Thursday, August 12, 2010

The grace period on making fun of war: 20 years.

Back when I was a kid, we had a big piece of furniture that featured a black and white television in its center. We'd gather around our television when our favorite shows were broadcast on one of four stations, and we were eagerly fed our weekly entertainment.

Our favorite tasty television treats look so innocent and dated by today's standards. Not unlike looking at how we dressed in the 1970s and cringing a little bit inside, admitting we watched The Partridge Family and The Brady Bunch on Friday nights followed by a Saturday morning of H.R. Pufnstuf seems ridiculous now.

But back then, our shows were magical and somehow ours. There was no deconstruction of theme to explore a broader social subtext. It was what it was, and we didn't do much thinking about more than what we were shown.

In addition to peeking in on the lives of Shirley Partridge and her musical clan or Carol and Mike's crack at familial blending, we watched other shows that were standard fare each week.

Take for example Hogan's Heroes. Twenty years after the conclusion of World War II, CBS thought it would be funny to create a weekly comedy based in a German POW camp. We'd tune in with regularity to watch our lovable Special Ops prisoners pull the wool over the eyes of the buffoonish Colonel Klink and his endearing but inept sidekick, Sergeant Schultz. It brought the war to a new level of tomfoolery we'd only imagined, and made us almost envious of the camaraderie that could be created only in a German prison camp.

What fun war seemed!

This madcap slice of humor wasn't the first taste of life during wartime we witnessed on our mammoth television box. Before we were introduced to Hogan and his Heroes, we were treated to the idyllic island life that was McHale's Navy.

The Lord of the Flies lifestyle McHale and his crazy crew created on their island paradise was peppered with the seasonings of life during wartime, and we were sated. Add a splash of comedy and put it over ice on the deck of the PT-73, and you have the recipe for pure comic genius.

Even our enlisted men were entitled to have a sense of humor about the war, and thanks to network television in the 1960s, so were we.

Even more resonant was M*A*S*H, which reached into the depths of the Korean War.

M*A*S*H had a dark side, and a laugh track. Moments of tender imagery were woven among passive aggressive realities of war in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital set smack dab in the middle of South Korea during the Korean War.

M*A*S*H also was rife with comedy, which became more cartoon-like and less war-like over time. The cross-dresser who was looking for a way to get home, the erstwhile dysfunctional lovers, the psychic underling; the show was character-driven, and it did provide a niblet of a message about war among the stew of characters and comedy.

McHale's Navy, Hogan's Heroes and M*A*S*H each aired approximately 20 years after their respective wars were over.

Which begs the question: can we anticipate a lighthearted comedy about Life During Wartime in Iraq to be a hot show to watch on the fall television show lineup in 2023?

Can we expect a laugh track and a smile that centers around being a soldier in Afghanistan some time in 2021?

Ah - I've missed a pivotal piece of information that made McHale's Navy, Hogan's Heroes and M*A*S*H so successful. Their wars had been resolved for 20 years before we decided we could laugh about them.

We don't have an end date for the wars we're in the midst of, so we'll have to wait at least 20 more years until we can laugh about either one.

I think we may be waiting a lot longer than that.

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