10 Jokes From M*A*S*H That Have Already Aged Poorly

MASH may have been a hilarious show at the time, but looking back, it's sexist, racist, and often very problematic.

Based on the book and movie of the same name, MAS*H was a hit television series in the 1970s that surpassed the movie’s fame, much like Stargate SG-1 did compared to the original Stargate movie. Set during the Korean War, the show focused on the antics of the fictional 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital of the United States Army stationed in South Korea.

While the show was mainly known for its comedy, it also tackled serious subjects. With that said, not all of the jokes from MAS*H have aged well to this day.

10 “Stop It, Will Ya!? You Ninny!”

Among the various characters that appeared in M*A*S*H, Corporal Radar was arguably one of the most relatable.  Being the clerk for the 4077th MASH camp, he was often given various tasks to do by different officers whether he wanted to do them or not.  Due to his wimpy nature, he often caved in under pressure and the show would occasionally make fun of this aspect to his character by giving him a teddy bear and putting him in situations that exploited his feebleness.  

But this was taken to an extreme in the Season 6 M*A*S*H episode “Fallen Idol” when Captain Hawkeye outright calls Radar a ninny due to him foolishly worshipping Hawkeye like an idol.  While the above quote could be interpreted as funny because of its truthfulness regarding Radar’s character, the tone makes it sound nasty.

9 Klinger’s Tendency To Wear Women’s Clothing

One of the longest ongoing jokes in M*A*S*Hwas Corporal Maxwell Klinger’s habit of wearing women’s clothes much to the annoyance of his superiors.  The reason he did this was so he could get discharged under the rules of Section 8, which applied to officers that were considered mentally unfit for the military.

Now at a glance, this comes across as offensive from a modern perspective since it unintentionally makes fun of transgender people since they were often given a Section 8 discharge from the military.  Then it doesn’t help that Klinger’s character was originally written to be effeminate, which the writers didn’t go through with but what they did isn’t much better.

8 “Anyone Who Needs Psychiatry Is Sick In The Head.”

Being the cliche stick-in-the-mud military officer, Major Frank Burns served as the perfect contrast to characters like Hawkeye who were wild and didn’t play by the rules.  Still, that doesn’t excuse some of the things Frank says.

Take, for example, this joke from Season 3 of M*A*S*Htitled “Mad Dogs and Servicemen” which Frank remarks to a GI who is suffering from mental trauma that causes him to become paralyzed both physically and mentally.  As a result, this joke comes across as offensive due to our modern understanding of mental illness which was starting to be explored more thoroughly when this show originally aired.

7 Hawkeye Being A Constant Womanizer

Another ongoing joke in M*A*S*Hwas Hawkeye’s tendency to get ‘romantic’ with any women that were available.  Though this was a trait of his carried over from the original M*A*S*H movie, where he was played by Donald Sutherland instead of Alan Alda, that doesn’t make his constant flirting any less annoying or cringe-worthy from a modern perspective.

While it might have been seen as charming back when the show first aired and even funny in combination with Hawkeye’s usual witty remarks, it gets overused so many times throughout each episode.  He even goes so far as to flirting with the same woman over and over again in the same episode, whether it’s an established character or a nobody with a pretty face.

6 “When Did This Line Start Using Stewardesses?”

Though the 1970s brought about Second Wave Feminism, which pushed for more equality through protests than the First Wave, the entertainment industry still had a ways to catch up.  For instance, while M*A*S*Hdid have female military officers such as Major Margaret Houlihan who mattered as characters and not just eye-candy that didn’t stop them from being the target of casual sexism from the men.

One such example happened in the eighth season episode “War Co-Respondent” where a female war correspondent named Aggie O’Shea arrives at the 4077th MASH camp and gets greeted with this joking remark by a male officer.  

5 Hawkeye And Trapper Pulling Cruel Pranks On Margaret

When Hawkeye wasn’t busy flirting with women, he and his buddy Captain Trapper would pull various pranks around the 4077th MASH camp.  The two people they tended to prank on the most were Frank and Margaret. But while Frank had mostly harmless pranks done to him, like having his arm wrapped in a cast with a hook, the ones done to Margaret were arguably more cruel by comparison.

For instance, in the Season 1 episode “Major Fred C. Dobbs” Frank requests a transfer from the 4077th MASH camp and has a private heartfelt conversation with Margaret about it.  While this is going on, Hawkeye and Trapper put a microphone in the tent causing Frank and Margaret’s conversation to get broadcast to the whole camp.  

4 “Shoveling A Little Manure For My ‘Tokyo Rose’” 

Much like Frank, Major Charles Winchester III was another straight man who served to foil Hawkeye.  His main character-arc, though, was resenting his superior officer who transferred Winchester to the 4077th MASH camp after Winchester beat him at a game of Cribbage.

Then in the Season 9episode “No Laughing Matter,” Winchester meets that superior officer again and tries to win him over as a means to get back his previous position in Tokyo.  Hence, Winchester says the above line which is meant to be funny as it is a pun on the Tokyo Rose propaganda broadcasting personality from World War II.  But it isn’t funny now due to the controversy surrounding this persona, which involved a Japanese woman born in America who was wrongfully accused of being the ‘real’ Tokyo Rose and convicted of treason according to the FBI’s website (though she was pardoned later).

3 Frank’s Infidelity

Every now and then, the M*A*S*Hseries would draw attention to the fact that many of its characters had loved ones waiting for them back home in the United States.  One that got brought up the most frequently was Frank’s wife, due to his not-so-subtle affair with Margaret who was never consistent about whether she cared Frank was married or not.

This, in turn, was framed by the show as being funny, since Frank and Margaret pride themselves on being more dignified than the officers below their rank yet the fact that they commit infidelity made them seem like hypocrites.  But it isn’t by today’s standards, since Frank comes across as an unfaithful jerk.

2 “Korean Women Aren’t Known For Hairy Knuckles.”

Despite the show’s reputation for being surprisingly dark despite its comedic elements, and underlying critique of the Vietnam War like the film that inspired it, M*A*S*His sadly a product of its time. For instance, there weren’t many POC characters present.  Then there weren’t many Korean characters, despite the show being set in Korea, and the show’s depiction of them was questionable.  

For instance in the Season 4 episode “Dear Peggy,” which was part of a series of episodes where a character would be writing a letter to a loved one and recalling events that are portrayed in the episode proper, Klinger tries escaping the MASH camp by dressing up as a Korean but gets caught by the commanding officer Colonel Potter who says the above line.  It’s meant to be funny in relation to Klinger’s poor disguise, but it comes across now as subtly racist.

1 Margaret Being Harassed And/Or Assaulted

Because Margaret was the only significant female character in M*A*S*H, she was often flirted by the men in the camp regardless if they were established characters or guest ones.

Sometimes, this flirting would escalate into harassment or straight-up assault as was the case in the Season 2 episode “Operation Noselift” where Margaret gets assaulted by a plastic surgeon named Major Stanley “Stosh” Robbins who takes a fetish-like interest in her mouth thinking she’s the “Barracuda” nurse Hawkeye mentions early in the episode.  Though it’s meant to play for laughs due to the misunderstanding aspect of the situation, it isn’t funny nowadays due to our modern sensibility about harassment.

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