By David Futrelle
Mr. Rogers, who passed away in 2003, is having a strange but heartwarming posthumous comeback. A kindly father figure for generations of preschoolers, Rogers was recently the subject of a documentary that made grownups weep. Tom Hanks is playing him in a forthcoming feature film. He was even hailed as something of a bisexual icon after old comments of his acknowledging he was attracted to men as well as women resurfaced.
Some people aren’t so happy about Mr. Rogers’ return to the spotlight — among them Daily Wire video host Andrew Klavan, who recently denounced Rogers as the poster boy for the sort of “metrosexual wimpiness” that Klavan thinks is destroying masculinity. It’s John Wayne, not Fred Rogers, who Klavan thinks is the true epitome of manliness.
Now, Mr. Rogers was no metrosexual; his fashion sense was almost defiantly bland, and he wore a variation on the same outfit every single day, as Klavan is certainly aware. Klavan calls him a “metrosexual” only because he knows that he would be pilloried for saying the word I suspect he really wants to use: a three-letter slur starting with “f” and ending with “g.”
Klavan would rather that the boys and men of America look up to a sort of Rambo-ized version of Jesus Christ himself — whom Klavan describes as
a steely man of integrity who was willing to sacrifice everything to say what needed to be said, and do what needed to be done.
Among regular humans, it was John Wayne who apparently came closest to Klavan’s platonic ideal of the “real man.” The world is a dangerous place, Klavam warns, and we’re in desperate need of “tough” men with guns to protect us all from evil. “If you really want to have a beautiful day in the neighborhood,” Klavan declares, “call John Wayne and tell him to bring his guns.”
I don’t know about you, but I’d feel a lot more comfortable in a neighborhood full of Mr. Rogerses than I would in one patrolled continually by John Wayne wannabes with assault rifles. We don’t need protection by these sorts of guys; we need protection from them.
Indeed, the sort of toxic masculinity that Klavan celebrates is one of the greatest dangers the world faces today. Here in the US, our terrible, illegitimate president is the worst sort of toxic male, a perpetual overcompensator whose own masculinity is so fragile and broken than he pardons literal war criminals to make himself look tough to the troops and retweets photoshopped pictures of himself reimagined as Rocky.
It’s no wonder so many people are holding up Mr. Rogers’ gentle masculinity as a sort of antidote to this gross macho bullshit. Mr. Rogers was the father who didn’t get angry, the one who returned home every day at the same time, replacing his jacket with a cardigan and his dress shoes with sneakers in a ritual designed to be reassuring to small children in its everyday sameness.
Mr. Rogers Neighborhood was easy to mock, and I did my share of mocking once I passed out of its core demographic. But when I was a very little kid I was enthralled — reassured by Mr. Rogers, delighted by Henrietta Pussycat and her habit of working “meow meow” into everything she said, entranced by Lady Aberlin. (I think I had a little crush.)
I have no desire to go back and watch the show now; I’d be the fist to admit that, as Klavan sneers, it’s “intolerable” to watch “unless you happen to be a 3-year-old.” It’s too earnest, too wholesome for my cynical middle-aged self.
But when I was a little kid I watched it religiously — and I’d like to think that for all of my cynical crankiness a little of Mr. Rogers’ gentleness rubbed off on me.
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