Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Andy Griffith, RIP

With this blog's title, you just knew I had to comment on this unhappy piece of news, didn't you?

The fictional sheriff "Andy Taylor" of the fictional town "Mayberry" has died at 86.  This is indeed a sad day for Andy Griffith's closest friends and family and it's a sad day for America as well, and should be.

The real actor Andy Griffith and the real town of his youth Mount Airy were always something very different than the TV show's character and setting.  Griffith, a political liberal, supported Obamacare of all things.  But while we knew they were different, we, most of us anyway, nevertheless wanted oh-so-much for them to be the same.  Why?  

The show's abiding appeal is often attributed to baby boomer nostalgia, but I think it's something deeper than that.  Even in the early to mid-1960s when it was first produced, the program was deliberately, even self-consciously nostalgic.  But, and this is key, it was so without guile or even a hint of irony.

Whether it'll withstand strict scrutiny or not, we all seem to need to remember a childhood, a founding, that was simpler not because it was simple, but because it was purer.  In the context of contemporary America, few figures have successfully met that need, recalling "the better angels of our nature": Norman Rockwell, Jimmy Stewart, Ronald Reagan.  "Mayberry", a happy assemblage of innocents, was and remains the Garden of Eden we've lost and desperately want to find again, or, for sanity's sake, at least to remember well.

To be sure, Griffith was an accomplished actor who always could play more than just an easy-going small town sheriff.  If you've never seen it, I'd recommend you watch him in Elia Kazan's still edgy A Face in the Crowd.  But it is for creating "Mayberry" that he'll always be remembered best and for which he rightly earned in 2005 the Presidential Medal of Freedom.


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