Rural Comedy, Racism, and “The Andy Griffith Show”

Today, the man that launched a thousand folksy proverbs passed away – Andy Griffith.

As Sheriff Andy Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show, he guided the fictional town of Mayberry, North Carolina with a gentle hand, a compassionate demeanor, and a folksy wisdom.

The Andy Griffith Show aired on CBS from 1960 to 1968. An outstanding classic television performer, it became a fixture of the rural comedy programming on CBS dominated by The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, Petticoat Junction. When TAGS left the airwaves, a successor show, Mayberry RFD, carried on the lives of the Mayberry, North Carolina populus absent Sheriff Andy Taylor. RFD stands for Rural Free Delivery, the mechanism for the United States Postal Service to deliver mail to rural areas.

In its early years, The Andy Griffith Show featured stories with folksy lessons, kind of a down-home Aesop’s Fables.

It severely contrasted America’s massive changes, including assassinations, riots, civil rights, Vietnam War. In turn, Mayberry was a fictional oasis of calm in a real storm of unrest.

Consequently, the best episode of The Andy Griffith Show never happened.

In the deep south of the 1960s, Mayberry could easily have been the location for a restaurant or diner banning black patrons. Imagine the power of Sheriff Taylor’s quiet but firm dignity as he stands for social progress, probably against an interloper from a big northern city looking to establish a business in Mayberry.

“We don’t believe that nonsense here in Mayberry. Here, every man is equal and deserves the same product or service for the same price. No better no worse. I seem to recall something about equality also being in the Declaration of Independence. And if you don’t believe that, then you best pack up and set up a business somewhere else.”

Would that it were so. Not until the 1970s did television showcase real-life problems as plot lines in a significant way, beginning with the “rural purge” on CBS. In the early 1970s, the rural comedies suffered cancellation as a new wave of programs tackled issues  ranging from war to feminism to inflation.  M*A*S*H.  Mary Tyler Moore.  All in the Family.  The Bob Newhart Show.

The lack of a civil rights episode in The Andy Griffith Show shows neither cowardice nor lack of creativity. Simply, the state of the television art in the 1960s grew glacially concerning current events, particularly racism. But that slow growth does not weaken the lessons embodied in the show.  Neighborliness, friendship, kindness, to name a few.

In the third episode of The Andy Griffith Show, Sheriff Taylor engineers a meeting between local guitar player Jim Lindsey and Bobby Fleet, the head of Bobby Fleet and His Band With a Beat. Sheriff Taylor puts the band in jail because its oversized car takes up two parking spaces.

Sheriff Taylor then asks Jim to tune a guitar. Prodded by the band’s teasing, Jim plays a riff that convinces Bobby Fleet to hire him. Jim’s dream comes true.  He is a professional musician outside the friendly confines of Mayberry.

So long, Sheriff Taylor. Mayberry will never be the same without you.

And neither will we.

Share this post

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,