The Associated Press, via FOXNews (November 2, 2009)
"Police arrested a convicted kidnapper early Monday in the fatal shooting of four men in a parking lot in the town that inspired the idyllic community of Mayberry on the 1960s TV series 'The Andy Griffith Show.'
"Marcos Chavez Gonzalez was charged with four counts of murder in the slayings late Sunday outside a TV store in Mount Airy, about 100 miles north of Charlotte, Mount Airy police said.
"The town with a population of approximately 8,700 is the hometown of Andy Griffith. It has built a tourist trade on nostalgia for the show that continues to thrive in syndication...."
There's an old saying, "any publicity is good publicity."
There's something to it: particularly for people and businesses that rely on public attention. That's probably what's behind some of the outrageous behavior of some performers. ('Hey, Mable! Lets go see that movie. The star was arrested for wearing a chihuahua.')
On the other hand, my guess is that quite a few people living in Mount Airy, Surry County, North Carolina, would rather have seen their small town in the news some other way.
Small Town America, Mayberry RFD, and the 21st Century"Small" is a matter of perspective. Mount Airy's 8,700 citizens make it over twice the size of the town I live in. Still, that's far from the millions living in places like Los Angeles, New York, or Chicago.
That AP/FOXNews article used "idyllic" to describe the fictional Mayberry, where Sheriff Andy Taylor, Barny Fife, and all, lived: thirty minutes at a time, on television. There's nothing wrong with nostalgia - in moderation - and my hats off to Mount Airy's leaders for building a tourist trade on the strength of their town's connection to Andy Griffith.
But 'small town America' is very much a part of today's world.
Gray Flannel Suits?I've run into accounts of 'small town America' that leave the impression that places like my adopted hometown aren't, quite, connected to realty. Men wear sport shirts and cardigan sweaters or gray flannel suits. Women wear dresses, and so do the girls. Boys wear bib overalls, a ragged straw hat - and look like Tom Sawyer clones.
We don't look like that. Not in central Minnesota, anyway.
Away From the Hustle and Bustle of City LifeThe 'relaxed pace of life' that's part of the stereotype doesn't fall quite so wide of the mark. In the town where I live, you won't encounter crazed motorists driving about 30% over the speed limit. We've got our gung-ho residents: but the town's fairly compact, and the old-fashioned street grid lets us get to where we're going in maybe 20 minutes - tops. At rush hour.
Ignorant and ParochialPeople living in small towns may have been ignorant of happenings outside their community: in the 19th century. Along with paved roads, electricity, running water and an efficient sewage treatment system, small towns in America have telephones, radios, televisions, and - to an increasing extent - Internet access. We're not cut off from the 'real world' of big cities, except by physical distance. If anything, I think someone in a small town is more likely to know what's going on in places like New York City or San Francisco, than the reverse.1
As for having distorted views of how others live, I remember the lady I met in a city, who informed me that farmers in North Dakota don't have to work: because they had grain stored in an elevator in Grand Forks. I suspect that people with quaint notions, and folks with 20-20 mental vision can be found just about everywhere.
Biased? You Bet!I'll freely admit that I have a bias. I've lived in Minnesota's Twin Cities, San Francisco, and elsewhere: and am very glad to be living with the 4,000 or so other people in this small town. I'm pretty sure that some folks here feel that 'nothing ever happens around here,' but I keep my eyes open - and have been writing about life in the community, from my point of view, for several years. (Sauk Centre Journal)
The Mayberry ConnectionMayberry, RFD, the setting for The Andy Griffith Show, is fictional. I think some of the similarities between Mayberry and Mount Airy are points that the fictional town shares with many - probably most - small towns in America. We have our Main, Oak, Elm, Maple, and Willow Streets, and quite a few small towns have a River Road. So, for that matter, to many cities.
An article (re-) posted this year gives a pretty good look at The Andy Griffith show and its background:
"The Andy Griffith Show" / Behind The Scenes Of The REAL Mayberry (Telovation (September 3, 2009))
"...While Griffith often dismissed any ties between his show and the sleepy little town of Mount Airy, North Carolina, even Andy can't deny the many similarities...."
"...During the dedication ceremony, Andy, then 76, said 'I'm proud to be from the great state of North Carolina. I'm proud to be from Mount Airy. I think of you often, and I won't be such a stranger from here on out.'
"Then he gave the local residents what they had been hoping for, for years: Validation. 'People started saying that Mayberry was based on Mount Airy,' Griffith said. Then pausing with a sly grin, he added: 'It sure sounds like it, doesn't it?'"
So: is Mayberry a fictional version of Mount Airy? I don't think that Mayberry is a re-creation of Mount Airy. On the other hand, Andy Griffith grew up in Mount Airy: and that Telovation post showed an impressive number of parallels. I'll go with what Mr. Griffith said: "It sure sounds like it, doesn't it?"
- Mount Airy, North Carolina
"Come Visit Mayberry!"
- The Mount Airy Museum of Regional History
- The Surry Arts Council
Includes the Andy Griffith Museum
- Andy Griffith Biography (1926-)
- "The Andy Griffith Show"
Behind The Scenes Of The REAL Mayberry
Telovation (September 3, 2009)
- "Four dead in North Carolina shooting; suspect sought"
CNN (November 1, 2009)
1 I contrasted 'small town' stereotypes and reality in another blog:
- "The New York Times, Insularity, and Assumptions" Another War-on-Terror Blog
(October 21, 2008)
- "The Effect of Information Technology and Media Preoocupation with Urban Events on the Relative Sophistication of Urban and Rural Populations" Another War-on-Terror Blog
(April 13, 2008)