Exploring the Social Imagination

Monday, July 7, 2014

American Local Society through the lens of Mayberry Episodes

Probably not too many folks these days in America know the television series 'Mayberry'. This was a series that started in 1960 and lasted 8 seasons; yeah! Why? Because, it illustrated what America wanted to be, saw itself as in the best possible light as a Christian society where people counted on each other living their life at the grass roots level. Sure, criticism can be that this show was racist as not having many African Americans, Arabs, or Asians, or Poles, or Italians, or Native Americans included in the series. That is true. But, in those times you have to ask what did the majority of America look like. In the meaning, the majority rules in a democracy because the majority rules and should be served. What about others? They are only ignored as long as they remain on the outside, if they do not integrate. Knocking on the door of the host race/ethnicity/country/community, means that as the outsider knocking, you have to be the one who is deciding to and making the effort to integrate. Of course, it can be the other way around but if/when that happens it is because the majority or those with authority are the majority in that they rule and thus see it in their best interest to reach out to bring in newbies. Is that fair? Depends on who you ask, the insider or outsider, the establishment or the newbie. The best advice to those knocking is to study the group or those that you wish to become part of, those whom you wish to be accepted by and to be like. Slowly,  you then make your way in, make your voice known, get your foot in the door and integrate.

Integration and racism is not the focus of today's blog... Mayberry and small town America is and they did have their moments of dealing with integration.
What I noticed about this television series over all, speaking as a sociologist, is that the town of Mayberry was largely self sufficient, people to people, people about people, people for people. This is a principle that as a sociologist, I support.
Having said that, communities, even those like or wanna be like Mayberry, can become stagnate, lack diversity and become closed minded... whose job is it to see that that does not happen... only the people of Mayberry so to speak. Now, there were episodes addressing that situation; for instance, the episode that comes to mind is when an English butler comes to visit.  Sure, he was English, white and spoke English but not the English Mayberry knew. For the people of Mayberry this Englishman was an alien, no different an alien if he were blue and spoke Inuit.
Again, today's entry is not about integration... well maybe a little. Given that, I want to point out two episodes which put attention to one idea about integration, an idea I call localness. The two episodes were: The Merchant of Mayberry and Lawman Barney. They both dealt with a similar topic- local business and localness. In the first show, we learn of a local man who peddles his wares door to door. He is tired of that and sits a spell in front of the local established grocery. Andy and Barney (two main characters) find him there and suggest he stops peddling and sets up business right there on the streets (which is against the towns ordinances reiterated by the local establishment) So, Andy and Barney provide a store on an empty lot and the story goes... the local establishment does not like the little competition and makes a fuss and Andy and Barney do all they can to help the peddler friend and anger the local 'old meany' establishment. In the end, the local establishment becomes more innovative as a merchant and starts to have an impact on the little shop on the lot. Soon, the little shop is nearly put out of business. Andy intervenes again and the story ends well with the peddler friend getting hired by the local establishment.
In the second episode, the peddlers are not local and this is brought to the viewers attention immediately. In fact, the peddlers (operating a farm stand off a flat bed of a truck) appear as villains/crooks even. Barney is at first to cowardly to run them off and Andy intervenes. To the outsider peddlers, Andy appears more of an authority to pay attention to and do as he says... move on. No where in this episode do we meet the local establishment that the ordinance is to protect but we are made aware of it by Andy.
The title of this "Lawman Barney" though Andy was the 'real' lawman that was respected at first, is because Andy learns of Barney's first cowardly attempt and helps his friend out with some advice and then intervention which Barney does not realize until much later. By the end of the show, Barney becomes the Lawman he should be and the outsider peddlers move on.

Now, what can we take from this? That a free market does not exist really because local establishments call the shots and control the law??? Or that local people trust locals... people they can feel sympathetic to because they are after all 'local' as it was with the known Mayberry peddler/friend in the first mentioned episode??? Or, can we also take from these shows a sense of localness, solidarity and civil society where people protect their own and shun outsiders.
Probably a little of all of the above. If only we had local authority like Andy Griffth to make things come out right at least for local people.

1 comment :

  1. What we didn't see in either episodes was this all-too common in modern America scenario: Big huge chain store wants into the local market. Politicians pandering to locals for votes want big chain store. Big chain store demands tax incentives and protections from small local businesses. Politicians agree. Big chain store comes. Small local businesses suffer. Some even try to place a mobile kiosk on parking lot of big chain store. Local lawmen tell small business kiosk owner to get off big chain store's premises.
    This is the far more common scenario that is being repeated day in a day out all over American and even the world than the Andy Griffith scenarios mentioned above. Local people are being driven to either: A) work for low wages at big chain store B): struggle to compete with their own local store or C): go unemployed and live off government welfare - while shopping at big chain store.