Star's death reminds us how much we want 'more Mayberry'

There are several ways you can take the measure of a person’s character. Here’s a good one: If there’s someone in your circle of friends whom you’re not quite sure about, put him in a comfortable chair in front of a television, and have him watch an episode of The Andy Griffith Show.

If he thinks he’s too good to laugh at Andy Griffith, he’s not good enough to hang around you.

There are people who don’t care for Griffith’s homespun talent. I get that. These are largely the same folks who don’t like boiled peanuts either, and brother, that’s a whole different column.

But this past week, it seemed as if everyone loved Andy Griffith. He died Tuesday at age 86, and the Internet buzzed with all kinds of tributes to this remarkable entertainer.

I can go through a mental checklist of my favorite TV shows, or movies, or comedy routines, and Griffith always appears at or near the top. The Andy Griffith Show is part of just about any Southerner’s soul. His monologue “What It Was, Was Football” will send you into a laughing fit just as quickly now as it did audiences in 1953 when it was first recorded.

And movies? Do yourself two favors. First, watch No Time for Sergeants, in which Griffith plays a quintessential rube enlisted in the Air Force. Then, watch A Face in the Crowd, an ahead-of-its-time drama that casts Griffith as a shifty drifter whose rise to fame transforms him into a megalomaniac. The film parallels a lot of what we see in celebrities today, warts and all.

Probably what I liked most about him – and this goes for a lot of people I admire – is Griffith’s incredible humility. For all his successes on stage and screen, he never let it go to his head. This is a guy who, at the height of his fame with The Andy Griffith Show in the 1960s, drove around in a regular old Ford station wagon and bought his suits off the rack.

As people took to the Internet recently to express their admiration for Griffith, one phrase I saw repeated in social media was: “More Mayberry, less Jersey Shore.”

Amen to that. Is there some way we can get that printed on our currency?

Mayberry, of course, is the fictional North Carolina town that’s the setting for The Andy Griffith Show. It’s an enduring symbol of wholesome, quiet, unhurried small-town life and values. With Griffith as Mayberry’s sheriff, each episode of the show usually served up some comically inspired conflict that gets resolved using virtue-inspired logic.

Also, it’s funny as heck. It amplified the comedy found in rural simplicity without ever mocking it.

I’ve never seen an episode of Jersey Shore, but from what I can gather, it’s some sort of game show in which the cast members compete with one another to see who can be either the shallowest or the most self-indulgent. Or maybe the most tan.

America needs more Mayberry – maybe now more than ever.

I’m not talking about transforming America into a collection of clueless, sheltered hicks – and if you think that’s all Mayberry is about, you might as well stop reading this now and get back to your episode of Jersey Shore.

People want “more Mayberry” because they’re starved for it. Just flip to other TV channels to get an ugly glimpse of how traditional values are getting trampled by the entertainment media’s glamorization of poor decision-making and vapid self-indulgence, in shows such as Keeping Up with the Kardashians, 16 and Pregnant, Teen Mom and The Bad Girls Club.

It’s no coincidence that The Andy Griffith Show has been the basis for quite a few Sunday school classes. The backbone of the show was a core set of values
that included honesty, respect, common sense, responsibility, hard work, the strength of the family and just plain doing the right thing.

Andy Griffith was the face of all that. He left a cultural footprint we shouldn’t let fade.

The phrase “What Would Jesus Do?” rose to popularity several years ago, and it’s a great question to keep asking yourself, and an even better one to act upon.

But I’d be content with the direction of society if enough people merely started asking themselves “What Would Andy Do?”

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