I never had to read Joseph Heller’s “Catch 22” in high school but chances are if it had been assigned I wouldn’t probably wouldn’t have finished reading it. The novel is a too-long absurdist, occasionally funny, often sickening accurate and poignant, novel set during the Second World War, of a bunch of men screaming louder and louder because no one is listening them, while sexually assaulting most of Italy.
Weaving throughout the narrative exploration of a myriad of damaged soldiers is the emotional and psychological cost of toxic masculinity, on those wallowing in it as well as to everyone they come in contact with.
The greatest expression here of this cultural malignancy is the bureaucracy of war; whereas war is wage to provide a hierarchy for men to exploit one another, and that bureaucracy is then maintained to continue to wage a futile and pointless war that creates victims as much in those who are bombed as those who are bombing. Perhaps those who order the bombings can be said to be immune to the effects of this culture and the war it wages in reality, but they most certainly have a form letter explaining to “Mrs., Mr., Miss, or Mr. and Mrs. —” that it is they who are the real victims in all of this.
But I also have to wonder how the new Hulu adaption of the book will address the cultural and sexual shortcomings of the book in today’s Me Too and Time’s Up movements. Or will that charming and wistful reminiscing of the good old days when a fraternity gang raped two underage girls be excised entirely from the retelling?
It’s certainly a difficult book to read, and one difficult to say was enjoyed, despite the humorous moments. But for its stark, absurd illustration of the power of communication, miscommunication and misdirection to corrupt and damn, and the effects of war, of unchecked and unrestrained aggression it is an important story to experience. And one that, despite being dated in some aspects, is just as relevant today in the lessons that still need to be learned and the warnings to be gleaned.