The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

27 February 2006

The whisper of the Fife

Don Knotts had more impact on American Culture than we think, or so suggests Danny Carlton:

[D]uring the seventies, when the 60s generation moved into positions of influence and power, we saw the rise of the perfect people. Movies and television shows reflected the new mind set that reality was whatever you defined it as, and regardless how many ugly, clumsy people there were out there, as long as we filled the airwaves with beautiful, witty people, we could simply believe that that's the way things really were.

And thus the real Americans, the Don Knotts, were quietly pushed to out of view and the incestuous bubble of the Hollywood culture took on a life of its own, and began redefining who we are.

When Don Knotts was cast as Ralph Furley in Three's Company, he became the same character, but was portrayed as someone to avoid, to shun, to laugh at when he wasn't looking. The reality that Don Knotts still portrayed the average American was truth the Hollywood glitterati didn't want to face, and we went along with them. We still do to this day.

And now Barney is gone. The man we loved so much because in him we saw a glimpse of ourselves, but would never dare mention that to anyone. In him we saw the truth that one could like, admire and enjoy someone regardless of their flaws, simply because of who they were down deep. Don Knotts gave us hope that no matter how we felt we were the Barney Fifes of the world, there was always an Andy Taylor or two there to like us and stand by us, even though those same Andy Taylors more likely than not saw themselves as Barney Fifes as well. Hollywood may have tossed him aside as a relic of an age they wanted to forget, but I'm thankful for what he gave us, and will continue to give us in the reruns we can watch. Maybe one day we'll return to the honesty that Don Knotts portrayed and represented.

The mention of Andy Taylor is not at all gratuitous: while Andy was clearly the alpha male in this pack, he was as dependent on Barney as Barney was on Andy. This sort of thing isn't allowed in contemporary stories unless there's some sort of pseudo-ironic overlay, or there's some sort of overt race-baiting (this goes back at least as far as Lethal Weapon), or they're trying to make Brokeback Mayberry.

Then again, we've developed a tendency to celebrate our failings, rather than keep them under wraps. Probably why Don Knotts' TV repairman in Pleasantville was inclined to snap at Tobey and Reese: he knew what was coming.

Posted at 10:30 AM to Almost Yogurt