Life during COVID: M*A*S*H normalized a perpetual state of war

PLUS fresh tracks from Montrealers Nick Schofield and Dawn to Dawn & more.

Minimal Violence, “Dreams 4 Sale,” DESTROY —> [physical] REALITY [psychic] <— TRUST – Phase Two (Tresor Records)

Minimal Violence, “Dreams 4 Sale”

Lately, I’ve been passing the time by watching M*A*S*H. It’s an apropos show for our current moment. The COVID crisis isn’t a war, per se, but it feels like wartime with all the metaphors of front lines, battlegrounds, common enemies, casualties. The problem, though, is that the virus isn’t restricted to any geographical location, and so the front lines, the battlegrounds, the enemies and the casualties are everywhere to be found. At least M*A*S*H is proof (just look at Lynette Mettey!) that you can still be hot while wearing a surgical mask.

In the 11th episode of M*A*S*H season 2, which originally aired on CBS on Nov. 24, 1972, the entire 4077 comes down with an epidemic of the flu. First, Trapper John McIntyre and Colonel Blake are stricken; then Major Burns succumbs to the virus, leaving Hawkeye as the sole surgeon to operate on the mounting number of wounded soldiers arriving at the unit. Major Margaret Houlihan and Father Mulcahy are enlisted to perform extra duties, but wave after wave of wounded soon overwhelm the O.R. Finally, some flu vaccine arrives, and Hot Lips and Hawkeye agree to inoculate each other. But the vaccine has unintended effects, infecting Pierce, leaving him to work whilst increasingly under the weather. (I don’t imagine the show’s writers in 1972 were particularly “anti-vax” — that was just the plot of the episode.)

One thing that M*A*S*H did for an entire generation of western TV audiences who lived through Vietnam, the Soviet-Afghan war, the Lebanese Civil war and the Arab-Israeli war, among others, was to standardize war itself. Even though the Korean conflict, within which the series was set, lasted only three years, the series ran for 11 seasons, from 1972 to its storied finale in 1983. M*A*S*H made war permanent through the media, normalized a perpetual state of war, made war palatable for a mass audience, aestheticized, glamourized, raced, classed and gendered war. The show’s tone oscillates from harmless goof-off antics to heartfelt moments of sincerity, at once revealing war’s horrors and sanitizing them for regular consumption. “War isn’t hell,” Hawkeye once remarked: “War is war, and hell is hell. And of the two, war is a lot worse.”

Xuri, “J’avance” ft. Lueurs Nocturnes, Bedlam of Salt (Janushoved)

The glut of live-streaming culture in the wake of COVID quarantine has engendered a new form of FOMO — let’s call it FOMOO, or Fear Of Missing Out Online. With theatres, festivals and venues for live performance closed, everyone is taking their show on the road, so to speak — the “road” in question being the information superhighway. And now, these events come untethered from meatspace geographies, unmoored from the ports of reality, ported in through a different sort of port, arguably the most important port: the data port. 

We no longer have to be in New York, or London, or Tokyo, to attend events in those cities. Everything crosses freely at the data port. There are no temperature checks, PCR tests or weeks of self-isolation to endure. No passports. Just seamless circulation. Which means that we now have to be extra careful with our audiovisual marketplace choices. Because there are only so many hours in the day in which to mainline the second, third and possibly fourth waves of isolated broadcast media.

Nick Schofield, “Mirror Image,” Glass Gallery (Forward Music)

Nick Schofield, “Mirror Image”

The challenge with describing reality at this moment is that everyone is experiencing some system of unreality the entire globe over. We are each deprived of the rights to do more or less basic things. Routine tasks have become more or less heroic feats. Quotidian communication is now more or less fraught than before, burdened with technical on top of interpersonal tribulations. Every one of us has more or less to do in spite of more or less restrictive, more or less variable, regionally contingent rules and regulations. It is not enough to grouse about personal hardships, even when part of your job requires grousing, more or less.

Clarice Jensen, “Winter,” Ainu Mosir (130701)

Clarice Jensen, “Winter”

Of course, robots should staff Amazon fulfillment warehouses! That’s a boring job for a human to do. All these boring jobs should be automated. I would automate dentistry if I could. I’d automate pharmacy. Why should an otherwise intelligent person stand behind a counter counting pills all day when a perfectly competent robot could do it? Humans should be free of this menial labour to cultivate our highest pursuits. That’s what hybrid cyborg technology should be about: truly freeing humanity. For that, we need another system of value. 

“To confront the interface between human and machine,” wrote Jaimie Smith-Windsor in her 2005 essay entitled “The Cyborg Mother,” “is to confront cyborg consciousness as it fragments the human experience into a lexicon of incomprehensibility.” There is no pro-creation here, only re-creation.

Dawn to Dawn, “Meridian” (independent)

Dawn to Dawn, “Meridian”

Generally, I try not to talk too much about the thing — that is, the object of inquiry — itself. I prefer to over-stand it, dance around it, write through it as one sees through glass. But every now and then, something bubbles up that is too precious to obscure, too clear to smear. Dawn to Dawn’s first single is such a thing of precious clarity. It possesses all the smooth texture and mature timbres of Harold Faltermeyer’s production on Pet Shop Boys’ 1990 studio album Behaviour, with just enough Enya to reel in this New Age refugee. It’s futuristically retro, retrofuturist, an auspicious beginning and a tantalizing teaser to a new musical collaboration that promises perpetual dawn for the 2020s. ■

This feature was originally published in the February issue of Cult MTL. To see previous editions of Play Recent, please click here.