In spite of our contentious news cycle and stretching from the advent of the “Super Friends” and through the Super Bowls to the cacophony of cable television and the internet, “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” remained relevant.
Throughout it all, Fred Rogers was the personification of class and temperance in a popular culture gone mad.
Even today in the midst of our great political divide, and 15 years after his death at the age of 74, Fred Rogers’ legacy lives. Tucked away in select movie theaters across our fruited plain is the critically-acclaimed documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” that provides a nuanced look at the man who created “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”
In what may be viewed as a sway of the pendulum, America has once again rediscovered our favorite neighbor, Mister Rogers. Variety magazine admitted that the film has turned the Pennsylvanian Presbyterian minister “into a rock star for our time.”
Rogers’s compassionate and thoughtful style was certainly countercultural, but as everyone who ever knew Fred Rogers seems to admit, everything Rogers did was countercultural. Rogers did not care about the spotlight, and by no means did he consider himself a celebrity. He wasn’t in it for the adulation or the money, but considered his children’s program part of his ministry. So much so, that half a century after the show debuted in 1968, the life and legacy of the man who wore those cardigan sweaters and archaic tennis shoes lives on.
Eccentric urban legends are part of the internet landscape — including that Rogers had been a Navy SEAL, or wore long sleeves to cover tattoos. As it turns out, such malarkey is just another bout of fake news. Rogers, an improbable cultural pioneer, schooled children on tolerance, manners and patience by his modest example, all within a child’s capacity to comprehend. His show sought to dispel fears and anxieties while developing one’s self-esteem.
In his 1995 book, “You Are Special: Words of Wisdom for All Ages from a Beloved Neighbor,” Fred Rogers discerned, “When we love a person, we accept him or her exactly as is: the lovely with the unlovely, the strong along with the fearful, the true mixed in with the façade, and of course, the only way we can do it is by accepting ourselves that way.”
Overtones of Democratic Sen. Diane Feinstein, who contemptuously remarked when grilling Amy Coney Barrett last October during her hearing as a nominee of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals echoed throughout Rogers’ DNA first as “the dogma lived loudly within” him, too. His Christian faith held sway over what the show produced and never once did Rogers come across as patronizing.
Such a legacy left an indelible mark upon millions and this Rogers’ revival is far from over with a biopic starring Tom Hanks scheduled for next fall.
Rogers’ sense of humor matched his humility. When “Saturday Night Live” introduced Eddie Murphy’s antithesis of Rogers’ show called “Mister Robinson’s Neighborhood,” Rogers laughed along with the rest of us. That, of course, was before comedy became casualty number one of the politically correct where the leftist trifecta of the media, academia and Democrats hold much of the country in contempt.
We live in a nation where a children’s novel like “Little House on the Prairie” is now considered too offensive to remain on library shelves.
Rather than civilly meeting with and debating conservatives, the leftist trifecta prefers to demonize them. One even tried to kill as many Republicans as possible last summer on a baseball diamond in Virginia.
If attempted mass murder didn’t slow them down, what will?
“Feel, don’t think; just act” is a perilous conviction, but that’s exactly what leftists are conditioning people to do. Combined with tribalism and victimhood, there is nothing short of tragedy awaiting Mister Rogers’ old neighborhood. Leftists consider conservatives judgmental, obtuse killjoys. Bill Clinton calls them “rednecks,” while Hillary labels them “deplorable,” and Obama whines that they, “cling to their religion and guns.” Their Alinsky creed reigns because when you cannot win in the marketplace of ideas, you destroy your opponents.
Rogers’ landmark program may have ended in 2001, but the question remains: Can civil discourse be revived?
The box office says yes.
We can only hope.
(Maresca, a local freelance writer, composes “Talking Points” for each Sunday edition.)