I know Mister Rogers was technically a children’s show, but I would like to share an example I just came across of a MAJOR exception. This episode aired before my time, back in 1968, but I think the ideals could apply today, as well. The episode I saw earlier today had to do with the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy back in 1968. This is not your typical lighthearted Mister Rogers. I was actually kind of concerned and shaky watching this. In this segment, Mister Rogers is not wearing his trademark sneakers and knit sweater. Instead, he is wearing a suit and tie, so you know he means business. He is visibly upset and angry about not only violence as a whole, but how the media portrays it, as well. The segment opens with Daniel Tiger asking Lady Aberlin to blow up a balloon and then let the air back out. Seems innocent enough…but then it takes a dark turn. Daniel Tiger asks Lady Aberlin, “What happens when all the air leaves your body like it did with the balloon?” After Lady Aberlin tells Daniel, “People aren’t like balloons. When air leaves our body, we get more back.” Then it gets real. Daniel asks point-blank “What does assassination mean?” Lady Aberlin explains it by telling him that assassination is “When someone gets killed in a surprise way”. After a little more conversation, it switches from the Land of Make-Believe to Mister Rogers’ house. Mister Rogers does not address the kids he normally appeals to. Instead, he talks directly to the adults, primarily parents of young kids. He says, “There are some very young children who feel that a person is like a tube. If there isn’t enough at the top and too much comes out the bottom, then that person won’t be anymore.” He says he is very concerned with the “graphic violence” portrayed in the media. Fred Rogers is basically pleading and imploring for the safety and protection of the children of the parents watching. He is promoting family unity. If I didn’t adore Mister Rogers before, I absolutely do now! I adore this man for not sugarcoating reality.
In my generation, the closest we came to anything like this was 9/11. I know it seems irrelevant, but hear me out on this. We didn’t have a Kennedy assassination. My generation’s equivalent to that-i.e. a national tragedy and something everyone old enough to remember will remember forever-is September 11, 2001. Unfortunately, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood went off the air in August of 2001. Talk about bad timing…
I, for one, would love to hear how someone as gentle as Mister Rogers would have reacted to this. I did not fully understand what was going on at that point–I was only 11. I wonder how Mister Rogers, a man who loved everyone equally, would have addressed this. Since Fred Rogers is gone but not forgotten, we will never know.
So in closing, Fred Rogers, I commend you for appealing to all people of all ages and not just children. I have attached a link to the “episode” (It is more a PSA than anything) below. Thanks for reading!