Friday, July 06, 2018

The Legacy of Mister Rogers

Would you be mine? Could you be mine?
Won't you be my neighbor?

Mister Rogers

I didn't do much on the Fourth of July this year. The high point of the day for me was sitting down with Tom Frederick, a guy I've known since about two-and-a-half years before the invention of dirt, for an interview on his new podcast. It was a very enjoyable experience; the reason being that we discussed the history of comedy in America. Thankfully, the subject of current events and politics never came up. It would have depressed the both of us, I suppose.
I've been thinking a lot lately about how utterly vicious American culture has become in recent years. Mea culpa: I am definitely part of the problem, otherwise, the title of this blog would be "The Loving Discourse", not "The Rant". What got me obsessed with the subject of the seeming disappearance of gentleness in America was a trip I made to the movies a week ago today. I had the joy of viewing the new documentary on the life and perfect career of Fred Rogers. It's called Won't You Be My Neighbor. If you don't see another film for the rest of the summer, please see this one.
When Mister Rogers' Neighborhood made it's debut on PBS in early 1968, I was a few months shy of my tenth birthday. I clearly remember channel surfing one day and coming upon this gentle, soft-spoken man chatting amiably to the viewer in a manner I was not familiar with  - at least as far as standard televised kiddie-fare was concerned. It seemed to me at first glance that he was addressing me as if I were an infant. As long as I live, I'll always remember my initial reaction to this obviously very decent man's tender musings:


Having been raised from my earliest memory on the insane slapstick of animators Tex Avery and Chuck Jones and the cartoons they created for Warner Brothers and MGM, it was my impression  that children's programming was a one-size-fits-all proposition. For the next twenty-or-so years, I would occasionally - accidentally - tune in to Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, watch it for a minute or two with a sense of smug amusement, and then turn the channel to something else, wondering as I did how this program had managed to remain on the air for all these years. Then one day, in around 1990, I had what I can only describe as a EUREKA moment.

Visiting my sister's house one morning, I noticed that her preschool children were watching Mister Rogers. While he talked to them, they were transfixed, hanging on to his every word. That's when it hit me: in 1968, he wasn't talking to ten-year-old Tommy Degan - he was talking to his three-year-old sister Sally! That was the day I finally understood what Mister Rogers was all about. Shame on me for having taken so long to figure it out. From that moment on I was a fan. In fact, I would occasionally make a point of visiting with my little nieces and nephews when he was on the air; I wanted to share with them the joy and wonder of life that he so beautifully transmitted over the airwaves. I would even make a point over the years to purchase Videotapes and DVDs produced by Mister Rogers for the preschool children of friends of mine. In fact, I still have a VHS on the shelf behind me that I never got around to giving away. It's called A Day at the Circus....and, yes, I did watch it. I loved it!

To be sure, Won't You Be My Neighbor is not a film for kids. It's a serious study of the man's life and the impact he had on the children he sincerely loved. You can see a clip of the segment from three days after the murder of Robert Kennedy where Daniel the puppet tiger timidly asks, "What does assassination mean?" At a time when African Americans were being denied the right to use public swimming pools all across America, you can see the scene where Mister Rogers invites Officer Clements - a black policeman - to share his wading pool and soak his feet. But my favorite clip of all is from a Fox and Friends segment where one of the three stooges who host that awful program refer to him as "evil". Isn't that a hoot? 
I remember once tuning into the Sean Hannity radio program many years ago and listening to him brag about the fact that his kids were "not allowed" to watch Mister Rogers' Neighborhood for fear that they'd become too nice and too wimpy. Sean's kids are adults now. I cannot help wondering what kind of people they have turned out to be. One of my most nagging regrets is that I was too old for Mister Rogers when he came along in the late winter of 1968. Had he been around in 1961/1963, I probably would not have turned out to be  one half of the cynic that I am.

Mr. Rogers used to say that his favorite number was 143: One letter being "I"; four letters being "Love"; and three letters being "You".

This film is mandatory viewing for everyone with a pulse. When he passed away in 2003, I genuinely grieved. I'm enough of a cockeyed optimist to believe that the gentleness that was personified in Mister Rogers didn't die with him. Hopefully it's only on an enforced hiatus. We can only hope.
Won't you be? Won't you be?
Please won't you be my neighbor?
This was something I really needed to do. I feel better already.
Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

To read more recent pieces on this site, go to this link:
Won't You be My Neighbor will be released on DVD on September 4. Pre-order a copy today. It's beautiful.


At 3:17 PM, Blogger Majormajor said...

Bravo Tom!

At 7:07 PM, Blogger Mozart1220 said...

At 4:14 PM, Blogger T. Paine said...

The love must be overwhelming in Mr. Mozart's neighborhood.

At 9:39 PM, Blogger Majormajor said...

You mean Brian's neighborhood?

"why do you support a "President" who clearly doesn't give a shit about them? "
This from a man who supports the right to murder a human while in it's mothers womb.

At 6:45 AM, Blogger Jefferson's Guardian said...

"The love must be overwhelming in Mr. Mozart's neighborhood." ~~ T. Paine

It's a safe bet that Mr. Rogers' neighborhood never had to contend with abrasive ignorant trolls. If only we all could be so lucky.

Of course, in a real brick-and-mortar neighborhood today, a "troll" would probably be permanently silenced by an over-zealous militarized police force.

"Won't you be my neighbor?..."

At 1:43 PM, Blogger Clueless It Seems said...

This is quite lovely. I find myself, despite the cancer I have, thinking about how no one's paying any attention to the VIOLENCE and hatred that is making a mockery of our country. It's in our music, it's what kiddies see when they go to the movies, the amount of money that one has is the standard by which we are all judged. The lies and indoctrination we've all been subjected to is just too much to believe. I didn't watch Mr. Rogers when I was young. I'm old now but came to some of the truths over the course of a lifetime. Wish others did, too!

At 6:34 PM, Blogger Mozart1220 said...

Trump whoring for Putin at NATO. Go figure.

At 6:56 AM, Blogger Jefferson's Guardian said...

While we're on the subject of children, does anybody know when the almost two-thousand children abducted and held by the Trump Administration will be reunited with their parents?


At 11:15 AM, Blogger Majormajor said...


Just once spare us your pompous questions.

At 7:25 AM, Blogger Jefferson's Guardian said...

Hey Chuck, do you have any updates on when the abducted children by Trump will be returned to their parents?

Is Fox News keeping up with this?

At 1:26 AM, Blogger Mozart1220 said...

Clucky, Abortion is NOT murder. If it were, Miscarriage would be INVOLUNTARY MANSLAUGHTER. Get it?

But you keep deflecting, it's what you do best.

At 2:56 PM, Blogger mikkerdoodle said...

I am your age, and saw Mister Rogers in 1968 just shy of my 10th birthday as well. Watching the documentary was wonderful. We do need more of what Mister Rogers was all about. How sad that comments become politically charged. Mister Rogers knew how to stay out of the fray. What a gift! Can't we simply do the same?

At 3:02 PM, Blogger mikkerdoodle said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 6:43 PM, Blogger YoTK said...

Tom, how could any human being ever call Mr Rogers “evil”!?!?!?


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