This weekend we tripped across Mister Rogers on Netflix. We had some great bonding time and introduced our first born, age 10, to one of our childhood mainstays.
Fred Rogers taught kids lessons, shared the neighborhood of make believe, and welcomed us into his own neighborhood with a quick change and a song. But, as adults, things aren’t quite as we remembered them in Mister R.’s neighborhood. In fact, when viewed through jaded, cynical and experienced adult eyes, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood is creepier than any David Lynch film. You remember him? He’s the guy who created Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet.
Here are 5 reasons Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood is creepier than a David Lynch film:
1. Sweaters–Yes, Mister R. had sweaters. In fact, his mother knitted most of the sweaters he wore on the show. While this is very sweet, as an adult it was easy to imagine the poor elderly Mrs. R. shoved in the back of the closet (sweat shop style) working her fingers to the bone–knitting. Wait, wasn’t that her gnarly, arthritic finger holding out the sweater as Mr. R reaches for it? Maybe he sings to cover up the shrill screams of his aged mother as she begs to be released from the horrors within.
2. The Great Shoe Swap–Fred Rogers greeted us and then went straight to the closet (where his mother was trapped, hiding out, knitting). He swapped out his 70’s sports coat for a handmade sweater and his dress shoes for the comfort of tennis sneakers. At the end of the show he would wrap things up by opening the closet (while again singing another song…coincidence?) and changing back into the clothes he apparently wore whenever he was outside of the neighborhood.
But upon viewing several episodes, we noticed something strange: Mister R. never actually puts his shoes back on. He leaves the house and heads back into the real world sans shoes. In the final shot they only show him from the calves up. Which leads any rational adult to wonder, was Mister R. a hippy, a nut, a wannabe nudist who couldn’t fully commit or simply a man who had his toes pinched one too many times by the formal confines of dress shoes?
3. The Neighborhood of Make Believe–Fred would include a visit to this fantastical neighborhood in every episode — a place made up of puppets voiced by adult humans. Creepy, right? The puppets were both human and animal. Odd, hmm? Of course, the animals talked. But this isn’t the strangest thing. What makes these puppets especially scary (and I wonder how I wasn’t frightened as a child) was the sexual and phallic nature of their faces.
Harriet Elizabeth Cow had a nose shaped like either breasts or buttocks. We decided her nose was much more breast-like because there appeared to be one pink ‘nipple’ (in actuality a nostril) on each breast. And what of Lady Elaine Fairchilde whose nose looked like a large, erect penis and her bright red cheeks, two irritated testicles? There were other curiosities, like why was Prince Tuesday in school with a demanding, know it all duck and a passive, pussy of a tiger, Daniel Striped Tiger, instead of human children? And why did I never realize as a child that Fred Rogers was voicing many of the puppets? Sort of creepy. And don’t even get me started on Lady Aberlin.
4. The Outside of the House Adventures–Fred often took us outside of the house and into the neighborhood to meet friends and explore the world. We saw the inside of factories and shops. In one episode Mister R. was jogging in a track suit. Picture Ben Affleck circa the J Lo Days, and there you’ve got it. He joined a friend to see how electric cars ran. The excitement and anticipation were intense. In another we watched a film about crayons being made. Mister R. called them “crayins.”
These short, informational bits were far too long, extremely boring and often featured things we found frightening, like (as mentioned before) Fred Rogers in an ecru and burgundy track suit. At least he was promoting physical activity long before our children sank into the depths of childhood obesity, and it actually became the ‘it’ thing to do.
5. Let’s Talk About Sex–Okay, so it wasn’t exactly S-E-X, but long before shows like Beverly Hills 90210 cast a harsh and glaring light on the societal ills that plagued a generation (rape, divorce, teen suicide), we had Mister Rogers.
In one episode, he indirectly broached the subject of divorce by using the creepy adult-voiced puppets. Prince Tuesday explained that his parents had been fighting lately and that he was afraid they were going to get divorced. The demanding duck classmate said her parents had been fighting, too. And then the ‘d’ word was dropped like a bad f*cking habit. From there, the creepy adult character who looks like a giant next to the puppets said some sort of mumbo jumbo, and the topic of divorce drifted into the ether, leaving kids (and viewing adults) more confused than ever.
Now, don’t misunderstand. Fred Rogers was an icon, a legend in children’s television. His lifetime was devoted to making kids happy and keeping them entertained. But as an adult the man, the neighborhood and the talking puppets seem creepy.
I often wonder if this poor man would be embraced by Generation Z in the same way Baby Boomers and Gen Xers embraced him.
This post was originally published on Suburban Sh*t Show: Tales from the Tree-lined Trenches[/nextpage]