“The Moose” - Airdate: October 15, 1972
PLOT: The Swamp crew is disturbed when surly bigot Sgt. Baker drops by camp with his personal slave or “moose”. Hawkeye personally crusades to liberate Yung Hi, the kept woman, only to end up inadvertently with a moose of his own.
-Mildly offensive “Asian” arrangement of “Suicide is Painless”! and
-Gong sound effects when talking to a Korean girl!
-Radar checks out a girl’s butt with a telescope.
Hawkeye Pierce hates racism. We can get behind that. It will fuel a lot of M*A*S*Hepisodes. Pierce also feels the need to teach racists a lesson much of the time. Sometimes it works, sometimes it does not, and sometimes we may feel ourselves getting behind him, sometimes not. Pierce is able to order racist Sgt. Baker (believably mean and smug Paul Jenkins) to stop using ethnic slurs, unable to teach Baker what’s wrong with his attitude, or even what’s wrong with buying a human being. When Pierce finally tries to pull rank on Baker and order him to release Yung Hi (Virginia Lee), Baker laughs in the doctor’s face. That’s a neat dramatic moment in “The Moose”. It shows Pierce actually attempting to use Army channels of recourse which he usually shuns, only to find them cut off because no one respects his temporary commission.
In this particular story, though, Pierce isn’t just trying to enlighten someone or make himself feel better, but free Yung Hi. The whole plot is constructed as a great trap to feed off Hawkeye’s guilt and nobility, and complicate and frustrate his basic belief in human rights. He has to stuff himself into uniform to try to give Baker an order. He has to both secure funds and make Baker desperate for cash by cheating the sergeant at cards, essentially putting himself in a position where he’s raising money to buy a slave. The social reality of Yung Hi’s situation is that her family has sold her, and if she ditches her owner, she’s shaming herself and her family; so Hawk’s stuck with a slave who doesn’t want to go, and feels purposeless without a master. If Yung Hi goes home, her family will just sell her again. Etc, and so on. It’s all arguably a little too cute, but the dilemma of the oppressed failing to recognize their position is rich stuff. It’s usually forgotten in free-the-slaves melodrama, but really the crux of the problem of power dynamics, as everyone from Harriet Beecher Stowe to Marx to Foucault has understood. Popular entertainment can handle the load: Mark Twain understood it in Huckleberry Finn. J.K. Rowling understands it in Goblet of Fire. M*A*S*Hunderstands it.
“The Moose” is light going, but it’s the beginning of Pierce recognizing the ideological apparatuses behind the injustice he sees in the world are more complicated than his knee-jerk reactions. More complicated. Not necessarily more powerful. The gang eventually helps Yung Hi liberate herself, by building up her self-image. But it’s telling when Ho John and Radar explain the culture of moose-ownership, and Hawkeye snaps at them as if its their fault. Radar and Ho John just look at Hawk sadly, and though they’re younger, simpler men, they are more plugged into the harsh realities of life.
Fashion Watch! - Spearchucker wears a cool orange hat.
Also: Benny, Yung Hi’s human-traffiking, cigarette-smoking preteen brother is a hilarious character. We want more Benny!
Even Hawkeye cannot believe how cool Benny is!