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Cucullu and Matthew Benoit] 2/9/06
of the acceptable conditions of entertainment is that we typically
accept the premise that the show offers in order to get into
the story line. One has to suspend disbelief and accept a world
of elves, wizards, and orcs, for example, or Lord of the
Rings becomes a raging bore. Similar, but more insidious
suspensions of belief are required for the more “serious” work
that Hollywood produces. This is where “education through
entertainment” gets dangerous. Most recently Stephen
Spielberg’s Munich would have us accept Israeli
Mossad agents as the moral equivalent to Palestine terrorist
murderers. And the fluff-film Syriana, paints terrorists
as handsome, sad, freedom fighters opposed by overweight, Southern-accented,
US government/big business baddies. The only evil that typically
exists for Hollywood comes with the Stars and Stripes insignia.
for decades Americans have had their perception of Korea and
the Korean people similarly skewed by a seemingly innocent,
bubble-headed sitcom, M*A*S*H. Originally a feature film set
in a mobile army surgical hospital in the rear area of the
Korean War, the film had its moments. It was anti-war of course,
for such a position is de rigueur for the limousine
liberals of Malibu. It was a dark comedy with some good lines
and some touching moments. See it once, okay.
given a culture that deems it impossible to have too much of
a good thing, MASH morphed into a horrid television sitcom
that was broadcast to America for more than a decade longer
than the war itself. The transition from film to TV was not
kind to MASH. Elliot Gould and Donald Sutherland, both of whom
know how to act, morphed into Alan Alda and Mike Farrell, who
are truly painful to watch. It may have been the last big gig
for both actors, much to the everlasting gratitude of that
element of the American public left with good taste. Termination
actually worked out well for Farrell and Alda since it gave
them ample time to show up at “Save Tookie Williams” rallies
and chant “We Hate Bush” at moveon.org fundraisers.
in the original film was gritty, but the lame, contrived jokes
in the TV version were laugh-track-dependent and derivative.
MASH had to be grossly embarrassing for those few in the cast
with pride of profession. What gave the program legs was a
viewer-ship that loved drivel and was eager to suspend disbelief
regardless of the consequences. Thus, sadly, MASH for millions
of Americans, became, and is today, Korea.
Was MASH really hit-comedy-for-hire, deliberately intent on brainwashing its
viewers? That may be affording the director, producer, and writers too much
credit. Did it attempt to push a leftist philosophy on the public? Certainly,
though they would never admit it. Their perspective is that they wanted to
capture the reality of the Korean War through understanding and gentle humor.
If they were honest they’d admit that they also did it for the bucks.
At least there they promote a good capitalist agenda. And it apparently worked.
The thing has had more re-runs than Heidi Fleiss. Somewhere in Tibet, between
Richard Gere replays, you can probably catch MASH most nights of the week on
But how these
mental midgets impugned a great country and a wonderful group
of people with their trivial scripts! The portrayal of Korea
as a bombed-out, worthless, shell of a country populated with
odd, mascot-like inhabitants, did enormous disservice to American’s
perceptions of Korea. Remarkably the caricature has had an
adverse influence on relations between the US and South Korea,
and skews perceptions of North Korea to this day. Many American
people are incapable of taking Kim Jong Il seriously because
MASH basically told them that Korean people are weird, but
influenced many people who did not trouble themselves to learn
differently. Those who knew better saw the reality of a program
like MASH: leftist propaganda that belittled the US military
and established moral equivalency between America and the communists.
Replete with cross dressing, scatological references, adultery,
alcohol abuse, and treason all wrapped in sappy comedy, audiences
were told that these aberrations were acceptable forms of behavior,
and, indeed, quite funny.
comedies are tough to pull off. Mr. Roberts, a classic
of stage and the big screen was successful because it kept
conflict focused on human relationships: friendship, pettiness,
jealousy, frustration, loyalty, patriotism, sacrifice, and
honor. It avoided shade tree geopolitical analysis, ideological
composting, and attempting to summarize a great conflict of
nations in vacuous dialogue.
were too much of a stretch even for the original MASH to meet,
and could not ever have been seriously considered by the gerbils
who wrote the television scripts. Instead the writers tried
to gussy up their shopworn leftist politics and wrap them in
the guise of a realistic portrayal of life during the Korean
War. While the show did a great disservice, it would be a mistake
to dismiss it as a harmless trifle.
of MASH successfully used our television sets to deliver their
leftist, anti-military, anti-Korea line. With just a little
imagination and some effort, it could have become a show that
paid sincere and respectful tribute to those who served with
honor, sacrificing so much to fight the communist takeover
of South Korea. It could have reinforced the US-Korea relationship
and expanded the borders of our understanding. Learning can
be fun; one does not need descend to the level of the driveling
fool to elicit a laugh. Shakespeare found time for humor in
even his most serious historical dramas. Was it too much to
ask MASH to have found time for a bit of level-headed seriousness
among so many hours of drivel?
read this and charge overreaction: how can an innocent TV program
be credited with endangering the bilateral relationship between
two great nations? One would like to think that is the case,
and, in fact, the Hollywood left itself dismisses its most
grotesque distortions in exactly that manner. This material,
they say, is meant for entertainment, not education. That,
however, is extremely disingenuous, because most of the group
consciously attempts to influence public opinion through their “art.” Does
any reader honestly think, for example, that Oliver Stone’s
obsessive preoccupation with anti-American, anti-business,
hyper-conspiratorial “historical” dramas is coincidental?
Does it not chill educated people to realize that most Americans
derive their understanding of the Kennedy assassination and
Vietnam from JFK and Platoon?
Simply because MASH is less hyperbolic does not mitigate the ill effects it
has had. For many Korean War veterans and their families – as well as
for subsequent generations for whom the Korean War is as remote as the Peloponnesian
and Civil Wars – what they see on MASH is interpreted as accurately representing
the actual situation. Though descending ever more to the vapid and absurd as
time progressed, the program nevertheless has imprinted a perception of Korea
on the American psyche.
the real Korea by the Korea of MASH would be like watching Commander
in Chief and thinking Hillary might make a good president.
Fortunately, prime time has passed MASH by, replaced by more “cutting,” “edgy,” “gutsy” drama
and comedy. From the banal and inane, entertainment television
has descended to the lower circles of the tasteless and repugnant.
It may be
too late to retrain multiple MASH-washed generations about
Korea, but both the Korean people themselves and the GIs who
sweat, bled, and fought valiantly to save them deserve a better
shake, so we’ll make the effort here to set the record
straight. Take programs like MASH – if you must – with
a sufficient dose of antidotal reality. The human price of
viewer laziness is too high. -one-
about North Korea? Learn more in Gordon’s
best-selling book Separated
at Birth: How North Korea became the Evil Twin became
the Evil Twin, Lyons Press available at bookstores now.
Matthew Benoit is a writer and commentator from western Massachusetts
2006 Gordon Cucullu