So I’ll be upfront: I don’t think I could actually tell you the specific content of any given Mr. Rogers episode, even if you paid me. Sure, I watched it all the time when I was younger; but my memory has never been the best, and that was in the years that time has since reduced to a hazy fog of shifting images. So, no, I couldn’t tell you the name of the king and queen puppet, nor could I reminisce with you about the time he visited the balloon factory (I don’t even know if this actually happened, but if it didn’t, it should have.).
What I do remember, though, was the aura that surrounded Mr. Fred Rogers: calm. I know I spent many an afternoon enthralled with whatever was happening onscreen, sitting Indian-style on the big blue rug three feet too close to the television. Mr. Rogers never shouted. Mr. Rogers never filled the screen with flashy colors and spinning graphics. No, Mr. Rogers sang quiet songs and tread softly through his simple set. He had a trolley that rolled click-clack down the rails with only a tinkling bell to tell us it was there.
They say that children these days have shorter attentions spans, and that’s why shows have to be garish and loud. If they don’t have constant jump-cuts and blaring music, a child might, heaven forbid, actually stop watching television. That, of course, is mendacious. Children will never stop watching television unless you paint the screen black and tell them it’s a radio. And ask yourself what’s more likely: Children sometime in the late 80s suddenly underwent a massive genetic change all across the nation that pre-disposed them to being hyperactive and unable to focus, or that television started becoming more frenetic on its own, and took the kids with it?
Kids are kids, and that means they are going to be hyper sometimes. When I was young, we could count on being able to take at least a small break during the day and sit down to watch something soothing, something that could enrapture us, if only for a short time. My parents counted on it, too. No such luck these days. Bill Nye, great guy that he is, is not going to settle anyone’s nerves. My own local PBS station has its own dancing, singing, twitch-master. Sure, he’s entertaining, but he also leaves the kids bouncing off the walls. So why does media do it? If I knew the answer to that, I’d be trying to cash in on it.
But, whatever it all means, my point is a simple one: Wherever he is, I’m sure that Mr. Rogers is hanging up his coat, tying up his laces, and taking it easy; that’s what he did best.