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By Amitesh Parikh and Brandon Wetherbee

Not everyone knows America’s best neighbor. Rather than chastise anyone for a lack of Mister Rogers knowledge, it’s our job to introduce the man to everyone, even adults.

Brandon: Fred Rogers is an important man in my life. Though I was only in a large auditorium with the man while I was a very small child, he’s impacted my life more than any other male. The children’s television host/producer/writer/musician was on the air long before my childhood and long after my adolescence. In my small world, I thought everyone knew and loved Mister Rogers. I was wrong.

Not everyone is lucky enough to have a figure, in real life or in television life, like Mister Rogers. His kindness, warmth and lessons continues to inspire cynical adults. I am one of those cynical adults. I look at a Mister Rogers poster daily. I try to think of the man daily. When I found out a very nice man in the Brightest Young Things office had never heard of Mister Rogers, I was surprised. Rather than admonish someone for a difference in pop culture history, I figured it would make more sense to see what an adult thinks of Mister Rogers.

I will show Amitesh five Mister Rogers’ videos. We’ll begin with the first sounds and visuals most children hear and see of the pleasant man.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zMUGJZrR9Jg

Amitesh: Why does he have a traffic light in his house?! How quirky! Aww, he seems like a very likable uncle. But you know, he also talks and speaks like that kid who gets bullied in every single movie involving bullies. This is a show meant for kids? I wonder if there is a correlation between the kids who got bullied and the kids who watched this/emulated him. But I would love an uncle like this!

Is he lonely? Why has been waiting for a neighbour for so long?! Also, he doesn’t know me. I might be the worst kid! Why has he always wanted to live in this neigbourhood with me? A kid? We should … check that registry.

But also he keeps his shoes on the seat?! What kind of example is he setting for these children? At my house, it was shoes off right as you enter.

Brandon: Traffic lights are great decor! Just visit any TGIFridays or Ruby Tuesdays or another chain restaurant with a day in the title.

He does speak like the child who is bullied in every single movie and that’s a good thing. Kids that survive bullying are way better than the bullies. You don’t want to grow up into a bully. Bullies need help in growing and that’s what Mister Rogers is doing, helping us grow.

The show is meant for kids. I should have made that clearer. Apologies.

He is not lonely. In fact, he’s a beloved neighbor that has friends both old and young, working class and white collar, real and imaginary. He wants to be your neighbor because a solitary life is a life that lacks opportunities. The more neighbors you have, the more friends you have and more varied experiences are possible. That’s why we all live in a city. That’s why Mister Rogers lived in a city, Pittsburgh to be exact.

The shoes on the seat is interesting. The show ran from 1968 to 2001, a time that wasn’t as obsessed about germs and cleanliness. Purell wasn’t introduced until 1996. If the show premiered today, he most likely would not place his outdoor shoes on his indoor seats.

Let’s move on to video 2. Mister Rogers was never afraid to try new things. Here’s a clip of him learning to break dance in 1985.

Amitesh: I agree! Traffic lights are great decor! I would totally have one outside my room door. “Red means you can’t come in, Mom!”

I agree, helping bullies grow out of being bullies is definitely a good thing. It was just a comment on the way he sounds.

As to your point about neighbours, I guess that makes sense. He does refer to the viewer as his “TV Neighbour,” which is kinda cute. Also you bring up an important point that I can see is relevant even now. People live in a city for the social and economic benefits that come from living in an urban community. But if you are not open to speaking to/interacting with people from different walks of life, you probably aren’t getting the best out of your city life.

As to this clip, I enjoyed it! I loved that Mister Rogers is willing to try new things (break dancing in this case), accepts his physical limitations (his lack of practice), but still wants to learn about it. He seems genuinely curious. Reminds me of trying to teach my grandmother how to use her phone (“How do I turn your music on”). And when he tries to do the wave, it’s adorable! The show is relatable.

However, I still can’t shake that feeling – When the noir-esque music starts at 3:55, and he says “You’re a mighty special neighbour of mine…” It’s mostly the music though.

His curiosity, and desire to learn, however, are things that I can take away from, in a “Never stop learning” kind of way.

Let’s back up a little though: Why do you have a poster of Mister Rogers? and where is it?

Brandon: You’re getting it! Hooray! I completely understand that an adult seeing an another adult interact with children like this may come across as uncomfortable, but that’s a societal problem of ours, not Mister Rogers.

The poster is from a live appearance of Mister Rogers at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago in the early 80s. It was my first concert experience and I remember very, very little. But the poster exists and I adore it. It’s right outside my front door so it’s the last thing people see as they exit. It’s a good reminder of his existence, not much different than when religious people put religious icons in their entryway.

The third clip is another classic, featuring Jeff and his special chair. You may tear up.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CP_cLHIYGiI

Amitesh: A religious comparison, eh? You revere him that much? That’s pretty impressive. Does his existence restore your faith in humanity, or does it just remind you that nice people exist?

This clip… not going to lie… I had to blink a lot to hold the tears back. That kid is so brave! And his attitude is so positive. I really hope he was being sincere about his answers. I liked this clip. Most people cannot relate to a physically challenged person and/or their daily struggles. This clip gave me a peek into that. And when they talked about what to do when they were feeling blue, my heart melted when Jeff spontaneously asked Mister Rogers whether his way of dealing with the blues had helped him during his childhood. I really, really, hope that this clip enabled and encouraged people to relate more to physically challenged people.

Another thing that really struck me was that Mister Rogers asked Jeff directly what happened to him that put him in the wheelchair. I loved that he encouraged Jeff to talk about it himself.

Do we know where Jeff is now?

Brandon: I do hold him in the highest regard someone who isn’t religious can revere anyone. He was also a Presbyterian minister so I’m sure I’m getting some of that influence.

His existence does restore faith in humanity and reminds me nice people exist. In fact, it reminds me everyone is good and bad, we just have to try to be good, not deny bad. It’s OK to have negative thoughts and feelings. In fact, those are good because they help balance us. It’s important to remember to try to be good and then we’ll be better.

This clip did a lot. It’s the one part of the show, a show that ran for over 30 years, he was most proud in creating.

Sadly, Jeff passed away in 2007. This appearance changed his life. Which leads us to clip 4.

We’re done with the show. Time to see adults interact with another adult. This is from 1999, when Fred Rogers was inducted into the TV Hall of Fame. You will most likely hold back tears again.

Amitesh: Definitely an intense moment!

He brings up interesting points about the role of television. He says the role of television is to show the good in life. In the previous clip, he was talking to Jeff about his physical disability, but he also did so in a way that showed that despite challenges, this young boy is doing just fine, is adapting to his circumstances, and has a great network of people. He chose to focus on the positive side. It was a “Yes, life is difficult, but we can choose to not dwell on the difficulties, and focus on better things.” As you put it – It’s OK to have negative thoughts and feelings. In fact, those are good because they help balance us. It’s important to remember to try to be good and then we’ll be better.

I wonder if he ever dealt with situations involving murder or other crimes, and how victims/ their families dealt with it. We talked about his idea of living in a city, but living in a city can also lead to confronting some ugly situations. Even in his acceptance speech, he said that a teenager abducted an even younger girl because the teen saw it on TV. I wonder how he would deal with that on his show…

Brandon: Mister Rogers covered divorce, the fear of nuclear annihilation, death and 9/11. He tackled anything. He didn’t stay away from difficult subjects and didn’t make trivial fears feel trivial.

I’ll close with a clip that’s grown in popularity over the years. It’s from 1969. Congress was going to cut some funding to public television. Without Fred Rogers’ appearance, it might have happened. Instead, funding was increased and his few minutes before Congress have become a mission statement.

Amitesh: The range of topics he covered is very impressive! I thought this was a “be good, do good” kind of show, but it’s not! I would actually get behind this! His testimony before Congress is also very insightful. I had no idea that he personally was involved with the production of the neighbourhood, and that his big impetus was to deal with child psychology.

He seems like a solid guy who worked towards what he believed in. And from the clips that I have seen, he definitely seems like a kind and warm person, even off-TV. His message of everyone is unique, and even of how to deal with your inner feelings, is great. Even though I’m not sure it’s completely accurate, there are several mental/mood conditions where you cannot control your feelings, his message and efforts are nonetheless very great.

He has won me over. I’m pretty sure if my parents had known about this when I was growing up, they’d make me watch it 🙂

Thank you for introducing him!

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