. . . both died very recently.
I pretty much don’t enjoy reading Cropsey’s elusive writing much. His famous statement about America being the stage on which modern thought is played out in popular consciousness always struck me as quite the exaggeration. But it’s likely the exaggeration that informs the “phenomenology” of THE CLOSING OF THE AMERICAN MIND and the general understanding of American public philosophy in terms of waves that we’re originally put forward to describe a movement toward nihilism in thought. Cropsey’s PLATO’S WORLD is all about being lost in the cosmos and caring for those displaced by a hostile nature and abandoned by the gods. It’s a strikingly if incompletely modern and Heideggerian and so a very honest view of Plato’s world, maybe the view of the world that Walker Percy would have shared in the absence of faith and the discovery of evidence enough for the gratuitous goodness of created nature. I was at a couple of Liberty Funds with Joe and talked with him for a long time; the engaging and plainspoken man in real life seemed nothing like the author to me. He said in one session something like: “Machiavelli’s teaching amounts to this: Don’t be a sucker.” I’ve plagiarized that without thinking about it many times. Sure, it’s an obvious point, but it’s one that needs to be made exactly that way.
Andy Griffith, overall, was a really good musician and a mediocre actor and comedian. (He was terrible in MATLOCK.) His first love was Gospel Music, and that, for me, puts in in the same exalted category with Willie Nelson and Elvis.
But THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW was clearly one of the three greatest network TV shows ever. The obvious evidence: Only three shows were taken off the air voluntarily while no. 1 in the ratings: I LOVE LUCY, THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW, and SEINFELD. And they really are the top three in excellence and influence. Each, as SEINFELD’s George said, left them wanting more.
So Andy Griffith entered the show an inauthentically annoying country bumpkin comedian, but during the second season became the straight man. Sheriff Andy Taylor became kind of an ordinary guy Atticus Finch, magnanimously saving his community without guns or risk of life from ordinary idiocy and hustlers and such from out of town. He was moral, but not too moral or priggish. He didn’t have the means or the education to be a Stoic gentleman, but his manners were perfectly classy in one sense while being informal and classless or uncondescending in another. So the actor Griffith kind of overcame his limitations and pretty much invented an admirable and realistic character that I’ve not seen anywhere else in real life or in literature. The show really was about the South as a home, complete with pickin’ and veggin’ on the porch after a huge Sunday dinner. Sure, it’s a fantasy, but what other situation comedy was an edifying fantasy? When people call a place in the sticks Mayberry, they may intend to mock it but they really end up meaning it’s just too good to be true.
If I were to write more, I would go on to say that Mayberry is a community of misfits who can’t even manage to marry and reproduce. The characters are memorable to the extent that they elevated their ineffectual quirkiness and unpromising circumstances with personal dignity. So the most memorable character is Aunt Bee. Next comes Opie, who was quite the manly kid while being only average at sports and the opposite of a bully. (If you did a study you’d find out that the names Aunt Bee and Opie have deeply penetrated the culture as an ambiguous mixture of praise and insult.) Barney was hilarious, but finally not as memorable. And then there’s the curiously touching case of Howard Sprague.
Feel free to share you thoughts on either Joe or Andy or both.