Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt

I confess that I am unsure whether I should continue my posts on M*A*S*H, or whether I should just keep my notes to myself and take the existing posts private.

On the one hand, I seem to have found the perfect method for making my 3.6 Loyal Readers’ eyes glaze over. I certainly don’t mean to be boring, and it always dismays me when I succeed.

On the other hand, while I don’t know what constitutes a quorum of 3.6 Loyal Readers according to correct parliamentary procedure, I do know that a quorum of one writer is… one writer. So I might just take the attitude of the apazine editor quoted by Frederik Pohl in The Way the Future Was:

‘Wow, gang, you really slammed the last ish, but wotthehell, we’ll keep plugging.’

Your comments are important to me, even if you have nothing more to say than ‘I read this and it was OK’. They help me decide what is worth writing more of and what isn’t, and when they dry up, I find myself rather at sea.

Comments

  1. Mark Warkentin says:

    Tom, I’m not much for commenting on any site. Mayhap your “loyal 3.6” is more a “loyal 7.2, 50% invisible.”

    That said, I read everything you write here, and enjoy it all. I like the M*A*S*H posts – but then I was alive, semi-aware and an occasional viewer when M*A*S*H was first on the air. Younger folks might have a different experience.

    • Thanks! It means a great deal to hear that, especially from someone who doesn’t comment much.

      One thing that surprises me about M*A*S*H nowadays is how many fans are too young to remember the first run of the series. Over on the fan site Best Care Anywhere, there’s a frequent message-board poster with the handle ‘Big Daddy O’Reilly’, who was not even born when M*A*S*H went off the air, and only discovered the series in 2005. Now he’s an obsessive fan. Again, some of the best online writing about the show has been done by Joshua Lattanzi, who is still only in his early thirties, and was busy being born about the time ‘Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen’ aired.

      One of the things that makes the show worth studying, in my opinion, is that it has lasted and won new fans long after the era in which it was produced. For a writer, I believe, it’s always worth looking at what makes lasting work last.

  2. Loved MASH then, probably still love it now (though I haven’t sought out the old episode),

    The Frank Burns character, and even Hot Lips, were too cartoonish, and barely tolerable even then. I’m afraid if I view them now, without my youthful devil-may-care attitude about their unreality, I won’t appreciate the rest of the parts.

    I know comedy has to exaggerate things, but the real villain was always war, not the shenanigans of officialdom, which could have been a LOT more realistic.

    So I’m reading the posts with half a mind, skimming for the good parts (Hawkeye, etc.), but not engaging much.

    You seem to have been pulled in by the whole – who knows, you may yet pull me back in.

    Sorry to be a wet blanket. We’re also watching, on DVD because that’s the only way you can, China Beach – and finding it leaves quite a bit to be desired, much as I remember loving it back then. Maybe after we force ourselves through Season 1.

    Some things I seem to be able to watch over and over – like Firefly. And LadyHawke. Others wear out their welcome now that I’m getting to the old curmudgeon stage.

    • I know comedy has to exaggerate things, but the real villain was always war, not the shenanigans of officialdom, which could have been a LOT more realistic.

      I have it in mind to do a post about Frank Burns and his function on the show. War was the villain, yes, but to dramatize that you need to make it personal; which means finding a scapegoat. Gelbart & Reynolds seem to have felt, perhaps not quite consciously, that the war was the U.S. Army’s fault, as if it were not the politicians who chose to get involved, or Kim Il-Sung who started the war without any prompting or provocation from the Americans. To justify that view, you need to treat the Army unrealistically, and equate military deportment and patriotism with villainy per se. Burns was not a character, but a flag – not just a flag considered as a symbol – but a flag for the anti-war protesters to burn.

      • Stephen J. says:

        I would be very interested to read that post. I confess I myself infinitely preferred Charles Winchester to Frank; Winchester served the same antagonistic function of Straight Man to Madcap Zanies, but had the advantages of being a more realistic and respectable character in that he was both more competent than Burns and more willing to admit his mistakes and learn.

  3. That I was unable to read your blog posts about MASH, a topic I care very much about, says a lot about my state of mind these days, and little about your skill. I’m sorry for the silence, I just haven’t been myself.

  4. Eddie says:

    I’ve enjoyed the MASH posts very much and that’s not just because I’m glad to see you upright and writing no matter the topic. MASH was off limits to me as a child though I knew the opening theme very well as it came on right after a show we were allowed to watch.

    I am a sucker for an astute examination of just about anything so the subject matter, MASH, is much less of a draw than the analysis itself.

  5. The TV show M*A*S*H does not interest me. I found the first two seasons amusing, but once the show morphed into the ‘Alan Alda Weekly Anti-war Rant’ I stopped watching it.

    As a writer, the show that I found most instructive was Stargate SG-1. You can see when it was working, and it ain’t hard to figure out why. You can see when it stumbled and lost its focus and began to suffer, and, again, it ain’t hard to figure out why. And finally, you can see when it went completely off the rails and became nothing more than train wreck carried on by momentum, and once more it ain’t hard to figure out why.

  6. Maypo says:

    This loyal reader, who knows not what fractional part he occupies, finds all of your Musings to be a delight. You have insight, and a flair for imparting it. The only thing I find that you lack, and that is immensely puzzling to me, is self confidence. I suggest you read Mr. Wright’s latest admonishment to a writer who appears to also lack the confidence necessary to write, even in the face of massive self-doubt. It is puzzling to me because it seems so obvious to me that you can write circles around most people I read. See? I suspect even now you are critically considering how I could have put that more appropriately and without the hack-worn phrase: circles around.

    I can certainly be accused of not commenting on everything I read. That silence has no bearing whatsoever on my judgement on whether I thought something was worth commenting on. Rather it bears on my ability to contribute something useful to the discussion beyond a virtual toast: “Hear, hear! What he said!” I find that echo-chamber feedback to be all to common and annoying on blogs. Like I said the failure is mine.

    To sum up, “Writing Down the Dragon” is among the finest critical analyses of LOTR and your analysis of MASH is also entertaining and possibly incredibly useful to some nameless reader, too shy to comment. I suspect Tolkien himself did not know he was writing a Book of Gold for millions of people. Perhaps he just knew he could entertain his son and indulge his love for language and myth – perhaps he did not need to know or worry about how many other folks would enjoy them as much as he did.

  7. Carbonel says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with Maypo, re: the quality of your writing Mr. Simon.

    I nominated Death Carries a Camcorder for the Hugo “Related Works” this year. Moreover, had I only been allowed one nominee, that would have been the pick. I expect that if Style is the Rocket is anything like as good, I will be lobbying hard for it in 2016.

    If it encourages you to write more for my enlightenment and amusement, I will comment more. It’s an excellent return on a truly modest outlay of time and effort on my part.

  8. Stephen J. says:

    Please forgive me for having fallen off on my regular comments and support; I have greatly enjoyed the two M*A*S*H pieces written so far and look forward to more. (I also really loved the link to the “Transposition” Lewis essay, which was one I had not read before.)

  9. Craig says:

    Just FYI, I always feel hesitant about commenting when the post is more than a couple of days old — and since I only check in irregularly, you can see how that’s an issue.

    For what it’s worth, I found the M*A*S*H posts engaging even though I’ve seen fewer than half a dozen episodes, and that was decades ago.

  10. Suburbanbanshee says:

    I like ’em a lot! And it’s very timely, as one of our local channels (the one carrying MeTV) airs MASH back to back for an hour every evening.

  11. Phillip says:

    I also comment infrequently on this or any blog, but I have also recently discovered MASH via netflix and have found your posts on the subject (as on many other) to be both entertaining and useful.

  12. I’m tired and…worn down, I suppose… right now, so the main thing that bumps in my mind with anything MASH related is how much of a jerk the actor who played Hawkeye is; I know that’s not even normal for me, so I’ve hushed.

  13. Andrew Parrish says:

    Please continue, Mr. Simon!

    Fear, uncertainty, and doubt indeed. The voices of the Enemy are circling you. Do not give in. What pleasure it brings those terrible three to silence the voice of a human artist, the loathsome flowering of a small innocence and small wonder. Do not give up!

  14. Matt Osterndorf says:

    “I certainly don’t mean to be boring, and it always dismays me when I succeed.”

    You’re never boring, Mr Simon; it’s just that whatever you’re being interesting about doesn’t always appeal to everyone.

  15. James Asher says:

    My knowledge of MASH is extremely limited – a few months ago I saw some episodes for the first time (and found them a lot of fun, I have to say). So I don’t have much to say due to a lack of familiarity. But your analysis of why the show works, combined with the background and story of how it was made, is fascinating.

    (I have led a very TV-free life, and I don’t remember MASH being on British TV much in days of old. Or maybe it just didn’t attract my attention in those times.)

  16. I agree in the main with the rest of the Happy Few (readers): I always enjoy your analysis and will read them no matter what you happen to be analyzing. I don’t really remember much about MASH, but I like the way you dissect scenes, characters, etc.

  17. Mark_Harbinger says:

    Tom,

    I just finished reading Book One of the The Eye of the Maker (TEoTM). I originally purchased it in November of 2013, after our wonderful exchange in the comments to your post about The Last Dark (See “Mark_Harbinger”). And I began to read it.

    Funny/Sad story: it was the first book I’ve ever read on kindle software and, being unfamiliar, I inadvertently skipped the “Introduction”– not thinking it was part of the story proper. So I started with Chapter One and, not having the benefit of the brilliant world-and-character building of the Intro, gave up a few pages later and moved onto other things (including, for example, finally finishing Andrew Vachss’s Burke Series).

    Then last Friday I set upon another attempt.

    My word. Of course, this time the introduction was in plain sight; I devoured it, and so too the rest. Have no doubt: You, sir, have got game.

    First, your uncanny knack for cogent criticism, noted by so many others, truly *is* remarkable. I submit that your critical analysis of Donaldson’s work should be added to that record. Also, assuming TEoTM finishes unabated, I predict it will stand as a touchstone work– gently helping to list classic fantasy back from the nihilism and counter-classicism-for-its-own-sake what’s in vogue. If Campbell’s Hero can return, perhaps so can the genre.

    I will email you under separate cover to share some other thoughts (e.g., Which of us is Corum?).

    Be well.

    :-{D]
    -Mark

    • Thank you! You’re the first person in ages to say a kind word for TEoTM. I still mean to finish it, but I have been fully occupied with other projects (and troubles, alas). I’m glad you’re enjoying it, and I look forward to hearing from you under the aforementioned separate cover.

  18. Eric Schmidt says:

    Hello,

    I’ve been a Loyal Reader here ever since I discovered you in 2013, though I’ve never before commented. I have enjoyed much of your material, but particularly Lord Talon’s Revenge and The End of Earth and Sky. (Naturally, I eagerly await the sequels to the latter.)

    I must say that I tend to get a bit worried when there is a long period with no output from you. (“What has happened THIS time?”) Please don’t stop writing!

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