Interesting Ideas

Barney and the moral
economy of Mayberry

Everyone knows The Andy Griffith Show went downhill after Don Knotts left in 1965. It wasn't only because Knotts was the most talented comedian on the show. Just as important was Barney's role in the moral economy of Mayberry. Insecure, paranoid, ignorant, jealous, boot-licking, prying, officious, superstitious, he personified the underside of small-town life.

If Andy Griffith served as Don Knotts' straight man on the show, in the show Barney was the perfect foil for Andy, easily manipulated and dominated.

By keeping a lid on Barney, Andy controlled--symbolically always, and often literally--the whole town. In Sheriff Taylor's incontrovertible ability to manage his unruly subordinate, Andy's subjects saw the futility of their own defiance. And since Barney's schemes often involved the participation of his fellow townspeople, when they came to naught, so did the unruliness of the citizenry: In the weekly humiliation of foolhardy Barney, all Mayberry was kept securely under the domination of the sheriff, who had to maintain his authority at all times if Mayberry was not to descend into the anarchy of rural idiocy.

When Knotts was removed from Mayberry, though, things went awry. Andy lost his grip on the town and, as one expects when the grip of oppressive authority loosens, the townsfolk began to turn the tables.

In the post-Barney episodes, a key theme emerges: Torture Andy. Each week, Floyd, Goober, Howard, even Opie and Aunt Bee, use all their wits to devise harebrained schemes and delusions, all designed to fluster Andy and reveal his true vulnerability.

It's the revenge of the repressed. Without Barney to serve as his Trotsky, Andy's Stalin becomes toothless. And sans sheriff to serve as its superego, Mayberry's id runs wild.

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