Monday M*A*S*H Discussions offers fans the opportunity to offer their opinions on a wide variety of topics relating to M*A*S*H. Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section. My hope is these discussion posts will continue to elicit comments in the weeks and months after they’re initially published. Have a suggestion about something you think might be worth discussing? Let me know and maybe it will become my next Monday M*A*S*H Discussion topic.
Today’s topic: Was M*A*S*H’s 1950s Setting Realistic?
Is this the 1950s or the 1970s (or the 1980s)?
For fans who didn’t live through the 1950s, watching M*A*S*H can sometimes be confusing due to references they don’t understand. I’m one of those fans. More than once, I’ve had to look up something while watching an episode in order to understand a joke. The road signs Hawkeye passes while driving back to the 4077th? I had never heard of Burma-Shave and didn’t know about its popular advertising campaign using humorous road signs.
The writers used references to movies, music, celebrities, and politics to remind viewers the series took place during the early 1950s. But not all of these references were accurate to the time period. For example, in “Mad Dogs and Servicemen,” Hawkeye mentions the movie Godzilla, which was released in theaters in Japan in 1954. During the same episode, the Gogi Grant song “Wayward Wind” is referenced, but it wasn’t released until 1956. Likewise, in “Movie Tonight,” Radar impersonates actor John Wayne from the movie McLintock! but it hit theaters in November 1963.
During the early-to-middle seasons, most characters sported hairstyles that presumably mirrored those popular during the 1950s. They may not have been U.S. Army accurate, but they were believable to the time period. That changed during the last three or four seasons. Margaret in particular wore hairstyles that were clearly not from the 1950s. Perhaps Loretta Swit renegotiated her contract and inserted a clause allowing her to keep her Farrah Fawcett hairdo.
B.J.’s shaggy hair and bushy mustache in the latter seasons also seem more appropriate to the late 1970s or early 1980s than the 1950s.
Pop culture and fashion are relatively simple. More complex are politics and social norms. Did M*A*S*H accurately represented the political feelings and social attitudes prevalent during the early 1950s?
Depending on your age, this discussion can play out in one of two ways. If you remember the Korean War, the question you have to ask yourself is whether M*A*S*H reflects your memories of that time period. If you’re too young to have memories of the Korean War, you have to consider whether M*A*S*H does a good job making you believe it took place between June 1950 and July 1953 or if it lacks verisimilitude.
Hit the comments with your thoughts.