Tuesday, November 10, 2015

#WeirdEd Week 82- M*A*S*H

A few things to start-

First, I'm shocked I've never written a M*A*S*H chat before. I could have sworn I had. I must have started one and then thrown it away for a better idea. I have a memory of doing this before.

Second, yesterday I live tweeted the finale of M*A*S*H under the hashtag #GoodbyeFarewellAmen, a shortened version of the title of the episode. I omitted the "and" and I'm enough of a nerd that I have to tell you I know it's wrong. I somehow didn't loose a thousand followers over those two hours. The finale is the best last episode of television except maybe for the Breaking Bad ending. The level of difficulty in wrapping up 11 seasons cannot be overstated. How do you tell a strong story, and give characters we've come to love a goodbye that is satisfying and moving? Under Alan Alda's direction they managed to do it. It's not a perfect episode, but it's so damn close that you can't argue. It was moving to me because I just spent the last however long working my way through it, starting from 1.01, on Netflix. It was my "putting the baby to sleep on my chest" show.

Third, think about this like our Veteran's Day chat. Yes, I'm counting an anti-war show as a Veteran's Day chat. Welcome to #WeirdEd, how are you surprised?

I came to M*A*S*H in reruns, obviously. The final episode originally aired when I was two. M*A*S*H  was on in the afternoons between classes in college and I would kick back and watch the two-in-a-row that whatever network it was on would show every day. It became part of my routine twenty years after it ended. I don't know why I started watching it. Maybe it was on before Rosanne, another college favorite? Either way, I fell in love with the show. It's mix of humor and heart, madcap and message, was and still is exactly the kind of thing that appeals to me. If you stop and think about this chat for instance, or my first book, you can see M*A*S*H all over. I want to be the teaching version of Hawkeye Pierce on one of his less lecherous days. Amazingly talented and disrespectful of authority at the same time, but so good at his job that they can't do anything about it. I've learned the hard way that no matter how good you are a district can wreck you all they want, but the fantasy stands.

I want to work in a school with those people. I ought to clarify I mean those people from the later seasons. I love the early show, but it got better as it got older, with probably seasons 6-9 as the high points. Charles is better than Frank. Potter is better than Henry. BJ is better than Trapper. Klinger becomes more interesting than Radar, though Radar was really strong for a while. In fact everyone was strong, even Frank, who was the most cartoon-like of the bunch. Larry Linville deserves a lot of credit for keeping Burns from being an utter clown when he easily could have been.

But a principal like Col Potter would be the bee's knees. A teaching team made up of Margret, Charles, BJ, and Hawk, with Klinger or Radar as your admin assistant? You're talking big time lessons and learning. Margret's class would be the most organized, wham bam with procedures. Charles would have that class of kids that sit properly and pronounce everything well and are snooty but you understand because their teacher has them doing next level work. BJ's class would love him. Adore him. He'd be the favorite teacher. And Hawkeye's class would be orderly chaos. He'd storm into the principal's office monthly on some crusade. Everyone on staff would like BJ (except Charles who isn't impressed with anyone) but Hawkeye would be one of those teachers that would be divisive in the lounge. "You like him? His class is always so noisy. I'm not sure how he keeps grades in there."

 When M*A*S*H wasn't about the horrors of war it was a weekly Catch-22, highlighting blind leadership, mocking authority, and fighting for what is right in even the darkest situations. The show did things no other show had tried before, including following a dead soldier around the camp, using an on-screen ticking clock to show how long a patient had to live, and doing an entire episode from the first-person perspective of a wounded soldier. That's three episodes that tried harder than any episode of Friends or The Big Bang Theory, both of which are technically in the same genre as M*A*S*H was.

The show tackled racism, sexism, and gay rights. It was progressive before its time, sometimes delving into being preachy but that was almost always motivated by character. Hawkeye was Alda's avatar after a while, and Hawk evolved to speak for things Alda wanted to say. Was the character also regressive when it came to being a womanizer? Yes (something that drove the author of the original book, Richard Hooker, up the wall), but even that wasn't rewarded. Many plots revolved around Pierce trying and failing to hook up or hooking up and learning something. Did that make women often a plot point more than a character? Yes. It was a show made in the 1970s. And not to pick on Big Bang Theory, but that show is just as bad about women (the name of the show is a damn sex joke) and it doesn't have a Margret to be strong and speak up.

I realize this is less an essay about what we're going to talk about tonight in the chat and more me going on and on about my favorite TV show and well, it's my space. To be honest what you're reading is probably one of the rare times a blog post is a rough draft for a chapter in another book.

Tonight we're going to talk about M*A*S*H. My favorite show. A show about friendship and war. About how insanity can keep you sane and how you can find joy in even the most hellish places. About a team of people becoming a family, losing family members, and growing stronger. A show that was often flawed, sometimes incredible, and inhumanly consistently good, funny, and original for eleven long seasons.

And damn that writing was clever when it was on.

Flagg was the second best reoccurring character after Syndey Freedman

Someday I'll find a reason to use this line on someone

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