Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Can You Say ... Hero?

This has been making the rounds lately, but if you haven't seen it, here it is: A YouTube video of Mr. Rogers testifying before the US Senate.

One of the few work-safe things on Rotten.com describes the situation thus:

In the late 1960s, the U.S. Senate was considering cutting in half an important twenty million dollar grant for so-called "public broadcasting". Fred, not yet famous with adults, was invited to speak and submit a paper at the hearing. He would plead his case -- what makes public television different, why his program differs from cartoons and violence elsewhere on the dial -- and he would do so before the notoriously gruff and impatient Senator John O. Pastore [D] from Rhode Island. Pastore was the first Italian American elected to the United States Senate in 1950.

Senator Pastore: All right Rogers, you got the floor.

Fred Rogers: Senator Pastore, this is a philosophical statement [motioning to a text copy of the essay he'd submitted] and would take about ten minutes to read, so I'll not do that. One of the first things that a child learns in a healthy family is trust, and I trust what you've said, that you'll read this. It's very important to me, I care deeply about children, my first--

Senator Pastore: [interrupting] Will it make you happy if you read it?

Fred Rogers: I'd -- just like to talk about it, if it's all right --

Senator Pastore: [interrupting] Fine.

Fred Rogers: This is what I give. I give an expression of care every day to each child, to help him realize that he is unique. I end the program by saying, "you've made this day a special day by just your being you. There's no person in the whole world like you, and I like you just the way you are." I feel that if we in public television can only make it clear that feelings are mentionable and manageable, we will have done a great service.

Senator Pastore: [After a long pause] I'm supposed to be a pretty tough guy. This is the first time I've had goose bumps in the last two days.

Fred Rogers: Well I'm grateful. Not only for your goose bumps, but for your interest in our kind of communication.

Fred spoke for about six minutes total, taking the time to recite lyrics from one of his songs.

Fred Rogers: Know that there's something deep inside, that helps us become what we can. For a girl can be someday a lady, and a boy can be someday a man.

Senator Pastore: [visibly misty and touched] I think it's wonderful. That is just so wonderful. Looks like you just won the twenty million dollars.

Spontaneous applause thundered throughout the courtroom. By that time, National Educational Television (the precursor to PBS) had already started broadcasting Fred's programs nationwide in black and white. MisteRogers made its debut on February 19, 1968. Eventually the show would be in color, Mister Rogers would be split into two words, and the set and furniture would be updated -- but only by small degrees to prevent emotionally sensitive children from becoming confused. Senator Pastore died in 1994.
As a chaser, here's one of my favorite pieces ever to appear in Esquire, Tom Junod's profile of Fred Rogers. It's called "Can You Say ... Hero?"

I can. Mr. Rogers was my childhood hero. Something about him really unnerved my mom back then, as though the soft-spoken manner was just a facade, and someday he'd reach his hand right out of the TV screen and molest me. But by all other accounts, he really was as good and decent and gentle as he appeared—a true rarity. More than one person called me mean yesterday. One even called me "a brutalist", and in fact, recent testing indicates that I'm 85% brutal. But I'll bet some of that other 15% of non-brutality came from something Mr. Rogers said that sunk in. He's still my childhood hero.

12 Comments:

Blogger Marlene said...

I can relate to how your mom felt; I felt similar when I was little. I still watched, though, I loved when they went to The World of Make Believe.
Now that I'm older and I studied child development myself, I have more of an appreciation for the show as well as other shows that have developmentally appropriate themes. Apparently Barney is perfect as far as what the ideal childcare centre should have in it's environment and also, what they talk about is well scipted for social and emotional development.

5/31/2006 12:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see your Mr. Rogers and raise you Solid Potato Salad:

Solid Potato Salad @ YouTube

It starts out all "hrmph" then gets all "omg, wtf?!". Kind of like being locked in a closet with Mr. McFeeley.

5/31/2006 05:02:00 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

What the...

What just happened to my universe?

5/31/2006 06:06:00 PM  
Blogger Peter Lynn said...

Holy shit. When it started out, I was like, "You know, I kind of wanna bone these old broads from the 40s." But then it suddenly took a turn into a wild fantasyland of eroticism.

6/01/2006 12:04:00 AM  
Blogger A. Truman North said...

Mr. Rogers was a hero of mine, too. Although the cause he was lobbying for in this case is personally distasteful, the manner in which he made his arguement is very similar to the way I would make mine, and I owe that in large part to what he taught me and how he taught it. Thank you for mentioning this.

6/02/2006 12:37:00 AM  
Blogger Peter Lynn said...

Wait, which cause is personally distasteful? Is it
(a) funding for public television,
(b) making it clear that feelings are mentionable and manageable, or
(c) that a girl can be someday a lady, and a boy can be someday a man?

6/02/2006 09:25:00 PM  
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