I woke with an image today of a piece of meat that had been hammered to tenderize it, and I sensed nonverbally that it meant I should shift my approach this week to “sifting” rather than “pounding” on a topic. So what might that mean for the topic of television Better Endings?
What are some benefits we may sift from the dross of television fare? I’d say when we become interested in or identified with either one character or an entire ensemble cast, and when we are witness over time to positive transformations in those ‘character arcs’, this can lead to personal growth and development in ourselves, by association.
So I invite you to focus on some transformational storylines from TV to uncover Life Lessons you have gained insights about through the adventures and interactions of some of your favorite characters. Transformational storylines require some basic character “flaws” initially that may get resolved or transformed over time.
M.A.S.H. comes to mind. We see in this popular sitcom an ensemble cast of rather disparate seeming characters at first, who have been thrown together at a medical triage station near the front lines in South Korea, during the Korean War. But since nothing is truly accidental, especially in storytelling, this odd assortment of personalities is actually not random at all. Let’s explore the key characters and traits they represent, traits that may have archetypal reflections for the audience!
Some M.A.S.H. Character Traits: Strengths/ Weaknesses
Maj. Hawkeye Pierce jokester, intelligent, man of conscience / sarcastic, cynical, drinks alot
Maj. John ‘Trapper’ McIntyre comical, blythe, accomplice to Pierce / buffoon-like, shallow
Maj. B.J. Hunnicut loyal friend to Pierce, introspective, good husband / depressive
Sgt. Radar O’Reilly acquisitive, resourceful, ‘common man’/ self-abnegating at times
Maj. Margaret Hoolihan military upbringing, sharp, crisp leader / promiscuous, overbearing
Maj. Charles Emerson Winchester III intelligent, highly educated, musician / out of his element, snooty
Col. Sherman Potter competent but “allowing”, retirement aged / dismissive of order
Col. Henry Blake fatherly, compassionate / drinks too much, gullible at times
Priv. Maxwell Klinger passionate, rulebreaker, inverts norms / overly self-oriented, escapist
Father John Patrick Mulcahy pious, resourceful, caring / doubtful at times, sense of inadequacy
Major Frank Burns rule-governed, hapless luck / awkward, philandering
Over the many seasons that the TV series MASH was on the air, most of these characters experienced major epiphanies that led to subtle and sometimes extreme character transformations. All of them experienced together what the anthropologist Victor Turner would call “shared liminality” resulting in “communitas”. Liminality is the ‘between and betwixt’ situation of these characters overall in the war context: they have been stripped from their lives in normal society and they are caught “in the margins”; in the nebulous, dangerous shadowland of the MASH unit. They attain communitas by putting aside their individual differences of rank and their normal social status as civilians in order to realize their common goal of administering medical aid to wartime victims, serving together as a well-organized team.
In the context of interactional encounters that occurred over time through the series, our key characters faced their own weaknesses, and developed their strengths, over and over again. As we laughed at their foibles and reveled at their strengths, we laughed ALONG with them, as at our own selves. This is how this ensemble cast came to mirror our own archetypal traits, as Americans perhaps, but moreso as humans immersed in the “human comedy” of life.
You can reflect for yourself about how the individual MASH characters transformed over time. What Life Lessons can we sift from our collective memories of this beloved TV series? Put aside our differences to exercise Conscience in response to terrifying threats. Learn to laugh at ourselves and be grateful for Friendship, that overlooks or tolerates our foibles, at least, and that fosters and supports our efforts at change and growth, at best.
The series finale of MASH was culturally iconic and ‘expiative’ of all of the ills of warfare. Hawkeye Pierce suffers a nervous breakdown and submits to psychoanalysis. This betokens a human epiphany that was central to the overall message of MASH—which provided a metaphor for the Viet Nam War and its aftermath in the American collective conscience. War is brutal and potentially destructive to the human spirit, Pierce’s breakdown asserts. Human conscience and sensitivity will not allow the vicissitudes of war to triumph. Hawkeye responds well to analysis but he will go home a changed man, a doctor in a home town community where he will get to know his patients personally, as individuals.
It’s in the in-between
that the real magic happens.
The seeds are planted,
the roots take hold…
and we blossom into who
we were meant to be.
~ Kristen Jongen
re-blogged today from Brenda’s