Returning to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe Returning to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe
Returning to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe
An appreciation of Fred RogersOn the continuum of awesome compound words, “make-believe” ranks very near the top. I learned the term courtesy of Fred Rogers not long after I’d learned to speak, and the concept of finding deep, lasting truth in imagination has since become a guiding principle in my life.
With the exception of my parents, no one played as prominent a role in the early stages of my cognitive and emotional development as Rogers. During my formative years, I saw him more regularly—and paid greater attention to him—than any other adult on the planet. For one magical half hour each day, I would sit cross-legged and rapt, my gaze transfixed on the screen of our bulky Zenith television, where a besweatered man told stories, sang songs, and played with puppets. That this program could somehow compete with the bombs and lasers of the cartoons in competing time slots continues to amaze me. That Rogers spoke directly to me, from his living room into mine—and with remarkable lucidity—about the emotional challenges of childhood, remains one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received.
Born at a time when young people were learning to distrust anyone over 30, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was an idyllic setting, but it was by no means a retreat from reality. On the contrary, Neighborhood’s magic was precisely that it taught us to confront the fears, insecurities, and anger that we all faced as children—from parents’ divorces to personal loneliness to the inevitability of death. “The world is not always a kind place,’’ Fred Rogers once said. ‘’That’s something all children learn for themselves, whether we want them to or not, but it’s something they really need our help to understand.’’
While helping children find that understanding, the lifelong vegetarian who swam daily and never drank or smoked ended up with the longest run of any figure in public television. Rogers was a Presbyterian minister, but he infused an almost Zen-like calm into everything he did—from the way he removed his dress shoes and tied his sneakers to the smile that accompanied the zip of his cardigan. From 1968 to 2001, Rogers, who died in 2003, took children on daily trips to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, where King Friday, Daniel Striped Tiger, X the Owl, and Henrietta Pussycat came to life. He also entertained visits from Yo-Yo Ma, toured a zoo’s penguin environments, and taught us how yellow crayons are made. His awards and accolades are too numerous to list here, but among them are the Presidential Medal of Freedom, four Daytime Emmys, and the lifetime achievement award of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.
Rogers articulated his mission before Congress to Senator John O. Pastore in 1969, when national budget cuts threatened to end PBS’s broadcast of the show.
“I give an expression of care every day to each child to help him realize that he is unique,” he told Congress. “If we in public television can only make it clear that feelings are mentionable and manageable, we will have done a great service for mental health.”
When Pastore responded that Rogers’ words gave him goose bumps, and that he “just earned the 20 million dollars” for PBS’s budget, he said so because Rogers had made him believe in the power of speaking honestly and compassionately to children about the challenges of life and the necessity of working together. Today, his show can still be seen on some PBS channels and occasionally on the Mister Rogers website. Let’s hope he keeps making believers out of future generations.
Photo by Walt Seng
This article originally appeared in GOOD Issue 19: The Neighborhoods Issue. You can read more from the issue here.
What if Simply Playing Soccer Could Power a Whole Village? Uncharted Play's Soccket balls ingeniously turn kinetic energy into electric current.
Next Time You're at a Pretentious Exhibition, Just Change It Güvenç Özel shows how a digital solution can augment a physical problem.
A Mosaic Shines in Philly A intimate conversation with a fixture of the Philadelphia art world.
Zaha Hadid Had a Busier Week Than You Did A posh homeware line, a math-inspired museum wing, and a blossom-shaped apartment building
London Skaters Fought Gentrification, and Won A coalition of skateboard enthusiasts just saved the birthplace of British skate culture from a future as a shopping center.
“What I Would Like to See is More Bystanders Stepping in to Take Action” The Everyday Sexism Project chronicles more than 80,000 instances of sexism around the world, and it’s making a big policy impact.
It's Not Where You're Going, It's How you Get There The future of transportation is now A look at futuristic forms of transportation that have become reality.
Inside the Minds of 11-Year Olds From Around the World A new documentary probes the special moral clarity of 11-year old children.
This Underwater Museum is Bringing a Coral Reef to Life A collaborative effort spurs a marine project off the coast of Egypt.
“French Navy” and Other Suggestions for Scotland’s New National Anthem EDM, art rock, indie ballads … let’s pretend it’s all on the table if Scotland votes for independence.
How a 17th Century Bible is Helping to Revive a Native-American Language One human language may die every 14 days, but the ancenstral tongue of M.I.T.-trained linguist Jessie Little Doe Baird won't be one of them.
Thank You For Caffeinating The dirty secret behind your favorite soft drink America’s $75 billion love affair with soft drinks has less to do with flavor than a specific, notorious ingredient.
The Daily GOOD
Get our daily dose of information and inspiration. Sign up Now ›