No matter how influential a television show may be to stand the test of time, it’s still a product of the decade in which it was made. While this isn’t a bad thing in of itself, it’s inevitable that both the positive and negative aspects of the decade will be present in the product.
Such is the case for MAS*H, which like the movie it’s based on has many universal themes that arguably make it timeless. Yet, on the other hand, the show’s insensitivity to certain subjects like race and gender make it sadly dated by today’s standards.
10Aged Poorly: The Lack Of Ethnic Diversity
Because we live in an age where ethnic diversity matters a lot more than it has before, we’re naturally critical of any show or movie that lacks representation from members of different races. For instance, while M*A*S*His set in South Korea, there weren’t many Korean characters in the show let alone important ones with most of them portrayed by Japanese-American actors.
Also, a majority of the main characters were white with Corporal Maxwell Klinger being one of the few exceptions who was Arab-American. There were also a few African-American characters, but, like the Koreans, their roles were minor.
9Timeless: Philosophical Truths About Life In General
One of the reasons M*A*S*His still brought up to this day is because of its memorable quotes. Whether they’re comedic or serious in nature, many of them contain something philosophically truthful about life in general.
A perfect example of this is in the Season 9 episode “The Life You Save,” where Captain “Hawkeye” Pierce makes a crack about the chaplain Father Mulcahy taking up garbage duty by saying, “some men are born to garbage, while others have garbage thrust upon them.” It’s a funny statement at a glance, but there is a truthfulness to it that relates to life’s unpredictable moments.
8Aged Poorly: Promoting Alcoholism
For decades, it was considered masculine to be able to consume a lot of alcohol. While that still holds true today to an extent, we’ve become more aware of the negative consequences that alcoholism causes, thus making it less favorable to drink too much alcohol from a modern societal perspective.
So looking back at shows like M*A*S*H, it’s clear that characters like Hawkeye and his buddy Captain Trapper McIntyre were heavy drinkers, which the show framed in a positive way. So, during episodes like “Alcoholics Unanimous” where alcohol is banned by Major Frank Burns, Trapper and Hawkeye end up going crazy thus reinforcing the notion that men are free to drink as much alcohol as they want. Though this belief isn’t entirely wrong, it ignores the real-life problems that come with alcoholism which in turn makes it dated.
7Timeless: A Sense Of Camaraderie Between Characters
While medical shows have been present on television for a long time, very few of them are set during wartimes. One of these exceptions was M*A*S*H, which focused on the fictional 4077th US Mobile Army Surgical Hospital and their efforts during the Korean War.
For this reason, most of the characters were army surgeons and nurses tasked with saving the lives of wounded and/or dying soldiers that were flown into the camp from the frontlines. Yet, in spite of the war’s unpredictability, there was an underlying sense of camaraderie between the characters that always shined through when the situation demanded it (even when they didn’t get along or argue over something), which one couldn’t help but admire.
6Aged Poorly: The Section 8 Gag
The US Army has many rules in place to keep its soldiers in line and prepared for anything, but not all of them are favorable to everyone. For instance, starting in World War II, the Section 8 discharge was implemented to remove anyone who was considered mentally unfit for military service. However, this usually happened to homosexuals, transgender people, bisexuals and/or cross-dressers, as opposed to those with severe mental problems (though they were liable for a Section 8 discharge, as well).
Even though Section 8 isn’t used anymore, it still carries a negative association because of what it did to the LGBTQ community. As a result, most people today don’t find the ongoing joke in M*A*S*Hwhere Klinger crossdresses in order to get a Section 8 discharge funny anymore despite being one of the show’s highlights at the time of its original broadcast.
5Timeless: Having Individuals Question Authority
An age-old theme in many stories is when the individual questions those in charge, though depending on the culture this can be framed in a positive or negative way. In a democratic society like the United States, for instance, the individual is usually favored over the authority figure due to personal freedom being valued over blind obedience.
We see this kind of dynamic perfectly played out in M*A*S*Has troublemakers like Hawkeye are seen in the right compared to strait-laced characters like Frank. Though neither side is entirely right or wrong in their beliefs, there are times when it seems reasonable to question authority figures who are morally and/or ethically dubious.
4Aged Poorly: “Spearchucker” Jones
More of a prominent character in the original M*A*S*H movie, Captain “Spearchucker” Jones was not only one of the few African-American surgeons in the show, but he was also a professional football player before joining the 4077th MASH camp. Now, in context, his nickname relates to his javelin-throwing prowess.
But it’s also a derogatory term for African-Americans, which makes this character’s nickname offensive by today’s standards. It also doesn’t help that Jones himself was barely present in the show, and then he never appeared again after the first season. While there is no definite answer for why this happened, some theories mentioned on Monster M*A*S*H include the writers not coming up with enough material for the character and the producers thinking there weren’t African-American surgeons stationed at MASH units in Korea, though the latter turned out to not be true.
3Timeless: Using Humor To Alleviate Violence
Due to its blending of serious and comedic subject-matters, M*A*S*H has often been considered a Dark Comedy show, which was also the case for the original movie it was based on. Now, Dark Comedies themselves are nothing new, with ones like Snow Ponies currently in the works, as they make violent and disturbing things less impactful by putting it in a humorous framework.
The same is true of M*A*S*H, as scenes of intense surgery or seeing wounded and dying soldiers is contrasted by jokes made by the surgeons. While this may come off as insensitive at a glance, its main purpose is to not only make these kinds of scenes tolerable to watch, but also to make us question our ignorance in the face of real-world violence.
2Aged Poorly: Not Much Equality Between Genders
In spite of the show having female army nurses wearing the same uniforms as men as opposed to the stereotypical white dresses and hats with the cross-shaped symbols on them, M*A*S*H’s depiction of women in general is unfortunately not as progressive compared to today’s standards. Because while female nurses were present, most of them were barely characters except for the head nurse Major Margaret Houlihan.
They were also very dependent on the men in the MASH camp whether it was during surgeries or going on casual dates. Even worse, Margaret’s main character arc revolved around a secret affair she was having with Frank despite the fact that he was a married man, which was framed as being funny even though it’s not from a modern perspective and even borderline sexist.
1Timeless: Showing How War Impacts Everyone
Due to the way the Korean War was depicted, it was clear to everyone who saw the original M*A*S*Hmovie that the film’s focus on the Korean War was meant to be a subtle yet obvious critique of the Vietnam War which was contemporary to when the film came out. The same is true of the show, though to a lesser extent because they didn’t want to get in trouble for taking a political stance on a very sensitive topic. Yet, despite this self-censorship, M*A*S*His highly regarded for its honest depiction of war as being a terrible event that affects everyone involved instead of a glamorized nationalistic stunt.