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Alexandra Erin @alexandraerin
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So, I'm going to make a thread about Fred Rogers.
I've seen a lot of people talking about their anxiety that something's going to come out and tarnish their image of him, make him their last hero to fall from the pedestal, the one that crushes them.
But let me tell you something: no, Mr. Rogers wasn't perfect.

And that's important.

Remember him singing? If you heard him singing his songs (one to say hello, one to say goodbye, every show, like clockwork), you can probably hear it in your head.

...was he a great singer?
I'm not asking if he was a competent singer or if he was good enough. If he had auditioned for a TV show as a singer, would anyone have hired Mr. Fred Rogers to go on TV and sing.

No, they would not.
He was a sincere and serviceable singer.

Puppets! Mr. Rogers was famous for his puppets. Oh, he loved puppets. He treated them with such care. It was a craft he worked at his whole life.

Was he...

Was he good at it, though? Wide repertoire of voices? Make the puppets alive?
Mr. Rogers absolutely deserves a place in the annals of puppet artistry for helping keep puppetry in the public eye after the decline of Howdy Doody, but if you compare what Mr. Rogers did with his puppets to a professional puppeteer... to any of the Muppeteers... well.
Here is an image gallery of Mr. Rogers drawing a house, and talking about drawing. He liked to draw! Just like he liked to sing and he liked to puppet. He's just not, as he explains, very good at it.
That's not disparagement! That's not discouragement, negative self-talk. It's a humble assessment.
On PBS, you could watch Bob Ross paint a beautiful landscape in twenty some minutes. Same channel, here's Mr. Rogers, barely drawing a house.

And as I said upthread: this matters. It matters a lot.
If you listen to Bob Ross, that master landscape painter, he will tell you the same thing Mr. Rogers did: what he's not good at. He'll tell you, at various points, that he can't do faces. He can't paint a picture that looks like it could be a place, but he can't paint a place.
And it is important that Bob Ross talked about his weaknesses, the things he can't do, the things he's not good at.

Mr. Rogers showed us that you don't have to be a great singer to sing. You don't have to be Jim Henson to play with puppets, to entertain people.
Ah, but I said I was talking about flaws, and it turns out that even Mr. Rogers's flaws are inspiring? He taught us that you don't have to be great at something for it to be worth doing, as long as it makes you feel good?
But my point here is: Mr. Rogers was a human being, a mortal like any other, and he put it on display.

Do you remember ever hearing Mr. Rogers talk about anger?

"Sometimes," he'd say, "sometimes, I get so angry."

You know he's telling the truth, right? He didn't lie to kids.
Mr. Rogers got angry. When interviewers would ask him what makes him angry, he'd talk about great injustices or people disrespecting each other.

But he was a man, take him for all in all. You know he got mad at petty things.
Mr. Rogers may have been one of the most sincere human beings on the planet, but we all contain multitudes. And I believe he made a choice, early on in his career, and then he made that same choice every single day, about who he was going to preset himself as.
The Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood format was different from most children's shows. He interacted with specific children very rarely. Most of the time he was talking to the camera.

That is, to the audience.

That is, to you.
And that creates an illusion of intimacy, tempered by a reality of distance (she says, as she engages in her preferred mode of discourse, which is monologuing on Twitter as though she's having a conversation with you.)
And boy, let me tell you: it's very easy to keep your temper, if you have a temper problem, when the other half of the conversation isn't actually happening, when your audience is on the other side of a glass wall.
I'm not saying that Mr. Rogers had a temper problem. I'm saying he had a temper, as everyone does, and once he became the world's greatest neighbor, he bore the responsibility for always keeping it.
He didn't hide it. He wouldn't talk about anger without acknowledging that he gets angry, too. Because he wasn't lecturing from on high. He did have an old-fashioned belief in decorum between adults and children (he's Mr. Rogers, not Fred)...
...but he didn't believe that had to be an unbridgeable gulf.
Now, as I said, I'm not going to tell you that Mr. Rogers had a temper problem.

I am going to tell you two things, though.

One, if you could meet the man and you talked to him long enough, you'd probably find that maybe you and he disagree about 90% of everything.
But, two, it wouldn't change how he felt about you, and probably wouldn't change how you felt about him.
What's your favorite currently iaring TV show? What's a movie you like? What's your favorite song by your favorite singer?

Whatever your answers are, Fred Rogers would probably think it's garbage. A waste of time. Disrespectful. Hurtful.
Fred Rogers went into children's programming because he was horrified by Howdy-Doody and the Three Stooges.
So you want a fatal flaw? Supernatural, The Avengers, whatever you're into... Fred Rogers would have hated it. I guarantee.

He wouldn't hate you. He wouldn't argue with you about watching it. But he'd hate it.
If you can stand knowing that, then you can relax... probably nothing will tarnish your memory of Fred Rogers.
And if you can stand knowing that... then maybe you can think about the fact that Fred Rogers also wouldn't get the appeal of Your Favorite Thing the next time you're mad at someone for not liking it, the next time you feel like you have to defend its honor against all critics.
There are some interesting points about how Jim Henson and Fred Rogers were basically elemental opposites as entertainers and educators, but they respected each other and supported one another.
Jim Henson was about artistry (and artifice), erasing the lines between imagination and reality, making you forget there was a puppeteer. Mr. Rogers wanted to make sure that children understood what was make-believe and what was real, and presented himself without artifice.
Within the context of a Neighborhood of Make-Believe segment, you didn't see the backs of the sets and the puppets never came off exposing hands. But he made sure you knew it was make-believe, and in non-make-believe segments, would show you how it all worked.
Jim Henson banned Carroll Spinney (the puppeteer who wore the Big Bird rig for most of the character's existence) from being photographed partly out of the costume, or being filmed getting in or out of it, to preserve the illusion.
When Big Bird appeared on Mr. Roger's Neighborhood, there was a clash of philosophies that was solved by having Big Bird only appear in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, where imaginary characters belonged.
When I say that Jim Henson and Mr. Rogers were opposites... I mean it. From top to bottom, start to finish, first principles to final conclusions. You could not imagine two more different people who both liked puppets and educating children.
Jim Henson was an illusionist and storyteller at heart, even more than he was a puppeteer. Puppets were just a medium for blurring the lines of reality. He was a magician. If he could make you forget the frog's not real, that's a magic trick.

Mr. Rogers didn't like tricks.
Mr. Rogers didn't like whoopie cushions or pies in faces or heckling or any kind of joke or entertainment that required the audience to be fooled in some fashion, even ways most of us would regard as harmless.
Can I tell you something?

I suspect Mr. Rogers didn't actually have a very high opinion of some of Jim Henson's choices.


He made a choice about who he was, and "not having a high opinion of his choices" doesn't mean he didn't like him, or respect his talents.
Now, if you've seen me thread about Henson or the Muppets, you know that Jim Henson is one of my special idols. And like a lot of people... I liked Sesame Street more than I liked Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, when I was Of An Age. It was more fun. It was more interesting.
I didn't understand what I got from the Neighborhood until I was much older.
And having done a lot of honest surveying of Mr. Rogers's stated beliefs and goals, I think, if I'm honest, I have to say that a lot of what Jim Henson did embodied what Mr. Rogers thought was wrong with TV in particular and society generally.

(Not like, the worst of it.)
But I've also read that they had great respect for each other.

So do I think Mr. Rogers was being two-faced? No, I think he was being himself. Polite and respectful and friendly, looking for the good in people and focusing on it.
Mr. Rogers would have seen that Jim Henson was good at what he did, and it made him feel good and it made people laugh and be happy, whether Mr. Rogers liked it or not. It brought families together to watch things, together.
If Mr. Rogers wasn't bothered enough by what he disliked in Henson's work to not like Jim Henson, why should I be bothered enough by this judgment to not like Mr. Rogers?
Listen. I've got another thread in me but it's going to wait for when I have more than one Moscow mule in me about how and why I think Mr. Rogers was petty. So petty, you have no idea.
But he didn't *act* petty. It didn't come out in small ways, only very big ones. You know that line in Doctor Who about how it's not good men who have lots of rules, because good men don't need them?

Mr. Rogers lived his life by rules.
I think he was a petty man who knew he was petty (as he knew he had a temper) and he made the choice early on and then made the same choice every day, the way that ONLY the truly petty can make the same choice every single day, about who he was going to be to the world.
Mr. Rogers liked you just the way you are. He meant it when he said it, because that's the choice he made. He liked Jim Henson just the way he was. He liked the men in the Three Stooges shorts who threw pies at each other just the way they were.
Mr. Rogers was as flawed as any of us but he made a choice and he committed to it like Christian Bale in the Prestige. Does that make him insincere? Like Christian Bale said in Batman Begins: it's not who he was underneath, but what he did, that defines him.
So stop fearing that he'll prove flawed.

If you learned nothing else from Mr. Roger's life and example and ministry, you should know that you can like him just the way he is.
Now, maybe you're thinking, "But I'm not afraid I'll find out he can't draw! I'm afraid he was a white nationalist or hated gay people, or was a sexual harasser!"

Well. People who knew him and researched him can tell you there's not much room for skeletons in his closet...
...but you can find people willing to make those kinds of reassurances for anyone. I find it credible that it's not likely he had any such horrible secrets. But I can't prove it. No one can.

What we can do is: see him as human. Take him down off the pedestal, off the high shelf.
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