Friends, I am not too hung up on accumulating cool points in this life. I am a proud fan of many things that are somewhat ridiculous for me to enjoy at my age, according to most folks. For example, I like Hanson. Yes, THAT Hanson. And I like them in a totally unironic way. They are talented musicians who have a healthy respect for old-school pop, R&B and songwriting craftsmanship, and anyone who can pull off a spot-on Blues Brothers homage (bonus points because it features Weird Al, another uncool dude I like) is A-OK in my book.
So it is with an utter lack of regard for my street cred that I proclaim my love of Mr. Rogers, and his neighborhood, and everything that entails. The cardigans, the puppets, the fish, the trolley – all of it. Fred Rogers was a man who remained an unchanged television presence for decades, even in a society that seemed to be less receptive to him year by year. He was decent, gentle, kind, sincere, and soft-spoken, which earned him ridicule and parody as America began leaving its innocence behind and barreling toward the cultural cesspool it now gleefully wallows in. Everyone from Eddie Murphy to Robot Chicken has made fun of Mr. Rogers over the years, and I get that. He’s really easy to make fun of. Anyone that terminally unhip is an easy target, and America loves a smart-ass.
I love smart-asses too, and I am a big one myself. But I have no patience for people who take shots at this particular show or this particular person. Mr. Rogers was one of the most extraordinary men to ever walk this earth, and again, I am being very sincere and totally unironic in that statement. His understanding of and concern for children was almost supernatural. He treated children like fully-formed people, respected them and didn’t condescend to them, and offered them more than simple mind-numbing entertainment. He was willing to recognize the dark side of many kids’ lives – their fears, their concerns, their insecurities and anxieties – and he took them on with a simple but effective blend of honesty and warmth. He was probably a better parent to many kids in his audience than their own real-life parents were. One the one hand, that’s a sad thought, but on the other hand, thank goodness he was there to provide some emotional stability and security to kids who desperately needed it.
The world never stopped needing him, really, and it’s a shame that there’s no room on television for someone like him anymore. If he was still with us and still able, I know he’d want to continue doing what he had spent most of his life doing. But I doubt he’d find a place on the screens of young people in this day and age. The America we live in is not looking for guys like Fred Rogers anymore, unless they can wring some laughs out of skewering his squeaky-clean image.
That’s why, when I saw a link to a video called “Mr. Rogers Remixed” while surfing the web yesterday, I was very wary and prepared to be pissed off. It sounded like another attempt at parody that would probably aggravate me to watch. But then I saw that it was produced for PBS, with the blessing and cooperation of the Fred Rogers Company, so it was something legit.
Actually, what it turned out to be was something really awesome. There’s a musician and mashup artist named John D. Boswell, who goes by the handle melodysheep on YouTube, and who has a knack for creating music videos that are often based on science and sci-fi material. PBS asked him to come up with something featuring elements from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, and he delivered in a big way.
Garden of Your Mind is the result of this effort, and I was genuinely blown away by the fact that you could combine Mr. Rogers, auto-tune and beats without making it seem crass, demeaning or parodic. In fact, it was really moving in a way I didn’t expect at all. It distilled some of Fred Rogers’ philosophy and personality into a few minutes that remind you how valuable he was to kids everywhere. And it’s pretty catchy, too. I don’t know how many of you would be interested in watching it, but it’s the coolest thing I’ve seen all week (other than LeBron James’ performance against Boston last night – BOOHYAH!) so I’m posting it. Welcome back to the neighborhood, y’all. 🙂
EDIT: The info on the YouTube page for this video says, “This is the first in a series of PBS icons remixed”, so it looks like there’s more where this came from. Maybe we’ll see some Sesame Street or Electric Company remixes sometime, both of which I’d love. Looking forward to seeing what they come up with next!