Disturbing Forced Vaccine Push in The Andy Griffith Show
Sheriff Andy comes to the rescue of a nurse – a damsel in distress – by coercing a Mayberry citizen to get a jab.
Sheriff Andy Taylor, played by Andy Griffith, is a beloved figure – more so now with the unprecedented rash of police brutality. It is his quality of standing up for the citizens of Mayberry and their rights that creates the everyman’s hero. He vividly contrasts with the frantic Barney Fife, who is always trying to wield a loaded gun, spy on citizens and usher in a dictatorial Big Brother police state in the tiny, quiet town.
Yet, what happens when there is a glaring inconsistency? Do you feel your stomach tighten up when you see the upholder of rights going to great lengths to circumvent them?
In the episode below, Andy will make sure, by any means, that a “country bumpkin” by the name of Rafe Hollister gets the tetanus vaccine he doesn’t want. Rafe is considered “the leader” of the bumpkins, and if he gets one, they all will follow his lead. It is actually Andy Griffith himself who plays out the leader to a relaxed audience who wants to see him get the girl and finish the job of “doing what’s right.”
He runs over Hollister using multiple tactics so that he can please an attractive county nurse who just doesn’t know what she can do to force the backwards man to do what’s good for him. Andy is “the hero” to figure out the way to get Hollister to submit for the good of….Hollister? Just who is this episode trying to convince, anyway? What would citizens in 1962 have done if Sheriffs and public health officers had come to their door to force injections on them? Readers, if you remember watching this episode that year, I would love to know what it was like for you to see it.
Even more disturbing is watching Andy’s behavioral-psychology tactics blossom throughout the episode. Whereas the show’s charm often relied on Andy’s gracious social diplomacy, this time he uses that ability to turn it against Rafe’s will, thereby betraying him for a nurse’s kiss. The nurse promised her supervisor she’d have 100% cooperation on the shots and doesn’t want to look like a fool. Sounds like they really care about Rafe’s health.
With a fellow like Rafe, you don’t just walk up and say ‘let me give you a tetanus shot.’ [Andy laughs] You hafta kinda make him trust ya first. Gain his confidence. Well ya sneak up on him is whatcha ya do.
While the nurse keeps trying to use blunt authority and shot records, Andy prefers to sell the obviously uneducated Rafe on the idea by telling him he’s been cheated out of healthcare. Force is still force, however, and playing on someone’s ignorance doesn’t change that. While Andy works his magic, the nurse gets the injection needle ready…aim!….but Rafe will have none of it. He adamantly refuses – this should have been the point where Andy and the nurse turn around and leave, but they don’t. Instead, they continue to needle him until they step over his will.
Barney steps in to offer ridiculous force, so that the viewer sees that in the end, gentle coercion is the way to get someone to do what they do not want. Barney offers to help the nurse try again and says, “…Andy’s too soft. Now Rafe Hollister’s like a child and he’s gotta be treated like one. You don’t beg a child to do something, you tell him.” Nice thing to say about the guy you get your food from. Barney goes to “make him take the shot” but gets a few shots aimed at him in return.
Rafe gets arrested for “shooting at folks” who were intruding on his property to force him to get a shot. In jail, he’s told that no one’s going to force him to take a shot against his will. This is when we get a conspicuous public health announcement from the nurse who explains the dire health need for the life-saving vaccine. And don’t you care about your wife and children? In the end, Andy successfully deploys reverse psychology mixed with overblown death scares and sad music to get Rafe to run for the vaccine.
Readers only need to briefly research tetanus and the vaccine and its history to see if it was really the public health scare necessary to justify pushing the jab on the town. Today, it is included in the DPT vaccine.
“I don’t want to die!” exclaims Rafe. The public health service announcement gets more ridiculous from there. Andy physically holds Barney down for the shot. That’s entertainment?
Even though Rafe, in the next season, will woo the town’s elite with his singing voice and challenge stereotypes against poor country folk – in this episode he has been cast as the dumb, stubborn, backwards-and-barefoot country bumpkin who’s too imbecilic to know what’s good for him.
I don’t think I need to spell out any more underlying messages here – it is no accident that a beloved TV show would choose a coerced medical procedure for its main plotline – just a sprinkling that will pass in order to enjoy the next one. While being entertained, the underlying message sticks for a lifetime. One that says “get with the times” – you don’t want to be a stupid, backwards, anti-science/medicine outcast do ya? Hold out your arm!