Like many middle-aged white adults, the news of Andy Griffith’s death yesterday brought back memories of my youth. Such somber reflection is quite depressing considering how much our country has changed in such a short amount of time.
Thirty-five and forty years ago, one’s after-school choices were rather limited. I usually spent my free time playing with friends if I wasn’t fishing with my grandfather.
As pastime activities, our generation lacked modern electronic gadgets. The Stone Age — the period prior to modern conveniences of the Internet, iPads, iPods, personal computers, or smart phones — offered few choices for entertainment. Jigsaw puzzles, board games like Monopoly and Ouija, or a deck of cards provided some relief on rainy days.
Ever reliable sitcoms, such as the “Dick Van Dyke Show,” “Gomer Pyle, USMC,” “Green Acres,” and “The Andy Griffith Show,” would get us through the week until Bugs Bunny, Yosemite Sam, Tweety and Sylvester, Speedy Gonzales, and Foghorn Leghorn hit the TV screen on Saturday mornings.
As an adolescent in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I spent countless hours watching reruns of the “Andy Griffith Show” (1960–1968) well into the late 1970s. Part of it was the simple fact that there wasn’t that much to do coming of age in the semi-rural Midwest. The other thing is that one could relate to the characters and mundane existence of Mayberry, RFD.
It was the one show that reflected the reality of small-town America where few if any Blacks or ethnic minorities lived; one could roam freely without fear of assault, rape, robbery or homicidal gang violence; neighbors helped each other in time of need and routinely never felt compelled to lock their doors or windows at night. Daily life in vast stretches of Middle America wasn’t the endless slutty, self-indulgent, mind-numbing, interracial onslaught of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” or for that matter much of today’s Disney Channel productions.
Implicit White adjectives laced the Mainstream Media coverage of Andy Griffith’s passing. The Washington Post referred to his “homespun mix of humor and wisdom” and how fans mourned “the loss of a simpler time” (…when the NBA was half-white). USA Today referred to Griffith as “one of America’s favorite archetypes: the seeming country bumpkin who’s actually smarter than anyone around.” It also described Mayberry as a “bucolic paradise where elderly aunts dispensed comfort and homemade jam; drunks let themselves in and out of the county jail; and a warm, loving father opened each half-hour taking his son fishing.” Other papers noted that fans of the show appreciated its “nostalgia” for a “leisurely paced life” full of “country aphorisms.”
The New York Times referred to Griffith’s “folksy Southern manner” and how the show “imagined a reassuring world of fishin’ holes, ice cream socials, and rock-hard family values during a decade that grew progressively tumultuous.” It also further noted that the first episode in 1960 was a time when “news coverage was making the whole country aware of the ugliness of racism,” which led to “clashes over school integration and the murder of civil rights workers.” Yes, the fictitious daily routine of life in Mayberry was a lot like small-town Middle America: live and let live, neighbors assisting neighbors and kids could leave the house all day and parents wouldn’t have to worry if they would ever see them again. Forced busing to achieve interracial harmony was some dim-witted idea that only egalitarian cosmopolitans could hatch!
Some would argue that Jewish Hollywood executives who produced such sitcoms in the late 60s and early 70s, such as Sheldon Leonard and Norman Lear, were lampooning Whites as country bumpkins, hayseed simpletons, and Archie Bunker-type working class bigots. The flipside is that shows like “Andy Griffith” and “Dick Van Dyke” were infinitely better than the trash that is pumped through family living rooms today.
Griffith is gone, and so too is the America that some of us still remember.