Ah the good old days. Back then people were happy, there was no war or poverty or social unrest, why you could buy a corn dog a twenty aught four pence! In the good old days we had good clean fun, playing down by the lake, and messing with old man Jenkins (question: why is every old man named jenkins?). Why life was just like the Andy Griffith Show!
Okay so you managed to make it through my terrible intro, I salute you. But seriously everyone always seems to remember the past as being inherently better than the future. The sentiment I just expressed above is one that resonates across the country. For some reason people like to think that the present is full of complexity and amorality, kids don’t respect their parents, politicians are corrupt, and the world’s going to hell. Whereas the past was a simpler time, everything was all sunshine and rainbows, people were happy, and perhaps most of all America was awesome! Except that none of that is true and it’s all Ron Howard’s gatdamn fault.
The problem is the history doesn’t support the sentiment. Let’s go way back. 1930’s, what happened then? oh just the Great Depression. What about the ’40’s? World War II, no biggie. ’50’s? Cold War, nukes, all that good stuff. Well how about the 1960’s? How about the civil rights movements, the height of the Cold War and, oh yeah the start of the Vietnam war. The ’70’s then? More Vietnam, Watergate, Iran Hostage crisis, the energy crises and just the general crisis of confidence. The list goes on and on. What’s the general theme? The world is full of problems and it always has. There was no magical time when all was right with the world, that fantasy is just that a fantasy. Which begs the question, then where did the fantasy come from?
The answer is the Andy Griffith Show. Look at the Andy Griffith Show, it’s the picture of the quintessential American town. People survive on Jesus and good family values. Whenever something goes wrong Sheriff Andy Taylor is there to dole out some simple justice. I mean the show is literally in black and white. Everything is obvious, right can easily be determined from wrong. When in reality this is not the case. It reinforces the white American Perspective, and reiterates the idea that everything is fine here, we are right, we are moral, and we are the best.
But then everything changed when the fire nation attacked, err, I mean when Reagan was elected President. Along with a bunch of other things Reagan deregulated the television industry, ushering in what TV buffs call “The Post-Network Era”. Suddenly mass media, by which I mean television, was no longer dominated by the big three (NBC, ABC and CBS). So now you start to see the rise of contemporary TV. Instead of TV shows that are wholly comfortable, you get shows that are wholly uncomfortable. Instead of Leave it to Beaver telling you everything’s right with America, you have shows like, well anything on HBO, Game of Thrones not withstanding.
The result is that this perfect image of the american family and american values becomes shattered. Combine this with a period when the country is going through some profound changes, what with the birth of the “new-right” and a whole bunch of other stuff that gives historians a sterling erection, and what you get is something deeply unsettling. This marks an era of discomfort (kind of like the uncomfortable TV I was just talking about), the world is moving in all different directions around us, and suddenly our perception of the world is shattered. How do you know what’s right if you don’t have Sheriff Andy Taylor telling you every week.
So what ends up happening is people yearn for “the good old days”. What they want is not a return to the policies of the ’60’s, its a move to a simpler time, one when Beaver was always getting into trouble, and a young Ron Howard was doing whatever he did on the Andy Griffith Show. But what they really want is comfort, they want stability, they want a world that’s black and white, a world that makes sense, it just so happens that that world is fictional.