Let’s get one thing straight. I appreciate Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. I enjoyed it as a kid, and I still have a fondness for it as an adult. And if you really want to know, I was a Daniel Striped Tiger fan. Not the one in Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, but the one that was made of cloth and fiber and was voiced and operated by Fred Rogers himself. I even follow cast member Betty Aberlin on Twitter. (Oh, and if you give me any grief on my fandom for Sesame Street, I also follow Sonia Manzano on Twitter, and I will hear no slander on that show either).
During the show’s later seasons, Mr. Rogers would tape programs that encompassed a theme, with that theme extending across a five-episode weekday arc. Each show would slowly and carefully discuss a concept, maybe there would be a visit to Chef Brockett’s bakery, or a visit from Betty Aberlin or Mr. McFeely or Officer Clemons, that kind of thing. Then the show would take us to the Neighborhood of Make Believe. You know, follow the trolley from Mr. Rogers’ side couch to the world of King Friday XIII and Lady Elaine Fairchilde.
For the most part, almost every episode is available to purchase or to stream.
Except for five episodes in the 1984 season. The “Conflict” episodes.
During the 1983-84 broadcast season, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood produced a five-episode arc based around conflict. And in the Neighborhood of Make Believe, there is a story arc where King Friday discovers that one of the Neighborhood’s residents, Cornflake S. Pecially, is manufacturing materials for a neighboring land. King Friday suspects that the materials might be used for making bombs, and in turn wants to raise his own defense against this land. Eventually it is discovered that the materials coming from Corny’s manufacturing plant are for a bridge and not for a bomb, but it takes a few more days for the tension to subside.
But here’s the thing. Of all the episodes of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood that are available for purchase or for download, these five episodes have been removed from distribution. Only this link at the Internet Archive still holds these episodes for viewing.
And to be honest, these episodes right now need to be watched. By families – parents and children – together.
It is suspected that these episodes were created after the broadcast of the 1983 ABC TV movie The Day After, which focused on the aftermath of a nuclear war. I saw the film when it was originally broadcast, and even a a college student, watching that film gave me some serious fright. But even today, when we’re currently dealing with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, these episodes of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood speak clearly and succinctly about the horrors of war, the paranoia of political rhetoric, and the fear that all of us face if war arrives on our doorstep.
Perhaps the company that currently maintains Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood felt that the program was too disturbing without a counterbalance of a broadcast like The Day After, or even a similar documentary like The War Game or Testament. And it’s not like there’s any language or characters in the broadcast that have poorly aged. I mean, this is a TV series where Mr. Rogers and Officer Clemons (a black man) soaked their feet together in a wading pool – on camera, in a subtle sign of racial equality and harmony.
And this is a program that was not afraid to discuss sensitive topics. This clip of Lady Aberlin and Daniel Striped Tiger was created AFTER the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr and of Robert Kennedy.
I say this now, because that one link to the “Conflict” episodes is kinda spotty. It’s being hosted on the Internet Archive, and there’s no guarantee that the programs will remain up there. There is an option to download those episodes from the Internet Archive and save them on your hard drive, should you choose to do so. (hint hint hint hint)
You know what? I should have written this blog post for yesterday.
I mean, March 20th is actually “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Day. Seeing as that’s also
Fred Rogers’ birthday.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to change my shoes, put my sweater in the closet, and head off while someone plays a jazz piano interlude to close out my blog.