My kids were fans, along with the rest of America’s in the seventies, of a Presbyterian minister who used his daily thirty-minute TV show, “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”, and his talents as a communicator, a musician and a puppeteer, to inculcate human values in very young children. He never mentioned God; he was recognized by his signature cardigan rather than a clerical collar. He never plugged religion, never quoted the Bible (tough for a Protestant preacher !). His pitch was kindness, respect and decency. His aim was to make the world a place where people respected, tolerated and even liked each other, as they did in his “Neighborhood”. He was a genuine, if not the original, Mr Nice Guy, who helped kids get along in a world that was not always nice. He helped them to face realities including divorce, death and even 9/11.
Today some might see him as a wimp, an effeminate Mr Milquetoast. All of his former fans, however, continue to admire the positive influence he had on children and their parents. But the times they are a-changin’. Kids’ heroes today are tough guys endowed not only with firepower but superpowers (even Baby Jack-Jack in the cartoon “Incredibles 2” has superpowers). Many of their parents welcome Populism, if not Fascism, in their politicians. Tough talk and threats of “fire and fury” from Trump are what they prefer, and they don’t seem to mind his cozying up to and praising a dictator-killer like Kim Jong Un. Mr Fred McFeely (!) Rogers died in 2003; he must be turning in his grave. He is no doubt saying to himself : “There goes the Neighborhood !”