Around the County

The word from Mayberry

By Pat Stuart
Posted 9/30/21

CBS Sunday Morning recently aired a segment on the ideal American town — the one almost like ours, but quainter, with a fishing hole for fathers and sons just outside the town limits, with …

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Around the County

The word from Mayberry

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CBS Sunday Morning recently aired a segment on the ideal American town — the one almost like ours, but quainter, with a fishing hole for fathers and sons just outside the town limits, with Barney Fife as a deputy sheriff and Andy Griffith keeping law and order. You know the place: Mount Airy, North Carolina, a.k.a. Mayberry.

National tragedies never touched Mayberry.

The nuclear crisis with Russia? Frightened people digging bomb shelters in their basements? The Bay of Pigs? A president assassinated, and the nation in mourning? These events weren’t even an echo in a Mayberry where a saga over a lost dollar could captivate the entire town, not to mention the TV audience. Watching events in Mayberry let us escape reality, pretend all American towns were just like this little place — safe, secure, kind, generous and all white.

Yes, amazingly enough, the fantasy of all southern towns of the 1960s realized! No Blacks.

Mayberry was lily white. No “Whites Only” signs showed in shop windows as we accompanied Andy or Barney on their appointed rounds. Aunt Bee never said “good morning” to a Black maid or gardener or street cleaner on our weekly segments. Opie didn’t have a single colored friend.

Still, we might say, Mayberry is what America should be. This is what we want — the peace and security, that is. This is pretty much what we have plus near all-white. Right here.

As for the rest of the country, wouldn’t it be lovely if we could push, as Mayberry’s film crews did, casual cruelties, social inequities and grave nuclear threats back behind the camera? Ignore them. Declare them fake news, an invention of the far left, a conspiracy of the deep state. 

Yes, Mayberry still puts a smile on white viewers’ faces. The show may have been in reruns since 1968, but it’s never old.

One mother and son, who were interviewed during the CBS report, said, “We watch Andy for four hours every day.” They had a channel where the episodes aired back-to-back. And, no. They weren’t exaggerating, the boy claimed: four hours a day.

Later in the report, the newscaster boarded a tour bus to talk to a few of the thousands who crowd Mount Airy (Mayberry) every year. 

The group of white, middle-aged, overweight southerners weren’t exactly enthralled with being interviewed by a newsman. Very clearly, they had little to say to him except about how wonderful they found this little town. They were fans. As for the rest of it — how they saw Mayberry in a 21st century context, for example — they replied in short sentences.

The newscaster dug down to the cause of their reticence, finally allowing that he understood if they didn’t care for journalists, but how did they feel about the press, anyway?

A man in front, fingers spread, answered first. His candor sparked additional comments, everyone in agreement, nodding, asserting that the networks were full of nothing but fake news, saying that journalists just make things up.

“We don’t listen to them,” one woman said from the back with a definite sniff. Looking out the window as though not sure she wanted to lift the skirt of a possible secret, she added something like, “We have our own ways of finding out what’s happening.”

What ways? She didn’t elaborate nor did her fellow passengers who nodded along. They seemed to all feel that they had their “ways,” too.

I’m guessing people who watched when the show first aired also had their “ways.” Probably, for them that meant getting news from their friends, their churches and, particularly, the demagogue of the day — George Wallace.

Wallace — who, while Mayberry was a TV staple, famously declared on the steps of an Alabama courthouse, “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” and who later ran for president of the United States — may not have used the term “fake news,” but he also vilified the press. 

Mayberry. 

The carefree, iconic whistling introducing an episode. 

Mayberry’s a place where the lines between the fantasies we build for ourselves and reality blur — where we catch a glimpse of one reason why the problems that plagued Mayberry’s era still exist.

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