The Fred Rogers Folly

by Anil Antony | 5/16/02 5:00am

Let's play a game I learned as a child --Using the names James Wolfensohn, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, President George W. Bush, Jim Lehrer, Condoleeza Rice and Mister Rogers, you pick which one doesn't fit. I'll give you a clue: they're all commencement day speakers at elite universities. Forget for a second that one of the people on the list, Dubya, is a complete idiot and you'll realize that all of the above are respected intellectuals and leaders. Usually, this is where I'd go off on a tirade about George W. and how I think he's death for the intellectual spirit of this nation, but that's not my intention today. I have a problem with Mister Rogers.

Of all the people available to speak, why Mister Rogers? There are so many worthy political, social and humanitarian leaders. True, Cornell once again proved that they're the idiot brother of the Ivy League by selecting the great and inimitable Danny Glover to speak, but everyone else has more relevant choices. How about a senator, a former president, a brilliant public speaker or even Strom Thurmond? Even old-man Thurmond could probably say something more entertaining, although Strom's comments would probably have to do with eating baby-food and hating black people.

I know that sounds odd; how can Anil take issue with the man responsible for teaching us all about caring and sharing? Well, first of all, I don't think I learned anything from Mister Rogers, except for how to watch TV. I well remember watching TV at my babysitter's wishing to God that Mr. Rogers and his Neighborhood would disappear and be forever replaced with cartoons. I enjoyed Daniel Striped Tiger, but the rest of the show, especially his train to the neighborhood, was as boring as it was predictable. Let's be honest, was there a chance in a million that anything remotely exciting was ever going to happen on that show?

Call me cynical, but I disagree with President Wright, who billed Mister Rogers as the "ideal speaker" post-Sept. 11. What, have children forgotten how to share in the wake of this unspeakable tragedy? Are we wandering, lost and nonfunctional, through a terrible world? Not a chance. President Wright wrongly assumes that we are children in need of guidance, both emotional and spiritual, from Mr. Rogers the Presbyterian Minister. Just share and play nicely and everyone will be all right, eh? Ignoring the fact that I think his religious associations will make his speech incredibly pious and preachy, when is it ever the answer to return to childhood, the age of innocence and ignorance? And even though for many of us Mr. Rogers was a childhood icon, we're past that stage. The inference that Mister Rogers holds the moral pulse of our nation is as paternalistic as it is misguided.

Besides, to be honest, Mister Rogers creeps me out. There's something eerie about his calm manner and tone. Some of my closest friends (all well-known pedophiles) have levied charges of pedophilia against him; I wouldn't go so far, but consider some of the things he says. This is an actually quote: "I'd get all soapy, with soap suds all over me. And then my grandfather would take this hose and go like this with me. He'd squirt all over me until the soap Yeah, my grandfather and I did a lot of playing together." Maybe it's just me, but you'd think that a person with children on the mind so much would shy away from that type of double entendre. I can just picture him on the podium saying something like, "In my life, I've made it my goal to reach out and touch as many children as possible," or something equally pedophilically suggestive. Actually, that could turn out to be amusing, or awkward, at least.

Last year Mister Rogers spoke at Middlebury, which is viewed by many as a minor-league Dartmouth, so I suppose that it seems natural he should graduate to Hanover. However, I don't know if I can stomach all his talk of King Friday XIII and the narcissistically named Mr. McFeely. There's a time and a place, but graduation is neither of those. Graduation speakers should be the culmination of the year's great speakers at Dartmouth -- and this year with a list of names that includes Barak, Tutu, Angelou and Sharpton, Fred McFeely Rogers is hardly the climax.

Last year at Middlebury, he led the convocation in a rendition of his well-known and brutally cheerful song, "It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood." If he does that here, I might very well charge the podium screaming, "It's a beautiful day when I see you in Hell, Rogers!" At least that would be entertaining.