|Not long ago, a certain public figure waxed nostalgic about how life was better when towns were more like Mayberry on “The Andy Griffith Show.”
With the exception of the unrealistic absence of African-Americans and other people of color, a characteristic Andy himself lamented in his later years, I would agree.
Of course, what that certain public figure probably doesn’t know is that, in addition to all the good white townsfolk of Mayberry, “The Andy Griffith Show” was made possible by a Lebanese-American executive producer named Danny Thomas, a Jewish executive producer named Sheldon Leonard and a Jewish producer named Aaron Ruben.
Oh, and, by the way, it was shot at Desilu Studios, which was half-owned by a Cuban-American named Desi Arnaz.
Mayberry was always culturally diverse. It just wasn’t necessarily obvious to the viewers.
What I’m trying to say is that to use the idyllic town of Mayberry and its warm, friendly citizens as a way to pander to people whose positions on immigration or race relations is tainted with racist code language is an insult to the people who made the beloved series, especially the late Andy Griffith.
For decades prior to the advent of cable and satellite TV, the only two regular prime-time entertainment programs that depicted Southerners in a positive, wholesome light were “The Waltons” and “The Andy Griffith Show.”
Sheriff Andy Taylor was more than just the good-hearted font of wisdom that TV dads in the 1960s had to be. He was smarter than the outsiders gave him credit for being, and that meant a lot to Southern viewers.
With news footage of Southerners screaming vile epithets at blacks trying to integrate public accommodations being aired on the news each night, Griffith, knowingly or unknowingly, provided a much-needed subtle rebuttal.
Andy, Opie, Aunt Bee, Gomer, Goober, Floyd, Howard, Helen, Thelma Lou and all of Mayberry’s citizens presented an alternative image of Southerners that was not only unthreatening, but charming, as well.
As I watched “The Andy Griffith Show” as a child, I couldn’t help being grateful because it showed the rest of America that we weren’t all like those evil troglodytes on the news.
Andy Griffith was not like them, either. He joined his TV son, Ron Howard, in 2008 for an online video supporting Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.
Howard, dressed as Opie, went down to the fishin’ hole where Pa was waiting for him in glorious black-and-white.
“Pa,” Howard said, “why are people so set on staying on the same road that’s been messin’ us up for so long?”
“Well, Op,” Andy responded, “people are funny. Sometimes change scares ‘em. They’d rather keep doing the same old thing that’s been messin’ them up than change to the thing that can help ‘em.”
Like, say, accepting and understanding people of all races, perhaps?
The native North Carolinian also recorded a public service announcement for Medicare that hailed specific portions of the Affordable Care Act.
In short, Andy Griffith and Andy Taylor had one thing in common beside the same first name and hailing from North Carolina – they were communitarians. They believed that we should all take care of each other, be good to each other, help each other, love each other.
Now ain’t that right neighborly?