A few weeks ago I fielded a call from a gentleman who was upset. He expressed his displeasure with me over the fact that Mount Airy continues to use its ties to the fictional town of Mayberry as a tourist draw.
“Mayberry is dead,” he told me. “My own kids don’t have any idea what it is,” he continued, trying to illustrate his belief the show no longer is relevant.
He went on to explain how local chamber and tourism officials were wasting their time in continuing to use local ties with The Andy Griffith Show and Mayberry, that doing so was an exercise in futility.
He’s not alone. I’ve heard others make the same statements, often tinged with more than a hint of hostility in their voices, as if any mention of The Andy Griffith Show and Mayberry was offensive.
Funny, though, but from advance figures it appears a near-record number of people may attend the upcoming Mayberry Days — it is entirely possible, roughly 45 years after the show left the air, 23 years after the first Mayberry Days, that the largest crowd ever attracted to the annual event will flood Mount Airy in a couple of weeks.
And The Andy Griffith Show is still one of the more popular television shows in syndication. Even in my household, where we don’t watch much television, I found my kids viewing several episodes of the show during the recent Labor Day holiday. They watched, and laughed at, and enjoyed it.
I’m not going to go into a long list of reasons the show remains popular, and therefore an effective marketing tool for the local tourism industry — I’ve done that before, and others far more knowledgeable about this subject have as well.
And yes, local officials do need to continue to work on diversifying the brand of Mount Airy and Surry County, to attract visitors who are coming in for other reasons (though I’ll say those local tourism officials have been doing an excellent job of that — anyone who hasn’t seen the tremendous growth in non-Mayberry tourism just hasn’t been paying attention).
In this increasingly digital age there is still a widespread appeal of the ideal little American town, a place where life is a bit simpler, where everyone says hello to those they pass on the street, where wholesome, old-time values remain intact.
That town doesn’t really exist, at least not how it’s often presented in television. It never did. But that doesn’t stop people from still dreaming about it, from wanting to see a real life town — Mount Airy — that served, at least in part, as the inspiration for the fictional town that best exhibits those ideals — Mayberry.
I’m not naive enough to believe the Mayberry phenomenon will last forever. Despite the show’s enduring qualities, eventually it will fade into the media junkyard of once-popular shows that have been forgotten.
But as long as people still watch the show, as long as people run Mayberry fan clubs and seek out the real-life inspiration for the show, local tourism officials should continue to use that to benefit the area.
To do otherwise would not be doing their job, and that would be the only offensive action (or inaction) in the Mayberry-Mount Airy tourist draw.