Fred Rogers died on February 27th 2003.
For kids of my generation, Mr. Rogers was a daily staple of television viewing. Glued to the tube, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood represented everything wholesome and innocent about America. Knitted sweaters, clean-cut hair – no matter what decade of the broadcast, he was a legacy of the fifties aesthetic; a man who was neatly Brylcreemed and still adorned navy blue canvas sneakers with bright white soles.
Addressing little viewers with lines like – “let’s play make believe” – and – “You make each day a special day. You know how? By just your being you. ” – he enchanted children, and conversely became the fodder for many perversely twisted adult jokes – inclusive of Eddie Murphy imitating him on a Saturday Night Live skit called Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood – needless to say the hood was not as quaint.
Endearing to some and comical to others, Mr. Rogers was much more than I realized at the time – he was a vegetarian, a Presbyterian minister and a champion of the right to copy. During the infamous case of the Sony Corporation of America versus Universal City Studios Inc., or Betamax case as it was more commonly referred to in the early eighties, Rogers testified in defense of the right to record his program on personal VCRs saying:
Some public stations, as well as commercial stations, program the “Neighborhood” at hours when some children cannot use it … I have always felt that with the advent of all of this new technology that allows people to tape the “Neighborhood” off-the-air, and I’m speaking for the “Neighborhood” because that’s what I produce, that they then become much more active in the programming of their family’s television life. Very frankly, I am opposed to people being programmed by others. My whole approach in broadcasting has always been “You are an important person just the way you are. You can make healthy decisions.” Maybe I’m going on too long, but I just feel that anything that allows a person to be more active in the control of his or her life, in a healthy way, is important.
So a little gratitude to the man who not only brought us to the Land of Make Believe, but also helped in guaranteeing our right to record and view.