Recently, the annual Heartland Film Festival was held in Indianapolis. CAC invited University of Indianapolis staffer Jen Huber to share her thoughts on the intergenerational influence of one of the films screened, Mister Rogers and Me.
I’ll admit that at the end of the movie Mister Rogers and Me, I was blinking away a tear or two. There he was, the man I had spent hours and hours with in front of the television, telling me that he loved the person I had become and was proud of me. I noticed that I wasn’t the only one getting a bit choked up. In a packed theatre, 250 of my closest friends and I watched this excellent documentary, which talks about the life of Fred Rogers and his quiet influence.
“Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” began airing in 1968, ten years before I was born. The final episode aired in 2001, nearly 900 episodes later. So for 33 years (and more if you count the reruns), Mister Rogers has been teaching, listening, explaining, comforting, and encouraging generation after generation of young people.
Not only would Mister Rogers talk to the children and explain away their fears or frustrations, but he also would talk to the adults about bigger issues such as divorce and how it would affect their children. Mister Rogers helped to bring parents and children together and told kids that it was OK to talk about their feelings or issues that seemed frightening, such as being picked on at school or even how to deal with death.
He asked parents to watch over their children and be willing to talk to them and listen, even if their fears seemed irrational or silly. To Mister Rogers, talking about feelings and asking adults to open up and talk about their feelings was a natural thing to do.
The movie went on to interview several people who had worked or lived near Mister Rogers: Tim Russert, Dr. Susan Linn, Arthur author Marc Brown, and NPR’s Susan Stamberg. All talked about his calm demeanor and dedication to his television audience and to his close friends. As he is quoted in the movie, “ I feel so strongly that deep and simple is far more essential than complex.”
Mister Rogers wanted to be—and was—a safe and stable influence for millions of children. Many of those children are now grown up and having children of their own. I hope that his gentle influence and words of wisdom continue to trickle down through the next generation of parenting, reminding us that we are loved—to paraphrase Mister Rogers—“just the way we are.”
"When I say it's you I like, I'm talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch—that deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive: love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed." —Fred Rogers
Assistant Director, Publications
University of Indianapolis