Politicians And Pop Culture

The television show M*A*S*H was a broadcast phenomenon in the 1970s. It was based upon characters from the movie of the same name but both were derived from an original book about the Korean War. 

Rising from the obscure beginnings of the weekly television show was a relatively unknown actor, Alan Alda. Some of the older readers may know of his father, Robert Alda, who had been a film star in the black-and-white era of movies decades before. Alan’s dad was often the hero in those films, but Alan’s role in M*A*S*H was more like a conscientious objector who reluctantly goes to war. He plays a surgeon who participates only because he knows he can save people with his skills and talents, but he doesn’t believe in being there. His manner is gentle, and often in scenes with nurses—despite his being portrayed as a womanizer—he supplies a listening ear and a kind, enlightened approach to the opposite sex.

From Hawkeye To Wiseguy

Alda’s character, Hawkeye, blended with the Jimmy Carter presidency and some of the leftover “make love, not war” sentiment of the 1960s. The result was the emergence of a new kind of man. A soft-spoken, willing-to-listen, open-minded guy who wasn’t quick to judge, who didn’t ignore the wife by reading the sports page at the breakfast table, etc. The new man was focused on equality for all people, especially women. Suddenly, New Age philosophy and self-help books were being published. Men were writing poetry filled with pent-up emotions, and the old, stodgy rule-oriented “man” image was going through a substantial makeover. The most chauvinistic television character ever invented—Archie Bunker—came out of this era. The All in the Family father and husband made one racist, bigoted claim after another, but he was positioned as the fool. His ignorance makes buffoons of those who have held onto diminishing points of view. Archie often asks other friends and men on the show if they are one of “them women’s libbers.” The dumber he looks, the more empowered women’s equality became; it was truly a cultural phenomenon. Many of my grandfather’s aging friends, whom I overheard talking at the barber shop, thought Archie was brilliant. They held him up as a man’s man, who should be a “write-in” presidential candidate. The sarcasm of the show blew right by them. In any event, Archie was the “anti-Hawkeye,” but the message was the same—the blind and ignorant chauvinistic male has no place in American society.

And so it went. Sitcoms were filled with characters confused by women’s liberation. Bob Newhart’s sitcom featured him as a psychologist who counsels people who have a difficult time dealing with modern society. In her TV show, Mary Tyler Moore’s character lives alone as a divorced woman working in a “man’s world,” holding a top executive job and often having to face the boss or other men who challenge her braveness and guts. Only in the privacy of her apartment does Mary break down and show how difficult it is for a woman to take men on, head to head, day after day. She seeks solace from her single neighbor Rhoda and take-charge neighbor Phyllis, who has her husband completely marching to her orders. Even Archie Bunker’s wife eventually has enough of his attitude and famously throws a loaf of bread and a pound of baloney at him, saying “Make your own dinner. I’ve got things I need to do!” Thunderous applause erupted from the live audience, and male chauvinism supposedly made its last stand right then and there.

From Reagan To Rambo

But the Carter era ended, as did the 1970s, and during the changing of the guard, a fellow named Ronald Reagan entered the scene. In capitalizing on the failures of the country, he suggested they were brought about by the soft character that men had become. He began his run for president by contrasting the cowboy, sportsman, and conservative he had always portrayed in his movies and his life with the listening, caring, loving “new” man of the past decade, who appreciated women, but didn’t pander to them. Without really saying it, he implied that such a position looked weak for a leader, and it had no place in our trend-setting free society. A country needed a firm jaw and a solid fist. As the Reagan presidency went forward, he would publicly endorse soldiers and other people who exhibited heroism. He even mentioned watching Sylvester Stallone’s character as Rambo in the 1985 war movie, and suggested he had picked up some good tips about what to do in the future.

Coming Full Circle

As you can imagine, patriotism soared. Movies like Top Gun, which exhibited the testosterone-filled antics of Navy fighter pilots, were so popular that draft boards and recruiting stations were overflowing. Military movies or those with former military men as the hero came out one after another. Action figures filled the stores with plastic, muscled heroes and the “kinder, gentler” image was, at best, put on the back burner.  Time passed. The Bush 41 era moved into the next period (the Gulf War), but without the Reagan swagger. The Clinton machine was next, offering a mixture of conservative-liberal views that gave the country enough self-doubt that voters passed on Clinton’s vice president, Al Gore, in the 2000 election. Rather than continue the Democratic rule, in which Clinton seemed a little too crafty, there was a desire for a Reaganesque return, so hope was placed in Bush 43..  He gathered in his cabinet some of the heroes of his dad’s era, but their prime had passed, and America settled into a sort of indifference until the 9/11 disaster did more than wake the country up; it virtually flipped the bed over and threw us onto the floor. The aftermath gave rise to an era of anger mixed with hesitation. Soon thereafter, the country elected an articulate, soft-spoken leader with great poise and the energy of youth. Despite those advantages, the country once again divided into partisan sides with an election now only months away, an election that very well may include a man versus a woman. The pop-culture implications have come full circle.

Ron Ciancutti has worked in the parks and recreation industry since he was 16 years old, covering everything from maintenance, operations, engineering, surveying, park management, design, planning, recreation, and finance. He holds a B.S. in Business from Bowling Green State University and an M.B.A from Baldwin Wallace University. He has held his current position as Director of Procurement since 1990. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at ron@northstarpubs.com.