Scared Enough to Break the Silence

We open with a North Carolina State Police car hot on the chase, in pursuit of a dangerous criminal.  The two machines fly down a dirt road in the countryside.  The perp pulls off the road and hides in the woods until his predators pass him by, then he takes off in the opposite direction, towards a sleepy little town where he can lay low for a while.  Little does he know that Mayberry is no ordinary town, with no ordinary Sheriff’s deputy.

The wanted man, known as Eddie Brooke, lets his guard down when he arrives in Mayberry.  He thinks he’s safe in the warm bosom of this friendly hamlet, but then he makes a fatal mistake: he litters in front of Barney Fife.  Barney’s eagle eyes spot the crime in progress and he begins to write Eddie a citation.  Before Barney can finish neogriffithism 1.30 There... Goes... My... Herowriting the state police drive by and Eddie panics.  He runs into Barney and the two men become tangled, their bodies intertwining, symbolizing the eternal conflict between law and anarchy.  Barney holds the criminal lang enough for the state police, Sergeants Johnson and Miller, to take Eddie into their custody, but not before the thug threatens his captor.

The arrest makes Barney the talk of the town.  He quickly begins to glow with pride.  Andy offers him the day off to spend with his girlfriend, Thelma Lou, but he declines; he can’t bear the thought of the streets going unguarded.  He happily retells the story of his battle with Eddie, describing his innovative, Jackie-Chan-esque use of an everyday item as a weapon, in this case his own body.  Aunt Bee and Andy have the idea to throw a party for the conquering hero.  Barney’s good time comes crashing down when two unexpected guests arrive at the party.  Johnson and Miller regretfully inform the merrymakers that Eddie has escaped.  The manhunt begins anew, now with Andy and Barney working hand in hand with the State Police.

They wander the woods, looking for Eddie as they sweat under the sweltering sun.  When Andy and Barney take a moment to catch their breath Barney jumps at a sound coming from the nearby bushes, a sound that is revealed to only be a rabbit.  Without saying much at all Barney confesses to Andy that Eddie’s capture wasn’t quite as heroic as it seemed.  Finally, Andy spots Eddie in the loft of a barn but he doesn’t tell anyone.  Instead, he sends in Barney and tells him that the barn will now serve as the center of communications for the manhunt.  As Eddie makes his move Andy is watching from neogriffithism 1.30 the man is gottenoutside.  He takes advantage of Barney’s skittishness and throws a rock in Eddie’s direction.  The noise makes Barney jump into action, accidentally drawing his gun on the crook.  Once again, Barney is a hero but this time with a little more honor.  The episode ends with a second attempt at a surprise party for the triumphant warrior, with Johnson and Miller in attendance not as bearers of bad news but as two more revelers.

Side Notes

  • The crowd that gathers as Barney tussles with Eddie during the first arrest features a very special guest: a black person in Mayberry!neogriffithism 1.30 A black person in Mayberry!
  • Eddie is played by Barney Phillips, who is best known for playing a diner cook in the classic Twilight Zone episode “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?”

The Moral of the Story

This is an episode about courage and heroism.  Andy tells Opie that a hero is often born when someone “gets scared enough to do something brave.”  Oddly, fear wasn’t really a part of Barney’s first interaction with Eddie.  When Eddie collided with him he seemed surprised and confused, but not really afraid.  However, when Eddie escapes and puts a target on Barney’s back the deputy is gripped by terror.  His fear puts him on edge, causing him to draw his gun at the drop of a hat until he draws it at just the right time to catch the crook.  In this case heroism requires courage, and courage is defined as doing what’s right in spite of fear.

Modern Mayberry

So much of society is centered on fear.  We think about it all the time.  We’re afraid of fascism, communism, nuclear winter, rape, murder, even things as simple as rejection, failure, or uncomfortable social situations.  Fear is an omnipresent element of modern life, maybe it always was.  However, fear has gone strangely overlooked as a crucial element of one of the biggest issues in the zeitgeist.  Too many people fail to understand the role of fear in the torrent of sexual harassment allegations.

Almost every accusation is a story of a man using fear to control a woman.  In her detailed account of her experience with film producer Harvey Weinstein actress Lupita Nyong’o repeatedly expresses fear: “I panicked,” “I mustered up the courage.” “my heart was beating very fast.”  In the end she plainly explains “That’s why we don’t speak up — for fear of suffering twice, and for fear of being labeled and characterized by our moment of powerlessness.”

Now a seemingly endless number of women are speaking up, and although their harassers are finally facing the consequences of their actions the accusers are also seeing those fears that Lupita described coming to fruition.  Many people are quick to dismiss harassment accusers as opportunists looking for a quick buck.  I have no idea what these opportunities would be, considering that these accusations are very public, which would rule out the possibility of hush money, and I’m not aware of a single person in the entertainment industry who has gotten a big career boost by accusing a powerful man.  Nonetheless, some are still more willing to believe that a woman is lying than that a man is guilty of harassment.

So, in light of the consequences and without the promise of fame and fortune, why would a woman speak out against someone like Harvey?  Maybe because they’re afraid of what he will do in the future, because they’re afraid that all the men like him will keep doing what they’ve been doing.  Because they’re scared enough to do something brave.

What do you think Andy would do?
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Barney Profiles a Suspect

It was a dark and stormy night when Barney’s imagination started getting away from him. An encounter with an introverted farmer named Sam Becker puts ideas in the deputy’s head. He becomes convinced that Sam is hiding something, specifically a person with a bullet wound. He visits the Taylor house to share his theory with Andy and neogriffithism 1.29 stakeoutconvince him to investigate. Together they watch from the shadows as Sam toils in his field in the middle of the night until someone flashes the lights in the house and Sam jumps from the tractor and runs inside. Barney believes that he’s been proven right but Andy believes there could be any number of innocent explanations so they return to the Sheriff’s office to get some work done and keep Otis company.

While Barney is away Andy gets a mysterious phone call and rushes back to the Becker farm. Upon Barney’s return Otis tells him where Andy went, reawakening the deputy’s fear. His terror is only worsened when he gets a call from Andy who only has time to stress the life-or-death importance of the situation before he gets cut off. Barney calls on Floyd to get a posse together and meet him at the Becker homestead.

Meanwhile, Andy has his hands full, but not with a crime scene: Sam’s wife Lily is about to deliver a baby and the local doctor is out of town. The only person at hand is Andy himself. He’s fairly confident in his ability to deliver a baby (perhaps unjustifiably) but his main concern is settling Sam’s nerves. When Barney arrives he sees Andy trying to force Sam to sit down and relax through the window and assumes they are in a serious fight. He bursts through the door with his gun raised only to find Sam pacing the floor neogriffithism 1.29 peeping Barnwhile Andy sits at a desk and prepares for what he’s about to do.

Once Barney is briefed on the situation his concern shifts from delusions of criminality to Andy’s ability to deliver a baby, or lack thereof. Apparently in his younger days Andy struggled with a school biology project involving a grasshopper. Nevertheless, Andy insists on projecting confidence.

Still, he now has to contend with the anxieties of both Barney and Sam. He puts the two of them together and gets them talking about their times in the service; Barney during World War II and Sam in Korea. While they are sharing war stories Andy slips into the bedroom and quietly delivers the baby without notice. Apparently Lily is even quieter than Sam. A lot quieter. A lot. Eventually, Andy interrupts the reminiscing to introduce neogriffithism 1.29 three wise men visit the miracle childSam to his new son. Andy leaves the boy with his father and goes out on the porch for a relaxing smoke in the post-storm quiet. Outside he finds Floyd and his posse hiding in the bushes with their guns, and in Floyd’s case rocks, at the ready. Sometime later Andy returns with Aunt Bee, Opie, and a whole surprise baby shower of sorts to celebrate the arrival of little Andy Becker.

Side Notes

  • I’m afraid my timing was a little off, this episode would have been a good one to feature the week of Halloween.
  • Never showing Lily Becker was a choice.
  • Floyd’s back!
  • Sam is played by prolific character actor William Schallert who has a career stretching from an uncredited appearance in Mighty Joe Young (1949) to an episode of Two Broke Girls in 2014.

The Moral of the Story

In a way, this episode tells two stories, the first of Barney’s baseless suspicions about Sam and the second of Andy delivering a baby without any experience. Barney believes that because Sam shares certain similarities, including superficial ones like facial structure, to his profile of criminal than he must be one. He believes that Andy’s failures in school, likely over a decade before, disqualify him from performing a task now. In both cases Barney assumes the least of someone and both times he is proven wrong. Sam is no criminal and Andy is perfectly capable of filling in for an Obstetrician in a pinch. It goes to show that people are often more than they seem, especially if you make assumptions based on little to no information.

Modern Mayberry

As children we are taught that it is wrong to judge people by superficial aspects. Anyone who came of age after the 1960’s likely has these famous words ingrained in their consciousness, as well as their conscience: “I have a dream that my four little chi1dren will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” We all know that it is wrong to judge or persecute someone for shallow characteristics like their skin color or where they were born but still there are many who find that acceptable, or even encourage it. It’s as if people struggle to connect the concept of prejudice, which they know is wrong, with real instances of it happening right in front of their faces. To that end, I offer a few examples.

When George Zimmerman hunted down and shot an unarmed person because he felt that “these assholes they always get away,” (whatever “these assholes” means [please excuse the unMayberry-esque language but I think it’s best to quote this verbatim]) he made a judgment based on the surface, not the content of Trayvon Martin’s character.

When Donald Trump tries or even succeeds to ban people from entering the United States because they share a religion or nation of origin with a small number of terrorists, he’s persecuting them for what’s on the surface, not the content of their character. When Donald deports huge numbers of Mexican immigrants because a very small percentage of them are rapists and criminals that’s called profiling, not judging based on content of character. (When he claims that all or a majority or anything close to it of Mexicans or Muslims are guilty that’s called lying.)

When North Carolina tries to regulate which bathroom people can use because of a baseless fear that they would commit rape if they were to use one the legislature doesn’t approve of that’s a non-character-content based judgment.

It can be tempting to find patterns where there aren’t any and it’s even easier to believe in the existence of patterns that the world has always told you were there when they aren’t, but we all know it’s wrong. So, maybe let’s not do that, OK? Let’s all try to do what we know is right and look a little deeper before we cast aspersions. Let’s try a little harder to look past the stereotypes and expect to see more than we assumed. We already know we should, so let’s act like it.

 

What do you think Andy would do?

Mayberry’s Two-Sided Bubble

Ben Weaver becomes Mayberry’s first recurring villain.  The crotchety old department store owner comes into Andy’s office and insists that he foreclose on the house of his mortgagees, the Scobey family.  Andy has a suspicion that Ben wants to build his new warehouse on the property, but that still doesn’t leave him with many options.  Once neogriffithism 1.28 Ben makes demandsagain, Ben threatens to pull strings to get Andy fired or worse if he doesn’t do what he wants, which is technically in accordance with the law (except for the blackmail part, I’m guessing).  Andy goes to Scobey house to hear things from their point of view.  The patriarch, Lester, says this is the very first payment he’s missed and both he and his wife are working odd jobs to collect the $52.50 (almost $450.00 adjusted for inflation) they owe but they are still coming up short.

Andy and Barney quickly pull together enough money to cover the debt but it’s not enough for Ben.  There’s a clause in the Scobey’s contract that says that once a payment is missed the renter has to pay the entire mortgage, which is priced at $780.00 ($6,536.00).  Aunt Bee accidentally gives Andy the idea to raise money with a rummage sale while Barney goes around town to collect donations.  In the meanwhile Andy has a trick or two up his sleeve to buy time.  He tells Ben he can’t deliver the foreclosure notice until heneogriffithism 1.28 dinner with the Scobeys pays a two dollar fee.  With that settled, Andy hands over the notice but slips Lester’s glasses into his pocket, meaning that Lester can’t read the notice, which according to the law, in Mayberry at least, it’s as if he didn’t get the notice at all, but Andy is off the hook.

Ben crashes the rummage sale to tell Andy that he read the notice to Lester himself, word by word, and act that isn’t shown on screen but I can only imagine was akin to torture.  Andy marvels at how Ben could be so cruel and comes to the conclusion that the old man isn’t totally aware of the consequences of his greed.  Andy and Ben go to the Scobey house where the Sheriff shows no sympathy as he forces neogriffithism 1.28 Barney the salesmanthe family to pack up and leave at that moment.  Seeing the personal effects of the eviction causes Ben to have a change of heart, apparently awakening a sense of compassion that was unmoved as he read the foreclosure notice right to Lester’s face, an act that I imagine as the psychological equivalent  of ripping off someone’s fingernails.  Andy’s ploy works and Ben agrees to let things slide and build his new warehouse somewhere else.  Ben is next seen preparing to go fishing with Andy, who suggests taking Lester along since things have been patched up.  Ben then reveals that he has given Lester a job at his department store to help him make his payments and it is keeping him too busy for a fishing trip.

Side Notes

  • The episode is book-ended by Andy teasing Barney about his flirtations with Juanita Beasley, a character who is never seen, like Sara the telephone operator.
  • The Scobeys look an awful lot like Ben’s last victims, the Muggins family, if only they had a son who looked exactly like Billy.
  • Mary, the Scobey daughter, has a third doppelganger, Opie’s crush Mary Wiggins, who was seen in “The Beauty Contest.”

The Moral of the Story

Here we see The Andy Griffith Show exploring a controversial idea that’s been dancing on the fringes of moral philosophy for decades: that your decisions affect people.  Ben is happy to foreclose on the Scobey house and even seems to delight in their misery until he realizes that misery is bad.  He doesn’t understand that the Scobeys aren’t just attached to their house for sentimental reasons but also because it protects them from the elements, stores their personal items and does other house related things.  Once he sees that Lester and his family can’t just buy a new house, at least not one that costs less than a single month’s mortgage payment, or pull one from the void he realizes that taking the house would be bad for the people in it.  When confronted with the consequences of his actions he finally relents.

Modern Mayberry

One of the reasons attributed to Donald Trump’s election almost a year ago is the resentment the rural (white) working class holds towards “liberal elites,” a term for well-off liberals who want to help the less fortunate but are disconnected from the people they are trying to help.  Less generously the term could be defined as “stuck up jerks who think they’re better than me.”  There might be a good point there, perhaps if the working class would prefer to pay lower taxes than to have government protections in place that’s a concern worth noting.  However, bubbles work both ways; people on the outside are just as disconnected from those on inside as the inverse.

Many of Donald’s small town voters were motivated by issues that are more likely to affect people in cities.  Trump is famous for his vicious anti-immigrant sentiments; the wall, the ban and so on.  I wouldn’t say it makes sense for anyone to hate immigrants but it makes more sense in a way for a New Yorker like Trump than it does for his rural voters because he would have more exposure to them.  According to the Washington Post, immigrants make up only 2.3% of the population in rural areas but they make up 15% of urban areas.  As wonderful as Mayberry is, someone moving from a foreign country is more likely to put down their roots somewhere like Raleigh for obvious reasons, chief among them access to jobs.

The anti-immigrant sentiments are particularly focused on those arriving from Mexico and the Middle East, Muslims from the Middle East to be more specific.  The majority of Mexican immigrants are settled in California (a breeding ground of the reviled liberal elites), followed by Texas (which is much more conservative), with Illinois in a distant third.  Muslims make up much less of the American population than Mexicans at less than 1%, but they are still concentrated in urban areas.  There are only four states with Muslim populations higher than 1%.  New York, Arkansas, and Washington D.C. all have 2% and New Jersey has 3%.  North Carolina is one of the many states with less than 1% and despite all this the Old North State voted for Donald’s anti-immigrant agenda.  (Like me, you might be curious why Arkansas or all places has so many Muslims and once again the reason is jobs.)

The big question is “why did ruralites support Donald’s anti-immigrant platform if they are less likely to be affected by migration?”  The big answer is small enough to fit within the question: because they are less likely to come in contact with immigrants.  People who are less likely to know immigrants personally would have more difficulty seeing them as persons.  Someone who comes in contact with immigrants on a regular basis, whether from Mexico, Syria, or any other country, is better able to see one as a real person rather than a gross stereotype.  They’re more likely to see the ways Donald’s attacks against immigrants affect those people.  Perhaps if they could see the ICE raids in the flesh, or even see someone they know personally being arrested for a victimless crime they would change their minds, but as long as immigrants remain abstract stereotypes Donald’s supporters will be happy to see hard working people like Lester Scobey have their lives turned upside down as long it’s from a safe distance.

Mayberry’s Two Steps Back

When Ellie sees a young farm girl named Frankie Flint, covered in dirt, gazing lovingly at the drug store’s makeup counter, she is quickly drawn to her.  She offers her some free samples, of which Frankie is clearly enamored, but the girl can’t afford the full neogriffithism 1.27 Frankie gazes at makeup counterproduct and fears her father wouldn’t approve even if she could.  After Frankie leaves Ellie is still thinking about her and considers giving her a gift box of makeup free of charge.  Andy rejects the idea and encourages Ellie to respect Farmer Flint’s wishes but she is unhindered.

Later, at the Sheriff’s office, Barney teases Andy for getting caught in the crossfire of free perfume samples before Ellie comes in and asks Andy to help her deliver the package to the Flint homestead, to which he reluctantly agrees.  At the Flint farm they interrupt Frankie’s log sawing to offer her the generous gift before they are persuasively asked to leave by the towering Farmer.  (He’s credited as “Farmer Flint” on IMDB so let’s just carry on as if that’s his name.  It’s not implausible.)  When neogriffithism 1.27 spraying AndyEllie and Andy return with their tails between their legs Barney takes the opportunity to boast about how he would handle the situation; by giving Farmer an earful and taking Frankie back to town whether her father likes it or not.  Ellie take it as an offer, forcing Barney to put his words into action.  He drives back to the Flint farm and confronts Farmer, saying more or less the same words as he did in the safety of the Sheriff’s office but in a meeker manner.  Farmer still refuses so Barney sneaks Frankie away under his nose.

Back in town Ellie gives Frankie a full makeover.  Andy and Barney shower her with praise, giving Ellie the idea to take things a step farther.  She pushes Frankie to show her new look to her father, hoping that will convince him.  When Farmer sees Frankie he doesn’t recognize her, once he does he is awed by his daughter’s beauty but still insists that she wash off the makeup and get back in her overalls.  He says that since Frankie is his only offspring to help him on the farm she can’t afford to be distracted by things like neogriffithism 1.27 makeovermakeup.  This is where things get really regressive really fast.  Andy convinces Farmer that he can use Frankie’s new groove to his advantage.  Now that she’s all gussied up Frankie can bat her eyelashes and catch a man, then her husband would become Farmer’s son-in-law, a pair of big strong male hands to help around the farm.  Andy encourages Farmer to view his daughter as a business asset, as property.  I just…

Anyway, it works.  Farmer comes around and allows Frankie to indulge in her femininity.  We last see Frankie at the drug store’s makeup counter, happy to be making up for lost time, as Andy showers Barney with perfume.  Everyone gets what they want and no one gets hurt, I guess.

Side Notes

  • I just don’t know.
  • R.G. Armstrong, a character actor and familiar presence in the Western genre, who plays Farmer attended UNC Chapel Hill with Andy Griffith.
  • Frankie Flint is the only credit to actress Edris March’s name.  According to some reports she went on to a long career as a dance instructor then a small business owner.
  • This is Ellie’s penultimate appearance on the show and the last episode with her at the center of the plot.  She will certainly be missed.  According to Elinor Donahue she left the show because she wasn’t getting many good laughs.  That may be true but she made an excellent ethical foil for Andy, which is great for this blog’s purposes.

The Moral of the Story

Last week we saw Andy advocating something resembling a libertarian philosophy, but in “Ellie saves a Female” the titular lady druggist is the hero and she has a much less Randian bent.  Ellie is driven to help Frankie even though it will upset Farmer, a potentially dangerous man of considerable size.  Andy thinks they should mind their own business and leave the Flints to their own devices.  Ellie sees a girl in need and insists on helping her no matter the cost.  Ultimately Andy comes on board, which is fortunate because he’s the one who finally convinces Farmer to allow Frankie her feminine things.  In the end everyone is glad Ellie got involved and Andy’s flirtation with ethical egoism loses out to Ellie’s altruism.

Modern Mayberry

Perhaps this is too radical of an idea for a blog about The Andy Griffith Show but I think helping people is good.  Once upon a time I might have thought this was obvious but as libertarianism has gained a foothold in American politics and society, with all it’s passion for Ayn Rand’s philosophy, it seems that the virtue of selflessness is not the given it appeared to be when I was a child.  “Ethical egoism,” of which Rand was one of the prominent supporters, is a philosophy of ethics that encourages people to act only in their own self-interest.  Egoism allows for helping others but only on the basis of what the self will receive in return.  It is a system of values that reduces all people to what they have to offer me.

All of this raises some very important questions: What in the world is happening?!  How did it become acceptable in America or anywhere in the world to actively argue in favor of greed and selfishness?  How are we, as a society, not utterly repulsed when someone encourages this kind of thinking?  Has the world gone completely mad?  Is the Bizarro world?

What’s especially baffling is that this kind of thinking has been strongest within the Republican party, which also claims to be the party of Christianity.  You guys have heard of Christianity, right?  The one with that Jesus guy?  The religion that is almost entirely defined by charity and self-sacrifice?  Somehow followers of history’s most famous martyr have fallen into alignment with those who endorse greed as a virtue.  Does no one else think that’s weird?

Not that this is something that is isolated to the political right.  There’s no shortage of leftist minded young people on social media advocating “self-care,” something that is certainly helpful to people who need it but at extremes it looks an awful lot like hedonism.  The danger is more of gluttony than greed, but a deadly sin nonetheless.

If we’re willing to accept narcissism as a value system then of course someone like Farmer would be ignorant and unsympathetic of his daughter’s desires.  He sees her as little more than property, just a means to his own ends.  Your blogger certainly can’t profess to be totally innocent of selfishness; it’s only human, but so is its opposite.  Of the two, I know which wolf I’d rather feed.

 

What do you think Andy would do?

Mayberry’s Good Police

For a while it seemed like Mayberry’s relationship with the state police was on solid ground but it goes sour again in “The Inspector.”  It begins when Andy interrupts Barney’s game of checkers (against himself) with a stack of mail.  The first package contains gifts of leather from a friendly trio of brothers that were arrested and imprisoned by Andy and neogriffithism 1.26 Otis watches as inspector and Andy fightBarney.  That is followed by a letter with less heartening news, it informs them of an upcoming inspection.  The letter apparently got lost in the mail because the inspector is set to arrive that day.  Barney quickly becomes anxious even though Andy has experience with the inspector and assures him that there is nothing to worry about.  Fearing that the jail is too empty Barney goes out in search of a prisoner, quickly leading him to arrest Otis Campbell, but Andy refuses to lock him up seeing as how it’s his birthday.  Instead, he goes out to get a cake after promising Otis that they will all celebrate the occasion with the inspector, who is also friendly with Otis.

While Andy is out the inspector arrives, but it isn’t the fishing buddy that Andy was expecting.  It’s Ralph Case, a hard-nosed man with a penchant for jotting criticisms into a notepad.  He quickly takes umbrage with the way Andy runs things, what with the luxurious decor in the cells, Barney’s gun lacking bullets, the lax treatment of prisoners, and Barney almost shooting him in the foot the second his gun his loaded.  When Ralph leaves he warns that he will return with his superior behind him and Andy stands to lose his job.

Upon Ralph’s return he finds Andy and Barney trapped in a cell with Andy dressed in a polka-dot tie and a floppy-brimmed fishing hat that Opie brought him so he could dress up for the arrival of Ralph’s boss.  After Andy and Barney are released a frightened man rushes in and informs them that a moonshiner named Luke Reiner is holed up in his house shooting at anyone who comes near.  neogriffithism 1.26 Andy's new uniformAndy, Barney, and Ralph head out to Luke’s place.  Ralph is quick to cite procedure, insisting that Andy call for backup and suggesting the use of tear gas.  Andy refuses and instead walks though the line of fire like Wonder Woman coming out of the trenches, trusting Luke’s aim and that the crazed shooter doesn’t actually want to hurt him.  Ralph’s boss arrives just in time to witness Andy’s act of courage, after which he shows no interest in Ralph’s notepad full of infractions.  The episode ends much like Andy’s last major encounter with the state police, with the Sheriff having proven his competence despite first impressions and with everyone leaving on good terms.

Side Notes

  • It’s disappointing to see that Otis has fallen off the wagon so quickly but you can’t blame a guy for celebrating his birthday.
  • Luke Reiner is the second moonshiner portrayed by Jack Prince on the show.  The first was Ben Sewell in the episode “Alcohol and Old Lace.”
  • The actor who plays Ralph’s boss is Willis Bouchey, who frequently worked with legendary Western film director John Ford and delivered the final line “Nothing’s too good for the man who shot Liberty Valence” in Ford’s classic The Man who Shot Liberty Valence.

The Moral of the Story

Once again we see Andy embroiled in a conflict between relativism and absolutism.  Previously, we’ve seen Andy’s relaxed approach to his job and morality in general come into conflict with more structured people like Ellie or Barney, but they are usually portrayed more sympathetically than Ralph.  The inspector is about as straightforwardly villainous as anyone we’ve ever seen on the show.  His strict adherence to rule and policy psychologically tortures Barney and threatens Luke’s safety without need.  In the end Andy proves that his more personal approach to peacekeeping is superior to Ralph’s system of policy.

Modern Mayberry

Here we see Andy Taylor at his most Libertarian.  This episode is a clear indictment of government overreach.  The powerful bureaucracy of the State Police comes to Andy’s doorstep and pushes the Sheriff around, demanding that he follow procedure even at the risk of harming civilians.  It’s pretty clear cut: more humanistic police work is preferable to top-down management.

However, Andy is no ordinary cop.  His methods only work because of his close relationship with the people under his protection  He knows everyone in town and everyone knows him.  He is able to arrest Luke without incident only because he knows of the man’s skill with a gun and trusts him not to aim to kill.  In order for an unregulated, personalized approach to work all police would have to live up to Andy’s example.

At least one town’s police force in North Carolina is making an effort to honor Andy Taylor’s legacy.  Since Fuquay-Varina’s new police chief Laura Fahnestock arrived in April of 2015 the department has greatly increased it’s public outreach.  Laura’s use of humor on the department’s Facebook page has become famous, especially the posts regarding the pursuit of a wild hog.  A video series released earlier this year paired Fuquay officers with young people to discuss the challenges each face.  Most notably, the department began taking place in the “Coffee with a Cop” program, in which police officers make themselves available in a local restaurant for anyone to approach for a conversation.  The next such event will be November 8th, at The Corner Biergarten.

Coffee with a Cop began in California in 2011, shortly before the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement.  Since 2013 the eyes of the nation have been on the relationship between police and the people they are charged with protecting.  That relationship has grown increasingly tense as we’ve repeatedly seen police kill unarmed black people.  Coffee with a Cop and Black Lives Matter have the same goal: humanization.  One invites people to have a conversation with an officer and the other begs the police and everyone else to see that the value of a black person is the same as anyone else.  Perhaps there is hope in these two forces to help police see citizens as humans rather than stereotypes, statistics, or even enemies, and to focus on people more often than procedure.

 

What do you think Andy would do?

Otis Campbell and the War on Drugs

“A Plaque for Mayberry” opens with a competition between Barney and Otis.  The deputy insists that Otis’ sobriety is tested before he is released from his cell.  Otis then surpasses expectations by eloquently quoting a limerick before Barney can get it out of his mouth, hopping on one foot until Barney runs out of breath, and he would have touched his ineogriffithism 1.25 the nose pinchndex fingers together with his eyes closed if Barney’s nose hadn’t gotten in the way.  Panting and slouched in a chair Barney allows Otis to walk out the door.  Immediately after that Andy gets a call requesting his and his deputy’s presence at the Mayor’s office.

When they arrive they see that Mayor Pike is entertaining two well-dressed, elderly female guests.  They are representatives of the Women’s Historical Society.  They are in town after discovering that a hero of the Revolutionary War, who burned a local bridge before the enemy could cross it, lived in Mayberry.  They have also unearthed that this hero, Nathan Tibbs, has a descendant who still lives in town but theyneogriffithism 1.25 Otis and his wife aren’t certain who it is yet.  They intend to hold a ceremony honoring Nathan and deliver a plaque to his descendant.  Everyone in town, especially Barney, hopes that they are the rightful heir but, as the saying goes, there can only be one.  Everyone is shocked when that one turns out to be none other than “town drunk” Otis Campbell.

Out of fear that Otis will embarrass the town Mayor Pike asks Andy to find someone to replace him for the ceremony.  Andy can’t bear to go through with the scheme when he sees a sober Otis and his wife beaming with pride.  On the day of the ceremony Otis is running late, causing Andy to worry he made a mistake by putting his trust in the alcoholic.  Before much longer Otis arrives well-dressed and in shiny new shoes that neogriffithism 1.25 Barney and Otis at the ceremonyslowed him down and caused is tardiness.  When he is handed the plaque Otis graciously hands it over to the Mayor to accept on behalf of the town, claiming that he hasn’t done anything to earn such an award other than be born to an ancestor he didn’t know existed until recently.  After what would be the commercial break if I weren’t watching it on Netflix Otis stumbles into the jail, causing Andy and Barney to fear that he has once again fallen prey to his disease, which is what alcoholism is, but it turns out that his only problem is that his new shoes are hurting his feet.

Sidenotes

  • When Opie asks about the nature of parentage in regards to Nathan Tibbs Andy when-you’re-older’s his way out of a “birds and the bees” conversation.  I’m surprised he didn’t go with “ask your Aunt Bee.”
  • Barney’s middle name is apparently Oliver.
  • In a tender moment between Otis, his wife, and Andy, the actor who plays Otis, Hal Smith, proves himself to be a very strong actor.

The Moral of the Story

The heart of this episode lies in the conflict between Barney and Otis.  Barney clearly sees Otis’ alcoholism as a moral failing and thinks himself Otis’ superior.  He believes that he can easily best Otis at even simple acts of triviality, sober or not.  When word gets out about Nathan’s descendant Barney is certain he is the scion.  He is fully prepared to accept the award and deliver a grandiose oration.  When the great-great-great-grandson is revealed to be Otis he responds with pride but also sincere humility.  At the ceremony he denies that he is worthy of such a reward because it is nothing more than a matter of genetics, a product of his birth, not of anything he did to earn it.  However, Otis’ greatest weakness, the part of him that makes him an outcast of Mayberrian society, is also a product of his genes.  His aloholism is a disease over which he has little control.  Because Barney lacks this genetic flaw he considers himself superior.

Modern Mayberry

As early as the 1940’s experts began to think of alcoholism as a disease.  That idea apparently hadn’t picked up enough traction to make it to Mayberry by the early 1960’s.  By 1987 the medical community was convinced that addiction is a disease, enough that the American Medical Association declared it so.  However, that same year President Ronald Reagan publicly redoubled the government’s efforts in the War on Drugs, thus contributing to the misconception that addiction is a moral failure and should be treated as a criminal activity.

Fortunately, the truth that addiction is a genetic weakness, not a moral failure, is once again becoming widespread but it may be too little, too late.  The tragic misunderstanding of what addiction is has resulted in insufficient treatment for addicts, allowing countless people to suffer over the decades.  As if that weren’t bad enough on the surface, there’s another horrid truth lying underneath: the belief that addicts are inferior to others is tied to the belief that black people are inferior to whites.

It’s no coincidence that Ronald’s War on Drugs was announced in the height of the crack epidemic, which by far hit black communities the hardest.  The way America and its white citizens and leaders responded to the crack epidemic has now come back to haunt them.  As Vox points out, with help from Ta-Nehisi Coates, if the reaction to black people in pain were more logical and compassionate America would have been better prepared to handle the opium crisis that is currently ravaging people of all demographics, but especially white and Native American people.  Again, it’s probably not a coincidence that it is becoming more common for people to see addiction as a disease rather than a moral failing now that the disease is affecting white people in large numbers.

With the consideration that one person or group is inferior to another comes a failure to empathize and understand.  Even if it’s later than it should be there are signs that Americans are developing a more sympathetic view of addiction and it is making all the difference.  In 2016 North Carolina became one of many states to have a syringe exchange program.  In just over a year the program has helped at least one person find sobriety. One might not seem like much but it means a lot to Jason Jackson, who would likely still be using heroin if not for the program.  Because he was treated as a person struggling with something beyond his control he was able to find the help he needed to take control.  Seeing any race or group as less than is a threat to society as a whole, but if you see everyone as fully human and deserving of respect you allow for someone like Otis Campbell to surpass expectations.

 

What do  you think Andy would do?

Procrastinating with Andy

With a social on the horizon Andy is expecting to go with Ellie even though he hasn’t cleared this plan with her yet.  One morning Aunt Bee discourages him from taking the woman for granted but he still drags his feet, even as his son excitedly brings up the neogriffithism 1.24 meeting Robertpossibility of marriage.  By the time he gets to the Sheriff’s office Aunt Bee’s words have sunk in and he crosses the street to invite Ellie to the social.  He puts it off once again when he sees that Ellie is busy getting acquainted with a new arrival in town, a young, handsome, unmarried doctor named Robert Benson.

At first Andy is unfazed by the potential romantic rival but Barney has suspicions.  After Andy’s repeated attempts to help Barney with his love life it’s time for Barney to return the favor.  He conspires with Aunt Bee to spy on the doctor and Ellie.  Under the pretense of an ordinary check-up he quizzes Robert about his life and intentions until he gets distracted by the doctors’ diagnosis of dangerously low blood pressure.  He’s still on the case, though, and when he spots Ellie and Robert walking into the drug store together he follows and eavesdrops on their conversation.  neogriffithism 1.24 a little Barney whispering in Andy's earHe overhears the part about Robert planning his forthcoming nuptials but misses the part about the fiance who isn’t Ellie.  He hurries to tell Andy what he’s heard and it finally gets a reaction out of him.  He rushes to the drug store to settle things.  He goes into a speech, as he is wont to do, about commitment and winds up proposing to Ellie.  Robert suggests a double wedding, which is a bit strange coming from a relative stranger, but it helps Andy put the puzzle pieces together.  As for Ellie, she recognizes that Andy isn’t acting like his usual levelheaded self and turns down his proposal, suggesting that they take things nice and slow.

Sidenotes

  • Andy hopes that Bobby Fleet’s Band with a Beat, the band Jim Lindsey joined in the third episode, will play at the social.  Whether they do or not, it will only be a few more episodes before Jim makes his return on the show.
  • Robert is played by Golden Globe winner George Nader, who is most famous for starring in the cult classic sci-fi/horror film Robot Monster.
  • The death of Opie’s mother isn’t directly mentioned but it’s hard not to think about it when he expresses excitement for a mother who has access to the pharmacy’s supply of ice cream.  It’s also hard to tell if that excitement is healthy or deeply worrying.
  • This episode feels like a predecessor to the kind of misunderstandings Don Knotts would later be involved in on Three’s Company.
  • Mayberry won’t be a small town much longer if it keeps getting all these new arrivals.  Ellie, Ed Sawyer, and the Boone’s have all relocated into town so far.

The Moral of the Story

In a way, this episode is a story about procrastination.  Andy puts off inviting Ellie to the social until it’s almost too late.  Once Robert arrives anyone can see that Andy feels insecure about his relationship with Ellie but he still doesn’t make his move.  He just let’s his fears seemingly play out before his eyes and hopes the problem will just go away.  Only when the confusion gets completely out of hand does he take action and then he behaves hastily and without sufficient information on the situation.  Waiting for a problem to solve itself proves to be an inefficient strategy.

Modern Mayberry

Someone used a gun to kill someone in America today.  Actually, almost one hundred people died at the end of a gun in the last 24 hours.  It happened yesterday as well, and the day before that and the day before that.  It will happen tomorrow and the day after.  There was a mass shooting three days ago, on October 1st, and it’s statistically likely that there will be another by the end of the year.  The most recent attack was the largest in American history.  Over fifty people were killed at a Jason Aldean concert in Las Vegas.

America has the eleventh highest rate of gun deaths in the world and is one of the few developed nations in the list of twenty.  This problem isn’t going away.  We need to have a real, honest conversation about what we’re going to do about it.  We need to discuss ideas and solutions without screaming bumper stickers at each other.  Then we need, must, have to act.  But first we discuss, ask question, answer the questions that can be answered and make decisions.

Some might say that we shouldn’t politicize these attacks, that it is disrespectful to the deceased.  That’s just how procrastination works.  We put it off until later then it’s only a matter of time until it’s too late.  What’s more, putting off meaningful change until some perfect time that will probably never come could just as easily be seen as disrespectful, if not more so.  This problem won’t solve itself.  If we don’t take action action won’t be taken.  There will be another mass shooting in approximately 72 days.  Someone will be killed with a gun before you go to bed tonight.  This problem won’t solve itself.

What do you think Andy would do?

Andy and Opie Stick to What They’re Good At

The episode “Andy and Opie, Housekeepers” begins with Aunt Bee scolding Andy and Opie for being untidy.  Then she gets a call from Cousin Edgar, who informs her that another relative named Maude has come down with “the versitis.”  Aunt Bee is obligated to leave Andy and Opie so she can care after Maude, but that will require the two slovenly male Taylors to clean up after themselves.

In the beginning Andy and Opie have every intention of doing just that.  They get a quick start on the dishes, with Andy washing them and Opie air-drying them before he puts them neogriffithism 1.23 living room tentaway.  Mid-dish-washing Andy is called away on police business so he tells Opie to clean up his room in his absence.  With a little help from a friend Opie makes his bed then jumps up and down on it.

In the next few days things get out of hand.  The whole house is in a state of disarray.  There’s a tent in the living room which seems to be supported on one side by a rifle, which is more dangerous than it is messy.  When Aunt Bee calls and informs the boys that she will be returning that afternoon they clean things up as a fast as possible.  As they are basking in the glow of their newly clean home Opie expresses pride that they can get along without Aunt Bee.  That’s when Andy comes to the realization that Aunt Bee’s feelings will be hurt if she thinks she isn’t needed.  He and Opie then make short work of messing the house back up again.  As they are leaving to pick Aunt Bee up from the bus station they run into Clara Edwards, who peeks into the house and seeing the mess takes it upon herself to clean up while they are gone.

While Aunt Bee is simultaneously marveling at the cleanness of the living room and growing depressed at her supposed redundancy Opie sneaks up to his room and messes it up once again.  While Aunt Bee is busy catching Opie doing what she thinks is cleaning but is actually the opposite Andy does the same in the kitchen.  With Aunt Bee’s feelings spared Andy and Opie take pride in their slovenly excellence until Clara visits and is insulted that no one appreciates her help.

Side Notes

  • The Taylors are doing a bottle episode!  A “bottle episode” is what happens when a TV show needs to save money so they set a story almost exclusively in a single location, in this case the Taylor house.
  • “Versitis” is apparently a mispronunciation of “bursitis,” a condition that affects one’s joints and sounds quite painful.
  • This is the first appearance of Clara Edwards and the first mention of Mayberry’s sister city Mt. Pilot, both of which will become familiar presences on the show.
  • Clara has also been known to go by the name “Bertha Johnson.”

The Moral of the Story

“Andy and Opie, Housekeepers” focuses on Aunt Bee’s role in the Taylor household; her responsibilities, how she feels about those responsibilities, and the consequences of her absence.  She is charged with cleaning up after two people who rarely make the effort to clean up after themselves, a job that frustrates her but a job that belongs her to her, nonetheless.  She values her role and likes feeling needed, she likes knowing that she has an impact on Andy’s and Opie’s world.  When she is gone the house falls into disarray until Andy and Opie clean it up at the last minute, proving that Aunt Bee is very much needed, as much as she thinks she is, if not more.  Fortunately, Andy realizes Aunt Bee’s desire to feel needed before it’s too late, recognizing that desire as one that all of humanity shares.  We all want to make a difference in the world, whether it’s by cleaning a house or something on a larger scale.

Modern Mayberry

The calling to leave the world a better place than you found it doesn’t go away no matter how much money and success you have.  In 2016 Colin Kaepernick was in his sixth season with the San Francisco 49ers and likely had more money than the entire town of Mayberry, even when adjusted for inflation from whatever vaguely nostalgic time it exists in.  When he saw an injustice in the world he felt the need to fight against it.  Beginning as early as the preseason he stayed seated during the traditional performance of the National Anthem, rather than stand, as a protest against the reoccurring incidents of police officers killing unarmed black people and the lack of consequences for the officers in the aftermath of those killings.  Colin said “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color…  To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”  A few weeks later Colin decided to kneel rather than sit as a way of honoring veterans and those currently serving in the military while continuing his protest.

At the end of the 2016 season Colin became a free agent and still has not been hired to a new team of the third week of the 2017 season.  This weekend President Donald Trump criticized Colin and the handful of athletes who have followed his example.  Donald’s statement prompted even more athletes and other sports professionals to defend Colin and kneel or make a statement in other fashions, like Carolina Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers.

Some have argued that such a statement is not Colin’s or any other athlete’s to make and that they should “stick to football.”  However, as well as being a successful athlete Colin is also an American citizen.  He has as much right to be involved in the national conversation on an issue as anyone else does.  What’s more, his fame gives him a platform that not everyone else has and he has a responsibility to use it wisely.  How celebrities choose to use their platform is entirely their own individual decision; whether they want to speak on one issue, or many, or to stay silent.  Clearly, Colin has decided that staying silent is not an option for him.  He can’t  expect the problem of police violence to just go away anymore than the Taylor family can count on the house to clean itself (without Clara Edwards’ help).

Barney’s Toxic Masculinity

Andy and Ellie are on a double date with Barney and Thelma Lou when the former couple begin to snuggle up together but Barney and Thelma Lou are a little more hesitant.  Barney’s difficulty connecting with Thelma Lou on an intimate, emotional level neogriffithism 1.22 Barney and Thelma Lou on the couchleaves the woman disappointed and Andy is a little frustrated as well.  The next day at work Andy encourages Barney to tell his girlfriend how he feels, prompting the shy deputy to give a loving monologue about her with no one but Andy around.

Andy then takes it upon himself to repeat Barney’s words to Thelma Lou without his knowledge.  Thelma Lou uses her meeting with Andy to spark Barney’s emotions, specifically envy.  It works and Barney goes to Andy ready to engage in fisticuffs.  Naturally, Andy has no interest in fighting so Barney instead decides to meet the betrayal in kind.  He goes to the drug store and attempts to seduce Ellie using the tips that Andy gave him for flirting with Thelma Lou.  When Ellie rebuffs Barney’s advances he is left feeling doubly rejected, believing Andyneogriffithism 1.22 Barney's cool hair has won the affections of both women.  That’s when Ellie and Andy formulate a plan to drive Thelma Lou and Barney away from them and to each other.

Andy returns to Thelma Lou’s home and Ellie calls Barney to the drug store on the false pretense of an emergency then invites him into the back room.  Andy moves on Thelma Lou, claiming that when he previously spoke on Barney’s behalf he was really speaking of his own attraction to her.  Meanwhile, Ellie tells Barney that she was afraid before but is now ready to admit that she has fallen for his charms.  Barney leaves the drug store and goes to the Sheriff’s office to express his regret over stealing his friend’s girlfriend, regardless of Andy’s supposed betrayal.  As he is leaving that conversation Barney runs into Thelma Lou who tells him that he’s the only man for her, with or without his reluctance towards familiarity.

Fortunately, his reluctance seems to be gone.  The episode bookends with another double date, this time Barney is in a hurry to gets some alone time with Thelma Lou but Andy repeatedly interrupts his attempts to get closer to her.

Side Notes

  • When Barney is telling Andy how he feels about Thelma Lou there’s a great joke where Barney acts as if “you’re the cats” were equivalent to another three words, “I love you,” but the laugh track doesn’t play.  It makes for a much better moment.
  • Rock Hudson’s name is mentioned a few times.  Rock was friends with Jim Nabors, who will appear in future seasons as Gomer Pyle, until a joke gone wrong pushed them apart.
  • This is the first appearance of Thelma Lou, who will be Barney’s main love interest for the rest of the show.
  • Andy plays a game of checkers with Opie which could be seen as a metaphor for the game of strategy played between the two pairs of lovebirds.  This is a rare instance when checkers serves that purpose rather than chess.
  • The title comes from the 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac about matchmaking gone wrong.  I would have gone with “Andy Bergerac” but whatever.

The Moral of the Story

Barney Fife has a “toxic masculinity” problem.  His inability to be intimate with Thelma Lou comes from a fear of being vulnerable.  Even with his girlfriend, who he seems to be very close to and has known for a long time (although this is her first appearance on the show) he can’t bring himself to put his guard down.  “Toxic masculinity” is term for the expectations of men that can be harmful at extremes, like assertiveness, self-reliance, and emotional repression.  To a certain extent those aren’t necessarily bad things but at their most extreme they can lead to violence against others and internal misery and depression.  Toxic masculinity has been repeatedly linked to the higher suicide rates and overall shorter lifespan for men than women.  It is also partially to blame for America’s history of mass shootings.

Barney, of course, would never do anything like that.  However, he does have a tendency towards aggression and violence.  His aggression and violence tends to be fairly harmless and cartoonish but it still seems like those things could be connected to his emotional repression.  He hides his delicate, feminine emotions which only strengthens the dangerous masculine feelings.  He hesitates to be intimate with his girlfriend but the very moment he feels betrayed by Andy he’s ready to fist fight his best friend.  Soon after that he turns up the machismo when he hits on Ellie; he treats her as a prize that can be won with the right hair and the right words, and sees her as an extension of Andy that can be used to hurt him rather than as a complete person in her own right.  He’s more comfortable physically fighting his best friend and pretending to be attracted to someone he’s not than he is being honest about his feelings with someone he really cares about.

It’s telling that Barney is comfortable expressing his feelings around Andy but not Thelma Lou.  That could be because he’s expressing his feelings about Thelma Lou but it could also be because he’s intimidated by her.  It calls to mind the oft-quoted line from author Margeret Atwood: “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them.  Women are afraid that men will kill them.”  It might sound silly to fear being laughed at, especially compared to murder, but fear is rarely rational, a fact doesn’t make what you’re afraid of any less scary.  Once again, the male fear of being humiliated or emasculated is linked to violence, especially against women.

You might be wondering “what does all this have to do with politics?”  You might say “can’t you at least tie it back to the president like you usually do?”  Then you might say “never mind, I see it now.”  Men, including Barney and especially you-know-who, could benefit from gender equality, almost as much as women but that would require them to embrace vulnerability and femininity, which they are deathly afraid of.

What do you think Andy would do?

Andy the Well-Informed Citizen

The average Mayberrian criminal tends to be pretty harmless, a fact that makes the arrival of a hardened big league rapscallion quite exciting.  The state police decide to neogriffithism 1.21 story time with Andyleave “Gentleman” Dan Caldwell, a smooth criminal with a Clark Gable mustache in the custody of the Mayberry Sheriff’s Department for a short time on his way to meet justice in Atlanta.

Deputy Barney Fife is thrilled to have such a renowned felon in his custody.  Before he arrives he puts in the effort to tidy up the cell and even kicks a hungover Otis to the curb to make Dan’s stay as comfortable as possible.  Upon their meeting Barney and Dan make fast friends.  Before long Dan charms Aunt Bee and Opie as well.  Aunt Bee puts on her best hat and steps up her culinary game for the prisoner while Opie loses interest in hearing Andy’s folksy neogriffithism 1.21 Dan looking creepyfairy tales, preferring Dan’s thrilling yarns of his and his criminal comrade’s derring-do.  Despite his trusting nature Andy is the only one who sees through Dan.

During a friendly game of cards between Barney and Dan the crook makes his move.  He grabs Barney’s gun and heads for the door.  His escape is interrupted by Opie and Aunt Bee, who he tries to corral into the jail cell.  Before that can happen Andy makes his entrance.  He sees that neogriffithism 1.21 Andy's shock when gun firesDan has Barney’s gun and quickly surmises that he has the upper hand.  Andy dares Dan to pull the trigger, assuming that Barney’s only bullet is safely tucked away in the deputy’s pocket.  That assumption is incorrect but luck is still on Andy’s side.  Dan fires the gun in the air to no results a few times before giving up and letting Andy lead him back into the cell.  Andy can’t help but show off by pulling the trigger one more time, shooting the ceiling with the bullet that wasn’t supposed to be there.

Sidenotes

  • Dan Tobin, the actor behind Dan Caldwell, was a fairly prominent character actor.  He appeared in The Fountain of Youth, an anomaly of a TV pilot directed by Orson Welles that failed to become a series but won a Peabody award anyway.
  • It’s always nice to see the Mayberry Sheriff’s Department and the North Carolina State Police getting along  after a bumpy start to their relationship.

The Moral of the Story

Dan Caldwell is a grade-A con-man; his trade is using people’s trust against them and for his own benefit.  With charm and a wry smile he gains people’s affection then cashes that in for whatever he can get, with no concern to speak of for the people he has baited.  Dan flatters and seduces Barney to get his gun and the keys to the cell and pulls Opie and Aunt Bee into his magnetic field just in case they can be of service as well.  Despite his trusting, easy-going ways Andy isn’t as easily swayed and in the end he is proven right.  It’s good to trust people but Andy knows there are some circumstances when it’s necessary to keep his guard up.

Modern Mayberry

We’ve previously discussed the importance of putting one’s trust in the right place.  It’s equally important to know who not to trust.  Not long ago the term “fake news” was used to refer to blatant falsehoods masquerading as news.  Now it has been contorted by the President to describe any negative opinions of him or factual reporting of his objectively negative aspects.  Still, actual “fake news” is a very real problem and it’s important to be able to recognize it.  In order to be a well-informed society it is pivotal that we are informed not just on the content of the news but in the best methods of ingesting that content.  For that purpose, here are some tips on improving your news consumption.

  1. Google things.  If something you hear or read sounds fishy you might want to do a quick search.  If multiple sources that are respectable and that you personally trust are reporting the same thing than it’s more likely to be true.  If a story only exists on fringe websites then it’s probably a good idea to be very skeptical.  If it’s confirmed by a well-known fact checker like Snopes then it’s almost definitely a sure thing.
  2. Trust the major news providers over the fringes.  I understand the appeal of underdogs and outsiders but journalism is an industry that revolves around reputation and the big names know that.  Any reporter worth their salt takes their reputation seriously, as do editors and publishers.  Publishing something that isn’t true in service of one’s personal biases would ruin a serious journalists reputation, and thus their career.  No one becomes a hard news reporter for the Washington Post unless the most skeptical and cynical people in the world think they’re honest and reliable.
  3. Understand journalists methods.  Distrust in the press is as old as the press itself, which is pretty old.  In that time the field, like any other, has developed certain rules and guidelines.  For instance, in a similar way to how you should get your news from multiple sources news providers don’t run a story unless their information comes from several reliable direct sources.  I recommend browsing the American Press Institute website for a better understanding of how journalists operate and how they can do better.

The most important thing you can do when it comes to reading or writing the news is to approach it with a curious and skeptical attitude, but not necessarily cynical.  There’s a lot of good reporting being done but sometimes you might have to do some work to find it.  If you don’t have the time to put a lot of work into your news diet there are some pretty easily accessible and reliable options.  You can almost always trust your local newspaper, Raleigh’s News and Observer is quite good, and the nightly news on a network like ABC or NBC is always a good way to get a quick rundown of the day’s events.

What do you think Andy would do?