Saturday, August 25, 2012

Andy About the Law

There's a little known Andy Griffith Show episode that deals with Opie's school days.  Little known, because the show actually never made it onto the air—the program's producers judged that it contained a thinly-veiled anti-McCarthyite message, and chose not to run it.  Most collections of the show don't include it even as an "extra" because its tone is so different from most of the regular episodes'.  That's a shame, because it's a truly fascinating parable.

The story begins when Andy uncovers the fact that his son Opie has been cheating at school.  At first his only concern is for Opie's academic progress and—more importantly—his honesty.  But it soon develops that Opie is not the only boy involved: cheating has become rampant at Maybury Elementary, and the teachers are at a loss as to how to stop it.  Some of them have even become so tolerant of the cheating that parents who want their kids to have an easier time will shift them from teachers like Miss Helen Crump ...

... who of course holds a strict no-cheating classroom, to teachers like Miss Tootler (played by the inimitable Mary Grace Canfield), who is much laxer.

It's the pearls.  You can always tell by looking at the pearls.

The issue becomes public, right in the middle of Mayor Pike's reelection campaign; and the Mayor is deluged with demands to do something about the cheating epidemic. At the same time, however, there is a very active and vocal minority that considers that it would be unfair to crackdown on all the students and teachers involved.  (Needless to say, this minority is largely made up of the families of those teachers and students.  Allyn Joslyn has a beautiful cameo as the pompous father on one dishonest student.)

Who was that mustached man?

Although the Mayor is initially cowed by the vocal minority, he finally comes round to Andy's view of the situation: that cheating is always a bad thing, and even in the case of kids who would probably fail without it, does more harm than good in the end.

It looks like the Mayor is about the win on this platform, until the Union of Teachers for Equal Outcome (led by the aforementioned Miss Tootler) play their trump card: a boy named Robin.

Robin has no mother and a deadbeat dad and a history of failure at school—until, of course, he came under the influence of Miss Tootler, and was allowed to cheat.  His improved grades improved a great many other things in his life: his relationship with his father, his friendships (before nonexistent), and even his ability to find a summer job.

Never mind the fact that all these improvements are illusory, based on a completely false set of papers, school projects, reports, and tests.  The townspeople (led now by the impressionable Barney Fife) are taken in by sob story, and the Mayor's campaign is in deadly jeopardy.

The Mayor eventually takes a compromise position that imposes strict penalties on teachers who permit cheating, but allows students (not all, but those in positions like Robin's) to get off scot free, keeping their false grades as long as they promise not to cheat in the future.

Politician.  You may all throw those tomatoes NOW.

Opie is delighted by the outcome, but of course Andy is unsatisfied.  The episode closes on an atypically bleak note, in which the father explains to the son the real nature of law.

Opie: I thoughtcha said the law was about right and wrong.  But it's not against the law for Robin to cheat, so it can't be wrong.
Andy: Son, it doesn't quite work that way.
Opie: You mean ... it's still wrong, even if it's not against the law?
Andy: That's right.
Opie: Then why did the Mayor allow it?
Andy: The Mayor allowed it, because the Mayor wanted to get elected, and he didn't think he could get elected any other way.
Opie: Then didn't he do something wrong?
Andy: Wahl ... I wou'n'tuv promised what he did.  But the way he figures it, probably, he's not going to be able to get rid of all the cheatin' in Maybury anyway, at least not in one term; and if he hadn't gone and promised not to take away Robin's grades, he woun't'uv got elected, and we'd'uv had Jim Dandy instead, and that would've been jus' awful.  [Opie is silent.]  What you've gotta understand, Opie, about the law, is that the law can't fix everything.  It's not good for little problems.
Opie: But you said this was a big problem!  Can't the law fix a big problem like this?
Andy: Not always, son.  Not if that many people don't want it to be fixed.  If you get that many people all agreed that something that's wrong is right, not even the law can help you.  You've got to change all those people's minds first.
Opie: Do you think it would help if I talked to Robin?
[Andy laughs, tousles his head, and walks out of the room, shutting off the light as he goes.]

Depressing, I know.  You can see why they didn't run the episode.

Alright, alright—YES, you have been Raynalled.  And yes, THIS was the inspiration.  I mean ... golly.  "An excellent title" (to quote Bobble-Head Poe); but after that ...

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