Culture & Conversation

Breaking good


A long time ago on a planet far, far away, the Andy Griffith Show ruled the universe. Largely forgotten today, Griffith’s Sherriff Taylor was the last man standing before the rebels of the 1960s ripped the dark star of absolutes to shreds.

It ran in reruns through the 70s, so I remember it, but by then it had lost its dignity. Who wanted to stay in the town of Mayberry when the Partridge Family’s tripped out bus – with its single mother, music, long hair, and David Cassidy – was making inroads into the new world order? For more thrills, All in the Family brought the era’s dirty war into the home, pitting generations in a struggle to the death. No one was ever right or wrong in All in the Family, just more or less a jerk depending on the situation. Welcome to the future, folks.

And okay, there are no Black people in the Andy Griffiths show, no women who had anything to do or anywhere special to go, and certainly no one with, gasp, innate homosexual tendencies. But no one trash talked in Mayberry, or grappled with abortion, or railed at the government, or smoked dope, or carried a concealed weapon, or blackmailed their neighbour with photographs of illicit trysts, or cooked crystal meth to pay the bills. Walter White, I’m looking at you.

Instead, what you had on the Andy Griffith show was this astounding quality that, when revisited, almost leaves you breathless. It is refreshing and powerful. It makes you see the world in a whole new light. Kind of like drugs, but not. Because taking drugs is not exactly in the spirit of what this thing is. I’ll tell you what it is but you must promise not to recoil: it is moral certitude.

Yup. That’s huge! Seriously, when is the last time you saw moral certitude and not thought: “That (Jehovah Witness/Republican/born again Christian/Star Wars fan/banker) is batshit crazy!”

But no one’s crazy or fanatical in Mayberry. They’re good and kind and patient. They have time for each other’s foibles. Even more, they’re humble. If you don’t know what that is, kids, don’t ask your parents, they’re likely too young. On the Andy Griffith show people apologize to each other and admit their mistakes the first time. Not the second time they’re asked, not the hundredth time, not never, but the very first time. Forget 3D and immersive FX; this is almost unreal.

And they’re never bigger than the need to do what’s right. They don’t say “Oh, my bad,” and then turn around and do it again. They don’t do good deeds for the photo op and then Tweet it. They don’t promote their family’s sex tapes on Facebook. They don’t play fast and loose with money and lives, contracting out a city’s infrastructure to the mob. And they don’t say “It’s all good.”

Because it’s not all good. Sometimes it’s bad, or wrong, or beneath them. Yes, we live in a much more complex world. But we also live in a heinous world, where kids kill each other, disaffected young men eat each other, and an emotionally remote bully rules the country. Maybe the Occupy and student movements are reminding us of a common moral ground, I don’t know. I hope so. A little return to moral certitude is not such a bad thing. Is it?

  • 3 Responses to “Breaking good”

    1. Kate

      BRILLIANT! This piece shines with a bright light. Follow it folks. We need to move to higher ground. The low life's are winning.

    2. Cory

      yeah sometimes I think I'm the only one who finds today's culture just a little to evil for my tastes. When did we throw out the baby with the oppressive bathwater? time to Occupy Ethical Living! Wonderful article thank you.

    3. Barry

      Well said Leila. Still, wasn't Mayberry fantasyland for one generation, just as 90210 was fantasyland for another, and Glee is for a third? Actually, I'd go so far as to argue that Mayberry, lack of FX notwithstanding, was much more of a fantasyland in its era, with that aw-shucks, naive morality, than anything on TV today. So maybe the point is that, with the revolution that began with All in the Family, we've lost our taste for such silly family fictions as Mayberry (or Leave it to Beaver or The Brady Bunch or The Partridge Family) in our viewing entertainment. Is it such a bad thing to want to see characters on the boobtube who actually remotely resemble people that we know in all their bigoted, lying, conniving, greedy, sexually promiscuous, morally ambivalent glory. Norman Lear understood one thing: Archie Bunker is us.


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