Thursday, July 05, 2012

On the topic of Mayberry.

I won't belabor the point, seeing as I liked Andy Griffith, too, and his passing is much regretted. It's just that if you can look past the understandable nostalgia, Mayberry simply isn't an economic development strategy ... except, perhaps, for buying local. The column originally appeared in the newspaper on July 23, 2009.


BEER MONEY: After Andy, the deluge.

By ROGER BAYLOR, Local Columnist

“When confused and uncertain, we often recoil from the challenges of the future, reverting instead to comforting visions of one or the other redemptive halcyons from a past viewed with rose-tinted hindsight … Cultural mythology is aimed at supplanting rational thought, not buttressing it.”

I first wrote these words in January, describing Reclaim Our Culture Kentuckiana’s (ROCK’s) ongoing tent revival, wherein the lawyer/preacher on the soapbox beseeches us to turn back the hands of time, all the way to a state of being that never existed in the first place. It’s another pipe-dream panacea that we’re assured can be recaptured if only we forget everything we’ve learned since kindergarten.

No matter, because I’m not here today to rattle the cages of ROCK’s dues-paying moral guardians. Rather, it’s time to consider an entirely different golden age – parallel reality, if you will – possessing an ethos ostensibly capable of providing workable solutions to the pressing problems of contemporary times.

Who knows the Way?

Why, the saintly Andy, of course.


At the July 6 city council meeting, during a brief and typically ephemeral discussion of community policing “wants and needs,” 3rd district councilman Steve Price launched into a strange tangent addressing contemporary methods of law enforcement.

Untangling Price’s stream-of consciousness syntax to the best of my ability, it sounded like he was lamenting the disappearance of old-fashioned, user-friendly drunk tanks, those helpful domiciles that used to provide inebriates a warm place to sleep and voluminous black coffee before releasing them into waiting streets (and barstools) the following morning.

Price concluded that nowadays, such harmless transgressors actually have to pay their way out of jail; lacking the cash, they contribute to the overcrowding problem there. His council colleague (and full-time police officer), Jack Messer, asked Price to explain how the city might better handle such time and space continuums, and Price responded with this bit of advice:

"We need to do things like Andy used to do 'em."


To which Andy was the councilman referring?

Andy Warhol? That’s unlikely, because the Ruthenian-American pop artist certainly was too avant-garde for a devotee of Dave Ramsey.

To Andy Kaufman, the late and lamented inter-gender wrestling champion and performance artist? Obviously, too weird.

Andy Roddick? Too athletic for New Albany, and in the wrong sport.

Andy Dick? Too clever by half.

Andy Capp? Too impenetrably English.

Andy Garcia? Too confusingly ethnic.

But: Recalling councilman’s Price’s preferred homilies, nostalgic utterances and ceaseless non sequiturs, it’s a safe bet that he was fondly recalling the law enforcement techniques of Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry, as played on television by comedian Andy Griffith in his eponymous show, which was produced back in the Golden Age of Post-War Imperial America, a time period coinciding with Price’s blissful youth and visions of Otis Campbell’s nightly resting place dancing soothingly in his head.


My councilman’s Mayberry fixation comes as little surprise, paralleling as it does so many instances of his confusion about the modern world’s inherent complexities and his recurring preference for simplistic slogans instead of thoughtful considerations as we seek solutions.

Unfortunately, Price isn’t alone in suggesting that running a city of 37,000 people in the age of the Internet, crystal meth, iPhones, EPA sewage treatment decrees and state-imposed starvation budgets requires little more than traveling backwards in time to derive lessons from a television series originally broadcast in black and white, featuring a folksy sheriff in a town far smaller than New Albany, a switchboard operator listening in on party lines, and a town vandal whose repertoire does not extend beyond rocks thrown at picture windows.

I also watched The Andy Griffith Show as a child, but then something happened to me. I grew up. Four decades have passed since the series went off the air, and in light of experience, I see Mayberry a bit differently than my councilman does.

Sheriff Taylor’s town didn’t boast much in the way of ethnic and religious diversity, did it? In fact, it was the era of enforced segregation in the South, and there wasn’t a Hispanic to be seen. Most of the women depicted on the series were in the kitchen frying chicken or baking peach cobbler, and Helen Crump’s job as schoolteacher was about the highest point on the professional ladder for a female. Suffrage might have been bragged about, but was it truly universal?

Do you really think any of those toilets led to a sewage treatment system? Think pipes emptying into yonder creek, and maybe a septic tank or three. Television news was a monopoly of three major networks, newspapers toed a Democratic or Republican line, and American foreign policy strove to support “our” murderous tinhorn dictators so as to forestall Communist versions of the same.

And then, there’s the part we always forget about places like Mayberry in the 1960’s: Young and talented people left towns like those in droves, and as soon as they possibly could, leaving older citizens and second-raters to navigate the demographic decline into irrelevance, something that should be all too obvious to New Albanians today.

Mayberry was, and is, an entertaining place, but like Andy Taylor himself, it was, and is, entirely imaginary. I’m sure we can find a place in Councilman Price’s throwback public policy manual for role models like Rooster Cogburn, Captain Kirk and maybe even Puff the Magic Dragon.

But seriously, in the year 2009 – how does that help us?

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