Not exactly Autism related, but I want to talk about a biopic movie I saw last night. The film was called WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR. If that question/title sounds familiar…you’re right! It’s about good ol’ Mister Rogers! I saw the movie with my mom and it was really hard for me not to get nostalgic or tear up. I remember watching Mr. Rogers growing up, as do a lot of Americans. Actually, even as I am typing this post, I am watching old clips of Mr. Rogers on YouTube.
Growing up, I didn’t really realize the little nuances about the show and the statements it made. I am too young to realize the horrors of Vietnam but Mr. Rogers actually made political statements about the war in Nam without being political. Another instance of Mt. Rogers being radical for his time was asking Officer Clemons. The man who played him on the show is openly gay and black. He didn’t say he was gay on the show. This was the late 60s, early 70s. If you said anything about gay people or homosexuality on TV back then, you would be fired on the spot. It was considered too taboo to talk or joke about on television. Nowadays gay people and gay jokes on TV are a dime a dozen.
And segregation was a huge part of this time period. The Civil Rights Movement was going on at this point, and it was illegal for blacks or “colored” people and whites to share a swimming pool. Mr. Rogers, again being radical for the times, invited Officer Clemons to soak his feet in a pool with him. This seems like a giant “F YOU!” to the separation of blacks and whites.
I used to buy into the rumor that Mr. Rogers was a former Marine who killed people in war. After watching reruns on YouTube and seeing that film, I sort of hate myself and feel almost guilty for thinking that. Now, to me, the very notion of that seems laughable.
The reason Mr. Rogers came to be is because a minister by the name of Fred Rogers came home from seminary school for a break. He saw a kids show on TV and thought it was too wild. He decided to go into television. He broke into TV in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and soon became a kids TV icon. He dealt with very adult matters and very real issues in a unique way. Divorce, death, the Robert Kennedy assassination, depression…nothing was off limits.
Mr. Rogers actually did stop making the show in 2000. But then came September 11, 2001. A crew person persuaded Mr. Rogers to do an episode specifically aimed at 9/11 and what was going on. I do not remember watching that episode when it aired, but as I am watching it now, even if it just was a PSA in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, it’s powerful stuff. I think Mr. Rogers was a very unique person. He thought kids and their emotions and feelings and overall well-being actually mattered. He took kids into consideration and didn’t pressure them or try to tell them what to do. That is rare nowadays.
I remember watching Mr. Rogers as a kid. I loved the show then, and I love it just as much now as an adult, knowing what a difference he made in peoples’ lives. So Fred Rogers, this goes out to you. And when I die and go to Heaven…”Won’t You Please/Won’t You Please/Please Won’t You Be My Neighbor”?
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