politically and more cartoonish.

Radar, this time around, is now one my favorite characters. He is a proto-vegan, reminding people that his animals “are people too!”

I’ve been finding Hawkeye to be an egotistical lecturing bore.

I have new respect for the character of Klinger. Klinger dresses in women’s clothing and does all sorts of bizarre stunts to convince people that he is mentally unstable so they will kick him out of the army. When asked why he was going to such extremes to get out of the army he replies that he doesn’t want to get killed and doesn’t want to be told to kill. I found that impressive since his character in civilian life was a bit of a working class street thug from the 1950s and not someone picking up a meditation class after yoga at the gym.

There is also the character “Charles Emerson Winchester”, a blue blooded Boston surgeon. When I was younger I didn’t have an appreciation for how his classicism came off as arrogant and offensive. His character, meant to be a fink, comes off as much more interesting since he isn’t consistently a jerk. Often he is insightful.
I love when his character moves into the phase of a sounding like a frustrated college professor surrounded by people who lack the ability to appreciate the things he can.

I’ve had the most fun noticing the anachronisms in the show. The producers of MASH originally wanted to make the show be about the Vietnam War, but since it was the early 1970s they backed away from the controversy and made the show about the Korean War instead. So, you had people in the 1970s making a show about people in the 1950s with things in the show not belonging to one or both decades.

The most obvious anachronism is the hairstyles of the men. Most of the actors have 1970s era haircuts. Men of the early 1950s, particularly men in the military, wouldn’t be caught dead with their hair that long.

The next is yoga. The character Margaret Houlihan, raised in an army family and a career army nurse circa the early 1950s, practices yoga in her tent. I do remember seeing an actress strike a yoga pose in an early Elvis movie. However, back in the 1950s people like Margaret Houlihan did not know about and practice yoga. 2011, with a yoga class in every gym, maybe. Yoga was still something new and exotic as late as the early 1980s.

Then there are all of the references to the characters of Margaret Houlihan and Frank Burns indulging in kinky BDSM sex play. In 2011 every female singer who needs a bit of publicity will shoot a video in a fetish outfit. I’m not an expert, but I just don’t think those things were around for ordinary people in the 1950s or even the 1970s.

Noticing the anachronisms is just one of the ways this classic show is fun. That and Colonel Flag 🙂

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