You know, it's quite a strange thing. The single most common adjective applied to Mister Rogers in this and other thread is the word 'creepy'?
I think I know why he strikes people as creepy. It's because his isn't at all 'cool'. There is no cynicism, no irony, no condescension in him at all. He is not simply unhip, he is ahip. And this is what people calling him creepy are picking up on.
We are conditioned to traffic in cool. You have to look cool, not look nice or distinguished or presentable, but cool. But it's all so generic. Everyone seems to have the same new haircut that no one 5 years ago had. We all have the same cynical politics.
Something about the counterculture from the 60's is still with us but it has been co-opted into a form of synchronized periodic obsolescence and mockery of that which came before. There is something fundamentally anti-intellectual about this, but I can't quite articulate it. There some element of arrogance there. Like everyone is perpetually 18.
Cool is America's code, and I really do think this is an American problem, because cool is propagated mainly though mass media, and there is no greater media saturated culture on earth than America's. Will I look cool wearing this? Will I sound cool saying this, or reading this or doing this. We're committing mass murder in other parts of the world because somebody figured out how to make violence cool and tough-talk politics cool, and then they combined the too. Swagger is cool. Cowboys and fighter jets and JDAMs and war porn are cool. So that's what we have. We are the Kingdom of Whatever.
Of course he hated ad-libbing on camera, because ad-libbing on camera is inexcusably lazy. It's what you do so you don't have to write or rehearse. Actors and comedians and musicians improvise as a way of living within a moment that is in some way artificial. A method actor may improvise because he is trying to become the character, but he isn't the character to begin with. A Jazz musician improvises because while the structure and the changes are the same, and the audience is familiar with them, the particular moment of performance is not, and that has it's own emotional context.
Mister Rogers was the same guy, so why improvise? The show wasn't about his character, it was about the kids, os you have to work out ahead of time how best to communicate with the child viewers. Everything was planned.
He talks slowly not because kids are dumb but because as studies have shown, children's brains are considerably more active than adults', and they need time to return to the original thought communicated to them after branching off in multitudinous directions.
The puppets? Puppets are good because they are considerably smaller than the human actors around them, and thus kids perceive them as safe. They look like toys. Contrast this with a giant seven foot all yellow bird, and ask yourself which inspired more nightmares.
The show is glacially paced and had the same structure with the same things happening in the same order because children respond to structure and routine is a source of comfort, particularly in children whose lives were anything but predictable.
Maybe that's what cool is - withdrawing from the context of one's life into an artificial one, in which the cool perceives itself to be somehow outside of reality, looking in and commenting on it. But this isn't insight, it's not reflecting on the world. It's standing at the edge of the world sniping into it.
Mister Rogers isn't creepy. CSI with is gruesome bloody corpses every Thursday at promptly 9:14 EST is creepy. Thirty million people looking at that and snaking on chips while they watch is creepy.
Listening to some rapper sing about his genitals and sexual conquests is creepy. Approach crowds of people and talk to them about the aroused state of your genitals, and watch how quickly you end up in a squad car. But somehow it's ok on TV because...why exactly?
Watching a war unfold on television in near real time is beyond creepy. It is obscene. You watch people screaming over their dead loved ones, and then you turn it off and go have dinner, or go to bed? No empathy, no revulsion. What the hell kind of civilization is this?
You know, I watched some 9-11 footage on youtube the other day (because I'm a masochist, apparently), and it occured to me that in the 6 years since it happened, I've never once heard anyone say "I'm sorry for those people who are so consumed by hate for people they've never met and places they've never been. What can we do to lift that burden from them?"
Because that isn't cool. That's being a pussy (or a fag if you are on FreeRepublic). There's no posture to be struck there, no pose. It's something that has to be done in earnest, and that's what's been lacking in the American culture.
Think about the Pope, entering the cell to confront his assassin. He forgave him, we all know that. But can you imagine the conversation? Can you imagine either someone being so perceptive that they can reach into a perfect stranger and expose their soul, or someone whose personality is so shallow that their emotions or ideologies are so shallow that any attempt to probe their depth displaces them entirely?
Mr. Rogers may have been the last earnest man.
posted by Pastabagel at 2:00 PM on June 1 [220 favorites]
It makes me want to put on a cardigan and some Keds and not give a damn what people think or say. Which isn't, strictly speaking, what Mr. Rogers did. What he did was so frustratingly simple that it seems impossible: He treated everyone with respect, dignity, and kindness. And in doing so, that is how he was treated in return. That's just such an enormous leap of faith, to believe that you won't be hurt by doing that, but it's another indication of what a good man Fred Rogers was that it didn't seem to matter to him whether he'd be hurt or not, just that he treated people well.
Like a lot of people on MetaFilter said, I miss Mr. Rogers.