Sensor Scan: Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

If I need to explain to you who Mister Rogers is, this can only mean one of two things. You either hail from somewhere that isn’t North America or Hawai’i or something has gone badly wrong with the universe. Because the only thing that needs to be said about Mister Rogers is that he was one of the greatest television personalities, if not one of the greatest human beings period, to ever live. For almost forty years, he asked generations of children and children-at-heart to be his television neighbour for a half an hour each day. And, anyone who took him up on his invitation knew that for that time they would feel welcome and safe and enjoy sharing the company of someone who truly cared about them and was interested in what they were thinking and feeling.

The more pertinent question is why now? I could have looked at Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood at literally any point in this project, that’s how important Fred Rogers was to our collective memory and for how long. But I wanted to take just a little time to talk about him, his show and his legacy here, in the mid-1980s for a number of reasons, one of which is because in an era so deliberately and self-consciously steeped in artifice and performativity, it’s important to keep in mind that all this spectacle isn’t just for its own sake. There are real, genuine truths we’re trying to talk about here, even if we’re approaching them from odd angles, and we must never lose sight of that. Performativity and artifice do not equate to vacuousness and falseness, and nobody understood that better than Mister Rogers.

The Neighborhood only ever existed on TV, and Mister Rogers was well aware of this. There’s a reason he always called us “television neighbors”, after all. It clearly operates by televisual logic, and most certainly hails from a time when television was seen as disposable theatre. The show always opened with an aerial pan over the Neighborhood, which is very obviously conveyed through miniatures.We then cut to inside Mister Rogers’ house, where he hasn’t arrived yet. Then we pan over to the front door, and Mister Rogers comes in singing “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”, taking off his coat and shoes and putting on his sweater and sneakers. Likewise, the show always ended by doing the opposite, panning away from Mister Rogers’ house and retracing the steps in reverse.

I always got the sense that the show’s intro was meant to depict each one of us coming to the Neighborhood from different places: Mister Rogers probably hitched a ride on the Neighborhood Trolley, which you can always see making the rounds in the street, and then walked the rest of the way. As for us, perhaps we flew because we exist on the other end of the television and can travel via camera angles. Each episode then is a different visit to the Neighborhood, which is a place we all come to from somewhere else at the same time, even Mister Rogers himself.…

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