Andy and Cultural Anxiety

There are worse ways to spend Christmas than in a Mayberry jail cell.  A handful of citizens are locked up and can expect to do just that until Andy decides to release them, under agreement that they’ll come back after the holiday, of course.  He rationalizes that the purpose of the penal system is to teach, making jail akin to school and schools are closed on Christmas.  Besides, if there are prisoners in the cells a guard has to be there to watch them and that would deprive Barney of his Christmas celebration as well.  Just after the prisoners have been released one more is brought in.  Ben Weaver, the owner of the local department store, caught Sam Muggins with moonshine, threatening the sales of Ben’s legitimate whisneogriffithism 1.11 Aunt Bee's turkeykey.  Ben insists that Andy lock up Sam for the night and threatens to go over the Sheriff’s head to the state government if he doesn’t.

Now with both Sam and Barney required to stay at the jail for the holiday Andy decides to bring Christmas to the jail.  He locks up Sam’s wife and children for “aiding and abetting” and deputizes his own friends and family to keep watch over the dangerous criminals.  Ben is outraged that Sam isn’t being adequately punished but he can’t argue with Andy’s logic.  That leaves Ben neogriffithism 1.11 Grinch in the windowout in the cold while the people in the jail are having a gay old time.  He takes to venting his frustrations with petty crime.  He steals the bench from in front of the Sheriff’s office but Ellie convinces Andy to just let him have it.  Then he parks in front of a fire hydrant and refuses to pay the fine, but Ellie pays it for him.  Then, while standing on a crate to peer into the jail he falls over and causes a ruckus.  When Andy goes outside to investigate he finally sees through Ben’s ruse and realizes the old man is just lonely.

Andy gives Ben what he wants and locks him up, but first he takes him back to the department store to get a few things.  Before Ben gets in the cell he delivers gifts to the neogriffithism 1.11 gift givingmerrymakers and Aunt Bee gives him a plate of warm food.  Ben has so much fun he drinks all of Sam’s moonshine, erasing the evidence and giving Andy no choice but to let Sam go home and put his kids to bed.

Sidenotes

  • I wonder if the writers gave “Ben” that name because Andy Griffith seemed to have so much fun saying it in No Time for Sergeants.
  • Elinor Donahue said this was her favorite episode that she appeared in.
  • In the same interview she describes singing “Away in a Manger” with Griffith despite her nervousness.  That song was filmed in an almost-two minute long shot that follows Andy and Ellie around the room then goes into the cell and zooms in on Ben in the window.  I imagine that was fairly ambitious for the time.

The Moral of the Story

This is the story of a sad, lonely man.   Ben is Mayberry’s own Grinch or Scrooge type character, someone who feels bad and wants others to feel the same.  He insists on punishing Sam to the full extent of the law, showing no mercy whatsoever on Christmas of all days, because of something that tangentially affects his bottom line but doesn’t do much harm outside of that.  He’s cruel and selfish.  He never really relents on his mercilessness towards Sam, but he does come to show some generosity and Christmas spirit.  Andy, on the other hand, learns that under all of Ben’s spiteful, malicious behavior there is a great pain.  He welcomes the curmudgeon to participate in the festivities because even a misanthrope deserves a merry Christmas.

Modern Mayberry

I couldn’t count on all my fingers and toes and yours too how many times I’ve seen an article that says “Trump’s healthcare plan will hurt his supporters the most” or some variation on that.  His budget, including cuts to the food stamps program, along with the Republican healthcare plan, would all be terrible for Donald Trump’s base of poor and working class white people.  Who could have expected that from someone who has constantly proven himself to be cruel, merciless, and volatile before and during his presidency?  It can be hard to have sympathy for someone who would stand behind a person like that.  As a matter of fact, I’ve seen a few, not many but some, on the left who take pleasure in their pain.

I don’t think Donald’s supporters deserve the suffering they can expect if the Republicans’ healthcare bill goes through, but I sometimes wonder if they know that’s what they can expect and if it’s what they want.  The poor and working class who voted for Donald must have known that he said over and over again he would repeal Obamacare.  Did they think that the congress people in his party would give them more and better coverage?  Anyone who knows anything about Speaker of the House Paul Ryan knows that generosity for the less fortunate isn’t exactly part of his agenda.  The way I see it, that only leaves two possibilities: Donald’s poorer supporters really believe in Paul’s Randian trickle-down philosophy and think that if rich people get a tax cut it will be better for them in the long run or they think the rest of Donald’s agenda is more important, perhaps the part about magically creating coal jobs out of thin air, if I’m being generous.

Let’s take Donald’s lies and bigotry out of the equation and just assume that many of Donald’s poorer supporters believe the former, that renewed Reaganomics would have good results in time.  Like it or not, that’s not a totally insane thing to think.  The economy was relatively strong under Reagan.  Even if Presidents don’t seem to have that much effect on the economy it’s a pretty common thing for people to think.

So, if Donald’s more well-intentioned supporters are willing to risk short-term misery for the promise of a better future maybe they do deserve that chance.  Of course, if the gamble doesn’t pay off Donald’s supporters aren’t the only ones who will be affected by it.  In every state and every town and many households that went for Donald  there is someone who did not, those who are skeptical of Paul’s philosophy and are repulsed by Donald’s behavior.  Also, while the white working class may have gone for Donald, the non-white working class and all other minorities of any demographic most certainly did not.

Unfortunately, this is all a demonstration of blind optimism.  The election of Donald Trump was not driven by the economy but by “cultural anxiety.”  Donald’s supporters don’t care about the economy or their own well-being as much as they do the changing face of America, a face that is becoming less white and straight and more black and brown and gay and trans with each passing day.  That sounds a lot like racism and bigotry if I’m being ungenerous.  Really, the question is, for their Ben Weaverish ill-will towards minorities do Donald’s working class supporters deserve to lose their health insurance and suffer any other number of bad effects that will result from his and Paul’s leadership?  Andy Taylor would say no.

What do you think Andy would do?

 

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