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Mourning In Mayberry

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Long Hot Summer Days - Sara Watkins (mp3)
Delia’s Gone - Johnny Cash (mp3)

When Andy Griffith died last week, it was a punch to the solar plexus. We’ve lost a distressing number of cultural icons in the past few years, but this one seemed different. It felt like Mayberry went up in smoke.

Mayberry was brilliant because it was a safe Rorshach test for the soul.

If you were a conservative-leaning person interested in morals and values, Mayberry had it. Sheriff Andy Taylor was a responsible man, an involved father, and a leader of his community, equipped with a sense of both justice and mercy, of kindness and fairness. And everyone went to church. Mayberry also looked a lot like 21st Century RNC conventions, which is to say almost completely male and white, with a sweet white-haired lady who cooks all the meals.

If you leaned left, you appreciated that wealthy people weren’t thought too highly of, and poor people weren’t mocked. Ernest T. Bass wasn’t mocked or the butt of jokes because he was poor or chemically unbalanced. In fact, very little of the humor in Mayberry was at someone’s expense other than Barney Fife.

In Mayberry, money didn't determine happiness, nor did it singularly secure you a place of distinction in the eyes of the townsfolk. Nor did wealth create bad or cruel people, necessarily, although the perception of social class distance often created tensions or misunderstandings within the plot.

I grew up watching the reruns, and a few years ago, I helped lead one of many series that links episodes of the show to Biblical teachings. But I’m no fanatic or walking encyclopedia of Mayberry lore.

I only know we’ve lost something we’re not going to get back. It's usually a waste of emotion and time to mourn such things, but this one deserves an exception.

A string of recent articles all feel loosely interrelated to the death of Andy Griffith:

In short, the current generation of parents and teachers suck despite or because of their best (if ultimately selfish) intentions, and Andy could have helped. The higher up the monetary ladder you climb, the less humane you become. And, ultimately, the philosophical pursuits that spawned good things (e.g. civil rights, women’s lib) carried with it the yang of obsessive selfishness.

The reads are depressing, but important. Fortunately, there’s a beautiful silver thread weaving through all of these brilliant, somewhat depressing pieces, a sliver of hope amidst numerous downer observations: we know something has gone terribly wrong. And, as G.I. Joe so wisely acknowledges, Knowing Is Half The Battle (TM).

Culturally speaking, we are waking up to the damage that our collective self-interest and inward focus has done to our society as a whole. In the movies, the Body Snatchers keep winning, but you can’t fight them if you don’t even realize they’re amongst us.

Much like Delia from Johnny Cash’s song, maybe Andy Taylor is gone because we killed him. Sure, we didn’t kill him with our bare hands. We just left him in the car to overheat while we went into the office to check a few emails. We drove right past Mayberry on the way to Harrah’s Cherokee. The town itself and the many wonderful ideals it stood for was the beaten traveler, and we were too busy to stop and see it dying. Andy was TV’s Good Samaritan, the only one willing to rescue it, and now he’s gone, and Mayberry with him.

This is the exact moment -- the moment of despair combined with an understanding of just how serious a problem we face -- when new leaders can emerge and create new towns, new hopes, new ideals.

Can't we give ourselves one more chance?
This is our last dance.
This is ourselves.

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