On a recent Friday night, my 12-year-old daughter and I wandered through some vintage SNL skits on YouTube before landing on Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood. While I laughed nostalgically at Eddie Murphy’s hilarious and at times outrageous lampoon of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, my daughter was unusually quiet.
I tried to explain to her the humor behind the parody, and the jarring differences between the crude, rude Mr. Robinson and the proper, kind Mr. Rogers, but my daughter’s blank gaze remained unchanged. It was the same expression I see fairly often in my own classroom, an expression that says, “I have no idea what you’re talking about, Ms. Flaxman,” if I make reference to something that I think they must know about, but they don’t. Like Dante. Or Milton. Or The Truman Show.
While I probably shouldn’t have been surprised by my daughter’s lack of knowledge about these cultural icons, I couldn’t let it stand. So off she and I ventured into the Internet’s seemingly infinite realm, Googling this and that.
When we finally settled on a clip from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood on YouTube, it was as if we had stepped into a time machine and traveled to a foreign yet familiar world. It was impossible not to notice how slowly Mr. Rogers spoke; in fact the entire episode’s action moved at a painstaking pace by today’s standards. Yet it was completely mesmerizing to watch Mr. Rogers entering his house, greeting each of us, changing his shoes, walking into the kitchen, singing, showing us how three very large puzzle pieces fit into three very large holes in a puzzle.
I felt sentimental seeing the old neighborhood again. My daughter, on the other hand, seemed concerned, even a little sad. “He’s all alone,” she said. “And he’s so sweet. Who is he? Does he have a family?”
For a few minutes, my daughter was walking in a neighborhood not her own, in a neighborhood no longer real or often considered, but nevertheless a place she could recognize on some level as home. This could be considered technology’s magic.