Why Mayberry Resonates in the American Heart
- Tuesday, July 10, 2012
“Americans loved, and still love, the notion of the small town as a manageable, nonthreatening, friendly, finite community. ... The black-and-white world that Andy Griffith shaped so masterfully is there for our perusal from a distance, but it is not coming back – either on television or anywhere else.” – Ted Anthony, Associated Press
In an elegant obituary for Andy Griffith, who died on July 3 at age 86, Ted Anthony might be right about the survival of small communities, but perhaps not about what made The Andy Griffith Show so successful.
The most important part of the program, of which CBS ran 249 episodes (159 in black and white and 90 in color) from 1960 to 1968, was not the idealized portrayal of small town American life. It is the Christian-inspired warmth and wisdom, which never goes out of style. Most Americans don’t live in semi-rural villages anymore, and the communications age has ended isolation, but The Andy Griffith Show transcends its venue.
The spirit of Mayberry is evident any time church members deliver food to the newly widowed, when city-dwellers help a struggling single mother, or when neighbors pitch in to clean up after natural or manmade disasters. Although human kindness and openness is more likely in the country than the rougher-edged city, it can and does happen anywhere.
Mayberry, the fictional community based on Andy Griffith’s hometown of Mount Airy, N.C., leaves its mark on viewers the way it does on its fictional visitors. Outsiders leave Mayberry with the residue of love and good humor clinging to them like dryer sheets.
In Man in a Hurry (1963), a businessman whose car breaks down as he’s driving through Mayberry erupts in exasperation that this little town works differently on Sunday. The repair shop is closed. He can’t use the telephone because the party line is tied up by two elderly sisters who talk for hours on Sundays. Meanwhile, Sheriff Andy Taylor (Griffith) invites the man to stay at his home. Listening over and over to Deputy Sheriff Barney Fife (Don Knotts) rock on the porch, repeating his “plan” to go downtown, get a pop and head over to Thelma Lou’s to watch TV, nearly drives the man over the edge.
Slowly but surely, the businessman chills out, charmed by the men’s kindness, the cooking of Aunt Bee (Frances Bavier), and the boyish enthusiasm of widower Taylor’s son, Opie (Ron Howard).
It isn’t just the absence of a frenetic pace; it’s the love shown by the people for each other and even for a rude stranger who finds himself on the receiving end of Jesus’ command to treat others as we ourselves would like to be treated.
Later that afternoon, Gomer Pyle (Jim Nabors) drives up in the repaired car his cousin consented to fix, Aunt Bee hands a sack lunch to the man, and everyone smiles and waves. Looking wistful, the businessman “discovers” a new sound in his car’s engine and asks Gomer to take it back to the garage. He’s not ready to give up this glimpse of heaven.
Neither is America, since the show is still thriving in syndication. The Andy Griffith Show works because it reflects the best of America, not an unreachable fantasy. When crises happen, the citizens of Mayberry pull together. They don’t shake their finger at Uncle Sam and demand more booty from other Americans. It’s the antithesis of the one-size-fits-all statism that wants to put all the Mayberrys under its heel in the name of “equality,” “compassion” or “fairness.” Yes, I know Mr. Griffith inexplicably did a plug for Obamacare, but his lifelong body of work speaks far louder than that what-were-you-thinking moment.
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