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Traumafession:: Dr Future on The Andy Griffith Show Episode “Opie the Birdman”

January 19th, 2020 by unkle lancifer · 16 Comments

I’ll never forget, nor those of my generation, how Barney taught Opie how to use a weapon of violence, in the innocence of ‘target practice.” Opie took his new slingshot around outside, shooting at things, until he saw something move in the trees, as he quickly and instinctively aimed and shot, quickly seeing a bird fall from the tree.  Struck with the immediacy of his act, he ran up and in denial assured himself that the bird was merely “stunned”, and would fly away anyway. As he began to panic and tear up, he pleaded with the bird to “fly away”, even picking it up and launching it, which responded by falling lifeless to the ground.  He was completely distraught, as were the rest of us, to this simple display of senseless violence.  He ran home, and listless at dinner, overheard Andy and Aunt Bea talk about a dead songbird they wondered a cat might have gotten.  Overwhelmed by guilt, he ran to his bed, which triggered the intuitive assessment of Andy.  Going to his room Andy confiscated the weapon, and even worse, opened up the window to let Opie hear the plaintive cries of the mother’s baby birds, who not only would never see their mother but presumably starve to death in waiting.  Do I have your attention? The grieved Opie suddenly recognized his duty to adopt and raise these orphan bird babies, dutifully feeding and raising them until they were flying around in the cage (with the unsolicited advice of Barney, dispensing advice from “scientific studies” and “everybody knows”, like the 1950s living embodiment of the Internet), leading to the second “trauma” – that of heeding father Andy’s advice to let them go, and “leave the nest” and the bonds of attachment Opie had made with them.  

Tags: Traumafessions




16 responses so far ↓

  • 1 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Jan 19, 2020 at 1:25 pm

    Thanks for the thoughtful traumafession Dr. Future! Hope you don’t mind I posted an abridged version up front (just for visual reasons cuz it’s a lot of text). I’ll post your full traumafession here in the comments …

    Traumafession:: Dr. Future on The Andy Griffith Show Episode “Opie the Birman”

    Recently I’ve been recording some iconic episodes from the most famous television shows from the 1950s-60s in the “Golden Age” of syndicated reruns, which had a singularly influential role on those of my generation. Those of my vintage were lucky to get three network channels (mostly broadcasting ho-hum, anachronistic material from old Borscht Belt/vaudeville comedians that dominated Hollywood in that era), and maybe an independent UHF channel that broadcast syndicated reruns of memorable shows that originally broadcast a little before our times, and often featured writers whose material appeared to be “dumbed down” to make it past the “suits” to appease their views of the mass public, but they were usually a literate sort that did not resort to crassness, shock value or obscenities to entertain. Thus, most of us in our formative years were influenced in our world views and association by the same common cultural milestones and “legends” (delivered via the small black and white TVs on the counters of our homes) that we were all forced to watch – in the pre-Cambrian era when TV was almost our sole source of entertainment (aside from comic books and a movie or two), and we all discussed the same memorable episodes and TV events at school the following day. Most of the episodes I remembered almost half a century later were sidesplitting (at least, at the time), like when ‘The Mosquitos” British Invasion-type band visited Gilligan’s Island, or others that probably were innocently too politically-incorrect to be produced today (such as the Japanese soldier on Gilligan’s Island with the “coke bottle” glasses and buck teeth, or even the “Headhunters” indigenous peoples (who actually displayed more reasonableness and civility than their Western rivals across the lagoon)). However, some other memorable episodes were legitimate “kinder traumas” that influenced a generation as a shared disturbance, even if the episode ultimately provided a more moralistic or fulfilling denouement.

    I’ll never forget, nor those of my generation, how Barney taught Opie how to use a weapon of violence, in the innocence of ‘target practice.” Opie took his new slingshot around outside, shooting at things, until he saw something move in the trees, as he quickly and instinctively aimed and shot, quickly seeing a bird fall from the tree. Struck with the immediacy of his act, he ran up and in denial assured himself that the bird was merely “stunned”, and would fly away anyway. As he began to panic and tear up, he pleaded with the bird to “fly away”, even picking it up and launching it, which responded by falling lifeless to the ground. He was completely distraught, as were the rest of us, to this simple display of senseless violence. He ran home, and listless at dinner, overheard Andy and Aunt Bea talk about a dead songbird they wondered a cat might have gotten. Overwhelmed by guilt, he ran to his bed, which triggered the intuitive assessment of Andy. Going to his room Andy confiscated the weapon, and even worse, opened up the window to let Opie hear the plaintive cries of the mother’s baby birds, who not only would never see their mother, but presumably starve to death in waiting. Do I have your attention?The grieved Opie suddenly recognized his duty to adopt and raise these orphan bird babies, dutifully feeding and raising them until they were flying around in the cage (with the unsolicited advice of Barney, dispensing advice from “scientific studies” and “everybody knows”, like the 1950s living embodiment of the Internet), leading to the second “trauma” – that of heeding father Andy’s advice to let them go, and “leave the nest” and the bonds of attachment Opie had made with them.

    While we know that shows from this era often showed an idealized view of the period, they often give faint glimpses of what was a more literate and occasionally a more humane period. It is ironic that I would record this now, while finishing a manuscript for a book on how many people of religious faith today have lost their conscience and common decency, and where presidents of two major nations days ago have made proud displays of cowardly bombings from the air and risking the taking of collateral innocent lives with little thought, that I would witness again an unforgettable display, in microcosm, of the tragedies of senseless and thoughtless violence and its ramifications, and the heartbreak of acts that cannot be undone but for which there are innocent victims, and the displays of terrible regret and conscience and remorse, and the commitment of duty to take action to right a wrong and take responsibility in the best manner possible – lived vicariously through the acts of a small child.I tell you many of my peers never forgot this experience of witnessing this, and I wish our leaders would be forced to watch this, as well as my fellow persons of faith who have seemed to have forgotten this lesson, as well as all who contribute to our culture of violence in various ways, and trivialize the suffering that always goes with it.

    Sorry for the somber pontificating, but this was a “traumafession” of a different sort, as are many I enjoy from the thoughtful people at this site. To cleanse the palette, I recommend everyone catch a good “Ernest T. Bass” episode from the Andy Griffith Show, to show how responsible people of law enforcement handle the disenfranchised and “wild” stranger – either walking to meet and understand such an armed person like Andy, or going in hastily with guns drawn like Barney. I’ll leave it at that, because like Ernest T., “I don’t chew my cabbage twice!”

  • 2 Dr. FutureNo Gravatar // Jan 19, 2020 at 7:04 pm

    Unk, you should be my book editor (my readers would certainly appreciate it!). Seriously, you are far kinder and respectful to me than most of my closest loved ones and friends. Sorry if I got my normal wordiness to my extreme (I say, “Why say it in ten words, when a hundred will do?”), and I certainly didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable with how some might interpret my original comments as being politically-tinged, but I find that these simple “traumafessions” reveal our inner psychology, ethics, and social, political and even spiritual views, and it is part of what has fascinated me about this site consistently over the years (as well as being quite fun, and due to the hard work you put into every post, which is much-appreciated, and how you’ve corralled an interesting group of thoughtful people that congregate here).

  • 3 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Jan 20, 2020 at 1:43 pm

    Dr Future,
    This post actually helped me out. The other day I saw somebody posted on twitter a video of a guy punching an opossum off of a high fire escape/staircase and people were “liking” it and thinking it was funny and I was so frickin’ appalled and felt like maybe humanity is just disgusting and I’m completely alone in this hellish world. Why would anyone think hurting a vulnerable creature twenty times smaller than a person is humorous or OK in any way? What is wrong with people? This isn’t even something that you should need to be taught, it’s something you should instinctively know in your heart. And what good is religion if it can’t even convey that simple message? I’m still so angry. But your post made me feel better.

    When I was little my parents hired a photographer to take photos of us kids doing our favorite things or what we were best at. All my brothers got photos of themselves playing sports but because I sucked at such things they didn’t know what to do with me so the photographer just took me to a wooded area. And I found a bird! And it let me pick it up! So my picture is of me holding a bird (before it flew off). It’s hanging on the wall in back of me now and it looks just like that picture of fellow redhead Ron Howard at the top of the post (except I’m smiling). Weird huh?

  • 4 bdwilcoxNo Gravatar // Jan 20, 2020 at 3:54 pm

    OK, now you’ve given us a big curious (as Justin Wilson would say in his broken Cajun dialect). Please scan and share that photo with us. 🙂

  • 5 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Jan 20, 2020 at 5:18 pm

    young unk

  • 6 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Jan 20, 2020 at 5:27 pm

    ^^^^ Thanks to Aunt John for showing me how to leave an image in the comments! WordPress changed and now I don’t know how to so anything.

    Yes, that is a hot air balloon on my T-shirt.

  • 7 Dr. FutureNo Gravatar // Jan 21, 2020 at 1:17 am

    Unk, your photo showing gentleness and nurturing is my definition of true “manliness,” a lost value in our macho American era. Regarding animals, in Genesis, man was supposedly placed in the Garden to “dress” it and to “keep” it (Gen. 2:5), the former word meaning in Hebrew to serve it as a servant, and the latter word meaning to guard and protect (including the animals there as well as the environment). My fellow Christians who are of the “dominionist” belief think they are to conquer the “seven mountains” of society to have “dominion” over them just like the earth, and yet espouse the ignoring of the destruction of the earth’s species and vulnerable animals, as well as the ecosystems. If that is their idea of having “dominion” over the earth, why in heck would I want them having dominion over humankind? Just call me a tree-huggin’ Bible-Belter (as a tear leaves my eye like the Indian in the old pollution commercial).

  • 8 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Jan 21, 2020 at 1:45 am

    Dr. Future,
    I totally get that crying Indian in that commercial. I’ve been feeding some stray cats in my backyard and all of the sudden they stopped showing up when they usually did. I looked down the alley and a neighbor has thrown so much trash outside their yard that they created an impassable wall of trash. And ironically it’s all Christmas trash. Boxes from gifts they bought themselves, wrapping paper etc. I thought it pretty much summed up everything wrong with the world.

  • 9 GrokensteinNo Gravatar // Jan 21, 2020 at 5:50 am

    Oh my lord, I saw that episode and it was burned into my memory as well. His shameful crime revealed, Opie asked his infuriated father if he was “gonna give (him) a whuppin'” (corporal punishment was regularly celebrated on the show) but Andy decided on the open window as worse than a burnt ass. And he was right, in that.

    The only other two episodes of The Andy Griffith show I even vaguely remember involved (1) a spoilt bastard who causes havoc and begins to lead Opie down the “wrong path” until Andy offers to lend the unruly brat’s henpecked father access to a woodshed “…just like my father used to take me out to?,” whereupon he mans up and beats the child raw offscreen, and (2) a widower who won’t let his daughter “be a girl” because he needs her to work their farm; Andy shows the bitter farmer that when she pretties herself up, she’ll attract a strong guy who’ll make a great source of free labor. OH MAN EVEN FOR THE ERA THAT WAS SOME HORSE$#!%.

    Now I got one of my own; Bonanza. That show was often astonishingly violent for the time–maybe not as bad as the strangled-blonde-of-the-week shows of the ’70s like Matt Houston, but one episode completely blew my mind as a child.

    A lone and preposterously TV-fake “Indian girl” (a regular feature on the show) befriends a lonely little boy, attracting the ire of the child’s drunken father, who in one scene lashes the kid mercilessly with a belt for continuing to meet with her. Unlike the “woodshed” bit in the Griffith Show, this beating is depicted onscreen (as shadows on a wall) with horrifying sound effects and screaming. When the girl sees the resulting scars, she goes to confront the father, who then attempts to rape/kill her (!!); she knifes him in self-defense (!) and it is only the intervention of the child that saves her from a lynch mob.

    The actual sight of the scars is left to the imagination (the girl and mob alike recoil in horror) but the beating itself and the attempted rape are so graphic that my little mind was scarred as well.

  • 10 GrokensteinNo Gravatar // Jan 21, 2020 at 5:54 am

    (proofreads) Uggggggh, Matt Houston was ’80s, not ’70s. But you get the idea. ABC was even more into “sexy” murder (bleh) than the average James Bond film.

  • 11 bdwilcoxNo Gravatar // Jan 21, 2020 at 9:35 pm

    So did Judy or Penny take that picture?

    And I’m surprised Dr. Smith let you even hold that bird. “Oh, my boy, you need to let go of that preposterous polluted pigeon!”

  • 12 bdwilcoxNo Gravatar // Jan 21, 2020 at 11:46 pm

    But in all seriousness, that’s one of the sweetest pictures ever.

  • 13 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Jan 22, 2020 at 3:21 pm

    Grokenstein,

    Wow that Bonanza episode sounds intense. Then again, I’m kind of shocked now by all the crazy stuff that happened on Little House on the Prairie. There was a rapist mime on that show!

    Bdwilcox,

    lol. Robot took the picture! Speaking of old shows and Dr Smith… a couple weeks ago I woke up early with the TV on and FATHER KNOWS BEST was playing and in the episode (I did not dream this) the father has a nightmare about a shadow man (who we never seen but is voiced by Dr. Smith) and then he wakes up and everything in his dream starts coming true. It’s like a super freaky, paranoid episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE and I had no idea FATHER KNOWS BEST went that way. proof I’m not crazy= it exists= https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1602231/

  • 14 TreecatNo Gravatar // Jan 22, 2020 at 5:48 pm

    What a great thread!
    Man, when I first saw the picture of Opie at the top, I thought, “I sure don’t remember THAT one,” but as I read the description, it all came flooding back. I must have repressed it because of the bird trauma and because Andy was so damn scary. Damn, dude, can’t you see that the kid feels bad enough?! That said, I agree with your post about the possum, Unk, 100%! I have no use for people who hurt animals; they’re worthless. But before I write off the human race, I do know some young people who would be right next to you in that sweet photo and their kindness, like yours, seems to be inborn.

  • 15 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Jan 23, 2020 at 11:38 am

    Tree cat,
    Thank you. You’re right that people are much better advocates for animals these days than they were before and that’s something to be be happy about.

    Update on the trash wall in the alley- yesterday I went back there myself and hauled out and re-bagged ten giant trash bags to make to passable. It wasn’t pretty. It did not smell the best and I saw a yellow piece of pizza and a clump of hair that hopefully was from a wig and not a dead person. But now the cats are free to roam the alley once again.

  • 16 Dr. FutureNo Gravatar // Jan 23, 2020 at 7:13 pm

    bdwilcox and Unk,

    I would surmise that it was the “Crush, Kill, Destroy” guy that took the picture – or maybe the horrified family trapped in Billy Mumy’s “Twilight Zone” universe…did the bird resurrect to live eternally, ala The Green Mile?

    a “mime rapist”…are there any other kinds?

    Everyone raises cogent points about how violence takes more (slightly) subtle forms in those older shows. All in all, however, the think the writing and ethics/thinking of what I call the 1957-64 “golden age” of intellectual entertainment shows a deeper ethic and perception, even with their archaic chauvinism and other blind spots, which we do not see on Bravo or other venues today. I think this episode still portrayed a broader ethic or the consequences of senseless violence and responsibility that I would like to make every Religious Rightist and neocon sit down and be forced to watch, in Clockwork Orange style.

    I could see the origins of a good horror story, Unk, in your benevolent rooting through your neighbor’s trash, finding the human remains like Blue Velvet’s ear, and a massive “pizza rat” that takes away the leftover food. The cats may be trapped in the bodiless ether like the one in the original movie The Fly. You appear to dwell in an “Alley of Secrets”, worse than Lovecraft’s Miskatonic University, and probably with Race with the Devil Satanists a few houses down. Othewise, it sounds wonderful.

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