Monday, February 19, 2018

Fifty Years of Life in Fred Rogers' Neighborhood

On this day in 1968, Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood premiered.  While I'm fairly sure I didn't see the first episode, I was a regular viewer by 1969 or 1970.

Those were halcyon days for children's television.  I was one of the first viewers of Sesame Street and The Electric Company, and later Zoom.  I got to first grade knowing how to read, and pretending that I didn't; I knew how to read in part because my parents read to me and in part because of these T.V. shows.

I do remember the premiere of The Electric Company, which even as a young child, I could realize that they were trying to teach more complicated concepts.

At the time and for years afterwards, I thought they were more complicated concepts.  The Electric Company was trying to teach kids to read, I reasoned.  What did Mr. Rogers do in his show?

Now that I am older, I see Fred Rogers as having the more complicated task, as he taught children how to manage their anxiety, to accept themselves, to know the difference between fantasy and reality.  I can still sing the ending song that tells us it's such a good feeling to know we're alive.

Fred Rogers came to his signature show from a variety of backgrounds:  Presbyterian minister (ordained but not a preacher) and puppeteer, and a variety of TV shows.  He composed all of the songs on the show and most of the music.  He had background not only in theology but in child development.  All of these talents came together beautifully in Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood.

I find it interesting that Rogers was ordained, but that the larger Church realized the importance of his work with children's television and commissioned him to keep doing that.  It's a good reminder to those of us who feel called to ministry that our ministry can encompass many avenues--including those that earlier generations wouldn't have foreseen.  Fred Rogers went into the field of TV because he hated the medium, but wanted to see if the power of TV could be harnessed for good.  He wanted to see if TV could nurture us.

I'd say that the answer to his question is a resounding yes.  I know that our psychology is shaped in essential ways in our early years, and I feel so lucky that I was one of the earliest visitors to Fred Rogers' vision of a neighborhood. 

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