I have heard more than one Baby Boomer cite The Andy Griffith Show (1960-68) as representing the America they grew up in. Their fond memories are tainted by the realization that the America of yesteryear is gone—perhaps forever.
I also grew up watching and enjoying The Andy Griffith Show, which was on TV every day when I was a kid (re-runs). Yet I was also aware how unrealistic it was. I spent a summer in Charlotte, North Carolina, in my early teen years. There is a significant population of black Americans in that state, none of whom seemed to live in Mayberry. There were also Latin Americans and Asians, but none of them were ever featured on the show, either. I know for a fact people were smoking marijuana and using cocaine at the time the show was on the air (probably more than a few of the show’s cast and crew). There were murders, robberies, drunk driving, corruption and pedophilia. Everywhere except for Mayberry, apparently. If you based your image of America on this one show, you would think the entire country was populated by good-natured white folks who enjoyed a comfortable, if not somewhat humble, middle-class lifestyle. Yet the show was on the air during the Bay of Pigs incident, JFK’s assassination, the military-enforced desegregation of Old Miss, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Tet Offensive, to name but a few major events never reflected in the world of Mayberry.
I understand that this show was not concerned with depicting what North Carolina was really like, it wasn’t intended to be social commentary or focus on current events. Drugs, rape and racism weren’t acceptable topics on TV at that time, because the sponsors paying for the programs didn’t want their products to be associated with those unpleasant realities. After all, like most TV shows, it was simply a vehicle for delivering advertising/marketing/public relations masquerading as family entertainment.
I understand how memories can be corrupted or change over time to fit the narratives we are comfortable with, and I understand the longing for a return to slower, simpler and saner times. I was a child in the 1970s, so a lot of the shows I grew up watching invoke similar feelings. Today, when I watch shows like All in the Family, M*A*S*H, CHiPs, or Mork and Mindy, I am taken back to a time when the world seemed gentler, more exciting and full of possibilities. I was innocent, naive and idealistic, everything was new and I was optimistic. For me, the 1970s were the “best” years. I love the music, the films and the freedom of that decade. I was particularly affected by 1970s science fiction, and I fully expected to be getting around town in flying cars or living in an off-world colony by now. Unfortunately, everything seemed to change when Regan and Bush were elected in 1980.
I am fully aware that the 1970s were not some kind of golden age. There were plenty of bad things happening, like Nixon, Vietnam, the oil shock, inflation and the crumbling decay of urban areas decimated by white flight, which I was vaguely aware of through TV shows like Fat Albert and Sanford and Son. But compared to the 1980s and beyond, the 1970s sure seem to have been a better time.
Everything went corporate in the 1980s. Music became more about image and sales than about talent and soul. There was no place for comedians like Cheech & Chong amid Nancy Regan’s “Just Say No” campaign. Sartorial freedom was curtailed by the corporate-conformist “neat look.” Branding was unleashed on us and suddenly logos were more important than practicality or stylishness. Films became less experimental and interesting, and more formulaic and low-brow. Trite and vapid pop culture obliterated all that was truly artistic and culturally stimulating, as corporate America reduced everything that mattered into a profit-seeking business model. The “underground” was dead and the mainstream was in. Greed was good, and the off-shoring of American jobs began in earnest. For these and other reasons, I think the 1980s were the true beginning of the end, but I wasn’t aware of the major shifts happening in the 1970s because I was just a kid who was having fun. Just like those Baby Boomers watching The Andy Griffith Show in the 1960s.
Maybe America wasn’t better back in the day. Maybe we were simply different people, less jaded, better at seeing the positives. We were young, we had energy, creativity, imagination and endless optimism about the future. Over time, the education system and the corporate world corrupted everything that was good and natural. Our priorities and aspirations were hijacked by advertising and marketing, which convinced us to want things we didn’t need and inculcated in us a need for things we really didn’t want. Our boundless imagination and creativity were subjugated and replaced with an obsession for material possessions, social status and immediate self-gratification. The bankers were only too happy to saddle us with crushing debt so that we could purchase things we didn’t need and couldn’t afford to impress people we didn’t like.
Today when I watch the TV shows I enjoyed as a child, I remember a time when no one was tracking and surveilling nearly every aspect of our daily activities. I remember when we could go about our day without leaving a digital trail behind for marketers and law enforcement to use against us. I remember a time when people used to interact with one another face to face and use telephones for talking. The ability to buy an album or book and lend it to a friend without fear of litigation, or get on an airplane without being subjected to demeaning and invasive searches, or simply walk down the street without dozens of security cameras watching your every move are experiences my child will never have. When I watch TV shows from my youth, this what makes me feel intense saudade.
I hope I don’t come off sounding like a grumpy old man—but think about that stereotype for a moment. If experience is the best teacher, it’s fair to assume that those who have lived longest and experienced the most possess a high degree of wisdom and knowledge. But when you actually talk to people in their 70s or older, you hear lots of complaints. Instead of providing sage advice with the demeanor of a wizened philosopher, many older people complain about health and politics and young people (and their music, hairstyles, attitudes, etc.). It appears the older we get, the more life sucks. The more we experience, the less we want to know. Living a long life filled with diverse experiences should be a good thing, right? Instead, it seems to more of a burden than a blessing.
Perhaps this is because we have been conditioned to abhor old age and change in general? We have been led to believe that pain and suffering are unnatural states, when in fact they are part of life. We are born, we grow up, we grow old, we become sick and frail, and then we die. Pain, suffering and death are as much a part of life as joy, laughter and love. When we lament over the fact that things aren’t what they used to be, maybe we should consider that human civilization has always been in turmoil and constant transformation. The only thing that has changed is us.
We are still that starry-eyed child, we can still imagine and create that world we thought lost. It starts with disconnecting ourselves from the control grid rapidly being assembled all around us. It starts when we smash the matrix of propaganda, lies, conditioning and brainwashing aimed at manipulating our thoughts and emotions, robbing us of our sovereignty and subjugating us through ignorance and fear.
If we are looking backwards in melancholy remembrance of what was, we will never see the dangers ahead until it is too late. The past is gone and never coming back, but we don’t have to resign ourselves to accepting the way things are. Once we realize that we all want bright futures for our children, we all want to live freely in peace, with health and prosperity, we will discover that we are already on the road to positive change, united by our common goals.
This is the starting point to building a real Mayberry.