THE GREATEST TV SERIES OF ALL TIME, ACCORDING TO ME

One of my earliest memories — one that I may have altered significantly in the 34 years or so since it happened — is of me sitting on the floor of the living room in the trailer house I shared with my mom, my face probably a little too close to the TV, attempting to read the credits of an episode of “M*A*S*H.” I couldn’t really read at that point, but I had been read to a lot, and I could sort of halfway “read” fairy tales and whatnot that my mom and grandparents had already read to me several times.

This is what I have been told, that I surprised the people who read to me by reading ahead in stories I already had heard before. I don’t actually know if that happened before that one day I sat in front of the TV trying to read the credits of M*A*S*H. As I mentioned, I am not a hundred percent sure that this memory even happened the way I remember it happening.

But I am pretty sure I remember trying to read the M*A*S*H credits, what with the yellow Army stenciled lettering and whatnot, and not really being able to decipher anything.

I was only about two, in my defense.

But anyways, getting on with it, the memory I may have manufactured many years later had to do with my biological father. He and my mom had just recently split up.

Before I go any further, I would like for the reader to know that I am not embellishing anything here. I am relating things my mom and others have told me about myself as a toddler, and you are free to believe or disbelieve them as you choose.

But in addition to “reading ahead” at quite an early age, some time around the time I was two or so, I began speaking in more or less complete sentences. Everyone was sort of worried about me, I have been told, because I didn’t really speak at all for the longest time, and then one day I just more or less began conversing in more or less complete sentences.

I would tell my mother, using passable grammar, that my diaper needed to be changed, for example. I don’t really know how common this sort of thing is; I merely mention it to point out that I was speaking at a somewhat advanced level for my age.

This is what I have been told. I obviously have next to no memory of this period in my life. But anyways, this memory has to do with a conversation my mother and I may or may not have gotten into about my father. He worked at a local television station at the time, quite possibly the one I was watching M*A*S*H on that particular day.

And like I said, I don’t really remember clearly, but I think I was trying to convince my mother that my father’s name would appear in the M*A*S*H credits. Which, of course, it didn’t.

I “remembered” this episode many years after the day that it may or may not have actually happened. I had moved back home after spending two years as an ESL teacher in South Korea. At the time, TV Land was showing M*A*S*H reruns most every evening. And due to the fact that it was set in Korea, and that I had all sorts of reasons to think about Korea that I had been putting off thinking about, I became somewhat obsessed with the show. Especially considering that my mom had told me many times growing up that I used to love watching it as a kid.

My liking the show as a kid may or may not be due to the fact that Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce had the same hair color and hair-do that my dad had.

But I am not sure about that. I do know that the “memory” I had about trying to read M*A*S*H credits to find my dad’s name stuck in my head for quite a while after I first “remembered” it. Maybe it really happened the way I remember it happening, maybe it didn’t. I really can’t say for sure.

At any rate, I incorporated the “memory” into a song I wrote, or at least into one lyric.

(Also, Norah Jones is my favorite singer, on the off-chance anyone listens to that song and wonders who I was talking about.)

At any rate, as long as TV Land played M*A*S*H reruns, I kept watching them. I think I saw every episode at least once, and a few episodes more than a few times. All sentimental attachments I have to the show aside, it’s a great show. The dialogue was witty, it managed to be lewd without being vulgar, it had a well-developed cast that viewers actually cared about, and above and beyond all that, it was a perfect illustration of the absurdity of war.

A recurring theme on the show had to do with another absurdity of modern life, one we humans just can’t seem to get past: racism. There was the episode where the racist white soldier Sergeant Condon asked not to be given any “colored blood” in a transfusion. Hawkeye and Trapper resolve to teach this fellow a lesson: while he is sedated, they swab his skin with tincture of iodine, which darkens his skin. The soldier is congratulated by Lieutenant Ginger Bayliss, an African-American nurse who is in on the joke, when she says “They got you down as white…way to go, baby!”

Granted, the show sort of stuck its foot in its mouth with regard to racism a few times. The story told near the end of the aforementioned episode about Dr. Charles Drew has been widely disputed. It is true that Drew was African American, it is true that he improved techniques for blood storage and blood transfusions, and it is also true that he protested the practice of racially segregated blood transfusions, but the story of him actually dying because of segregated hospitals is disputed. At any rate, M*A*S*H addressed an actual historical issue regarding blood transfusions: they were racially segregated by the Red Cross until 1950, despite there being no scientific rationale whatsoever for doing so, and they called attention to Dr. Charles Drew, a pioneer in the field.

It’s also been argued that the character Oliver Harmon “Spearchucker” Jones is an illustration of racism in the show — not as in “M*A*S*H was against racism” as I am trying to illustrate, but as in “M*A*S*H is itself racist” — and I have to say based on that ugly racial slur of a nickname, I can’t really argue with that point. Jones’ character was, however, an accomplished neurosurgeon, and in the first season, at least, one of the central characters. The show wrote him out, allegedly, because they wanted to focus on Hawkeye and Trapper. I suppose I have to take the internet at its word on that.

It could also be said that many of the Korean characters on the show lacked depth. But there were notable exceptions, such as Sam Pak and Charlie Lee. It’s worth noting, however, that both of the actors who played these characters were actually Japanese, as were a great many other “Korean” characters that appeared on the show.

I don’t know if that represents anything “racist” about the show or not. Most likely, there were more Japanese-American than Korean-American actors available for casting at the time M*A*S*H was being produced. But that’s just a theory I haven’t actually researched at all.

It could definitely be said that M*A*S*H was an illustration of Orientalism, which you can read about from the link provided. I would not argue with anybody who made that case.

As a matter of fact, to insert myself into the narrative again, when I decided to go teach ESL in South Korea, I had no idea whatsoever what to expect. In my mind’s eye, when I was trying to imagine what my apartment would be like, I pictured something roughly equivalent to the inside of one of the tents at the 4077th. I was pleasantly surprised to find that South Korea was much more advanced than what I had been shown as a kid in M*A*S*H, and was actually a good bit more advanced than where I grew up or where I was living before I went there.

I won’t deny the “Orientalism” charge, should anyone make it. That’s there in plain sight, for anyone to see. But I would like to state that I don’t really think it’s possible for a white westerner to write about or make a movie or TV show about any quote-unquote “Oriental” culture (I use that term only to be linguistically consistent) without there being an element of “Orientalism” involved. But in M*A*S*H’s defense, I would argue that the “Orientalism” that arguably exists in M*A*S*H at least attempts to minimize differences and humanize the people being portrayed.

Before I get into examples of that, I would also like to proffer the idea that something similar to the concept of “Orientalism” occurs whenever any culture examines and writes about (or makes movies or TV shows about) any other culture. For example, there is a world of difference between actual culture and society in the UK and the way culture and society in the UK is portrayed on American TV. And vice-versa. When one culture attempts to portray another, there is always going to be a disconnect between reality and what is being portrayed.

And to be sure, when there is not only a language barrier but also a significant cultural difference, well, the disconnect is going to be much wider. At any rate yes, the case could be made that M*A*S*H is an example of “Orientalism,” but I would venture that for what it’s worth, it meant well.

There are several instances of American soldiers using racial slurs against Koreans, and central characters (usually Hawkeye) chiding or otherwise belittling the American soldiers who use those slurs. There are several instances of North Korean and Chinese troops needing medical care at the 4077th, and certain doctors (usually Major Frank Burns) objecting to treating them. And Hawkeye usually sets them right.

And it could be argued that Hawkeye is presented as a “White Savior” in such instances. But I don’t think that accusation really holds much water: Hawkeye doesn’t “lead” any nonwhite people, he simply treats their injuries, just like he would treat anyone else’s. The overall theme of M*A*S*H is that all people are people, war is stupid, and whatever differences there are between cultures can be solved by simply behaving well toward each other.

And getting good and drunk. Remember the episode where all the Greek soldiers celebrated Easter at the 4077th, and everybody got hammered on ouzo and danced all night? Most of the Greek soldiers didn’t speak any English. That was a good episode…

But moving on, and inserting myself back into the narrative again, prior to my re-introduction to M*A*S*H a few years back by way of TV Land, I had remembered hearing and reading many things about how Alan Alda’s Hawkeye character was something of a “feminist icon.” That he was an example of a “sensitive male” if there ever was one. And frankly, it took me quite a while to understand what I think was the rationale behind those characterizations.

I mean, Hawkeye Pierce isn’t exactly a “gentleman” or anything. He is constantly hitting on nurses, chasing after a different one each week, and he gets his face slapped on a pretty regular basis.

I mean, look at the guy:

To be sure, this aspect of the “Hawkeye” character became less and less prevalent as the seasons progressed. He didn’t mention Geisha houses nearly as often, for example, after Trapper left the show. Whether this was a conscious decision to soften Hawkeye’s image, or just a natural reaction by the writers to the introduction of Captain B.J. Hunnicutt to the show is uncertain. Nonetheless Hawkeye kept on propositioning nurses left and right, and getting slapped in the face on a semi-regular basis.

What I didn’t quite understand, as I sat there watching Hawkeye get slapped again and again in episode after episode, is that “feminist” and “sensitive” do not equate to “neutered.” Here’s why I think Hawkeye was something of a feminist hero: it wasn’t because he chased nurses around, it wasn’t because he occasionally said something inappropriate, and it wasn’t because they slapped him.

Why I think Hawkeye was something of a feminist hero is the way he reacted to being slapped. He didn’t slap back (he generally acknowledged that he had the slap coming), and he didn’t hold anything against any nurse who rejected him. He simply took his slap and moved on.

And to be sure, Hawkeye got infatuated with some nurses more than others. And despite his being quite a bit of a cad, he was a cad with principles.

Such as in the episode where Hawkeye spends most of the episode courting Lieutenant Regina Hoffman, but is forced to be late to the date he finally convinced her to have with him because he was helping an American soldier get his marriage to a Korean woman approved. Lieutenant Hoffman is upset, reveals herself to be a bit of a racist…and Hawkeye splits.

I dunno. It’s my favorite TV show of all time. What can I say?

I could sit here and write about it all night, and I may very well come back to it at some point…but the season premiere of “Better Call Saul” is about to come on.

So anyways…thanks for reading!

***

So I decided when I read back over this blog post that it didn’t appear to be finished. It wasn’t what I set out to do when I began writing it, it’s only part of that.

I didn’t get far enough into my own personal impressions regarding the show. In addition to discussing various criticisms of the show – valid criticisms – I wanted to just kinda ramble on about how much I liked this or that episode, or character, or whatever. But at the same time, I don’t want to start a whole series of blog posts about M*A*S*H, and I’d like to leave all the stuff up above regarding racism, Orientalism, etc. just so my personal impressions of various episodes and characters and whatnot can be read as impressions that are aware of the show’s many faults.

Plus, my most recent (and only) viewing of the show that has been more or less in its original broadcast order has only advanced to the beginning of season 4.

I have owned seasons 1 and 2 for a few years now. For whatever reason, my interest in M*A*S*H was renewed a few months ago, and I rewatched all (or maybe most, I can’t remember) of seasons 1 and 2, and I ordered season 3 after that. I watched all of season 3, some episodes more than once, and then I wrote the first part of this blog post.

Now I have season 4 on DVD, and I have watched the first two episodes, the ones that deal with replacement characters coming to the 4077th at the beginning of this season.

In the final episode of season 3, as many M*A*S*H fans are undoubtedly aware, Colonel Henry Blake receives his orders to go home. Henry is of course ecstatic to finally be able to go back home to his wife and daughter, and everyone at the 4077th is simultaneously happy for Henry and sort of sad: he’s a great guy, a great surgeon, and a crappy excuse for a Colonel…at any rate Col. Blake’s departure from the 4077th is bittersweet.

So Col. Blake says goodbye to everyone, everyone says how much they’ll miss him, and he leaves.

Later in the operating room, while everyone is busy doing meatball surgery, Radar receives a call bearing some really bad news, and he informs everyone in the OR that Col. Henry Blake’s plane had been shot down over the Sea of Japan (he was flying to Tokyo to connect with a longer flight home; as a sidenote Koreans generally refer to the “Sea of Japan” as the “East Sea”), that it had spun in, and that there were no survivors.

Everyone is shocked, but they don’t have any time to be shocked: they have patients to tend to.

I think I read somewhere that the cast wasn’t told about Henry’s fate until they shot the scene where they found out about it. I think I read that, at least…

And this is where season 4 picks up. The beloved Col. Blake is dead, and it’s not clear who will take his place. In the meantime, Major Frank Burns has taken command, and attempted to make the 4077th into more of a “regular Army” sort of unit, with drills and salutes and regulations an whatnot, all of which result in various slapstick jokes and whatnot, jokes that are actually a lot funnier if you turn the laugh track off.

Anyways, at the beginning of the first episode, Hawkeye returns from a drunken Geisha-fest in Tokyo. He went there alone for some reason – I forget if the episode explicitly says why – and his usual partner in crime Trapper stayed back at the 4077th. When Hawkeye returns, Radar tells him that while he was in Tokyo, Trapper also got his orders to go home. Trapper and Radar had tried to call Hawkeye in Tokyo, to tell him the good news, and so Hawkeye and Trapper could meet up or whatever one last time before Trapper left, but Hawkeye had been ignoring phone calls.

Meanwhile, news comes of Trapper’s replacement, Captain B.J. Hunnicutt, and Burns sends Radar off to Kimpo in a jeep to pick him up. In the hopes of catching his best friend Trapper before he leaves, so he can say goodbye, Hawkeye (against Burns’ orders) goes with Radar to Kimpo. Hawkeye drives, and after several misadventures along the way, he and Radar arrive in Kimpo just about ten minutes after Trapper’s plane left. Hawkeye is really upset that he was unable to tell his best friend Trapper goodbye, but just about the time he starts feeling sorry for himself, Captain Hunnicutt appears.

Hawkeye decides they all need a drink, so long story short they go get one (Corporal “Radar” O’Reilly, at Hawkeye’s insistence, wears one of B.J.’s sets of Captain’s bars to get into the Officer’s Club in Kimpo), or maybe more than one, and when they leave their jeep has been stolen.

So, they steal another one, and after an eventful ride home where B.J. is introduced to the wonderful world of mortar fire and war in general, they make it back safely to the 4077th.

And Frank gets blamed for the stolen jeep. It was a general’s jeep.

At the end, as Radar sits outside his office working on his tan, Col. Sherman Potter arrives and announces he will be the new commanding officer of the 4077th.

Now I had seen this hour-long episode before, on TV Land, at least a couple of times. I like it for a number of reasons. One reason is that it gives Hot Lips and Ferret Face a few extra minutes on screen – love them or hate them (hint: you’re supposed to hate them) they’re an integral part of the show, and the writers of  M*A*S*H did well in this episode, with regard to making the best of what was kind of a bad situation, cast-wise: two of the shows main characters, Henry and Trapper, two fan favorites, were now gone. Another reason I like it is the way it introduces B.J. and gives ample reason for he and Hawkeye to be new best buds, essentially replacing Trapper.

It’s a good episode, at any rate, despite Henry and Trapper’s absence. And after I finally got around to reading why they were no longer on the show, this episode and the next one got a little more interesting.

As it turns out, McLean Stevenson (Henry) and Wayne Rogers (Trapper) both felt that the series was focusing too much on Hawkeye and not on them. And to be fair, it did make some changes from the novel and film to the various characters in such a way that favored Hawkeye. For example, in the novel and film, Trapper was a thoracic surgeon, the only one at the 4077th. This expertise gave Trapper the spotlight, so to speak, in situations that called for that expertise in the novel and film.

In the series, Hawkeye was made the thoracic surgeon. In episodes that dealt with that expertise, Hawkeye was made the center of attention, not Trapper.

So after season 3, after getting tired of playing second and third fiddle to Alan Alda’s Hawkeye, Stevenson and Rogers picked up their ball and went home, so to speak.

Not that I can say I blame them. At any rate, I think it’s interesting that in the opening episode of season 4, the plot is centered around how much Hawkeye is going to miss his friend Trapper. Trapper’s departure is used to once again thrust Hawkeye to the forefront.

Not that I can say I blame the writers for writing it that way. The shows other two main stars were gone, what else could they do? And to be fair, it gave Trapper’s character a pretty long farewell, approximately as long as the half-hour episode at the end of season 3.

At any rate they made the best out of a bad situation. And it turned out pretty well, whether Hawkeye lamenting Trapper’s departure was meant to be ironic or not.

And the second episode in season 4, the first one to prominently feature Harry Morgan as Col. Potter (Morgan played a Section 8 general in a season 3 episode, as many M*A*S*H fans probably know), well, I’ll just remind you that two of the show’s stars had complained about not being the center of attention and quit the show before the season started and then tell you about it:

Frank Burns, who has been relishing his newfound authority over the 4077th and has big plans for the unit, is quite upset to learn that he will be replaced as commanding officer. He plays it cool when he is first informed, then in the privacy of Major Houlihan’s tent, he throws a full-on childish temper tantrum, even holding his breath, because he can’t have his way.

After that, and for most of the rest of the episode, Burns is missing.

I can’t presume to know if that was a jab at the actors who left the show…but it kinda seems like it might have been.

I dunno. What do you think?

***

I originally planned on periodically updating this blog post upon the completion of viewing each individual season. If memory serves (I did not review the previous portion of this post before I began typing this afternoon) I was somewhere around season four or five when I last updated this blog post, and I was discussing how the characters Major Frank Burns and Major Margaret Houlihan were presented very well by the actors who portrayed them. “You’re supposed to hate them,” I think I wrote before, following a description of Burns throwing a childish temper tantrum over a plot issue that I don’t quite remember off the top of my head. But as it turned out, I found I would rather continue watching more episodes of M*A*S*H instead of pausing to reflect upon what I had already seen.

As even the most casual M*A*S*H fan knows, Burns left the 4077th (following season five) and was replaced by Major Charles Emerson Winchester III, a wealthy, upper-class, well, snob from Boston who, at least at first, considered his being assigned to a MASH unit to be, well, beneath him.

Burns being sent home to the states was explained, at the beginning of season 6, to be a result of Burns having sort of a nervous breakdown following the marriage of his one-time mistress (Burns was married to a wealthy woman back home the whole time they were consorting together) Major Houlihan to Lieutenant Colonel Donald Penobscot. Burns went to Tokyo in an attempt to regain the affections of his former mistress, and not only did he fail to do so, but he also managed to offend a high-ranking Army officer by jumping into a bath this man was sharing with his wife at a Tokyo bathhouse. Somehow or other, Burns ended up getting sent home following this off-camera episode, and as Colonel Potter was making calls looking for a replacement, one of the people he called in Tokyo just happened to find himself indebted to one Major Charles Emerson Winchester III to the amount of over $600 for losses at cribbage.

(By the way, if my prose seems to be somewhat reserved or stilted or whatever, blame it on the fact that since completing my months-long “project” of viewing all eleven seasons of M*A*S*H in broadcast order, I have begun re-viewing another of my all-time favorite TV series, albeit one I have no sentimental childhood attachment to: the BBC programme “Jeeves and Wooster,” based on the stories of P.G. Wodehouse, starring Stephen Fry as Jeeves and Hugh Laurie as Wooster. There will likely be a blog post regarding esoteric minutae of this show at some point in future, and yes, my use of “programme” instead of “program” and “in future” instead of “in the future” was quite intentional, thanks for noticing.)

So Burns left the 4077th, and he was replaced by Winchester. This seems simple enough – replace one easily dislike-able character with another – but as the show progressed, the change brought about when Winchester arrived was much more profound.

Winchester was a much more well-rounded and, well, realistic sort of character than Burns was. Burns – as much as I loved to hate him – was pretty darn one-dimensional. And as a result of her being almost constantly associated with Burns, Major Houlihan was, at least while Ferret Face was in the picture, quite a one-dimensional character herself.

To be completely fair, Burns and Houlihan being more or less cast as “villains” in the first five seasons also contributed to their rivals – Trapper and his replacement B.J., and of course Hawkeye – as well as their superior officers – Colonel Blake and his replacement Colonel Potter – being, themselves, somewhat one-dimensional.

Winchester – while at times being a shallow, whiny, social climbing boor, much like the character he replaced – was not only those things. Winchester was also shown to have some quite admirable qualities: he was charitable from time to time toward the ever-present orphanage Father Francis Mulcahey volunteered at, and when given an opportunity to return to his posh job at Tokyo General if only he’d betray his colleague Major Houlihan, he chose the honorable path and defended her good reputation.

It’s possible for any M*A*S*H fan, no matter how casual, to feel about Winchester much the same way they felt about Burns. But it isn’t nearly as easy to “hate” Winchester as it is to hate Ferret Face. Sure, Winchester possessed many of the very same traits – greed, selfishness, snobbishness, a tendency to brown-nose – that Burns had, but in addition to those undesirable traits, he also possessed other much more admirable traits, and if any M*A*S*H fan out there never noticed these traits before, I would insist that they review the series at their earliest convenience.

And yes, I do own all eleven seasons on DVD, all featuring the “olive drab” cover design…but no, sorry, you can’t borrow them from me. 😉

Winchester’s being simultaneously “easy to hate” as well as “not difficult to begrudgingly like” opened up a veritable Pandora’s box of possibilities for all the other characters. If there’s no easily identifiable “villain” any more, and if the person who replaced the “villain” (please bear in mind that I actually like the Frank Burns character quite a bit from a storytelling sort of perspective, and that my description of him as “villain” amounts to nothing other than laziness and/or limited vocabulary on my part) is actually a pretty sympathetic character, then from whence will conflict arise? If there’s no conflict in any given episode, I mean, then what’s the point?

The answer to this dilemma is, to my view, perhaps the single most relevant reason why M*A*S*H stayed on the air for eleven seasons, why its appeal was not limited to any one demographic, and why the final episode set ratings records, out-performing even the Super Bowl:

The “good guys,” at times, became the “bad guys.”

Captain Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce is the most easily recognizable example of this. Pierce, in the first few seasons, was presented as the hero, as both the show’s comic relief and the show’s moral compass. As mentioned earlier, Pierce’s “morals” regarding nurses and the fairer sex in general were at best questionable, nonetheless it was never assumed – at least not by this viewer – that he was anything but a “good guy.”

But as the seasons wore on, Pierce’s character began to degenerate. To unravel. To become less of a lovable sort of cad, and to become more of – at least at times – a loathsome pest at best, and an unforgivably self-centered and egotistical asshole sonofabitch at worst.

As I have watched somewhere around 150 episodes of M*A*S*H since I last updated this blog post, and as these episodes are at the moment a sort of olive drab blur in my mind, the reader will have to forgive me for not including specific examples of Pierce’s assholery here. But at the same time, the reader should understand that I view this degeneration from “hero” to “something else entirely” as a good thing, at least from a dramatic/storytelling/etc. point of view.

Our heroes, at the end of the day, take their pants off one leg at a time, just like the rest of us. Sometimes they lay down in their beds – or on their standard issue Army cots – and have trouble sleeping, just like the rest of us. Sometimes the pressures they face on a day to day basis prove to be more than they can handle, heroic figures though they are.
Had M*A*S*H continued with the simplistic “good guys/bad guys” dichotomy it employed for the first few seasons, it quite simply would not have been The Greatest TV Series Of All Time, According To Me, or to anyone else. Its shift from this dichotomy to a much more muddled – and therefore much more human – style of character and plot development is, to my view, what makes it so memorable.

Pierce wasn’t the only “good guy” who had asshole moments. Colonel Potter sometimes behaved abominably, as did Captain Hunnicutt. Hunnicutt was, in the majority of episodes he appeared in (a number which constitutes a majority with regard to the entire series) presented as a calm, collected, compassionate, caring family man, someone who sincerely missed his wife and daughter back home in San Francisco. And though he did actually have one dalliance with a nurse, unlike his predecessor Trapper John McIntyre, Hunnicutt felt guilty about that dalliance. And he was never unfaithful to his wife again, despite the lovely and talented journalist and artist Aggie O’Shea doing her level best to entice him into doing so.

To be sure, Hunnicutt was an admirable character, not only because of his skills as a surgeon, not only because of his usual level-headedness and wit, not only because of his unwavering compassion, but also because at times he was the opposite of these things, such as when his wife Peg wrote to tell him that she had taken a job at a restaurant to help pay the bills, and Hunnicutt felt not only embarrassment that his wife had to lower her social status slightly to get by but also helpless agony because he simply was not able to be there with her and their daughter Erin. Hunnicutt’s performance in this particular episode was at least as assholish as Pierce often behaved, and possibly more unforgivable than even Burns (or Winchester) at their worst.

But this performance did not make Hunnicutt a “villain” or for that matter diminish his status as a sympathetic character one iota. Far from it: this performance served to present Hunnicutt not only as a warm, caring, talented surgeon that nobody with any sense of decency could possibly have a bad word to say about but also as a human being, a flawed human being, a human being subject to the same frailties and insecurities and slips into general assholery that the rest of us struggle with.

This is, to my view, the genius of M*A*S*H: its humanity. This is the basic premise of the show, even in the early seasons, when there were clearly defined “good guys” and “bad guys”: humanity.

Imagine yourself – assuming you are not a medical professional who has served in the military; if you are, I salute you, and I hope you’ll comment – as someone who has devoted your life to healing the sick and treating the injured. Imagine that you are passionate about this profession, that all your life you’ve known that this was your calling, and that you have devoted many years to studying this profession and becoming the best medical professional you could possibly be.

Now imagine that you’ve been drafted into military service during wartime. Your skills as a medical professional will be of great practical use on the one hand, and you will have ample opportunity to heal people who have been wounded in combat, or as an indirect result of combat or bombing campaigns or what have you.

But on the other hand, this horrible and inhuman abomination called “war” is for all intents and purposes the polar opposite of everything that motivated you to become a medical professional in the first place: you want to help the injured; the single solitary purpose of war is to inflict injury.

Your purpose as a medical professional is to sustain life on an interpersonal basis, to do everything you can to help whichever individuals you are presented with to stay alive; the inevitable result of war is injury and death on a massive, wholly impersonal scale.

I have never been a soldier, nor am I a medical professional of any sort. And my ruminations upon this subject are purely speculative and spectator-ly, nonetheless I have to imagine that this sort of internal conflict would be hell to try and deal with.

Which may or may not have been a contributing factor toward Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce spending roughly half of the two-hour M*A*S*H finale in a mental hospital, under the care of psychiatrist (and recurring character) Sidney Friedman.

The proximate cause of Hawkeye’s loss of control was a Korean woman on a bus. Most of the main staff of the 4077th, several Korean people, and a dead American soldier were on a bus in a combat zone, and the aforementioned Korean woman at the back of the bus was holding a chicken in her lap. Everyone was told to remain quiet, so as to prevent the bus from being shot at or shelled or bombed or what have you, but the chicken kept clucking. Hawkeye yelled at the woman to make that chicken be quiet, and she put a blanket over its face and inadvertently smothered it.

The bus wasn’t shot at, or shelled, or bombed, or what have you, and everybody (except the dead soldier and the chicken) made it back to the 4077th unscathed.

Which was good…except for the inescapable fact that the chicken wasn’t clucking, it was crying…

…and that it wasn’t a chicken at all, it was a baby.

This by itself – accidentally prompting a mother to accidentally smother her baby – would be enough to send any decent person into a downward spiral of guilt and madness. But in Hawkeye’s case, the madness began many episodes before that.

THE DIRTIEST JOKE IN THE WORLD

(Note: the joke I am about to tell was told to me in I am gonna guess about 1990 or so. I wrote this rendition of it approximately 20 years later, in 2010 or 2011 or some time around then. I wrote it on a laptop that got fried when I spilled homemade wine on it, and I thought that the only copy of this was on that laptop, which has been fried for a few years now, and I still haven’t attempted to salvage the hard drive. Anyways I found this yesterday on a flash drive, and I decided to share it. Enjoy…or whatever. — MNW)

This story was first told to me and a group of kids in the “GT” program at school when I was in the third grade, I think. It was told by one of my fellow students.

I think I was in the third grade then, or maybe the fourth. While I have embellished certain parts of the story here, I have done my best to keep its original spirit intact. Everything in this preface is true, at least to the best of my memory.

“GT” stood for “Gifted and Talented,” and it was like an advanced reading class, for the most part. I can’t remember a whole lot about it, but I know that on the day “Purple Velvet” was told, our teacher, the elementary school principal, was not present. Her duties as principal had called her elsewhere in the school that day, or something, at any rate we were left alone and told to read quietly. A few in our class did just that, clutching their paperback Tom Sawyers and glaring fiercely at anyone who did anything other than read quietly, never saying anything directly, just glaring fiercely, and occasionally reminding everyone “we’re s’posed t’be readin’, dang it” or just coughing loudly or clearing their throat. And of course not reading, actually, just holding the book open, breaking their fixed stare upon whomever was talking only when looked at directly. And then, after a measured pause, turning the page. For effect, you understand.

The rest of us, the ones who had tried to read quietly but later found ourselves unable to, were telling dirty jokes. After two or three jokes, shocking though they were at the time, even without any actual “cuss words,” a girl who was a year ahead of me in school (the GT class had kids from different grades in it) asked if we had ever heard the “dirtiest joke in the world”. She was giggling when she asked, she was giggling when somebody asked “What joke is that?” and she was giggling when she replied “Purple Velvet”. She giggled when somebody said “Purple Velvet?” and she giggled the entire time she was telling it.

So anyways, without any further ado, here is “the dirtiest joke in the world”. As I mentioned before, I have embellished certain parts, but the basic details are the same. The back story (from above) is true…at any rate, here’s “Purple Velvet”.

PURPLE VELVET

Once upon a time, not so long ago, I guess maybe sometime after Nintendo but before Super Nintendo, there was a medium-sized town in a medium-sized state in the Midwest. Right in the middle of Middle Street in this town, right on the corner of Middle and Center actually, where if you turn one way you’re walking down East Middle and if you turn the other way you’re walking up West Middle, up towards Hagerton; right there on the corner, right in the middle of a manicured, medium-sized yard was a modest, medium-sized house. In the house lived a middle class family; the father, while far from being rich, enjoyed moderate success at his chosen vocation (he was in middle management at a mid-sized manufacturing megaplex), enough success at least to allow his wife to stay home in order to follow her passion: helping underprivlidged orphans fill out tax returns and providing legal advice to dumb animals down at the shelter who were scheduled to be “put to sleep.” Hers wasn’t a profitable business in the monetary sense, but she felt that the moderate amount of personal satisfaction she received through her efforts was enough, and her husband, a kind, gentle, humane man who looked upon anything his wife did with a calm, adoring detachment; he smiled and said “that’s fine, that’s fine” when she would prattle on for what seemed like hours about how it wasn’t right to execute an animal if the animal didn’t understand why it was being executed, or how those “little bastards” would stick every penny they owed Uncle Sam in their grubby little pockets if you let them.

These two average middle Americans had a son. As you may have already guessed, their son was of medium height, medium build, and medium intelligence. He was in the third grade in his elementary school, and he made average grades and never got in trouble. His parents loved him, and did their best to raise him right, and were proud of him when he tried his best, whether he succeeded or not, and carried pictures of him around with them to show people, and spent time with him and taught him things, and did all the things good parents are supposed to do for their children.

This boy, who was in the third grade, his elementary school was right next door to a middle school. One day at recess, the boy was playing kickball with some of his friends. The ball bounced out of control, and the boy, good sport that he was, went after it.

The ball came to a rest next to the chain link fence that separated the playground from the outdoor area next door where the middle schoolers ate lunch. The bell rang, ending recess. The boy turned around and saw his friends turn and run towards the school building. He turned back around and saw that several middle schoolers on the other side of the fence were coming out to eat lunch. The boy ducked his head and ran towards the kickball.

He made it to the fence and picked the ball up. Without ever looking directly into the schoolyard on the other side of the fence, he started to run back to his school building.

“Hey kid!”

The boy could feel his face turning red as he stopped and turned around. There were three middle-schoolers, two boys and a girl. The taller of the two middle school boys repeated, “Hey, kid!”

The boy said nothing. The shorter of the middle-school boys said, “Hey dumbass, are you deaf or something?” The girl punched him in the ribs and said, “Leave him alone!”

The boy said, “No.”

The taller boy ran towards the fence and grabbed it with both hands, shaking it and making a crazy face. He said, “What did you say, kid? I thought I heard you say something.”

The boy hesitated, then spoke: “I said no.”

“No? No what?”

The boy was nervous, and he could feel his voice trembling. “No, I’m, I’m not deaf.”

“Oh, good then,” the taller middle school kid said. “Come here, I want to tell you something.”

“I have to go back inside–”

“I want to tell you a secret. Just come here a second.”

“You’ll get me.” The boy’s eyes began to fill with water.

“I’m not gonna hurt you, dammit, just come over here a little closer.”

“You’ll get me.”

“Alright, then, don’t come close enough so I can get you. I just want to tell you something, anyways, I don’t want to hurt you, little man.” The tall kid smiled.

The boy stepped closer to the fence. He stopped about three feet away.

“Alright, kid, now don’t repeat this to anyone,” the taller middle school kid said. He turned around to the shorter middle school kid and nodded.

The shorter kid, who was still standing next to the girl who punched him in the ribs, put his hands over the girl’s ears. She struggled, punching and kicking. “Hurry the hell up, man!” the shorter kid said.

The taller kid looked around, making sure no one was watching, then turned to the boy and said, “Purple velvet.”

“Purp–?” the boy started.

“Shhh!” the tall kid interrupted. “Don’t ever say it or tell anybody about it!” The tall kid laughed, and the boy ran back into the elementary school building. He got a quick sip of water and went into his classroom. After putting the kickball away, he trotted to his desk.

He sat down at his desk as the bell was ringing. His teacher, a moderately pretty medium-sized woman of usually mild temperament, strolled into the room and announced that it was geography time. The boy got out his geography book and listened intently to his teacher.

About twenty minutes later, the teacher wrote a few questions on the board and told the students they could work in pairs to answer the questions.

As a result of a recently-enacted disciplinary measure, the seating arrangement in the class was “boy, girl, boy, girl,” so the boy was always (for two weeks now) paired with the bashful blonde-haired girl who sat in front of him. She was a nice girl, he thought, and he tried to be civil with her most of the time, at least when his friends weren’t watching. Actually, the two of them had secretly been “going together” for about a week.

They agreed that she would look for the answer to number one, and he would look for the answer to number two, then they’d look for the answer to number three together. When they were finished with number three, but before they copied each other’s answers for the first two questions, the girl looked at him.

He looked back at her. She was looking at him with sort of a dumb grin on her face. It was a bit disturbing, really.

“What?” the boy said.

“You are brave, talking to those middle schoolers like that.”

“Pff. Let me see number one. Here’s two.”

“They always say mean things to me,” the girl said. “I’m ascared of them.”

“Ascared?” the boy asked. He had never heard somebody say “ascared” in real life before.

“One of them said something to you, like a secret.”

“Phh.”

“What did he say? Tell me!”

“It was nothing, really, but he told me not to tell anyone.”

“Tell me.”

“No.”

“Tell me!”

“NO!”

“If you don’t tell me, I’ll tell everybody we’re going together.”

The boy looked at her. She wasn’t kidding.

“Fine. Purple velvet. The tall kid said, ‘purple velvet.'” The boy resumed copying the girl’s answer to question 1.

The girl said nothing. She continued to gaze wide-eyed at the boy, but a subtle change came over her face; there was a troubled look in her eyebrows, and her bottom lip was trembling. Her eyes appeared to be welling with tears. “W-what?” she asked.

The boy, busy copying her answer to question 1, was oblivious to her initial reaction. He repeated, “Purple velvet. The tall middle school kid said ‘purple velvet’ and told me not to tell anybody. I don’t see what the big deal is, really. What’s so bad about purple velvet? He must’ve been trying to trick me. Purple velvet. Ha! Purple velvet!”

A low moan came from the girl, and the boy looked up as tears spilled down her cheeks. “Don’t say that, don’t ever say that,” she sobbed. “Don’t say it, don’t never say it,” she started mumbling, over and over. She fell out of her desk backwards, scrambling to get away from the boy, then started scooting herself backwards across the floor, away from the boy. “Don’t never don’t ever never never–” She was genuinely horrified, too horrified to stand up or even to scream.
The boy watched, bewildered, as the horrified girl scooted backwards into a coat rack and knocked it over. She gained some sense of herself again and tried to stand up among the coats. She fell down on the pile of coats and began wailing loudly.

The boy looked away from his horrified geography partner and saw his teacher looking at the girl, trying to figure out what had happened and looking like she wasn’t sure of how to deal with the wailing little blonde girl who had just unexpectedly knocked over the coat rack and seemed to be having some sort of epileptic fit. The teacher looked at the boy, and he looked down at his desk. He kept his eyes down but scanned the room around him. All the children, boys and girls, who sat near enough to hear what he had said were gazing at him with the same look of abject terror that was on the face of the blonde girl. He resumed copying the answer to number one as the clipped footsteps advanced on him, and he only put his pencil down after he felt his ear twist.

He was led into the hall by his teacher, who apparently was very angry with him. She knelt in front of him, at his eye level, and asked, “Why is that little girl in there so upset? What did you do to her to make her so upset?”

The boy, confused, said, “I didn’t do anything to her, Miss–”

“You obviously did SOMETHING, now, didn’t you?”

“I just said ‘purple velvet’ was all. I was on the playground and some middle school kids said ‘hey kid, come here’ and–”

“WHAT DID YOU SAY?” the teacher boomed. She was shaking with rage.

The boy remained silent. His lower lip was trembling now.

“That’s what I thought you said.” The teacher grabbed the boy by the collar and dragged him to the principal’s office. She dragged the boy right past the receptionist and sat him down in a rolling chair right in front of the principal’s desk. The principal was just finishing his morning coffee and honey bun, and was seated behind his desk in a rolling chair.

The principal stood up. “What’s all this?” he asked. “Is this boy in trouble?”

The teacher, flustered, began “H-h-he, h-h-he s-s-said, h-he s-s-s-s–” and burst into tears. The principal, a kind, gentle, humane man who looked upon anything his teachers (mostly pert, young things) did with a calm, adoring detachment, placed what was left of a his iced honey bun on a napkin on his desk, rose, and went to comfort the sobbing, pert young teacher. He led her out of his office and into the waiting area, near the receptionist’s desk.

“You just wait out here, and I’ll go talk to the student, ok?” the boy heard him say.

The principal returned to his desk and sat down. He took a sip of his coffee, picked up the piece of iced honey bun and asked, “So, why is Miss Rottentree so upset out there?”

The boy remained silent.

The principal chewed his honey bun, staring at the boy intently, but not menacingly, and said, “Miss Rottentree, I believe, said that you might’ve, possibly, said a swear word or something?”

The boy remained silent.

“You know, son, I’ve heard a lot of nasty talk in my day, and I’ll tell you something.” He licked icing from his fingers.

The boy remained silent.

“Nasty talk like that, the A-word, the D-word, the S-word, and even the–” the principal paused, then said, disgustedly, “the F-word, people who use words like these only use them because they are too uneducated to express themselves properly.”

The boy remained silent.

“They are not used by decent, upstanding people, son,” the principal said, “and their use is certainly not tolerated in my school.”

The boy remained silent.

“What cuss word did you say, my boy?”

“I didn’t say a cuss word. I know I ain’t supposed to say cuss words.”

“Well, son,” the principal’s tone became more stern, “you obviously said something to upset Miss Rottentree out there.” He stuffed the remainder of his honey bun into his mouth and stared directly into the boy’s face.

“A-a-a m-middle school kid said…”

“Said what?” He chewed the honey bun.

“Purple velvet.”

The principal, shocked, spat honey bun into the boy’s face and jumped backwards out of his rolling chair, knocking a framed diploma off the wall. The principal was choking on the honey bun, but seemed to be ok, though quite enraged.

“GET OUT! GET OUT OF HERE!” he screamed, and opened the door. He rolled the boy, chair and all, out into the waiting area. Miss Rottentree and the receptionist were outside, clutching each other, sobbing wildly. “DON’T COME BACK IN THE MORNING! WE DON’T WANT PEOPLE LIKE YOU IN OUR SCHOOL! I’M CALLING YOUR MOTHER RIGHT NOW!”

The bell rang, ending the school day. The boy went straight from the principal’s office to the school bus. No one on the bus would talk to him, and since he sat near the front of the bus, the bus driver, a kindly old woman who was especially fond of children, since she never had any of her own, noticed the boy had been cast out by his peers and inquired as to why. After some prodding, after the driver smiled into the big mirror at him and assured him everything was fine and she wouldn’t get mad, he told her what happened, how the middle school kid said “purple velvet” and–

The bus screeched to a halt and the old woman flung the door open. The bus happened to be crossing a bridge over a shallow creek when it was abruptly stopped, and the driver, in an adrenaline-fueled burst of rage, manually removed the boy from his seat near the front of the bus and hurled him out the door. He hit the grass beside the road and rolled down into the creek. The bus sped away.

The boy crawled up out of the creek and out of the ditch and began walking home. He had about half a mile to go.

He had been walking for about 5 minutes when he saw his school bus coming back down the road. “She’s come back to get me,” the boy thought. He stopped walking and the bus kept coming. Was it speeding up–?

The boy jumped back into the ditch and narrowly missed getting run over. The bus stopped right past him and began to back up. He ran as fast as he could to the woods and found a shortcut home.

When he got home, his mother was waiting on him. She had talked to the principal, and she knew that her son was suspended from school indefinitely but she didn’t know why, because the principal wouldn’t tell her. She was upset, but she assured her son that no matter what happened, she would still be his mother and she would still love him. She calmly asked him what had happened.

“I, I–” he started.

“Go on, now, you can tell me.” She handed him a glass of milk and put a plate of cookies in front of him.

He started crying. He told her that he had been playing kickball, and the ball bounced away, and he went to get it, and a middle school kid by the fence said something to him and told him not to tell anybody, and then his geography partner asked what the middle school kid said, and he didn’t want to tell her but she made him tell her, and then she got all upset and the teacher dragged him off and asked what he said and she said she wouldn’t get mad but then he told her and she got mad and took him to the principal, who also said he wasn’t gonna get mad but got real mad, and then how the bus driver threw him off the bus and tried to run him over.

“Oh my goodness,” his mom said, “my poor baby!” She hugged him and asked, “What did you say? What did the middle school boy say to you?”

The boy, quietly, said, “Purple velvet.”

His mother’s reaction made the others look tame. She cursed the day he was born, destroyed most of the living room and kitchen, and sent him to his room to wait for his father to get home.

His father came up into his room an hour or so later. While the door was open, the boy could hear his mother screaming and crying and thrashing through the house, which seemed to be partially on fire. After his father shut the bedroom door again, his mother beat on the door, cursing wildly.

His father looked confused “Just what in the hell is going on here?”

The boy told the story again, not saying what the middle school kid said. He got to the end, and said, “Dad, I really don’t even know what it means…I’m so confused.”

His father looked at him. “What..what did you say, son?

The boy said, “purple velvet.”

Rage. In the eyes.

“Get out.”

“But Dad…”

“I SAID GET OUT, NOW GET OUT! I WON’T HAVE ANYBODY TALK TO ME LIKE THAT, MUCH LESS MY OWN SON!”

“But..D-D-D–”

“THAT’S IT, I HAVE NO SON!” his father screamed. He grabbed the boy and threw him through the window. The boy fell ten feet or so and landed in some bushes, unharmed. The front door of his house opened, and his father came out, firing a handgun into the air. “I’LL SHOOT YOU, BY GOD, IF YOU COME BACK!”

The boy ran up the road. He ran and ran and ran, and then he ran some more.

A few hours later, he found an abandoned building to sleep in.

The next morning, he saw that he was not the only person sleeping in the abandoned building. There were several homeless people in here, and the boy was scared. But, since he was more scared of trying to go back home or to school, he worked up his courage and asked a friendly-looking older fellow if he knew where to get something to eat.

The old man wheezed and said, “Hagerton soup kitchen’s right around the corner. They’ll feed ya.”

The boy found the soup kitchen and was ushered to the front of the line by a nun, and he got presented with an extra-big bowl of bone soup, and he got to sit with the priests at the big table in front of everybody.

Halfway through the meal, the priest sitting in the middle, the one with the fanciest robe, dinged on his water glass with his spoon and stood up.

“We have among us one of the most unfortunate souls on the planet, my friends.”

(General rumble of conversation. Someone coughs.)

“This young one, this orphan, who just came to our humble soup kitchen this morning, hungry and beaten down by a world who never wanted him…”

“Sir…” the boy started.

“Whose parents, probably drug addicts or perverts or worse…”

“Wrap it up, would you, Leopold?” the head nun said. Some of the homeless guys chuckled.

“My parents aren’t drug perverts,” the boy said, standing up. “Up until yesterday, they were the best parents ever, but then I got in trouble at school, and then on the bus, and then my mom got mad and sent me to my room, and then my dad came home and threw me out the window and shot his gun at me.”

“What did you do, my son?” the head priest asked.

“A middle school kid said something to me and told me not to tell anybody, but then I told a girl in my class and she got scared, then I told my teacher and she started crying, then I told the principal and he spat honey bun in my face and got mad and rolled me out of his office, and then I told the bus driver, and she threw me off the bus and tried to run me over.”

“You are lucky to be alive, my son.”

“And the worst part of it all is, what I said, I don’t even know what it means.”

“What…did you say, my son?”

The boy looked up at the priest, then around the room at all the homeless people, then down at his soup bowl. He lifted the bowl to his face and drank what was left. He wiped his mouth with a paper towel and said, “Purple velvet.”

He was on the street in seconds. That night, he slept in a cardboard box outside the soup kitchen/shelter, in which there were several empty beds.

The next morning when he woke up, a man in a pin-striped suit was standing next to his box. “Hey, kid,” the man said. He had a funny accent, like he was Russian or something, he had a goatee, and his hair was slicked back. “Get up. GET up.”

The boy mumbled, “Leave me alone, mister,” and rolled over.

The man in the suit said something in Russian and bent down. A few seconds later the boy smelled smoke and his leg felt hot. The Russian had set his box on fire! The boy got up and made sure he wasn’t on fire and the man grabbed him. The man said, in his Russian accent, “You have been asking wrong question, my small friend. You would do well to shoot your pie hold.”

“What?” the boy asked.

The man pulled out a tazer gun and held it to the boy’s neck. “Your face is ask question for nothing, and bacon like fry your small face!”

From behind the man, a cackling laughter arose. Then it said, “Purple velvet! Purple velvet! PURRR PULLL VELLL VETTTT!” It was one of the homeless guys from the soup kitchen.

The man in the pin-striped suit released his hold on the boy and turned around. He tazed the homeless guy. The homeless guy was laughing like mad, shouting the forbidden words when he was able to, through the waves of electricity coursing through his body. The boy watched as the man in the pin-striped suit tazed the homeless man until the battery in his tazer gun was dead. Then the man holding the dead tazer turned to the boy and said, “You watch mouth.” He walked away. The boy thought he could hear him sobbing, softly.

The homeless man, hyperventilating with laughter and, now more than before, reeking of his own stink, was muttering, “P-p-purple v-v-v-velv-v-vet. He hee hee hee!”

The boy walked over to him. “Thanks, mister. That guy was gonna get me, but then he got you instead.”

The homeless man reeled with laughter and rolled on the ground.

The boy asked, “Mister, what is purple velvet?”

More insane laughter.

“I mean, I know what purple is, like a grape’s color.”

Laughter, coughing, laughter.

“And velvet’s like a smooth material, right?”

“P-P-P-P-P-P-P-P-P-PURPLE! Hahahahhahahahhaaaa! HOO HOOHOO HAAA HAHAHHAHAHHAAHAHAHHAHA!”

“Never mind.” The boy sat down and began to cry.

The homeless man continued to literally piss himself laughing for another ten minutes or so. Then he stood up and walked over to the boy, who was still sobbing. “Do you want to know what purple velvet is, sonny boy?”

The boy looked up. “Y-yes. I w-would.”

“Ok, then. You see that window in that building across the way there, that big window, up on the sixth floor, the one with the purple curtains?”

The boy looked. “Yeah, I s-see it.”

“Ok, then. You just go right across the street to that building over there, and go up to the sixth floor. All of your questions will be answered there.”

“Really?” the boy asked, exited.

“Where do you think I found out what it was?”

“You mean you know what it means?” the boy asked. “Why can’t you just tell me?”

The homeless man cackled. “You’re a clever one, sonny boy!” He coughed noisily for several seconds. “But it don’t work like that. I can’t just tell you, you gotta see for yourself.”

“Oh,” the boy said.

“Well, go on ahead over there, sonny! It don’t cost nothing!”

“Ok, thanks,” the boy said. The boy looked up at the purple curtains and started across the street. He got hit by a bus and died instantly.

THE END

THEY DON’T WANT YOU IN THEIR SAFE SPACE? YOU POOR BABY!


There’s a lot of talk about “safe spaces” nowadays on the internet. A “safe space” is somewhere that a person can go without fear of being harassed, essentially.

To be sure, some attempts at creating “safe spaces” are inappropriate. There have been a few examples of college students trying to make classes into “safe spaces” because the subject matter of the class itself makes them uncomfortable.

And to be sure, I am against this sort of “safe space” in a classroom. If the subject being studied makes a person uncomfortable, their being uncomfortable shouldn’t prevent other students from studying the subject. Most people agree on this, I am reasonably certain.

I would also venture that most people would also agree that a classroom should be free of harassment. Argumentation, yes, challenging of views, of course…but harassment really has no place in a classroom. And if a student can’t differentiate between having their views challenged and being harassed, they should leave the class.

This works both ways, however: if a person can’t challenge another person’s views without resorting to personal insults and harassment, they don’t belong in the classroom, either.

There was a fairly recent episode of South Park that dealt with the subject of “safe spaces.” It’s been cited many times by people who believe that the very concept of a “safe space” is a threat to freedom of speech, or something like that.

I saw that episode — which featured a musical number — and I laughed at it. I found it hilarious. But here’s the thing: that episode dealt with *online* “safe spaces.” Several celebrities hired one of the South Park kids (Butters, I think) to edit all criticism of them from their social media accounts, hide all negative press, etc. They wanted their online experience itself to be a “safe space.”

Which, in case you guys haven’t noticed, pretty much every social media platform has a “blocking” function. If someone is harassing you on social media, you can block them.

And, for that matter, if someone simply says something you don’t like, you can block them. Believe it or not — and I am talking mainly to the anti-“safe space” crowd here — some people actually use social media solely for socializing.

I know, I know, it sounds crazy. Why everyone doesn’t use websites designed for sharing pictures with your friends to promote political agendas and whatnot is truly a mystery. Nonetheless, some people simply want to look at pictures of their friends, read jokes, things like that.

My sarcasm in that last paragraph is also aimed at myself, definitely. I have been unfriended many times for posting too much political stuff, or blocked for saying something someone found offensive, or whatever.

But let me tell you something I have never done, something I wouldn’t do even if everyone on my friends list blocked me: I wouldn’t accuse anyone of stifling my right to free speech because they didn’t want to read my rants any more. I’d probably be aggravated, sure, but I would still be free to rant and rave about any subject I wanted to. Just because someone else doesn’t want to read it doesn’t mean my speech has been hindered.

If someone wants an online “safe space” that’s free of Michael Walker’s personal opinions, that’s their business. Personally, I prefer reading a wide variety of different opinions on things. I have a natural tendency to be argumentative, so that variety in opinion gives rise to many occasions to argue.

That’s just me, though. And if someone stops arguing the point and starts attacking me personally, I reserve the right to block them. I have only resorted to this a couple of times, and I most often unblock them after I have cooled off a little.

I don’t really view that as “creating a safe space,” I view that as removing someone from the conversation who has stopped bringing anything of value to the conversation. Any idea or opinion I publish on my Facebook page or elsewhere is up for debate. If you disagree with me on something, by all means say so.

But keep it clean, eh?

Back to the South Park episode about “safe spaces”: the “safe spaces” they were making fun of were *online* safe spaces. They weren’t really talking about “safe spaces” in real life, places people create where harassment — most often race or gender-based harassment — isn’t allowed.

I think it’s kinda silly when people talk about how these places are “attacking free speech.” I mean, prior to whichever group creating a “safe space” for themselves, the anti-“safe space” crowd didn’t have an opinion on that group at all. This group experiences harassment, they create a harassment-free environment for themselves, and all of a sudden, people who hadn’t given them a second thought are screaming “ERMAHGERD, MUH FREEDOM UH SPEECH IZ BEEIN TRAMPULLED!”

People who have no actual relation to this group at all, people who have no legitimate reason to interact with this group at all, now imagine that this small group of people who were trying to avoid being harassed are attacking their freedom of speech!

And they get online and talk about how these people are destroying freedom of speech, and they make impassioned arguments about how their freedom of speech is being stifled…

And they post articles from pundits decrying the death of free speech…

And they share offensive things just because they’re offensive, just to prove that nothing offends them, true champeens of free speech that they are…

And never once does anyone stop them.

Never once are they actually denied the right to express themselves.

Yet a small group of people — people who have been legitimately harassed and even threatened, not just online but in real life — want to make a place for themselves that is free from harassment.

Who is this actually a threat to?

Whose speech is actually being stifled?

A person shouting racial epithets?

A person making sexist comments?

A person making actual physical threats?

For reasonable people — which, in most instances, the anti-“safe space” crowd are reasonable — a group creating a real-life harassment-free “safe space” has no effect whatsoever.

None.

Nada.

Zilch.

The only way this sort of “safe space” affects you is if you were one of the people shouting racial epithets or threats or sexist comments, or whatever.

And if you were or are one of these people, guess what?

You weren’t bringing anything of value to the conversation anyway.

And now you’re “playing the victim” by pretending your freedom of speech has been stifled.

Yes, you are.

Poor you! The mean people in the safe space don’t want you to call them names anymore! Those meanies! They got sick of you threatening to hurt them because you don’t like them, and they banned you from their club!

You poor baby!

How dare they treat special little ‘ol you differently, just because you were being an asshole to them!

Poor you! All you did was shout insults and threats at them whenever they expressed an opinion! All you did was drown out their voice with ridicule and threats of physical harm!

And they don’t want you in their safe space!

They must hate free speech!

You love free speech! That’s why you were shouting insults and threats at them, stifling their free speech! Because freedom of speech is important!

Clearly you are the victim here.

Even though no tangible hindrance to your actual “freedom of speech” has been put in place…

Even though you didn’t really have an opinion on any group that created a “safe space” before they created the “safe space”…

Even though you’re still free to say whatever you want…

Clearly *you* are the victim here, O Noble Maker Funner Of Safe Spacers.

You poor thing!