The Popular Memory of Mister Rogers

Curator's Note

Most people over the age of 35 and under the age of 5 have strong memories of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood or its modern extension, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. These programs were designed as part of Rev. Fred Rogers’ ordained media mission as a Presbyterian minister. Though Fred viewed the space between the television and the child as holy, he never mentions God directly in his ministry (within the program itself) as this could exclude children of different faiths. Mr. Rogers filled his programs with music and songs, which he performed as the various characters or as himself. Songs that discuss how to cope with and explore emotions, social interactions, and relationships. He rarely raises his voice, and he speaks slowly (often excruciatingly so) and in a soothing tone. His popular memory is akin to sainthood – wholesome and kind.

As a media scholar, I tend to think of Mister Rogers in terms of his advocacy for public broadcasting. His testimony for the Senate Communications Subcommittee is still circulating in online repositories like YouTube and in historical archives. It is a moment that is emphasized in one way or another in a variety of current popular media texts, not because of its historical importance, but because of its affective significance. In his testimony, he recites the lyrics to a song from the show “What do you do with the mad that you feel?” Winning over the committee chair with its powerful message.

This song is featured in both the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor exploring Fred’s complicated and long-term difficulty expressing negative emotions, using a beautifully animated Daniel Tiger as a stand-in for Fred himself—his alter-ego. It is used again in the biopic Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood as a pivotal moment for journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhyes) to learn to cope with his anger and as a moment for audiences to see behind the scenes of the Land of Make-Believe with Fred voicing Daniel Tiger as played by Tom Hanks (an actor with an equally wholesome popular memory). The song is revisited and modernized for Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, and though this song specifically hasn’t been remixed as a dubstep, other songs like “Sing Together” and “Garden of Your Mind” have been. As we see Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and the man himself become adapted, revised, and remixed, his popular memory becomes more participatory, his ministry and mediated self continuing on.



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