Sitcoms are situational comedies that have recurring characters in places like home or the workplace. They do have studio audiences or specially made laugh tracks. Initially, they were associated with radios but currently, they are run on televisions. Like some other famous sitcoms like Simpsons, Married with children, Fraiser, Seinfield, Cosby show, Mary Tyler Moore, and Cheers, All in the family and MASH addressed several issues that were impacting either positively or negatively on the lives of people at that time and even today.
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Fundamental social issues that MASH and All in the Family addressed
These situational comedies addressed several issues of concern in the United States. MASH generally illuminated issues about war in Korea and the reasons for war, and psychological distress that the army underwent in the war. At the mobile army surgical hospital, the injured soldiers, instead of getting proper treatment are just patched up before they are again released to go back to the battlefield to continue fighting. Because of the psychological problems, surgical doctors like Pierce and McIntyre resort to heavy drinking. This, in a way, interferes with how diligently they are supposed to carry out their duties. They carry along with them the homemade gin to the operation room of the mobile army surgical hospital. This is a violation of a doctor’s code of ethics. Under the influence of alcohol, they end up chasing female nurses in the medical facility. Homosexuality in the army is also brought into focus in the comedy and how soldiers suffer from loneliness because they are far away from their loved ones. Lack of fairness from the commanding officers is also brought into focus for scrutiny as witnessed in the way corporal Walter delegates almost all his duties to Blake. Our society is also full of cheats as witnessed when Max Klinger starts putting on women’s clothes to disguise people that he is a mental case to secure medical or mental discharge. Some soldiers observe military discipline whereas others don’t follow. This permissive lifestyle makes Pierce and Lieutenant clash quite often (Davidson, 2008).
In all in the family, matters related to sexism, roles of different gender, racism, and unemployment are enhanced. Issues relating to employees’ private life and how their bosses perceive them are also witnessed, especially how pregnant women should be handled in their working stations. One episode shows Archie’s having a St. Patrick’s Day party at the house and issues related to drug and substance abuse are highlighted when Archie drinks and gets drunk. When he gains consciousness, he finds himself in a cellar. Racism is enhanced when the man who rescues Archie from the cellar and who Archie thinks of as god turns out to be a black man. The man is never talked of as a rescuer, but as a black man. Derogatory languages are also used. Blacks are called spades, Polish- Pollock, Hebrews-Hebe, and Italians-dagos. These words have heavy racial undertones (Waldron, 1987).
Why MASH and All in the Family were condemned by the religious right
In MASH, Margaret and Burns had sex in a room having What word is panted? sound recording equipment which gave detail of their intimacy. Sex should be enjoyed between man and wife who are legally married. Burns and Margaret were not man and wife. This is an indicator of moral decadence. Religion does not in any way accept smuggling that Frank took part in when he tried to smuggle Korean National Art Treasure at the black market to send to his wife back home. The comedy was in a way trying to justify gambling when Sergeant Zale is shown to have lost his money gambling. Religion abhors gambling. Religion teaches against hatred, but Hawkeye and Trapper refuse to befriend Frank because they hate him.
In all in the family, Archie who is a protestant is convinced that he will make a lot of money from a minor traffic offense when a Jewish lawyer handles the case. This is cheating and anti-Archie’s protestant doctrines. Archie encourages racism which does not go down well with the religious groups Archie is not Christian (is it against his faith?). In all in the family, Archie’s persistent use of the phrase “God damn it” infuriates fellow Protestants who perceive that to be sacrilegious. Religious groups were not happy with the words like dago, spic, Hebe, and Pollock which were racist and undermined God’s very work (Marjorie, 1993).
These sitcoms acted as an eye-opener by addressing the underlying issues that bedevil the very foundation of our society up to date. The federal government developed cold feet towards allowing programs deemed racist to be broadcasted. MASH and all in the family broke the ground, thereby allowing subsequent sitcoms to address societal ills.
Davidson, J., Heyrman, C., Lytle, M., Lytle, M., & Stoff, M. (2008). Nation of Nations. Boston: McGraw-Hill.
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Marjorie, W. (1993). MASH- U.S. Comedy. The Museum of Broadcast Communications. New York: Prentice Hall.
Waldron, V. (1987). All in the Family Episode List. Class Sitcoms. New York: Macmillan.