M*A*S*H: Anger Turned Sideways
Updated: Sep 24
All throughout November and December, Story Screen is giving thanks to those cinematic stories that have always been there for us – whether through film, TV or even specific persons (on, behind or in front of the silver screen). These are the works we cannot help but appreciate, the ones that molded us, guided us, and stuck with us through good times and bad. These are the ones that deserve our personal thanks.
Henry: You were ordered to stand down!
Hawkeye: I did, but I fell up again. From Ep 29: Dr. Pierce and Mr. Hyde
Thank you, M*A*S*H. When the good folks at Story Screen asked their contributors what movies or TV shows we’re thankful for, I knew immediately that you were my first and most important answer. It's your television persona that I'm addressing today, M*A*S*H. Although I'm a great fan of your cinematic side, as well, (in the form of your 1970 war film precursor); however, it's your small-screen incarnation that imprinted on me at a young age in so profound a way, that you feel like part of my DNA to this very day. So, if you'll indulge me, M*A*S*H, I'd like to share a bit about why I'm so thankful for you. “There are certain rules about a war. Rule number one is: young men die. And rule number two is: doctors can't change rule number one.” From Ep. 17: Sometimes You Hear the Bullet
M*A*S*H, I don't know exactly how old I was when I first came across you. I do remember my first episode, “The Moon is Not Blue,” an unenthusiastic and lackluster offering from your weary, half-hearted, final season. I must have liked it enough to keep watching, because I quickly became obsessed. And when I say obsessed, I mean really obsessed. I recorded every episode that aired on VHS tapes, experiencing your many distinct eras out of order and without context. I acquired a book listing every episode with synopses, and eventually I determined I'd seen 250 of your 251 episodes. The one I'd missed? “Major Topper,” which never seemed to air. When it was finally released on DVD, I discovered why: it wasn't very good. That tended to happen a lot with you M*A*S*H. I think we both know “Major Topper” was hardly your worst. That's okay, I have always forgiven you; even the best of us have our flaws. Speaking of which, you were never exactly low-key about your opinions, M*A*S*H. You were nothing if not outspoken… sometimes, perhaps a bit too much so. I was a sheltered kid with a difficult upbringing, and I needed some guidance when it came to my own developing belief system. Your reflexive absolutism may have given me naive ideals about right and wrong, but you also planted the seeds of my liberalism, feminism, and compassion. Watching anger, outrage and fear, molded into a stubborn moral code on-screen, gave me a sense of what it meant to be honorable and decent. The residents of the 4077th epitomized respect for life and a wild irreverence in the face of brutality, and I emulated those qualities jealously. An awareness that laughter, decency and beauty can persevere in the darkest of circumstances, very likely saved my life, and that awareness, came at least in part, from you. "Anger turned inwards is depression. Anger turned sideways is Hawkeye." From Ep 7: Dear Sigmund
M*A*S*H , your restless iconoclastic discontent with your own narrative form has shaped my tastes in arts and entertainment. Is it any wonder that I am drawn to deconstruction, to subversion of form, when from the beginning, you couldn't tolerate your own mold? From writer Larry Gelbart’s desire to use no laugh track, (“Just like the real Korean War”), to heartbreaking moments of agonizing tragedy, you were never destined to live and die a hijinks-at-the-front sitcom. Your later experimentation with form as in “Dreams,” “Point of View,” “The Interview,” and much more, revolutionized television in ways still felt today. You affected me in oddball ways too, M*A*S*H. My obsessive viewership when I was young, led me to observations about the layout of your set. The arrangement of the tents differed between the soundstage and the exterior location, which again, differed from the aerial footage in the opening credits sequence. I began drawing blueprints based on hours spent squinting at grainy paused VHS frames. Since then, I've loved blueprints, and I habitually seek a spatial understanding of recurring sets on television shows I watch. Strange, I know. It's your fault, M*A*S*H.
Much time during the last half-decade of my life has been devoted to the creation (and consumption) of craft cocktails. My first and most enduring love in the world of imbibing? A gin martini. Although I no longer prefer them so, I first drank them the way Hawkeye did: “A very dry, arid, barren, desiccated, veritable dustbowl of a martini.” My tastes may have changed, but as I write this while sipping a drop of Uncle Val’s Botanical, I'm reminded of another quote from that mad wordsmith Hawkeye, “I have lapped, sipped, and taken gin intravenously, but I have never swilled.” Thank you, M*A*S*H, for all of the above, and for more, but for nothing so much as for this: thank you for the late nights, the nights when the soft strums and slow fade-in of your opening sequence promised solace. Through insomnia, loneliness, heartbreak and depression, you have been there for me. In times of great bounty or of devastating loss, I had you. You've always been a good friend to me, M*A*S*H, even with your flaws, (yes, I even forgive you for “Major Fred C. Dobbs”). I would not be the person that I am, (even with my flaws), without you. To quote BJ Hunnicut in your final moments, “I don't know what this place would have been like if I hadn't found you here.” Thank you, M*A*S*H, and Happy Thanksgiving.
(Sometimes) a theatrical director/actor/producer and writer, and (mostly) a bartender and New Beaconite often found in semi-aimless wander, Edward is pleased and honored to contribute this piece to the most excellent Story Screen.