Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Thoughts About Mister Rogers

A little over five years ago I moved into the apartment building I still currently reside in. The previous place I lived in had a roof problem and I was forced to move out in order to have the issue fixed, so when I had to find a new place I was not prepared to move. Because it's expensive to live in Boston, I tried in vain to look for a new place that was affordable near the city. Finally, my dad informed me that a friend of his owned an apartment building just down the street from where I was living, and he was willing to give me an apartment at a set price for a cheaper price than the average of the area. His only request was that I light a candle for him when I go to church, unbeknownst to me that he was soon about to die. His son took ownership of the apartment building and has always honored the agreement I made with his father. But there was a problem - my neighbors.

The building is a very quiet building, except for an Arabic family down the hall that sometimes screams too loudly. Most of the people in the building used to be Greek. One of my dad's friends that he hung out with at a nearby kafeneio lived right next to me with his wife, and he was nice though a heavy smoker who stunk up the halls, but he died a few months ago, so now that apartment is empty cause his wife went to move in with one of her kids. Two alcoholics lived below me who were also nice guys but recently were kicked out of the building by law enforcement for some unknown reason to me, and their apartment is now empty. One guy who was acquainted with my uncle had the personality of a cucumber and refused to ever say hello to me when passing in the hallway also moved out and his apartment is empty. Across from him lives an older retired guy who stays in his apartment all day and night and only leaves once a week to run some errands, who is usually nice but I'm cautious around him cause he is known for having a hot temper, and sometimes he invites an escort over that sometimes annoyingly takes my parking spot. Then there was the Greek lady who lived directly across the hall from me, who was just horrible, and her daughter who sometimes lived there was very similar. She never even acknowledged my presence if I walked by her, though I would always greet her to only get silence and a smirk in return, but thankfully she moved out (finally!) a few months ago. This leaves me with three other single guys who live in apartments who are all nice and quiet, though two smoke too much which protrudes into the hallways, but only one of them actually talks to me, an older Greek divorced guy with whom I get along with and we help each other out when we need something.

With all these positives and negatives about my neighbors, and most of the apartments on my floor now empty, I have thought a lot about who I want as my neighbor. I actually have an ideal neighbor in mind, but most likely I know I will get the opposite. Only time will tell, but one thing is for sure: I will always try to be a good neighbor. Last year I saw the documentary about Mister Rogers titled Won't You Be My Neighbor and this past weekend I saw the movie about him titled A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. With all that is going on in my apartment building, it has made me think what it would be like to have Mister Rogers as my neighbor. My conclusion: he would probably be a very good neighbor and we would probably get along nicely. But I also have some thoughts about Mister Rogers in light of the recent public hysteria over him.

When I was very young, I would sometimes tune in to Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. He had a great introduction to the show, with his theme song, and how he would change his clothes and shoes. Then the show began, and I would always lose interest. Besides the opener, I thought his show was extremely boring, so I would just tune out. It was sort of like the show Romper Room, where I would only tune in for the magic mirror segment. Everything else was boring and couldn't imagine any kid liking the rest of it. But apparently many kids did, which has recently come as a surprise to me. When I was a kid I much more preferred children's show characters like Pee-wee Herman, Bob Ross (not really a children's show but he mainly had kid viewers waiting for Saturday morning cartoons), Captain Kangaroo, Davey and Goliath, and Bozo the Clown, among others.

As I grew up, I would every so often see Mister Rogers on television, and like most people I thought he was a nice and pleasant guy, but never thought anything more of him. He was like a motivational speaker for children, and nothing more. He was like a Norman Rockwell painting come to life, embracing fully what we think are the ideal of American values. He also reminded me a lot of Dr. Robert Schuller from Crystal Cathedral whose Hour of Power I would sometimes watch as a kid, with his constant smile and positive messages. But these messages and images never moved me as a child nor do they as a grown up. To me these were always ideal images that had nothing to do with reality. It was a feel good message that was more corny and hokey than anything else. It was something I realized as a kid, and I realize it a lot more now. And today there is a movement to idealize Mister Rogers and try to fit him in our modern world, which is something that just sounds ludicrous to me.

When I saw the documentary Won't You Be My Neighbor last year, I thought it was pretty good and interesting for a documentary, but it was also made kind of cheaply with just a bunch of YouTube videos strung together to form his story. It also left me feeling like I wanted to know more about him instead of trying to make an argument for how great of a guy he really was. I have no doubt he was a great guy, and just like anyone after they die, it is easy to speak completely positive about them, but I wanted to know more about him as a person, and the documentary left me wanting something that I came to realize probably doesn't exist. It seems we only know him through other people's experience of him. And that's fine, but it isn't something I am particularly interested in about him.

The movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood was good and clever the way it was made. Tom Hanks seems to have done a good job portraying him. I would recommend the movie. But if the documentary and movie is in any way accurate to real life, I find it also a bit disturbing. Mister Rogers was all about teaching kids how to deal with their feelings and emotions, but the movie portrays him as someone who wasn't able to express his own true feelings and emotions, but instead did so by helping troubled kids. It sort of reminded me of Michael Jackson (except for the pedophile thing), who sought to live in perpetual childhood like Peter Pan because he couldn't get along fully in a grown up world. He also came off as someone who tried to look too deeply into you when you tried to communicate with him, and annoyingly he would try to psychoanalyze you and alter you into the child deep within your soul. Whether or not he was really like this, I don't know, but its not my cup of tea, and it helped me to realize why I thought Mister Rogers wasn't all that interesting when I was a child. Personally, I don't think it is a good thing to focus on feelings and emotions too much, nor do I think it is always good to be positive and nice. These things to me reveal a disturbed individual, if I were to analyze them, and I wouldn't care much about having a conversation with such people. They remind me of people on social media who always post positive self-affirming messages. To be nice is to be human, but to be too nice is a bit creepy and desperate.

Last week I went to see a concert documentary about Depeche Mode called Spirits in the Forest. This is a documentary I was much more moved by than anything I have seen about Mister Rogers. Spirits in the Forest traces the stories of six fans of the group from all around the world, interspersed with his latest final concert in Berlin. These six fans basically talked about how miserable their lives were before they heard the music of Depeche Mode. One lady was even at the point of death with depression until she heard their music and it transformed her life. For me, these six stories were much more something I could relate to. Depeche Mode wanted the documentary to be about the fans, and it was more about the music than a personality. This is where I think the Mister Rogers movement these past few years goes wrong. It is all about the personality, with very little realistic substance. I also recently saw the movie about a Bruce Springsteen fan called Blinded by the Light. I've never been a Bruce Springsteen fan, but I could relate to the movie because I've had a similar experience to the character in the film who discovers Springsteen's music. I find nothing relatable about the recent portrayals of Mister Rogers, except that fans of his are trying to present his ideal image as a person into an ideal image of society, which I think is a bit ridiculous, idealistic and even utopianistic.

So would I want Mister Rogers as my neighbor? I still think he would have been a great neighbor. Much better than the neighbors I've had. Do I think Mister Rogers was a good television host for children? Yes, especially troubled children. He was a kind, gentle, forgiving man, and I would not take away anything from his character, and in many ways he was indeed an example. But I don't personally care for his message or don't appreciate the fact that some adults try to make him out to be another secular saint because real saints are too inaccessible to them. Which I think speaks more about the people that have made him out to be more than he really was. Perhaps these people are still troubled kids deep down inside somewhere still in search of a solution to their problems, and they are clinging to the most recent fad? This is the impression I get. But if it makes people nicer and kinder, then that may also be a good thing.