Why we need Sheriff Taylor

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. 

Deputy Sheriff Barney Fife locks up the whole town for minor infractions of the law when Sheriff Taylor is out of town.

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?

21 thoughts on “Why we need Sheriff Taylor

  1. Barney and Sheriff Taylor are for sure the central characters. Everything springs from them. BBThornton is only partly right–Barney as the perfect American is dead on, but perfect human, don’t think so. The actions and reactions of Barney in other cultures would be completely odd and out of character. The real actor for me, though, was Aunt Bea. Now there was some acting because Hollywood says in real life she was an extremely difficult person to know and work with. Most everyone on the set of Mayberry didn’t like her. She never married, no kids, and although she died at 89 in a hospital, when the authorities entered her home they found 14 cats and a completely trashed place. When I think of her character it is hard for me to match her terrible real life personality with sweet, friendly, warm Aunt Bea. Hence the idea that perhaps of all of them, she was the best actor. Don’t be fooled by the Gloria DeHaven pinup photo on google images. that is not Aunt Bea. Thanks. Duke .

    1. In many ways that show forgave small town behavior through Sheriff Taylor. He was their Christ figure but he was not perfect. Perhaps that’s where the fracture that will lead to the rapture began. I dunno, Duke but thanks for the comment.

  2. An interesting comparison of Mayberry with the Trump states of today. It appears that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

    I come from a small isolated town in Northern Ontario and it pains me to read Facebook comments from family and friends from my hometown. They hold strong convictions on issues for which they have had no real life experience – particularly different cultures – and yet they are “experts” on the subject. Makes me crazy.

  3. I was always a little bit put off by The Andy Griffith Show because all the female characters were relegated to minor roles. Now that you’ve explained the show in light of Trump, my observation seems even more on point. Fascinating idea you have here.

    1. Thanks Ally. The town was supposedly in North Carolina but you don’t see any African Americans either. I just found it interesting how the sheriff dealt with the gullibility and suspicions of his constituents. They had some smart screen writers.

  4. I don’t know who the guy in the checked shirt was but what a piece of work – nasty, in my book. That’s just plain cruel, laughing at (and not with) the hapless sherrif. Not sure how it translates into American but ‘smug bastard’ is the anglo version… Different times, of course, and oh so very Trump really…

    1. The plaid shirt guy is Sheriff Taylor, Barney’s boss. Instead of yelling at him for falling asleep on the job, he decides to pull a prank. This was the only short clip I could find but in most episodes Taylor has to cover up for Barney’s ineptitude while trying not to hurt his feelings.

  5. Always had a hard time with the show (although, I always loved Don Knotts) as I found the town of Mayberry hard to believe—much the same way I find our current president and loyal followers hard to believe. Hey, there really is a Mayberry!

    1. Exactly what I was thinking. There are episodes that show the dark side to small towns – the small mindedness and paranoia – but in general not an accurate representation – especially of a southern town.

  6. I love Andy Griffith but not that Mayberry Show! He was a gentle man and I felt he seemed very humble and not arrogant as some “other” famous people are!
    “Waiting on a Woman” song with Andy singing and dressing in all white, Brad Paisley chose to include this kind man in his later years.
    I am not big on country music but liked this very much. Gets me teary eyed.

  7. Barney was so perfectly ordinary, depicting all the best and some of the worst in the everyperson. Don Knotts was a superb comedy actor. His movies were classics.

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