Thanks to Deb Nam-Krane and Caroline Fardig for putting together this Blog Hop! And thanks to Kerrie Olzak for the previous installment!
Most people who know me really well know that I tend to get a little obsessive over my entertainment options. High school and college saw me glued to and completely obsessed with General Hospital. That was killed by the mob – both my obsession and the show. As a grade-schooler, it was the Little House books and TV show. As an adult, I revisited General Hospital (with the same sad result), shared a Harry Potter addiction with my son (a series that never disappointed me), and fell in love and had my heart broken by Laurell K. Hamilton’s vampire hunter series, Anita Blake. (which inspired me to write my own vampire book, The Ties that Bleed.)
But none of those compared to my obsessed with the TV show M*A*S*H. As a middle-schooler, in the days before VCRs, I would record episodes on my tape recorder, listen to them over and over again, type them up and distribute them to my friends, whom I pretty much bullied into sharing my obsession. Thanks to the world of syndicated reruns, I was able to watch my favorite show over and over again. I “shipped” Hawkeye and Hot Lips before shipping was cool (and before Sam and Diane on Cheers made sit-com couples a thing.) I wrote fan fiction.
The series ended in 1983 (with a big goodbye kiss between my favorite non-couple that warmed my heart) and so did my obsession. However, with the advent of DVD players and ubiquitous cheap DVD collections, I was able to buy the entire series (plus the movie that started it all) and keep it with me forever and forever.
Other things happened between then and now. For instance, I got old. I also tried juggling a career and motherhood for a while. I became more politically aware. I started paying a lot more attention to current events. I became addicted to other series.
A few months ago, I returned to some of my favorite episodes of the series. I tend to circle back to the earlier ones, which were long on comedy and short on life lessons, especially the ones that featured lots of scenes of my favorite non-couple together. What I saw broke my heart. Sexism and even misogyny disguised as humor. Actions that illustrate what is now called a “hostile work environment.” What I had taken for sexual tension was hostility over female power.
One episode, “Check Up,” centered around the camp all getting physicals, with the result that Trapper John is diagnosed with an ulcer. Hawkeye assigned himself the task of evaluating Hot Lips alone in her tent. He makes several sexually suggestive remarks during the exam. (A similar scene happens in an episode where everyone in the camp gets the flu, and he insists on giving her a flu shot in the derriere.) When she turns him down, he tells her she needs to lose 10 pounds (the character is obviously at a normal weight) and makes fun of the shape of her legs. Later, Hot Lips’s insecurity over her looks drives her to get drunk at Trapper John’s farewell party and throw herself at him. After watching the episode, I felt sick.
Although Hawkeye aggressively flirts with Hot Lips in many episodes during the earlier part of the series, it obvious he doesn’t like her. She’s a major and he’s a captain, so even though he’s a doctor and she’s a nurse, she outranks him. She’s career army and believes in the mission of the war; he’s a draftee who believes everyone in government and military is a clown. There’s no real attraction between them at this point –he uses sex and humor to keep her in her place. She’s a woman and a nurse; he’s a man and a doctor; when she pulls rank on him, he (figuratively) pulls out his dick.
I’m not the only one who ships this couple, and I and the other shippers cling to the episode “Comrade in Arms,” when the two actually get together, as nirvana. It’s a two-part episode; they hook up at the end of part 1; in part 2 Hawkeye wakes up with Hot Lips in his arms, already regretting the assignation even before she regains consciousness. In most of this episode, Hot Lips plays entirely against character, trying to build a relationship with Hawkeye, who’s desperately trying to keep her at arm’s length. It’s the ultimate insult to the character (and written by Alan Alda, the actor who played Hawkeye). This episode has always made me angry (I even wrote a fan fiction version of part two that was more in line with Hot Lips’s character several years ago; if you read it, please note that I wrote it many years before I had taken a single screenwriting course!), but not until I took another look at the earlier dynamic between the two of them did I pinpoint the reason why. This two-parter shows that sex, rather than a culmination of passionate feelings, was more about Hawkeye finally taking his place on top of her. (His “let’s be friends” speech at the end of the episode is a continuation of this dynamic.)
I’m not 11 years old anymore, but these realizations broke my heart. I’d often wondered if M*A*S*H had lasted a year or two longer, if the two would have gotten together in the manner of other sit-com couples. And while later episodes of the show toned down the sexist humor (and one episode, guest starting Meryl Streep, even called out Hawkeye on his sexism), Hawkeye never really saw any of his potential love interests as more than a one-night stand. His most enduring relationships were with Trapper and BJ – other male doctors he respected as equals.
That M*A*S*H collection still has a place of honor on my bookshelf of DVD collections. But I think the next time I want to revisit my past obsessions, I may pull out some of my old General Hospital DVDs instead, which showcased female doctors in the 1970s.
Don’t forget to “tune in tomorrow” to see what’s disappointed Caroline Fardig!