Pérez Firmat’s A Cuban in Mayberry creatively combines memoir with the intense study of a single television show.
Gustavo Pérez Firmat, A Cuban in Mayberry: Looking Back at America’s Hometown, University of Texas Press, 2014, 194 pp.
Living in America as an exile in the forties, Theodor Adorno wrote: “Every intellectual in emigration is, without exception, mutilated and does well to acknowledge it to himself…He lives in an environment that must remain incomprehensible to him…he is always astray” (Minima Moralia, 33). Cuban exile, and Professor of Literature at Columbia University, Gustavo Pérez Firmat echoes something of this sentiment in his book A Cuban in Mayberry, as he describes how the émigré suffers a “strictly irreplaceable” loss of “intimacy between person and place” (12). Attempting to comprehend the ‘incomprehensible,’ Adorno turned his sharp, critical eye on American popular culture which infamously did not fair well. It fairs far better under Pérez Firmat’s analytical gaze. Pérez Firmat posits that the analysis of U.S. pop culture goes some way to alleviating his feeling of displacement. Indeed, he takes refuge in the complex, fictional TV town of Mayberry where its residents – the characters of The Andy Griffith Show (TAGS) – “have never lost their place” (10). Pérez Firmat states: “watching TAGS, I developed a sense of what it must be like to enjoy such intimacy, to feel rooted in the ground under your feet and to know that you live among people who are similarly rooted”(11). Creatively combining memoir with the intense study of a single television show, Pérez Firmat’s book astutely and gracefully analyzes how TAGS, one of the most popular sitcoms in U.S. television history, has managed to turn “millions of Americans and at least one Cuban into Mayberrians” (15). Needless to write, Adorno with his justified suspicion of such cultural hegemony would have hated TAGS. Continue reading