The bullying of Frank Burns in M*A*S*H

I discovered MASH (can’t spell it with the asterisks here, Discourse interprets that as italics) for myself recently and watched the first season. It’s well-written and witty, but I was put off a little by the constant pranks Hawkeye and Trapper pull on Frank Burns. From today’s perspective, these pranks would be considered not close to, but beyond the border of mobbing. Obviously, the writers put in a lot of effort to attract sympathies for Hawkeye and Trapper (they help the nurses running an orphanage, etc.); at the same time, Frank is depicted not only as an incompetent doctor (although there are contradictory statements about his skills in this regard) but also as a thoroughly unlikable person who takes it on on those around him for no good reason. Nonetheless, in many scenes I had the feeling that Hawkeye’s and Trapper’s behaviour towards him is unfair and uncalled for. I sympathised a lot with Burns, actually. Did others feel the same way?

The bullying of Burns was because of his hypocrisy and other negative attitudes. In the book he was a holy roller but at the same time was presumably having an affair with Major Houlihan. He also had little surgical training but was very dismissive of the other surgeons who, he believed, were beneath him as they were not as rich as he was. He constantly blamed others for his failures. Like any other screen (big screen or small screen), you lose a lot of what’s in the novel.

The show, at times, did take it too far. In one episode, Hawkeye flat out punched Burns in the face, and came out of it scot free at the inquest because, ifrc, Hawkeye was just such a great doctor, and Frank was so gosh darn annoying even to the adjudicaters.

In the movie, Burns was a cowardly psychopath, most notably when he screwed up and killed a patient and then viciously berated a younger orderly and blaming it all on him. He ended up being sent to a psychiatric hospital.

The TV show softened him considerably.

I agree that it got uncomfortable. Those were often the scenes where I chose to make a trip to the kitchen or bathroom. But in the era of toxic masculinity that was what qualified as funny. My Dad and brother loved to watch them hazing Frank Burns. He was a “wimp” apparently, and in their minds that made it all right. Blech.

You should watch the movie, which is considerably darker.

All in all, MASH has not aged well.

The bullying is a problem. The misogyny is another obvious issue. So it the portrayal of the military. The show is both too pro- and anti-military at the same time.

I bet the half-remembered Korean characters would not stand up to modern scrutiny.

The characters do not seem likable looking back on them. Hawkeye was supposed to be the main character, the one you identified with. but that was undercut by his lack of a struggle. He was a great surgeon who effortlessly got all the girls.

Even as a child, I realized the actors were too old. In 1972, the fresh new Doctor Pierce was thirty-something years old.

I would not bother watching it on reruns.

Larry Linville, the actor who played Frank, spoke of this and was himself frustrated that their was a never an episode where Frank did anything right or redeemed himself. He also said this was part of him leaving as they had taken the character as far as possible. I mean you can only beat up on a character for so long and you need a new protagonist… Its interesting that his replacement Major Charles Winchester, they also portrayed him as arrogant and who also had a semi-adversary relationship with Hawkeye but who also had redeeming qualities and who was generally shown in a positive light. So they made a semi new “Frank Burns” but didnt want to take it so far again.

Hawkeye got off the hook because no one in camp was willing to come forward as an eyewitness against him - because everyone hated Burns and thought he had it coming to him.

Yes, there was bullying. There was sexual harassment. In today’s world it would be considered a hostile work environment. The leader (Blake) is probably incompetent to lead. They are probably alcoholics. The episode i watched yesterday had a psychiatrist analyze Klinger and said that his report would show he was a “transvestite and a homosexual”. I don’t know where the homosexual came from.
By the way, I do like the show and currently watching it again.
I think the first season is a little silly. It’s better the second season. And later in the series Frank Burns and Blake leaves. As I was typing this I see someone made a comment about Winchester. This was along the lines of what I was going to say.

There were a few episodes involving soldiers from allied nations - e.g., Brits, Greeks, and Turks - which had some pretty horrendous ethnic stereotyping.

what you have to remember also was korea was a surrogate for Vietnam and burns was basically what was everything that was considered wrong with 60s-70s America rolled up in one character

anyone born after 85 wont get most of the writing unless grandpa explains it to them

Frank Burns eats worms.

I think you have to take into account that pretty much all the characters were faulted or even a little crazy in one way or another, and I believe that was intentional on the part of the creators. Though a comedy, I always felt there was an underlying serious effort to show what war does psychologically to human beings. That medical unit saw daily carnage, and sometimes a lot of it, and the reality of it would have to take a serious toll on them over time.

I watched every episode when they came out and then again in reruns for a few years. I agree it hasn’t aged well.

Sometime in my 20s I realized I had subconsciously adopted Hawkeye as some sort of masculine ideal: he was liberal, anti-war, non-conformist, great at what he did, a hard partier, a joker and a free-loving libertine. Most of that stuff proved to be incompatible with real life.

Frank was the bully.

I agree with most of the previous replies, but no one has responded to THIS?! :smiley:

Just curious, what is your age/location? Because for most - ahem - mature folk, MASH was pretty damned hard to avoid. ISTR it was the standard post dinner watch in the dorm lounge. I think we joked that it was likely that at some point you could find a MASH rerun playing some where at any hour of the day/night. I think it was the first series that I absolutely felt I had ODed on, having seen every episode when they came out and multiple times in re-runs.

I got pretty tired of Hawkeye’s sanctimony, and lost interest after the loss of Trapper and then Henry (but I kept watching, nevertheless!)

Age is 37, location is Germany. I don’t know when it was first broadcast on German television, but I do remember that in the early to mid-1990s, it was on air a lot as a staple of matinée schedules, together with other shows that would have been considered “old” back then already. I didn’t watch it then and started to get into it only now, after having read about it. I have since found out that there are vintage TV stations in Germany, specialising in reruns of old shows, that air several episodes per day, but I’m avoiding that (because the show is dubbed there) and watching it on DVD instead.

Yes, but Frank Burns was a cartoon character, not a psychologically deep character.

At least, that’s the impression I remember getting when I watched some Burns-era episodes quite a while back.

Addressing the “transvestite/homosexual” question, that seemed to be a common misconception in the 70’s, at least on TV. Perhaps cross dressing was just TV shorthand for “gay”? Billy Crystal’s character on Soap was sometimes shown cross dressing.