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Mr. Rogers

Thanks Again, Mr. Rogers

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A few months ago I mentioned a documentary about Mr. Rogers that aired on PBS earlier this year. Recently I had the opportunity to see a second documentary about Mr. Rogers, Won't You Be My Neighbor, and I highly recommend seeing it.

To be more precise, I highly recommend seeing it in a theater.

It's not that it has digital effects that are better experienced on the big screen. On the contrary, much of the film makes use of decidedly lo-fi TV clips from from fifty years ago. But what is rewarding about watching the documentary in a theater is sharing the experience with a group of people. That is to say the ideas of Mr. Rogers are best explored within the context of a neighborhood.

I'm not going to lie: my eyes were not dry when I left the theater and I've often teared up as I've thought about what I heard and saw. I wept not out of nostalgia for my childhood. I wept not because the mean-spirited world we live in today seems so antithetical to the one Mr. Rogers tried to cultivate. I wept because it was so beautiful to reminded that a person could exist who was so thoroughly good and kind. Even though we never met in person I felt I knew him. The world is a less kind place without him.

Over the movie's 94-minute runtime reference was made to a series of programs Mr. Rogers produced for parents as opposed to kids. Some of these specials are available online and I recently watched one of them, a 1982 program entitled Mr. Rogers Talks With Parents about Discipline. 

On the one hand, the program is a time capsule. The appearances of the assembled parents who talk about the challenges of disciplining their children are is a word, "distracting". But what these parents said back in the late 1980s sounded remarkably similar to ones I've had with fellow parents today. It was reassuring to hear that the challenges and self-doubt parents face in 2018 are the same as the ones parents faced 36 years ago. Children were no better behaved then than they are now. Parents were no less frazzled then than they are today.

Of course the most consistent presence in Mr. Rogers Talks With Parents About Discipline is Mr. Rogers himself. He made no grand pronouncements. He never judged the parents just as he never judged the children. He listened. In his soft voice he asked questions and offered thoughts about love and kindness.

Just as it was so reassuring to hear his voice talking to me as a child it was it was just as reassuring to hear his voice talking to me as a parent. "Children have very deep feelings," he said. "Just the way everybody does."

I firmly believe spending time watching Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood made me a happier, kinder child. I have always been thankful for that. Now I'm finding spending more time watching him will make me a happier, kinder parent.

Thanks again, Mr. Rogers.

 

 

The Architecture of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood

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Last week was the 50th anniversary the first national broadcast of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. I grew up watching the show and hearing the soft, comforting intonations of Mr. Rogers' voice in a recently rebroadcast interview transported me back to my early childhood. I may have been just as much of a Sesame Street kid, but Mr. Rogers always had a special place in my heart.

This may be because his neighborhood was so familiar.

Whereas Sesame Street took place in an urban setting Mr. Roger's Neighborhood was unambiguously suburban. You can see this in the program's iconic opening sequence where the camera explores a scale model of the titular neighborhood. It wasn't exactly like the suburb where I grew up but it looked a lot like the postwar neighborhood where my grandparents lived.  Even though my grandfather and Mr. Rogers were quite different there was a comforting calmness they both shared.

It may be an overstatement to claim the scale model at the beginning of Mr. Roger's Neighborhood was the inspiration for me to build models and design neighborhoods as an architect but it's most assuredly not an overstatement to claim that the testimony Mr. Rogers gave in front of Congress in 1969 remains an inspiration for speaking truth to power. The seven minute clip is worth watching: seeing a gruff Senator straight from Central Casting melt under the overpowering kindness of Mr. Rogers is incredibly cinematic and I'm sure a version of it will appear in the upcoming biopic starring Tom Hanks.

In the meantime, though, PBS will be airing its own documentary about Mr. Rogers and his neighborhood. The program airs on March 6 at 7PM on KLRN here in San Antonio.