Loretta Swit who played Margaret Houlihan in MASH

Loretta Swit who played
Margaret Houlihan on MASH


MASH as a Vision of the Human Condition

by Ken Sanes

MASH is probably the best and most humane series that has ever aired on television. It depicts two societies -- a society of life, led by doctors, and a society of death, which is represented by a caricatured depiction of the U.S. military.

The society of death kills people, often mindlessly, and its rules and corruption rob life of much of its meaning. The society of life saves them. While the society of death sends young boys to die on the front lines, MASH depicts the society of life as fighting back on its own front lines, in the operating room.

The society of life is led by Benjamin Franklin Hawkeye Pierce, a "wounded surgeon" who is constantly trying to save everyone else, but can't save himself.

Hawkeye pierces through pretensions and manipulates the society of death to stop it from destroying people. He operates in surgery and he is an "operator" who is constantly working the system to help those around him.

Hawkeye is a classic savior figure, trapped in a world that is lost in its own craziness.

The society of life has various other characteristics, as well.
Among them, it is tolerant of imperfection. It accepts people as they are and is thus able to include within itself  interesting characters like Maxwell Klinger.

This was the basic theme of the MASH TV series and it remained constant from the first episode to the last.

The Transformation of MASH

But in the latter part of the series MASH became both more ironic and more humane. As it did so, it started including all the main characters in its society of life.

Among them was Col. Potter who provided a less caricatured image of the military. Potter partook of both societies and, so,
was able to act as a go-between from one to the other.

Even one of Pierce's antagonists, Major Houlihan, changed sides and joined the society of life, as she went from being "Hot Lips" Houlihan, the cardboard cutout of conservative and military hypocrisy, to Margaret Houlihan, a military officer who was also an exceptional human being.

Actually this change provides an insight into what may be the biggest secret of the MASH TV series -- the military characters became less caricatured because, as the vision of the series matured, it began to break down the boundary between the two societies.

The main military characters became more humane because, in the end, MASH came as close as it could to recognizing that everyone was on the same side.

- - - - - - -

You can also go to:
MASH and the Struggle of Life Against Death
More on Situation Comedies  /An Essay on Sitcoms
Email What's Being Said About Transparency 

Image is of Loretta Swit being interviewed at the Governor's Ball following the 41st Annual Emmy Awards, 9/17/89. By Alan Light (1385) [CC-BY-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Homepage Link