I am a proud fan of Mr. Rogers. There, I said it, and I am not ashamed. I spent a fair amount of time in front of the television as a child and truly enjoyed watching Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. He is an icon and a visionary in the way he tried to speak directly to the child on the other end of the TV, and respect that child. He didn’t see children as potential consumers for his merchandising scheme (as ALL television programming does today). He saw his viewers as real people with real problems and real issues and addressed them in a manner that was understandable to them.
He did not sanitize his programming with light and fluffy stuff. No, he took on the problems of the day head on. He addressed racism head on. Disabilities? He was not afraid to tackle those issues either. Feelings such as anger and hurt were also in his domain as he understood that everyone has those feelings and we need to find healthy ways to deal with them.
In the recent movie featuring Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers, they showed a scene where they filmed Fred struggling unsuccessfully to pitch a tent. The director wanted to shoot it again so that it would show Fred successfully setting it up. “No.” He said, “It is important for young people to see that even big people are not always able to solve problems.” His failure was the point.
The genuineness of who he was on camera is exactly what he was like in real life. Mr. Rogers was not a character to be separated from Fred Rogers the person, they were one in the same. I am nostalgic, not only for him but who he represents. An authentic, caring person for whom there is no agenda and no pretense. This is quite a stark contrast to the characters we see now on television, whether they are for children or not, they are the opposite of authentic. Children (and their unsuspecting parents) are merely the means to the large merchandising campaign to sell and promote the show. Programs are aimed at the masses, in the truest sense of the word.
This is in stark contrast with Mr. Rogers approach which was to speak directly into the camera to the child on the other end in way that said, I understand you. I know you maybe hurting or struggling to understand the very adult problems in your world, and I care.
I watched the movie on the plane heading westward for a conference. I watched because I like Tom Hanks and I love Mr. Rogers, and I was longing for something authentic. As the movie unfolded, I found myself overcome with emotion to the point of sobbing in my seat. It wasn’t until that point in the movie I realized that the reason I loved watching the program when I was young is because I had experienced a childhood trauma that I had long since pushed down into the deep recesses of my memories. It was packed way down there and seemingly sealed forever until I realized that, through this movie, I had felt he understood me when I was young, and he had helped me through the challenges that I had faced.
I was embarrassed by how these emotions bubbled up so easily and liberated in another way by how cathartic the process was. I can only imagine that he has done the same for many other children. This may be the reason he is such a beloved person and we could use more people like him today.