Monday, August 24, 2009

M*A*S*H Issues - Projection

A problem whenever a period show is being made is in attempting to make it as authentic and as true to that period as possible. An extremely good example of a well-done period piece is a film like The Godfather - the cars, the clothing, the storefronts, the music, and so forth. M*A*S*H, made between 1972 and 1983, was no exception in having to deal with the issues of what life was like in the early 1950's.

That being said, the issue of projection rears its ugly head from time to time. It isn't a constant feature on the series, thankfully, or else the show could not be considered 'period'. Ironically, the original film was specifically made to be a projection of the Vietnam era onto Korea. Robert Altman wanted an anti-war film that used Korea to show his opposition to the then-current Vietnam War, and the show started a little bit in that vein; quite easy because 1972-75 was still in the Vietnam era. That in itself isn't the concern, but certain other trends become more apparent.

The largest example that I find is the idea of the 'liberated' person. There is no greater example in M*A*S*H than the chracter of Margaret Houlihan. 'Liberation' was a running theme of shows in the 1970's, especially in regard to women and their sexuality. It was definitely NOT a theme of the early 1950's culture, when sex, while thoroughly practiced, was not discussed in any respectable circles and attempts to hide it were much more prevalent. A large part of the responsibility for this projection rests in Alan Alda, who moved around attempting to get the Equal Rights Amendment passed in the late 1970's and early 1980's. The tangent theme to the 'liberation' is the 'stupid/evil man'. This was explored in the divorce and 'empowerment' of Margaret in Seasons 6-8. Margaret's husband (Donald Penobscott) and various other men (Sgt. Jack Scully, General Lyle Weiskopf, etc.) will not stand in the way of Margaret 'finding her [true] self'.

Some people complain about the clothes and hairstyles, but I find those to be more minor. If a show is being made in 1979 but set in 1951, attempts should be made to be as realistic as possible. However, if it falls a little short here and there, a huge fuss should not be made. The bigger overarching issues do need to be taken head on, such as the one discussed above. It's one thing to try and give a morality tale; it's another to completely disregard the ostensible time period and beat the audience over the head with 'preachiness', which in itself is a posting for another time.

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