Hey! Thanks for reading! Just a reminder that I wrote this some years ago, and may have much more complicated feelings about this topic than I did when I wrote it. Happy to elaborate, feel free to reach out to me! 😄
🎵 The song for this post is Danza Kuduro, by Don Omar feat. Lucenzo. 🎵
I'm immediately suspicious of nostalgia for a thing thing I didn't experience. I'm always tickled by conservatives on college campuses who talk about Better or Simpler Times that they weren't alive for. Similarly, we tend to smooth the edges on things we enjoy being fond of (every time someone famous dies we tend to overstate their importance and not mention when they were horrible).
I didn't watch Mr. Roger's Neighborhood growing up. I can't say sweet things about Fred Rogers from a position of authority, and I haven't researched him or his show much.
But boy, do I love the projection I have of him. I read this article today that reminded me of his narrative:
The feeling of someone making space for you is pretty rare for most kids. Many parents spend far too much of their energy holding forth, correcting, and handing down Big Important Lessons that melt into a giant blob of received “wisdom.” Or they’re too distracted by their phones or their jobs or their endless to-do lists to slow down and leave some empty space for a kid to fill. As a parent, sometimes I have to remind myself that even playing games or having fun together isn’t the same thing as offering up time for kids to be seen and heard clearly. Because when you’re a kid, even good friends mostly talk over you and rarely listen. Childhood is lonelier and more isolating than most of us are willing to remember or admit.
But then, most people would rather avoid talking about dark emotions like fear, anger, melancholy, and longing anyway — a problem Rogers’s show always tried to address. And most parents don’t love the idea that children experience a vast ocean of emotions beyond happiness, in part because many of us don’t like admitting that we all contain volatile seas of rage and despair. Rogers’s quiet air of acceptance and love makes us squeamish because it exposes our own conflicted, avoidant natures. His silence challenges us to accept our own emotional complexity in ways that the whirring, buzzing, flashing simulacrum of global culture specifically discourages.
I mentioned when talking about Avatar: the Last Airbender that the main mistake children's media makes is that it doesn't take kids seriously. My working theory is that adults are largely the same people they were as kids, but as children they have a remarkably small pool of context to draw from. But they're there! Frequently very clever, curious, and open to new things! And they appreciate being treated as independent agents and worthy of respect.
(fun fact: some social scientists determine whether someone has authoritarian preferences by asking them about child-rearing and what constitutes "good children")
THERAPIST: you've started calling objectively awful things "insanely good" to protect yourself from how awful the world is— chris person (@Papapishu) June 25, 2016
ME: lol that owns
A few months ago Twitch hosted a Mr. Rogers marathon and I saw an episode for the first time. And reader, I cried. Things out there are terrible. It's easy to be reminded of this when people are profiting massively from devices and algorithms that profit from our attention, and consequently maximize this profit by fomenting anger and resentment. Seeing a person who's curious, takes their time, loves everyone openly, feels sincerely, projecting an image of we can all just be good to each other was not something I was emotionally prepared for that afternoon.
So big ups to Fred Rogers. Maybe there's more that makes this complicated, but I appreciate the impact this had on me.
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