From Mike at Cold Fury, an essay about small town values, a classic TV show and the lessons we can still learn. Here’s just a brief taste;
I’ve often said over the years that the trouble with America begins with the sad fact that we have way too many Barney Fifes, and way too few Andy Taylors.
Unlike the shows that tried to follow it and virtually every other sitcom on at the time, Andy was never wacky or zany. The storylines were more plausible, the characters more authentic. The cinematography and direction were better, too—Andy was shot languidly, in keeping with the hyper-mellow pace of small-town life. Most importantly, the fictional town of Mayberry and what it represents weren’t held up for ridicule. On other shows ostensibly about rural folk, being rural was a source of humor. The Clampett family on The Beverly Hillbillies, for instance, were laughed at more than they were laughed with, and their hometown of Bugtussel is benighted. Mayberry was treated reverently, as a pastoral ideal, and the town would enter the pop consciousness as a synonym for the quieter pleasures and virtues of small-town American life.
Of course, what’s portrayed on screen in Andy is absurdly homogenized. Mayberry is said to be in North Carolina. Yet, like Woody Allen’s version of New York City, this small southern town apparently has no African-American citizens. It’s also hard to imagine a character like “town drunk” Otis Campbell on TV today—unless he was in rehab with Dr. Drew.
But dated is the point. The show is a bucolic fantasy. Now as when it first aired, Andy is supposed to be a refuge from modern life, not a reflection of it. Complaining about a lack of gritty realism in Mayberry would be like complaining that baseball stadiums have too much green space.
A widower, Andy’s domestic life was devoted to raising Opie, eating Aunt Bee’s cooking, and going on an occasional date with semi-feminist schoolteacher Helen Crump or flat-out liberated Ellie Mae Walker. Sheriff Taylor’s real job, though, is government. In Mayberry, Andy is the personification of Law and Order. He is the police, prosecutor, judge, jury, and jailer, executing each job with Solomonic wisdom. As sheriff, he is the model of modern effective policing, eschewing technology over personal relationships and abhorring the well-meaning but overzealous violence represented by the crusading-but-bumbling Barney and his single bullet.
Having grown up in the small-town South myself, I’d say, too, that Mayberry was a lot more realistic than some folks may realize. One of the reasons the show has endured, at least down here, is that it rings so true for so many. Yes, it wasn’t a complete portrait (we did actually have black people where I grew up, thanksverymuch), but no artistic endeavor ever is, or can be. David Graham pretty much says it all about the show: “What it was, was American.” Indeed it was, and the irrevocable loss of that deep, defining connection is sad and dismaying. Dismiss it as maudlin nostalgia if you wish, but we could do a lot worse than taking Mayberry as a model and inspiration for the structure of small-town life these days.
I was born in a big city and have lived in big cities, but have lived in small southern towns for the majority of my life. Big city life is fast and stressful while small town life is relaxed and easy going. Which would you rather have?