— Did you ever see the Andy Griffith episode titled “Mayberry Goes Hollywood?”
In the show, a Hollywood producer named Mr. Harmon happens upon the quiet little southern hometown of Andy, Aunt Bea, Opie and friends and determines it to be the perfect setting for his next movie. At first, the townspeople and the mayor scoff at the idea, fearing that a Hollywood film crew would only come to make fun of their town's down-to-earth atmosphere and the antique charm in which they took so much pride.
Eventually, though, Andy convinces his neighbors to approve the filming, and, almost immediately, the usually grounded residents of Mayberry do an about-face. While Mr. Harmon is away gathering his equipment, they work to entirely alter their quaint little town into a big-city imitator, complete with a 24-hour beauty salon, a “Hollywood Funerals” shop and an offering of “Cary Grant” haircuts at Floyd's Barbershop. Even the show's adored characters, themselves, change, transforming from the simple and sincere townsfolk we came to know and love into a group of sophisticated and elegantly dressed strangers.
As usual, sensible Andy stays true to his roots, watching with disdain as his friends and even his own Aunt Bea and Opie unknowingly cover up the very qualities that had attracted the revered producer to their town in the first place.
Today, we can watch that old black and white episode with pleasure, laughing at the antics of a town far too carried away with the prospect of Hollywood fame. Yes, we can shake our heads at Floyd's suddenly uppity manners or Barney's uncharacteristically proper attire, but, can we really say that the characters' actions were so different from those we see everyday in today's society? Don't we, too, sometimes catch ourselves putting on airs or changing our personas in order to obtain a position of status or some other coveted commodity that we desire?
This week, like every week during the American Idol season, I found myself surrounded by the hoopla of the nation's top-rated television show. As I glanced indifferently through the Idol chatter, I found myself reminded of Mayberry's vain attempts to please their Hollywood visitor. Nearly every report about the show made multiple mentions of the contestants' hairstyles, clothing choices, performance abilities and other “star quality” factors, and, they all came down to one apparently critical question: What did the judges think? The popular show, it seems, sends a dangerous message: that to succeed in life we must change ourselves to please others.
Just like Barney, Floyd and friends did so many years ago, the aspiring musicians on American Idol and other similarly popular performance-based shows work week in and week out to change themselves into the people they think others want them to be in order to secure the fame they so passionately desire. Instead of being true to themselves and the unique qualities that certainly got them where they are today, they let the opinions of fickle Hollywood judges persuade them into becoming copycat images of already successful celebrities. In doing so, like Mayberry, those aspiring stars lose the very characteristics that gave them their special appeal in the first place.
Unfortunately, I think that American Idol is just one representation of this practice that is far too common in our society these days. For many people, not just aspiring celebrities, but our own neighbors, too, false fronts and pretenses seem to have become second nature. In our intense efforts to please the crowd and fit in with the status quo, we will often do anything to turn ourselves into what others tell us we should be. Sadly, that even includes pulling up our roots and trading them in for much shallower ties to the people and places that we think make us important.
Sometimes, I suppose, these facades seem to pay off, landing us the relationships, positions, or wealth for which we have striven. Society tries to convince us that such riches are the keys to happiness, but I believe that true contentment comes from somewhere else. In the end, when the gold of this world inevitably turns to dust, isn't it much more important that we have our peace of mind, a most-valuable prize that shines with a glimmer that will never fade away? That peace only comes from the knowledge that we have always remained true to ourselves, refusing to give in to those who try to change us or the society that says we should be something we are not.
At the end of the “Mayberry Goes Hollywood” episode, Mr. Harmon returns to Mayberry, just in time to stop the mayor from trying to provide the film crew a clearer picture by cutting down the beautiful oak tree that stands in the middle of town. With a few simple words, the fictional Hollywood producer proceeds to teach the citizens of Mayberry an important lesson in authenticity that still rings true today.
"This tree is part of the picture and so are all of you,” he said. “But the way you were when I first met you…natural, genuine, real, that's what I wanted.”
And, that's exactly what we should always strive to be.
CharLy Markwart is a Princeton Times reporter. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.