Sunday, August 23, 2015

A Salute to M*A*S*H (Television Show)

This is a salute to M*A*S*H, the most human show I have ever seen. It accomplished so many great things that I respect, had so many characters that I cared about, and moved me repeatedly - sometimes to actual (manly) tears. So, I would like to address M*A*S*H directly and thank it for all it's done.

Dear M*A*S*H, you're the best. Sure, you ran for a long time, and were wildly popular. Sure, you still hold the record for the most widely viewed television finale - pulling 125 million people in to turn on their TV sets in the mid 80's. Sure, you aired during the middle of one war to talk about another one (but not really talk about the other one...). Sure you aired several years before I was even born. But, that's not really what I care about. You really moved me, and made me want to be a better human. And you did it while joking about alcoholism, drug use, and skirt-chasing. You're remarkable. So, I salute you M*A*S*H, for all the great things you've done:

- You were never serious - even though you almost always were. Each episode was like a clown somehow got off the wrong train station and ended up at a funeral.

- You didn't respect authority, but you respected life. In everything you ever did, you respected life. I came to really identify with that.

- Your characters didn't have weaknesses, they were weaknesses. Their strengths were veiled weaknesses, their coping methods were weaknesses wrapped in neuroses, and their weaknesses were real and identifiable.

- There were no villains - the only real sin in the world of M*A*S*H was to stop caring about the feelings and lives of others. Those villains were the only ones you never exonerated, the people who had forgotten what empathy felt like.

- You ran boldly for eleven seasons - switching out more than half the cast as you went - and still ended on a high note without being cancelled by the network.

- I could never tell whether I would laugh or cry during your episodes - you played the comedy and the tragedy straight, as it came.

- You kept your own rules, even after eleven seasons the characters remained the same, they grew up, and were shaped by events, but they were never someone different just to suit the needs of the plot.

- You praised everyone equally, even in a time when that wasn't necessarily popular. You talked about women's rights, racism, homosexuality, fear, faith, mortality, poverty, and how to decide between eating liver or fish.

- Your characters were honest, and pure of heart, while also being real and approachable.

- You replaced excellent characters with better characters each time someone left.

- You snuck major political, personal, racial, moral, and philosophical dilemmas and conversations into an innocuous comedy. You got me to think, when that's supposed to be a comedy killer.

- You explored, you stretched and challenged your characters. You made them make tough, irreversible decisions. You put them in situations that changed their perceptions, tested their compassion, and questioned their morals. And did I mention it was all very funny?

- The comedy was constant. It never stopped. To this day, I rewatch your episodes when I want to relax and feel happy. I like to sit back and slip into a half-sleep and let the constant stream of comedy wash over me. Whether or not I laugh, it doesn't matter - I just feel better knowing that we've all got it tough, but that doesn't mean it can't be fun too.

- You help me keep my hipster street cred. I've never once been able to convince someone younger than my parents to watch you, and so each time I recommend you to others, I remain "too cool" for what is current, mainstream, or socially acceptable in any way.

- You really made me sad - like devastatingly so - multiple times. But then I'd turn on another episode and the happy would come right back.

- You were crass and irreverent. You were artistic and experimental. You were honest and charismatic. I'm not sure you wanted to choose what you were, so you took a stab at everything, and you felt more lifelike because of it.

- You grew up. Sure, your characters grew and changed, but so did you. At first, racism and infidelity were a couple of big jokes to you. Then, they took on new meaning, and they became difficult issues. I don't know if that was your way of convincing cynical people to like and listen to you before you delivered the moral messages, or if you just matured over time by sheer exposure to your own subject matter. Either way, you began to realize and explore the true implications of your themes, and I was changed for the better because of it.

- And above all, you laughed your way through it all. You kept that one promise for eleven seasons. You started as a comedy of characters in a horrible situation, and sometimes when things got really tough, the comedy was almost like a coping mechanism or a reflex. Sometimes I didn't know whether or laugh or cry, and sometimes you cracked a wonderful joke, but we both cried anyway. But no matter how sad things got, the comedy was always there.

- You delivered something meaningful, dressed in a clown's outfit.

Here's to you M*A*S*H and to how few people I will ever convince in my lifetime to give you a second glance. You were - and still are - the most human television show I've ever seen.

And now, to complete the salute - here is a collection of gif's from my favorite character of yours. Stay Classy, M*A*S*H.

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