Category Archives: Crime

Mayberry is Real, Happy Valley a Myth

At first blush the death of Andy Griffith and the release of Louis B. Freeh’s findings regarding the Penn State pedophilia scandal seem unrelated.

Griffith’s most famous role was as Sheriff Andy Taylor in the mythical town of Mayberry where the sun shone and showers fell as needed, folks were amiable and any feuds were settled within each half-hour episode. Crime was limited to moonshiners, carnival shell game barkers and snake oil salesman, all of whom Andy outsmarted and rendered justice upon.  Even Otis the town drunk was responsible enough to lock himself up when he had his fill.

With Griffith’s death some pundits have pointed out the obvious, that Mayberry was not real. It did not reflect the times in which it was made, the tumult of the sixties not descending upon Andy, Barney, Opie, Aunt Bee and the rest.

But that is missing the point.

The great movie, “A Face in the Crowd,” is evidence that Griffith was well-aware of the dark side of small-town life and the American dream. Griffith and the other creators of the TV show, the writers, directors and producers were intelligent people. They knew Mayberry existed only as an ideal. But it was one based on love of family, kindness toward your fellow man and a gentle humor regarding the absurdity that is this life. Unlike so much entertainment today which sinks to the lowest common denominator, the “Andy Griffith Show” spoke to the better angels of our souls, a place in the hearts of all people of good will who long for a gentler world. There was no intent to deceive or fool the audience, but rather an effort to create a world worth aspiring to.

The creators and producers of the longest running show at Happy Valley, the Penn State football team, were less idealistic. The Andy Taylor of this mythical place was Joe Paterno. The English major turned coach whose teams won the “the right way,” with players graduating on time and nary a whiff of scandal. Joe Pa set the pace, living by the same high standards he demanded of his players, residing in a modest home near campus, donating millions to the university. Maybe only John Wooden was as respected both as a man and a coach as Joe Paterno.

But as real as Mayberry was in terms of ideals, Happy Valley was a fraud.

It is difficult to understand how group think motivates otherwise smart people like Paterno, then President Graham Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley and now-retired vice president Gary Schultz to allegedly cover up wrongs in the name of a “greater good.”  Money, of course, the perennially winning Penn State football program makes a fortune for the university in the form of ticket sales, memorabilia and bowl games. Paterno’s reputation for fair play and the Happy Valley mystique is attractive to tuition paying parents and their children who see it as a safe haven. Proud alums and others wishing to be associated with such a prestigious, well-thought of institution donate millions to endowments. But even greed cannot explain the rationalizations that had to occur in order to cover for a predator like Jerry Sandusky. To, as Freeh stated, participate in “an active agreement to conceal.”

Whether it is the Catholic Church protecting pedophile priests or a university not reporting suspected child molestation somehow the powers at be lose sight of the reason their institution exists: to serve others. The “reputation” of the institution takes precedence over its mission. Unlike Mayberry, where wrong doers answered for their crimes, at Happy Valley a pedophile was sheltered from prosecution for at least a decade because of concerns his actions might damage the football team and the university. And, according to Freeh’s report, Joe Pa was hip deep in the cover up. A note from Curley indicated that he changed his mind about reporting Sandusky “after giving it more thought and talking it over with Joe.”

When we moved to Hoopeston fifteen years ago some of my friends, knowing my fondness for the “Andy Griffith Show,” and discovering I walked to my office on Main Street next to the movie theater, asked how things were in “Mayberry.” After being raised in small towns and living in Chicago and Dallas, my wife, Yolanda, and I were looking for a slower pace to raise our kids. But we never deluded ourselves into thinking we had arrived at some worry free nirvana. To that point, a coach at a junior high in a nearby town was recently convicted of child molestation.

Big town or small, we all know evil exists in this world.

Yet there are moments when visiting with fellow parishioners after Saturday night Mass, walking home from church along shaded brick streets, greeted by honked horns and friendly waves, that we get a taste of Mayberry. The fact these moments are fleeting amongst an ever coarsening world make them all the more worth savoring.

In that sense, the ideals of Mayberry and its humble leader, Sheriff Andy Taylor, are real.

It is the Happy Valleys and Joe Pas of this world that are myth.

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Filed under 21st Century America, Andy Griffith Show, Catholic Church, Crime, Don Knotts, Exploitation, Family, Football, Friends, Happy Valley, Institutions, Joe Paterno, July 2012, Mayberry, Penn State, Situation Comedies, Small town America, Sports page, The Movies

Blago and the Need to be “Somebody”

“What is it kid? You’re not saying much?”

“Just got the jumps.”

“Take it easy. We’re not going to lose him now. We had him ten years ago when he decided to be somebody.”

Some of you may recognize this scene from “The Sting,” a great movie which I watched the other night on one of the “retro” movie channels. For better or worse, they are the ones I frequent more than not these days. But my settling into “curmudgeondom” I will leave to another column. For those eager to wield that charge (Exhibit A, our daughter Anissa mockingly referring to her cardigan sporting dad as a real “hipster”) please note that my wife, Yolanda, and I go to many live performances of music, drama and trek to a nearby “Arts” theater each month to see independent movies produced outside the Hollywood sausage grinder. So back off youngsters. In fact, you might be well-served to look, listen or read something produced more than ten years ago. Open minds search in all directions.

Wow, I do sound like a curmudgeon. Sorry. But I feel better.

Back to “The Sting.”

For those who’ve not seen the movie Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) is the “kid,” Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman) the seasoned con man. They are close to completing the hustle they are running on crime boss Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw) and Hooker is “jumpy,” concerned Lonnegan will wiggle free.

I can imagine the FBI agents who arrested Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich a few years ago having the same conversation the night before they slapped handcuffs on him. In Blago’s case, they “had him” years earlier when he decided to run for public office. And for those who have any doubt as to why Blago decided to become a public “servant,” it’s time to get real.

FBI interviews, observations and wiretaps all point to a man who could not wait to sink his pudgy jowls into the public trough. Deals were cut as he was being sworn in for his first term as governor. This after he ran a campaign as a “reformer” who was going to Springfield to drain the swamp. One early red flag as to his commitment should have been his refusal to move his family to the state capital. Look, I lived in Chicago and love the place. I understand why Springfield may be less attractive to some, but did Blago understand that’s where the job was? That’s why they have a mansion for the family? That in politics and government, face to face meetings, hands on management, is still the best way to get things done?

Of course he knew this. He just didn’t care. Because he didn’t run for public office to accomplish anything for others, just himself. He saw it as an opportunity to make a fortune and enjoy the notoriety that comes with being governor. Which brings me to my perspective regarding Blago.

To me he’s just another example of someone who wants to be famous for no other reason than to be famous. Not because he’s accomplished anything worthwhile for society, like being a conscientious public servant who, regardless of whether we agree with their viewpoint, have honorable intentions. With that as a basis, we can then debate in good faith the who, what, when, how and why’s of public policy.

No such “good faith” foundation exists with an attention getter like Blago because they don’t care about anything but themselves and their public persona.  There is no “there” there, only narcissism.

When Blago was sentenced he professed to the court his regret, admitting he’d made mistakes, but still claiming he did not think he was breaking the law. Like the self-centered coward he is, Blago sought refuge in his children, his lawyers pleading to the judge that it was not fair to take their father away.  Jeopardizing his children’s future and his responsiblity to raise them was apparently not a concern while Blago pillaged the state, trampled public trust, and lest we forget, put the squeeze on a children’s hospital for a campaign contribution. The judge bought the mea culpa to a degree, knocking a couple of years off Blago’s sentence, but for the most part he was unsympathetic.

Of course, Blago’s plea for mercy was expected. No surprise.

Neither, in my mind anyway, was what happened next. After being sentenced Blago said a few words to the press, emphasizing his priority was to get home to his daughters. But as he walked toward a waiting car, he worked the crowd, shaking hands, waving, acting as if he was on a red carpet at an award show.  A few minutes later the scene was played out again at his home. Blago, unable to resist being the center of attention, even in disgrace. Kissing and hugging people, leaning over the railing of his porch as if he was his hero, Elvis Presley, shaking hands from the stage, before his wife, who had disappeared from view to enter the house, reappears and motions him inside.

Your daughters, Blago. Remember? The ones who need their father?

“Congratulations, pal,” I can hear Paul Newman say. “You’re somebody.”

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Filed under 21st Century America, Corrupt Politicians, Crime, December 2011, Elvis Presley, Institutions, Paul Newman, Robert Redford