Understanding the Music Man: Anthropologizing Ashley

As to the larger questions of how MacIsaac’s television-viewing habits have shaped his character, music and general personality, we are lucky to have an interview given to People magazine (May 1997) in which Ashley lists his favourite television programs. To conclude this homage to Ashley, a short guide in which insights worthy of Freud, or at least his modern-day successor, Dr. Bob Hartley (a.k.a. Bob Newhart), are offered as to the insights provided by MacIsaac in regards to his television viewing:

Home Shopping Network: Just call him the “material boy”. Obviously, this program appeals to MacIsaac’s developed homosexual consumerist aesthetics. Hey! It’s beats Let’s Make A Deal!

Columbo: This perennial series has been running periodically in television/movie form since 1971, it is premised on essentially two plot points: a) A scorned lover/business partner (usually played by the late Jack Cassidy or the Roberts, Gould, Culp and Conrad) kills their companion, and b) Columbo arrives on the scene and within a maximum of two hours (minus commercial time), is able to solve the murder mystery and out-wit the culprit by non-violent means. This show obviously appeals to Ashley’s Mensa-like intelligence and generally superior deductive skills and sense of innate curiosity about the world.

The Andy Griffith Show: On its face, this is the strangest of Ashley’s choices, for favourite television programming. Ostensibly, the “Andy Griffith Show” chronicles the lives the lives of the residents of Mayberry, North Carolina, as they live out their collective existences during the nineteen-sixties. Perhaps the folksy and once-popular show appeals to Ashley’s nostalgic memory of his own idyllic childhood years, spent among the rustic charms of Creignish, Cape Breton. Another plausible if darker interpretation, can be offered to explain the appeal of this show to Ashley’s aesthetic sensibilities. It is difficult for us (and Ashley?) not to see the more sinister David Lynch-ish undercurrents which shape and define the body politic of Mayberry. Isn?t it passing strange that during the whole turbulent civil-rights upheaval of the nineteen-sixties, that minorities were nowhere to be seen in Mayberry? Debate over the merits of American involvement in Southeast Asia was non-existent during the show’s twelve year run. Clearly, in many regards, Mayberry was a town which time and controversy forgot. On reflection, isn?t it odd, all the time Aunt Bea spent by herself obsessing over Ron Howard’s (Opie’s) underwear collection? Didn?t Andy and Barney Fyfe seem more comfortable with each other than they did with their “bearded” dates, Helen and Thelma? Didn?t Gomer (Jim Majors) spend a lot of time under the hood of the Mayberry Gas Station Garage (nudge, nudge…?) What are we to make of Floyd, the necrophilic-prone barber who took endless time and pride cutting and “teasing” the hair of the local town’s adolescents? Wasn?t Sheriff Taylor (Andy Griffith) the same actor who played the soft-spoken Arthur Godfrey-like character fascist demi-god in that classic cautionary movie A Face in the Crowd? In retrospect, any good post-modern reading and creative deconstruction of the anatomy of the Andy Griffith Show mythology would emphasize how the program can be viewed as simultaneously a celebration and critique of the fossilized values of the Eisenhower era. This perspective to that program was deftly sketched out in comical terms by the Second City Players in their appreciative but nonetheless savage parody of that very program. Perhaps Ashley’s longtime acquaintance with the travails of the Andy Griffith Show can in small measure help account for his ability to simultaneously embrace and critique the virtues, values and vices associated with much of rural small-town America. In this regard, it is interesting to note that Ashley has lent his thespian talents to the film, The Hanging Garden (playing a fiddler). This movie is said to be an exploration of both the radiant beauty and more subtle darker undercurrents associated with Nova Scotia living.

Seinfeld Arguably one of the best produced situation-comedies every to appear in network television, this show follows the lives of four sexually promiscuous single people in New York City. This long-running program is notable for its urbane, sophisticated and sarcastic tone, the absence of a traditional nuclear family unit and the fact that the characters never learn “character-building” lessons for the various follies they commit. Many television observers have commented upon the gay sensibility that permeates the over-all content of the show; while none of the characters are gay per se, the program has often dealt in entertaining terms with themes concerning homophobia, and gays regularly interact in social exchanges with the main characters. I am thinking particularly of such episodes as “The Beard”, “The Jimmy”, “The Outing”, “The Soup Nazi”, and “The Wig Master”, where gay characters played pivotal parts in the themes and overall development of the program’s plots. Obviously this program appeals to Ashley’s urbane sense of self. To conclude this pop-culture tour of Ashley, let us examine what characteristic traits Ashley shares with the fictional characters that dot the landscape of Seinfeld”:

Jerry: Ashley appears to share Jerry’s sense of humour, powers of observation and well- developed sexual appetite. But, of all the characters, Jerry’s the least like Ashley and vice-versa, since Jerry is too much the anal-retentive low-key “straight man” (in all senses of that phrase), to have much in common with Ashley’s embracement of fringe-like enthusiasms and his overall cutting-edge personality.

George: Ashley would seem to share George’s entrepreneurial enthusiasm and ability to plot and scheme for success, although admittedly, more successfully than ever-helpless George. But by the same token, it is difficult to envision Ashley winning a “contest” to prove himself a “master of one’s domain” (ie. non-masturbator), as George so famously did in a contest with the other lead characters of Seinfeld.

Kramer: Jerry’s next-door neighbour, confident and everyone’s friend, the eccentric Kramer would certainly seem to share the same exuberant sense of non-judgmental high spirits that Ashley does. Kramer is given to expressly unique and occasionally outrageous opinions to Jerry and the gang, a trait that he shares in common with the outlandish Ashley. Kramer and Ashley’s personas are defined by a deceptively simple “innocents abroad” quality. Given to bold truth telling, where others prefer the discretion of diplomatic double-talk, Kramer in one memorable Seinfeld episode, baldly tells George’s badly put-upon date the obvious truth that she is in dire need of a required nose job. Ultimately, for his efforts, Kramer is rewarded with her voluntary companionship. Similarly, in a different context, MacIsaac defines the “rules” of the conventional show-biz game and speaks openly about the nature of his sexuality with an apparently shell-shocked MacLean’s interviewer. Ashley’s breach of such hypocritical show- business protocol was considered by many of the more established figures in the North American show-biz community to be something of a professional death-wish. Happily MacIsaac’s career not only survived. Externally and deceptively comic in appearance and manner, there is something nevertheless in the “truth teller” about both Ashley and Kramer. If the fictional Kramer character ever met the real-life character of Ashley, one does venture to guess that this would be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Elaine: Tough, funny, feminine, goofy and true to herself, I think Elaine Benis is Ashley in drag. She’s been a “beard” and fallen “head over heels” in love with a gay investment banker in a well- crafted episode entitled “The Beard”. She described the experience to her pal and ex-boyfriend Jerry as the ultimate experience for a woman, since it consisted of the twin, blissful pursuits of “going shopping and having great sex”. Elaine, like Ashley, has a taste for the finer material things in life (see Ashley’s love of the Home Shopping Network for details about these characteristic traits), working most recently as a top assistant for the eccentric, pompous fine- clothing emperor, J. Peterman. We may finally have an answer to the perennial musical question, “Why can?t a woman be more like a man?” In the fictional case of Elaine Benis, she is not only more like a man, she’s gloriously like our favourite fiddler from the East, Ashley MacIsaac.

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