It’s About Time

Posted on 04 November 2010

Ron Howard’s sweet little freckled face was a familiar sight to many of us born into the Baby Boomer generation.  Bobbing down a sun-dappled path with his fishing rod and his on-screen dad, Andy Griffith, by his side, we grew up along with Opie, sometimes tenderly, as children should, and sometimes with lessons hard-learned — just like Opie. 

With few exceptions, Hollywood has been and remains unkind to child actors.  So when Sheriff Andy and his then-teenaged son hung up their fishing poles, few of us had inklings that Ron Howard was destined to become a quiet force in Tinsel Town.  Besides, we had other things on our minds; things that made the sleepy little town of Mayberry RFD and the morals that had nurtured it, things of antiquity.

The Vietnam War was raging and we were marching against it; some of us were losing boyfriends, boy friends, sons, uncles, and nephews in that war.  Kent State was a national disgrace that had left the nation reeling, but we should have been prepared for it.  For prior to Kent State, far too many black people had been hosed and beaten and denigrated and murdered by Bull Connor and those like him, simply for demanding equality that had nothing to do with rhetoric and everything to do with basic human rights.

The first Earth Day emerged as a warning to take care of the planet and to take care of each other, before it was too late. Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Who, Neil Young, and other influential musician-singer-songwriters were vehemently protesting the status quo, including our politicians.  Their music and mores seeped into our souls and shaped our minds, our hearts.  As blood spilled in our city streets and on that Ohio campus, Mayberry RFD seemed as far removed from contemporary society as Earth is from Alpha Centuri.

Somewhere along the way, Ronnie Howard, a symbol of a throwback era marked with peace and integrity and quiet dignity, slipped out of sight — but not for long. 

As James Taylor tore out our hearts, couching his disillusions in lyrics populated with a woman he would never lay eyes upon again and shattered flying machines, another American musician was summing up “the best of times, the worst of times” in a song rich with images of a bygone USA.  Dominating the airwaves and sending goose bumps up our spines, Don McLean’s apocalyptic American Pie was a eulogy to all we had lost and all we were bound to lose as a nation.

Some enterprising soul in Hollywood, however, read something different into the song and with that inspiration, crafted a screenplay of the same name.  Set in a small town in post WWII, American Pie paid homage to the relatively innocent age of the Greasers: girls in ponytails and poodle skirts, boys sporting pompadours, and the world going by breezily in fast cars.  The film also launched the careers of a number of actors, including Richard Dreyfuss, Cindy Williams, and Suzanne Somers. What it did for the former Opie was catapult him into a little show called Happy Days.  Modeled loosely upon the movie, Happy Days and its central character, Richie Cunningham, played by Howard, enjoyed a good long run on the small screen.

Once again, Ronnie Howard portrayed a good, quiet “kid” (an older teen, this time) raised in a family marked by good old-fashioned values.  No one but Ron Howard and those closest to him can say whether this was a case of life imitating art or the other way around, but Ron seems to have grown up with a strong sense of self-worth and a good sense of right and wrong.   Wisely, he progressed from acting roles to producing.  His films have won acclaim from both peers and critics.  Now middle-aged, Ron has positioned himself nicely, by blending art with a strong work ethic, in Hollywood.

Earlier this week, Ron Howard laid his hard-won reputation on the line with a simple refusal to knuckle under to the whims of a special interest group.  And in so doing, Ron Howard has become one of those rarefied souls known as my heroes.   This excerpt from the Chicago Sun Times encapsulates the story:

Despite the big protest by GLADD and other gay activist groups, director Ron Howard says he’s not deleting a comment made by Vince Vaughn’s character in the Chicago-made “The Dilemma,” due out January 12. The filmmaker is quoted by the Los Angeles Times as saying, “I believe in sensitivity but not censorship,” regarding the joke — when Vaughn calls electric cars “gay” in a scene in the movie. While Universal Pictures did drop the line from the trailer promoting the film, Howard said it’s staying in the picture, because Vaughn’s character “is far from perfect and he does and says some outrageous things along the way.”


This is the most telling line in that little interview: “I believe in sensitivity but not censorship.”   It took a mighty pair for Ron Howard to issue that statement in the arena in which he moves.  Think about it.  Several years ago, before President George “Dubyah” Bush marched us into Iraq, Hollywood and the media in general praised and paraded, ad infinitum, dissenters such as Alec Baldwin and Susan Sarandon, the former of whom promised to relocate to Iran himself if Bush declared war upon that nation.  I remember the Vietnam War; I protested it.  I lost someone in that war.  I detest war, period.  But Alec Baldwin — who never had the you-know-whats to make good on his promise — and his fellow actors, producers, and directors of similar extreme Left Wing views are above reproach in Hollywood, for Hollywood has bred and nurtured its Left Wing extremists.  And it’s become politically incorrect, even dangerous, for the rest of us to challenge them.

I am not a Right Winger and I am not a “Commie.”  Neither am I a gay-basher.  For years, I’ve had friends in the gay community, and several weeks ago, I’d published an article on this site about the injustices done to the gay Rutgers University student who took his life after his privacy, as a gay man, was compromised by his fellow students.  What I am, is just an average citizen who’s seen her country set on its ear, time and again, by internal strife.  The worst of that strife has been the trampling of the Constitution in the name of political correctness.  Certainly, Hollywood’s community has suffered at the hands of McCarthyism, and perhaps that is why it has swung so heavily toward the Left.

Enter, then, Ron Howard whose seemingly simple statement speaks volumes.  GLADD and other gay rights activist groups have indeed worked tirelessly for the right to be accepted as gay: to come out of the closet, to acknowledge and gain the same respect for their lifestyle as the rest of us … once … enjoyed.  It’s their right, under the Constitution of the United States of America.  So, what was so offensive about Vince Vaughn’s character’s remark, given its context in a comedy film?  What was so heinous about it that GLADD fought to censor Howard — and by association, any other producer who inserted similar, harmless lines into his or her films?

I’m of Italian descent, and am proud of it.  I had an aversion to that HBO psychodrama known as The Sopranos because it depicted my people in a most unfavorable light — unfavorable, and largely unjust, on a number of levels.  But I didn’t go riling up the Sons of Italy to mount a protest to get the show wiped off the air.  It would have been ludicrous.  It was entertainment, for heaven’s sake!  It was a show more about the workings of the human heart, and the subtle psychological wars that we wage upon others as well as ourselves, than it was about the criminal activities of a small cadre in a certain ethnic group.  And I’m sure Ron Howard’s film, and the intent behind it, was anything other than belittling the gay community.

The entertainment industry has come far from its Golden Days, when homosexuality was so taboo that gay actors, if exposed, would find themselves branded, out of work for the rest of their lives.   The industry has now become so openly gay that those of us who are decidedly heterosexual almost feel out of the loop!  Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” and its massive acceptance on the pop charts is but a reflection on how openly gay our society, in general, has become.  We embrace — and monetarily support — the politically correct examples set by worthy entertainers such as Ellen DeGeneres, Melissa Etheridge, Rosie O’Donnell, and the on-again-off-again Anne Heche.  But we kick to the curb people of other perspectives deemed politically incorrect.

Now the gay community has sought to do to Ron Howard what was done to them for decades, which is, to censor him.   But Ron would not stand down, and God bless him for that.

While Ron Howard’s stance may seem a small thing, a quick sound bite in the face of our rotten economy, the second Vietnams (plural) overseas, cutthroat politicians, and a press leaning so far to the Left, it will surely topple over any second now, Howard’s words and actions give heart to those of us who still honor the Constitution and the tenets upon which it was written.

Howard gives hope to those of us who are fed up with our treatment as pesky stepchildren in a society that caters to a myriad of special interests and ignores the interests of those who comprise the actual majority: the taxpaying middle class.  Ron Howard, in my opinion, set a precedent.  I hope he and others like him, who are well respected, creative, and influential, continue to set such precedents.  And I hope, somehow, that this article comes to Ron Howard’s attention.  He deserves to know that some of us who still support the arts with our hard earned bucks, and who still support our most basic freedoms, support him.

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