Saturday, June 29, 2013

Mr. Rogers, Destroyer of Worlds

There are days I hate my sister. She decided that it's been long enough since I've written something and sent me this. Yes, that is supposedly intelligent, credible newspersons making the argument that Fred Rogers is the downfall of our society for being overly optimistic.

For reference, this guy:
Now, granted, we're talking about Fox. I have never, in my entire life, found a story that Fox has reported that was not openly biased, badly sourced, sensationalist, or plain flat wrong. Ever. In my life. That said...

Seriously? Are we really going to blame Fred Rogers for the entitlement culture? That's like blaming Clifford the Big Red Dog for the skyrocketing pet population.

Let's take a moment to talk about Fred Rogers.

Rogers was a Presbyterian minister. Rogers went into television because he believed it could be a vast educational resource, but that advertising and fast paced "bombardment" drowned out any message. He stood by those principles throughout his life, never once doing a product placement or endorsement that was not specifically for a charitable cause. And when he did endorse a cause, he did it on his own time, not on his show where he had access to millions of children.

Can we say that about our current "role models" for kids? Sports players whose sole claim to fame is how well they can play a game, children's characters that have their likenesses plastered on every product they can license. Singers who write crap music and peddle it at 99 cents a download, and then take a dive into a bottle or needle. 

Fred Rogers had one of the most successful children's shows of all time. And he never, not once, stood up and said, "Mr. Rogers drinks Sprite and so should you, kids!" Hell, the one time someone tried to capitalize on his fame using a parody, Rogers called and asked that it be pulled. Not sued, not threatened. He asked. And they did.

Fred Rogers played one character in the entire history of his time on television. And that was a single appearance on Dr. Quinn. What? Nope, every time you see Rogers on screen, that's Fred Rogers. There was no off switch, there was no "character." He came on TV and was himself, end of story. Don't believe me? 

This is Rogers accepting an Lifetime Achievement Award. Skip to 1:16 to get to the actual speech.

That's right. He asks people to take a moment of silence with him and think of their loved ones, those who've supported them. Then he thanks his people, and leaves. No fuss, no muss, just a simple and straight-forward message that espouses everything he's ever said. And then he's done. 

Rogers received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor we have. In 2002, 34 years after he began broadcasting Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Yeah, 4-5 generations have grown up with it, the show's been out of original episodes for a year, and he receives a medal from the President for his work. That certainly seems like the kind of thing that wouldn't have happened if he'd been destroying minds and sowing narcissism, no?

So if not Rogers, then what did cause this entitlement culture?

Well, let's see: kids being taught by coaches, teachers being graded on pass-fail rather than comprehensive learning, parents who use televisions/games/peer groups in place of actual parenting, the self-esteem culture of the 90's (which makes Fred look like Oscar the Grouch,) the ever continuing efforts to ensure that what gets taught in schools is by-and-large nothing like life skills...there's hundreds of factors. 

Beyond all that: Rogers was a moralistic educator. Every episode had some kind of general knowledge bit, every episode had a bit in the Neighborhood of Make-believe where kids learned some little Aesop about sharing, kindness, virtue, vice, friendship, was sermons with hand puppets on the value of being good to others and good to yourself. 

The point where that goes from, "gee what a nice guy" to "burn the commie!" is apparently when he told kids they were special. When he told them they were fine, just as they are. Sure, I can see how a thirty second song could absolutely drown out the rest of the message. Especially that part where he reminds all his little viewers about the wonders of tolerance, neighborliness, and goodwill towards their fellow man. Especially the parts where he extolled the joys of living, of seeing wonder every day in the common and little things. 

You know what though? Being a little gay kid and having this nice old guy say that you're ok as you are? That helped. Not much, but it was still nice to know this guy who made a living playing with puppets had faith in the human race, and believed we could all get along.

But hey, obviously, we should see Rogers' efforts for what they were: a dastardly plan to undermine the next generation, to bring about the collapse of 'merica.

After all, it's easier to re-imagine a childhood educator who believed only in education for children, and tolerance and joy towards one's fellow man as this guy:

Than it is to take responsibility for all the ways we screw kids up. I mean really, it can't be the fault of the person who popped that kid out, who was supposed to teach and love and guide them. Not when there's this guy preaching tolerance for an hour a week on TV.

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