by Ken Sanes
MASH is probably the best and most humane series that has ever
aired on television. It depicts two societies -- a society of life,
led by doctors, and a society of death, which is represented by a
caricatured depiction of the U.S. military.
The society of
death kills people, often mindlessly, and its rules and corruption
rob life of much of its meaning. The society of life saves them.
While the society of death sends young boys to die on the front
lines, MASH depicts the society of life as fighting back on its own
front lines, in the operating room.
The society of life is led by Benjamin Franklin Hawkeye Pierce, a
"wounded surgeon" who is constantly trying to save everyone else,
but can't save himself.
Hawkeye pierces through pretensions
and manipulates the society of death to stop it from destroying
people. He operates in surgery and he is an "operator" who is
constantly working the system to help those around him.
Hawkeye is a classic savior figure, trapped in a world that is lost
in its own craziness.
The society of life has various other characteristics, as well.
Among them, it is tolerant of imperfection. It accepts people as
they are and is thus able to include within itself interesting
characters like Maxwell Klinger.
This was the basic theme of
the MASH TV series and it remained constant from the first episode
to the last.
The Transformation of MASH
But in the latter part of the series MASH
became both more ironic and more humane. As it did so, it started
including all the main characters in its society of life.
Among them was Col. Potter who provided a less caricatured image of
the military. Potter partook of both societies and, so,
to act as a go-between from one to the other.
Even one of
Pierce's antagonists, Major Houlihan, changed sides and joined the society of life, as she went
from being "Hot Lips" Houlihan, the cardboard cutout of conservative
and military hypocrisy, to Margaret Houlihan, a military officer who
was also an exceptional human being.
Actually this change
provides an insight into what may be the biggest secret of the MASH
TV series -- the military characters became less caricatured
because, as the vision of the series matured, it began to break down
the boundary between the two societies.
The main military
characters became more humane because, in the end, MASH came as
close as it could to recognizing that everyone was on the same side.
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You can also go to:MASH and the Struggle of Life Against Death
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Image is of Loretta Swit being interviewed at the Governor's
Ball following the 41st Annual Emmy Awards, 9/17/89. By Alan Light
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