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COMMUNICATION: Media, Arts, & Society | April 19 & 23, 1986


An Unpublished Letter to

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer Mark I. Pinsky

Yes, this is a debate about the fictional setting for The Andy Griffith Show -- one of the best known, albeit least real, towns in America!

I cannot agree with Richard Kelly, whom you quoted in "Return to Mayberry: The Myth Endures", when he stated that "Mayberry is totally conservative..." Mayberry was mythical and traditional but also, in many ways, progressive.

The absence of blacks was, of course, unreal and unfair (although perhaps not as absolute as your article stated -- I believe I recently saw on a rerun a black man among other old men laughing at something ridiculous Barney did). However, the driving force of The Andy Griffith Show plots was usually the interplay of far-from-homogenous characters -- although Andy often tolerated more than respected them, neurotic cousin Barney, goofy Gomer and Goober, absent-minded Floyd, drunken Otis, and the superstitious Darling family were accepted for who they were.

Mayberry was a very (although not totally) conservative environment. As in most small towns, anyone who desired privacy was considered an unsociable hermit; and in this small town the Justice of the Peace was also the arresting officer -- now, there's a dangerous precedent, even though Sheriff Taylor used common sense more than "by-the-book" Deputy Fife did. Although the central character was a powerful authority figure, both father and sheriff, this sitcom of the Sixties was not always Father Knows Best (for that matter, neither was the Fifties' Father Knows Best): Although almost always well-meaning, Andy was often shown in the end to be wrong, usually having operated on an incorrect assumption. In fact, seeing the show again after a decade, I was surprised at just how many times Andy did wind-up getting "dumped" on.

And often as not, it was someone like Aunt Bea or girlfriend Helen who ended-up smelling like a rose. Although they were, unfortunately, often deferential and rarely if ever in positions of significant community authority, each of the women in The Andy Griffith Show was almost always strong-willed, with a mind of her own and sometimes even with an unequalled streak of compassion and common sense, like that which often surfaced in the repressed, yet emerging Edith Bunker character, in the Seventies' quintessentially liberal All In The Family.

Why, even Opie, the child, was often one up on Andy. And significantly, in contrast to the "spare-the-rod-and-spoil-the-child" philosophy so vital to the mind-set of the far right, the pa almost always resolved his problems with the son by talking, although sometimes after sending the boy to his room or threatening a spanking -- when did Andy ever beat Opie? Parenting through love -- not anger -- is a progressive, not conservative ideal, which succeeded with Opie.

I do not recall that Sheriff Taylor ever shot anyone either. Although this, too, is unrealistic, given the dangerous criminals that he did come up against, the moral of the stories was clear: Understanding, if sometimes uncomfortable talk was preferable to violence. I believe in our heart of hearts we know that today's "Rambos" are, in mind if not physique, more like quick-on-the-draw Deputy Fife than self-composed Sheriff Taylor.

As for the real-life "local television editorialist [you mentioned] who railed each night on a Raleigh station against civil rights, the emerging women's movement, 'sexual perversion', Israel, Medicare, and Social Security" -- Jesse Helms [!] -- I cannot believe that Andy, who deflated the egos of several pompous politicians in his day, and the other good citizens of Mayberry would ever in good conscience vote for such a hatemonger. For JFK, yes; for Jesse Helms, no.

Responsible peace, love, and humanity, as flourished in The Andy Griffith Show, are progressive traditions, worth conserving -- and expanding upon -- by all us honorary Mayberryites!

The Reply from Mr. Pinsky


Thank you for your extremely thoughtful -- and thought-provoking -- letter regarding my column on Mayberry. I think I would make two points by way of response. First, had the show been set in the Midwest or Far West, I would not have had much objection, since many small towns in those regions had few if any black citizens. Second, regarding the two elections of Jesse Helms, I cannot say exactly how the citizens of Mt. Airy, N.C. [the real-life prototype for Mayberry], voted, although much of Helms' support came from small town, rural whites. An interesting note in that connection is that Andy Griffith himself supported Helms' Democratic opponents and in 1984 backed former Gov. James B. Hunt, Jr.

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