Fred Rogers, the quiet radical

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I have long loved and admired Fred Rogers. He’s so good and genuine  that he’s generated numerous memes and cultural references, the one below from Sandra and Woo:

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Today I stumbled across an informative post on reddit from user /u/MiltownKBs. There’s a lot of stuff here that I didn’t know, and I thought it deserved a wider audience.

Mr Rogers – The quiet radical. He didn’t go on marches, he was not confrontational, but nevertheless he had a ground on which he stood and he wanted to do something about it.

“a quiet but strong American prophet who, with roots in progressive spirituality, invited us to make the world into a counter-cultural neighborhood of love,” – Michael Long, author of the book, Peaceful Neighbor: Discovering the Countercultural Mister Rogers.

He worked from a steely social conscience. He used his program, with its non-threatening puppets, songs and conversation, to raise provocative topics such as war, peace, race, gender and poverty with his audience of preschoolers and their parents — patiently guiding them across the minefields of political and social change.

Examples: This one is one of my favorites … The puppet King Friday XIII was posting border guards, installing barbed-wire fences and drafting passersby to keep out those fomenting social change. “Down with the changers!” he proclaimed. “Because we’re on top!” This was 1968 and was aired as part of a weeklong series on conflict, change and distrust. King Friday’s declaration of a national emergency to preserve the status quo is a political statement. It is not a plot line merely to entertain children. It’s the idea that when we resist change, it’s because we want to maintain our position. In the end, the neighborhood was saved, but only through the bold civil disobedience of King Friday’s subjects. People who want change are often labeled as troublemakers.

Rogers was an uncompromising pacifist, and when Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood debuted nationally in 1968, during the height of the Vietnam War, he used his first week of programming to share his antiwar beliefs.

Rogers opposed the nuclear arms race, and in 1983 he developed Neighborhood of Make-Believe episodes in which King Friday appears confused and downright silly for calling for an arms race with a neighboring community. When Friday orders “one million and one parts” that he imagines to be weapons — they are not — he uses funds designed to support music in the neighborhood school. The neighborhood is appalled by this crass act.

At the beginning of 1984, the Presidential Task Force on Food Assistance, appointed by President Ronald Reagan, reported that it could not find evidence of rampant hunger in the United States. Rogers did not appreciate the report, and by the end of the year, he broadcast episodes highlighting the presence of hunger and addressing the need to combat it.

In 1987, at the height of the cold war, he traveled to Moscow and appeared on a Soviet children’s television show called Spokoinoi Nochi (Good Night, Little Ones).

Rogers was committed to racial diversity, and not long after inner-city riots erupted following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Rogers introduced the character of a black police officer keeping everyone safe in the Neighborhood.

In 1975, 14 years before an African American woman would become mayor of a major U.S. city, Rogers created the character of Mayor Maggie of Southwood, played by African American actor Maggie Stewart.

He wore an apron and ironed clothes on a mid-day broadcast set in a house, when most men would have been at work, modeling a revolution in gender roles. The puppet Lady Elaine Fairchilde anchored a newscast long before Barbara Walters did, and she rocketed into space a decade before Sally Ride broke the glass stratosphere.

In 1983 he arranged for Lady Aberlin, played by Betty Aberlin, to sing a quiet song (“Creation”) in which she refers to God as “She.” A fact that was not lost on the protestors of the time.

Rogers and regular cast member Francois Clemmons, an African-American, dipped their bare feet in a wading pool on a 1969 broadcast, when bitter conflicts over legally segregated swimming pools were still being discussed.

Rogers became a vegetarian in the early 1970s, saying he could not eat anything that had a mother, and in the mid-1980s he became co-owner of Vegetarian Times. In 1985, Rogers also signed his name to a statement protesting the wearing of animal furs.

When politicians in the 1980s spoke of welfare recipients as lazy and unworthy of government help, Rogers portrayed hard-working parents who still couldn’t afford all that their children wanted or needed.

Rogers broadcast public-service announcements on helping children deal with news of war and other tragedy, and he advocated for legislation that would allow at least one parent in a military family to remain with his or her children rather than be deployed.

The Old Wolf has reposted.

 

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