M*A*S*H-ian Philosophy

This show has taken over my life:

I’m not post-Season 3 yet; give me a week or two

M*A*S*H is a TV show spin-off of a movie with the same name, about a group of army doctors during the Korean War. The picture above is a perfect depiction of this SitCom-y show, filled mostly with situational (thus dark) humor and spiffy one-liners. Example: in the episode For the Want of a Boot, main character Captain Hawkeye Pierce trades favor for favor for favor, creating looping chains of exchanges, all for the want of a boot without a hole in the sole; the epic mash-up of realistic bad situations and even more realistic relatively-good-humored handling of said bad situations.

Now, this isn’t going to be a long post, ’cause I’ve got to get back to watching M*A*S*H, but I’ve taken to profiling myself through the things I like, such as books, movies, or– in this truly inspirational case– TV shows.

So, dark humor. It crosses lines of social niceties and make you feel like a rebel for getting the joke about necrophilia. Bryan Fuller’s Pushing Daisies is next on my To Watch list (after watching Hannibal and needing emotional shelter). Now, anyone who’s discussed philosophy with me probably thinks of me as an optimist, and I do quantify myself as an optimist (with empirical data in metrics and everything). So why would I be such a fan of dark humor?

(That was not a rhetorical question, but the rhetoric device hypophora, in which the speaker poses a question and answers it. AP Composition, whaddup.)

Probably because dark humor is inherently optimistic. George Carlin said that under every cynic is a disappointed idealist, and the optimistic dark humor-oxymoron seems like the inverse of that. Humor inspires joy, that’s fact, and cracking jokes in order to cut open red white and blue-blooded teenagers is a coping mechanism. Go ahead, open the letter– they can’t draft you again. They’re old enough to pull triggers but not old enough to drink? Heard Eisenhower’s running for president; man, the things people would do to get out of the army.

Coping is optimistic because coping means survival. Not necessarily survival of the person you once were, but if the main parts are still there we can put it back together, no one will even notice the scars with the right turtleneck. Recently, the suicide note of Iraq veteran Daniel Somers went viral, drawing attention to the heart-breaking statistics of veterans’ suicide– one every 65 minutes (Huffington Post). Healing’s not easy in the first place, but when people aren’t allowed to heal at their own pace or when they heal wrong, that’s when the Bullshit Meter hits the stratosphere. Terrible things happen, and sometimes there are people to take responsibility for it (or should, but let’s not even get into that right now), sometimes there aren’t, and people get hurt. Given the love and support they need, people heal. We’re not allowed to call other people’s scars ugly, we are notnotnot allowed– I say this with the utmost solemnity and simple comprehension of a child, where I cross my heart and not my fingers behind my back.

I said this post wasn’t going to be long, clearly that was a lie. Self-reflection can go a long way, y’know. Literally. (Badum tish!)

Post-Season 3 M*A*S*H– I’ve been warned– will be heartbreak everywhere and breakdowns and hurt. Good. There is a quote out there somewhere about art portraying history better than any official document could; All Quiet on the Western Front taught me more about World War One than my history textbook. (This is probably my only tie-back t0 CW-related matters.) It’ll hurt, but hopefully, innate optimism will get me through.

Modern-Day Absurdism

Lately I’ve been pondering war. They’re political, they hurt like hell to think about– I’ve carried this morbid fascination with the topic since Modern World last year. That’s probably where this got started, learning about World War One and reading All Quiet On The Western Front. WWI was the last of the Romantic wars, trench warfare the disillusionment, the mass murder of innocence and honor. I have a book of WWI poetry sitting on my desk:

When you see millions of the mouthless dead
Across your dreams in pale battalions go,
Say not soft things as other men have said,
That you’ll remember. For you need not so.
Give them not praise. For, deaf, how should they know
it is not curses heaped on each gashed head?
Nor tears. Their blind eyes see not your tears flow.
Nor honour. It is easy to be dead.
Say only this, ‘They are dead.’ Then add thereto,
‘Yet many a better one has died before.’
Then, scanning all the o’ercrowded mass, should you
perceive one face that you loved heretofore,
it is a spoke. None wears the face you knew.
Great death has made all his for evermore.

–Charles Hamilton Sorley

–and that’s just one poem. This is the consequence of dividing soldiers in war from a bigger political agenda, I think, when even the people know not what they are fighting for. We see this again in Korea, in Vietnam, in Iraq. Why do we fight?

But that’s a digression– I’d like to focus on the act of war itself, fighting on a battlefield, fighting for your life. Today we hear about PTSD, flashbacks, blackout episodes in veterans, how they are unable to reintegrate into civilization. We don’t hear about that happening after World War Two, it was more of a post-Korea thing. Post-Vietnam thing. Apocalypse Now, Mr. Kurtz and the horror the horror, that was the first Art&Film movie I walked away from shaking and sobbing in fear and distress. Line that up side by side with Paul from All Quiet, the soldier he killed in a trench, and we see a theme. These men aren’t fighting for a greater cause, they’re fighting for their lives. They’re fighting to survive in a situation the Great Civilization dumped them in, and they’re coming out– fast as new cars in an assembly line– disappointed. Disillusioned– the great lie of politics and society, we make it so much more than it actually is, Governor Smoke and President Mirrors. This is the type of hopelessness that spreads, a pervasive undercurrent of thought already worming through the American consciousness, the great distrust in power. Watergate just made it official.

Bringing it back home, I’ve found a similar morbid fascination with Absurdist writings– maybe it’s related, maybe it’s not. All I know is I get the same big swallow in my throat, breathing hard the wrong way down my esophagus so my stomach gets bloated on emptiness. Let’s go. We can’t. Why not? We’re waiting for Godot. Ah! This hilarious sadness for something we’ve blown way out of proportions, we care so deeply for and mourn its lost– it’s ridiculous. It’s absurd. Civilization is a method for bookkeeping, its entire purpose to ordain and streamline modes of interaction between humans, and we’ve let the plaque build up in guise of Romanticism. We’re festering. We’re self-destructing. What the hell, hero, America, you weren’t supposed to let these ideals get out of hand. You weren’t supposed to idly stand by and believe anything with a federal stamp of approval over it. How little we want to care, it’s crass. It’s utterly, completely absurd.