As a child, I watched more TV Land than somebody should. My first crush was on Leave It To Beaver’s Wally Cleaver, and I dreamed of being as pretty as the Brady Bunch’s Marsha (Greg was not an eyesore either). I laughed and grew up with these children, however it was a darker sitcom that has really stayed with me. In my life few pieces of art have stuck quite like 256 episodes of M*A*S*H.
A few weeks ago, the first five seasons were uploaded to Netflix, and I couldn’t help but reflect on what the show meant to me, and continues to mean to me. I laughed and cried with these authentic and complex characters. I saw life from a different perspective and in a different time, but related to their emotions so truly. There is a saying that goes, everything I needed to know in life, I learned in kindergarten. I personally would say everything I needed to know in life, I learned from M*A*S*H.
For those unfamiliar with the sitcom, M*A*S*H ran for 11 seasons from 1972-1983. M*A*S*H focused on the doctors and nurses of the fictional 4077th MASH (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) during the Korean Conflict (1950-1953). While set in the Korean Conflict, much of the show is truly a commentary on the then-current War in Vietnam.
M*A*S*H taught me more life lessons than I could count, however, I’ve decided to put some of the most important ones in a nice little list.
- Being Away from Home is Hard, But Good Friends Help
The entire staff of the 4077 are thousands of miles away from everything they know, in the middle of a war zone. They experience pain and death and sadness without the comfort of their families or the lives they had to leave behind. However, they learn to find comfort in one another. If this does not apply to a college freshman, then I don’t know what does. While many different and occasionally clashing personalities compose the 4077, they are going through the trauma of war together, and rely on one another for help. As a college student hundreds of miles away from home, I can understand this feeling of having to rely on those around you, because only they know what you’re going through. The gang at the 4077 demonstrate the power of friendship, and how sometimes you need to lean on one another to make it through.
2. A Little Compassion Goes A Long Way
Many of the patients the 4077 sees are scared young boys thrust into combat, or innocent Korean civilians forced to be part of a war they didn’t start. These patients are often in need of healing that goes beyond the body. Father Mulcahy, protagonist Hawkeye Pierce, and even usually cold Margret “Hot Lips” Houlihan have moments were they reach out to those in their care and make a big difference in their lives. Just one moment of kindness shared with another can do wonders, even if it takes every ounce of energy you have left.
- There Is Not Always A Happy Ending
SPOILER ALERT As kids we are fed fairytales where the characters ride off into the sunset. Nothing prepared me more for life than the death of Henry Blake. He says goodbye to all his friends, and is finally on his way back home to the USA to see his family. However, the episode ends with the clerk, Radar, walking into the OR, and telling his colleagues that Blake’s plane was shot down, and he had died on his way home. There are few moments in my life that have left me as gutted as the first time I watched that episode. However, it is true, not everything ends perfect, or is neatly tied up. Real life is messy and imperfect. Characters and people you love do not always get the fairytale they deserve, and that is a lesson best learned early.
- People Are Complex
Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan, head nurse, is the only female main character. Do I love her? Do I hate her? I starting watching this show roughly 10 years ago, and I have no clue. M*A*S*H pushed a lot of boundaries at the time. When watching one must take into account that it was made 40 years ago, but there is something they definitely do right. Margaret was a representation of a complex woman on TV, something that is still to this day is rarely done well. Margaret took great pride in her work as a nurse. Sometimes she could come off as cold, however she also had a sensitive side and was deeply affected by the pain, suffering, and death around her. As a woman in the 1950s, she must deal with the sexist attitudes of many of the men of the 4077 and keep her nurses in line. She despised to look weak or vulnerable in front of anybody. Margaret is beautiful, smart, witty, hard, and soft all at once. Her character development is incredible, and is one of the most authentic characters ever written or portrayed.
- Goodbye Is Hard
Throughout the 11 season run, several main cast members came and left. Their departures are difficult, as if one of your best friends is moving away, however it is the show’s final goodbye that really gets me. “Goodbye, Farwell, and Amen” was the name give to the two and a half hour finale of M*A*S*H. More than 30 years later, it remains one of the most watched television events of all time. Saying goodbye to characters you have grown to love, much like people in real life, is difficult. Goodbye is never easy. The mixed feelings BJ experiences between the overwhelming joy he feels about going home to his family and the pain of leaving his best friend, are beautifully captured. Goodbyes are certainly a part of life, no matter what age you are. There will be times when you must move on and leave something, or somebody behind. However, there is one thing the 4077 gang makes clear, goodbye most certainly does not mean forgetting.
M*A*S*H is comedy, drama, and political commentary. The staff of the 4077 become your family. You laugh with them, and you cry with them. You start to hum the haunting theme song in your sleep. However, loving M*A*S*H has taught me so much and introduced me to completely different perspectives and ways of looking at things. If you’re hunkering down for the long haul, and considering watching the series from start to finish once the rest of the seasons are uploaded, then you are in for an emotional roller coaster. However, it is incredibly worth it.
Peace & Love,
~ Kayla Casavant