Who is this lovely young thing?
Corporal (later Sergeant) Maxwell Q. Klinger from M*A*S*H, played by Jamie Farr. I mentioned M*A*S*H in an earlier post. It is a very important show for my family. Klinger was a fun character, he often served as comic relief, at least for the beginning of the series. The method with which he served as comic relief was through his particular way of trying to get out of the war. During the majority of the series this character dressed in women’s clothing and uniforms in an effort to get discharged on a Section 8, when someone in the US military is judged mentally unfit for service. It’s no longer in use but “He’s a Section 8” was, apparently, something said often at the time, whether a person received a Section 8 or not. Those accused of “sexual perversion” often received a Section 8.
Originally Klinger was going to be an effeminate gay man, according to Wikipedia citing the book Watching M*A*S*H, Watching America. It was decided that having Klinger be heterosexual and wear dresses in an attempt to get a Section 8 would be more interesting.
Using mental illness as a tool or an excuse to get out of a bad or, at the very least, an undesirable situation. There is an interesting mix of themes here. I doubt it was a coincidence that the M*A*S*H producers decided that a man attempting to get a Section 8 would wear dresses. Cross-dressing and homosexual behavior (which are neither linked nor mutually exclusive incidentally), these actions would have qualified an individual as “mentally unfit.”
So this show (which I LOVE) took advantage of mental illness by using it as a tool for comic relief with a character who is PRETENDING to have a mental illness. But it ALSO decided to play into the institutionalized homophobia of the time (and yes, I’m aware that it was a different time).
Again, I love M*A*S*H but I definitely believed, growing up, that Klinger would wear dresses so people would think he was crazy so he could get out of the war. It is worth noting that eventually Klinger stopped wearing dresses and was the only main character in the end to decide to stay in Korea.