Monday, July 28, 2008

Heck Yeah I'll Be Your Neighbor!

Mr. Rogers rocks. If you want to fight me about it, bring it on. And I've got a list of reasons why I'll win:

5. He might have been the most tolerant American ever. Mister Rogers seems to have been almost exactly the same off-screen as he was onscreen. As an ordained Presbyterian minster, and a man of tremendous faith, Mister Rogers preached tolerance first.
Whenever he was asked to castigate non-Christians or gays for their differing beliefs, he would instead face them and say, with sincerity, "God loves you just the way you are." Often this provoked ire from fundamentalists.

It's so easy to imagine the hosts of children's shows are really mean, heroin-shooting people. (Oh Steve from Blues Clues.) But apparently Fred Rogers was the same on screen as he was off screen. He genuinely cared about people, especially children--their concerns, their attitudes about themselves, how they would find their place in the world.

In talking with my boyfriend about Mr. Rogers, we realized that neither of us really remembered a lot of plot from his show. (Crayon factory visit aside.) What we did remember were specific things--feeding the fish, the street light, etc. It wasn't a show about flashing colors and cartoon animals falling off cliffs. It was a quiet, gentle show, and was therefore a comforting place for kids to address the world. (From the article--"Over the years he covered topics as varied as why kids shouldn't be scared of a haircut, or the bathroom drain (because you won't fit!), to divorce and war.")

Generally, people talk about how bad television is for kids--it makes them zombies, they never go outside and play, it makes them ravenous consumers, etc. But Mr. Rogers demonstrated that television doesn't have to be a dead zone. Like any other medium, it can be used badly but it can also be used well, to help people find their place in the world.

So my name will certainly be on the Fred Rogers for (Posthumous) Nobel Peace Prize Petition.