For those of us Olde enough to remember either the first run (not me) or reruns (me), Barney Fife was the lovable deputy played by the late, great Don Knotts as the comic to Andy Griffith’s foil on the venerable Andy Griffith Show (1960-1968). Here’s a sampling of Barney’s wisdom:

Nip it in the bud!

Now, men, I have just one thing to say. This isn’t gonna be kid’s stuff, and you’ll be on your own, and there will be no mollycoddling.

That badge means something! Don’t disgrace it!

It is definitely no fun when that iron door clangs shut on you.

Here at ‘the Rock,’ we have two basic rules. Memorize them so you can say them in your sleep. Rule One: Obey all rules! Second, do not write on the walls…as it takes a lot of work…to erase writing…off of walls.

I had my eye on you right from the start, mister!

Barney was hyperactive, insecure and incompetent. Nonetheless, everybody in Mayberry liked him and he lasted long enough to become the sheriff for real (in the 80s “Return to Mayberry” TV special). Fortunately Barney would have been retired by the time crystal meth hit rural America as I fear he wouldn’t have been up to it. Hell, shoplifting at Wal-Mart would have been tough for ol’ Barn.

‘Barney Fife’ has become an icon of hyperactive, insecure and incompetent law enforcement best represented by ‘mall cops’ and assorted other uniformed security types. Unfortunately rent-a-cops (something Barney never was, as he had a real badge) have become ubiquitous. Even the Federal government has gotten in the act in a big way as we now have “the War on Liquids” to contend with, along with the War on Terror, War on Drugs, War on Cancer, and whatever other “War on” the government wants to declare. (Pet peeve: “declare war on X” and “the X crisis” rhetoric, which tend to be so grossly overused that the terms war and crisis seem silly.) Wars, of course, need foot soldiers, hence more Barnies.

I suspect that a good chunk of the “you will reshpect my authoritah” attitude comes from the situation. It is an attempt to deal with a lack of real power by bluster. Let’s face it, in most cases it’s not just lack of real power but real ability, as not many highly qualified people will get a tin badge when they can get a real one. Barney is as likely to be as annoyed as you, pretty much all the time, which is the definition of a soul-killing job if you ask me. So what can be done? As I have to put up with Barney Fife-ism in spades these days, here are some tidbits of advice:

  • Do as much as you can to move on past with as little bullshit as possible. Clip your ID to your shirt pocket and just keep walking. Usually they’ll be happy to let that go if they’ve seen you before even if, technically speaking, they are supposed to check. Remember, much of Barney’s dickness is due to the truly unfortunate circumstance in which he finds himself.
  • Use your encounters with Barney as an opportunity to practice your deep breathing. You really don’t win by making a scene. In fact, you do yourself harm (stress hormones ain’t good things) and just piss off everyone else. It’s like fighting with the library clerk over a fifty cent fine… dumb, just pay it and go. It isn’t that important.
  • Save your irritation and indignation for the times when they decide to get all huffy about the fact that you can’t come in because it’s off-hours and you are, in fact, on the all-hours access list but the secretary slightly misspelled your name or some similar issue. In other words, learn to distinguish between your being denied something that you really have coming and the ordinary run of the mill bullshit that comes along with Barney.

Sadly you’re going to have to figure out for yourself what policies your local Barnies aren’t allowed to bend on. Nonetheless, it is damn annoying to drop a cup of coffee because the security guard who just saw you walk out of the building not but five minutes ago to go buy the cup from *-buck’s across the street won’t let you back in again without checking your ID and won’t let you put it down on security desk either.

One of the larger questions that is important to consider—but which you can’t address with Barney because, remember, he is a peon—is whether the illusion of security Barney provides is really useful at all. In my opinion it probably isn’t in the vast majority of places he appears and he could easily be replaced with a key card access system or the like. Ditto for the legion of minor functionaries that seem to be cropping up like mushrooms these days of the new Gilded Age. But that’s a larger question and when you’re in line at the airport and I’m standing behind you is not an appropriate time to discuss it so shut the hell up and stop bitching about the fact that you can’t take your fancy-schmancy shampoo in your carry-on.

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oBFascism Tag: If Barney represents fascism to you, you really need to get out more.