Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Andy Griffith, RIP
Andy Griffith has passed away. I feel like a member of my family is gone. The Andy Griffith Show has been a part of my life for most of my life. I have entire episodes almost committed to memory. My favorite episodes all involve Andy Taylor and Barney Fife, played by the great Don Knotts. When I became a father, I grew to appreciate the ones involving Andy and Opie more. Much of what I learned about being a father I learned watching Andy Taylor. His warmth, gentleness, and eternal patience with both Opie and Barney are characteristics I can only hope to emulate. In Andy Taylor, Andy Griffith created a true American cultural icon.
The Andy Griffith Show is one of the great classic television comedies. Compared to what is on television today more than 50 years after its debut it seems simplistic and idealized. It's hard to watch the show and remember that the writers and actors were portraying a small town in the South during the 1960s, a time and place of great social upheaval. There was no mention of the Civil Rights protests at Floyd's Barber Shop; Andy, Opie, and Aunt Bea were never shown gathered around their black and white television watching the news from Dallas on November 22, 1963; Andy never caught Opie smoking pot (or smoking, for that matter, though Andy was shown in the early black and white shows smoking cigarettes); there were no draft cards burned; Andy was never referred to as a "pig"; Andy and Helen did not engage in pre-marital sex, nor did they live together, nor was there a discussion of "the pill"; and Vietnam was only a small country in Asia on a map of the world in Helen Crump's classroom. Mayberry was like an alternate universe, where time stood still and America hadn't change.
I think this is why The Andy Griffith Show continues to be popular in TVLand reruns and on DVD. Mayberry does provide us with an alternate universe; but a universe that is familiar to all of us. We all know people like Andy, Barney, Helen, Aunt Bea, Opie, Gomer, Goober, Floyd, and Howard Sprague. They could be an aunt or uncle, a cousin, perhaps an in-law (my father-in-law was Andy Taylor). The situations they found themselves in might seem ludicrous or unbelievable, but they remain familiar somehow. At it's heart, The Andy Griffith Show is about the enduring power of love and the importance of relationships. By any real-world standard, Andy should have fired Barney; the man was a bumbling incompetent as a deputy. But Barney was Andy's friend (in the first episode, he's mentioned as Andy's cousin); more important to Andy than having a cracker-jack professional deputy was having a friend by his side. The relationship was most important, and it was a relationship based on mutual love and respect. The ties of love and relationship portrayed among the people of Mayberry endured through thick and thin; they were--and are--timeless.
In the real world, Andy Griffith is gone from us; our loss is heaven's gain. But Andy Taylor lives in Mayberry--and in our hearts--forever.