The other day I watched an episode of The Andy Griffith Show while having tea. That show, for those of you who’ve never seen it, is unapologetically set in Trump country. That is, if Mayberry had been a real town and not a set on a backlot in Hollywood.
The townsfolk of Mayberry are not sophisticated or worldly. Few have been far from the county line. But they have a strong sense of pride in their small town and are hurt when outsiders call them country bumpkins. Of course the town did have its stereotypes: Otis, the town drunk, Goober and Gomer, the village simpletons, and Floyd the barber who can’t stand electric razors. But they are treated gently and shown to be, despite their gullibility, decent folk at heart. It’s their lack of worldliness that causes them to leap to judgement and act accordingly. When a stranger comes to town claiming to be something he most definitely is not, they take him at his word. Similarly if a stranger comes to town and keeps to himself then he must be hiding a deep, dark past. The lack of regular interaction with strangers causes them to be either too trusting or too suspicious. In either event, it’s Sheriff Taylor who has to expose the truth, but, in a way that doesn’t make anyone feel foolish or cruel. He knows that simply telling someone they’ve been duped will make them defensive and then they won’t listen. And then they will make up alternative facts to believe. Does it sound familiar?
I found it fascinating that after Don Knotts’ death the actor Billie Bob Thornton wrote:
“Don Knotts gave us the best character, the most clearly drawn, most perfect American, most perfect human ever.”
He was referring to the character of Barney Fife, the bumbling deputy sheriff of Mayberry. Barney is a mass of contradictions – overly confident (one might say self-delusional) one moment and full of insecurities the next. If you’re unfamiliar with the show, below is the shortest clip I could find. Barney is the one in uniform. What do you think? Perfect human?