Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Filming "Mayberry, Florida"

State representative Stephen Precourt (R-Orlando) has proposed using state tax dollars to promote the production of "family-friendly" movies and television productions.

No surprise there. Republican office holders all across the nation are scrambling for ways to suck up to the increasingly narrow base of wackos, ignoramuses, and flat-Earthers that constitute their base. To identify HB 697 as "a priority for the Republican House majority" only shows how bankrupt of ideas that party has become.
"Think of it as like Mayberry," state Rep. Stephen Precourt, R-Orlando, said, referring to The Andy Griffith Show. "That's when I grew up — the '60s. That's what life was like.
Life was not "like" Mayberry anywhere, anytime. Mayberry U.S.A. was a fictional television show, for goodness' sake!

In the late fifties and early sixties, we saw life as it really was. We were growing up in a classic small Midwestern town. There were perhaps 800 residents, total. Nine streets went one way, about eight the other.

It was an era when the hulks of abandoned cars and oil run-off from nearby leaking storage tanks filled the creeks all around the town. Margarine was sold in the grocery store only as pure white lard, which your mother then took home and mixed with yellow food coloring that came with the lard in order to simulate butter. The only air conditioning we knew of was in the movie house and the bank lobby. Burma Shave signs passed for high brow humor. And mothers who could afford to buy their kids new shoes took them to Sears & Roebuck, first, where they made their kids -- we're not making this up -- step up and stick their feet inside an x-ray machine to see if the bones in their toes were crowding the tips of their shoes.

An x-ray machine! Maintained and run by a shoe salesman! It's a wonder we didn't all die of toe cancer decades ago.

Good jobs were scarce, decent housing was in short supply, and the schools were but a cut or two above the classic congregational one-room school house run by the town pastor a century before. Public ignorance was rife. Socks were darned and re-darned and re-darned again until one's socks were little more than darning thread.

Even so, things in that small town were a damn site better than they were in Florida, if the history books are any guide. But many, many Midwestern families struggled. Even people with good jobs barely scraped by. There was no Medicare, no Medicaid, and not much for general assistance to the poor. Few of the old people of the town lived long enough to collect Social Security.

At the north edge of town on the other side of the railroad tracks there was a shanty town known as "Goat Hollow." It was peopled mostly with what the adults called "Oakies" -- Southerners, mostly, who were trying to find work to support their families. As bad as our town was, it was much worse where they came from.

Most of the "Oakies" lived in flimsy tar-paper shacks perhaps half the size of a typical attached garage one see these days. A few of the luckier ones had "basement homes." This was considered fancy living in Goat Hollow. A "basement home" was just a basement, period, covered with planks and topped by a door frame that descended to the "living quarters" below. So far as we could see, none of them ever saw a real house built on top of the basement. Apparently, no one could afford it. They lived like moles.

Personally, our family was comparatively well off. Both parents worked good jobs, we owned a modest but comfortable two-story frame home, and our family was well-connected. Not so our best friend. Like many others on the "right" side of town, he lived in a cramped two-bedroom trailer with no toilet. Years later, we figured out this was because there was no sewer system large enough to serve all the trailer lots.

Everybody in that trailer park had to use a communal bathroom. Or, as our friend told us decades later, he and his brother "had to shit in a bucket." We had never known that, as often as we played together with our friend at his 'house' and ours. To a kid, it just seemed normal.

Some of the girls our age were raped by adult relatives. Many of the mothers could be seen at the grocery store with black eyes and bruises. Quite a few of the fathers beat their kids with belts.

We were present when one dirty old man -- we didn't know the word "pedophile" back then -- drove up to a small bunch of nine year olds, gestured for them to come closer, and then exposed himself and tried to force one young friend of ours into his car. The alcoholic "constable" in town -- he worked and drank alone -- could do nothing about sex crimes (or any other kind of crime, come to that) assuming anyone thought to complain. Mostly, things like this were just kept in the family.

That would be the "traditional family" value.

In winter, many of the "Oakie" kids walked more than a mile to school without boots or mittens. Their parents couldn't afford to clothe them properly. We can still hear the screams of those kids echoing down the hallway as the school "nurse" defrosted their hands and feet by running hot water -- hot water -- over them before sending them back to class. Once a year, the mother of a severely retarded boy our age who was wheel-chair bound brought him to class for an hour or so, just so he could feel like a 'normal' boy. The rest of the year, he was a shut-in.

We could go on and on and on, but we don't have the time right now, for reasons which will become apparent on this blog over the next few days. The point is just this: "Mayberry" never existed in the real world of America in the 1950's and 1960's. If the Florida legislature really intends to limit its film-promotion efforts to anodyne "family-friendly" entertainment like the Andy Griffith Show, on the delusional theory that it depicts the way America was, then they should call it what it is: "Prevaricated Propaganda Productions."

Needless to say, an honest film made about the way things really were in Florida of the "sixties" would not only show us the all-too-oppressive nature of "traditional family" life, it also would show stuff that we, at least, rarely encountered in the Midwest: segregated restaurants, schools, and drinking fountains; lynchings of innocent blacks; the same smug, self-satisfied, willful and violent racism that pervaded the South; and more.

Unlike the cartoon fictional life presented in Mayberry, U.S.A, the real story of life in the "sixties" is one that needs to be told again and again. Especially as so many right-wingers continue trying to roll back all the advances in life which came with the federal programs they now are directly attacking.
minor edit 3-10pm


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Great blog piece. Seems like every improvement like SSA, Medicare, Clean Water, etc. has been a Democratic idea except A/C and wasn't that some French man? Repukes probably would have us go back to slavery, if it helped Wall street.