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In the battle betwen John Wayne and Mr. Rogers it’s the gentler soul who’s winning

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.

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1199718185865535490

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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ABM
ABM
2 years ago

We actually got our Ninja Turtles and Batman obsessed SK age son to watch some Mr. Rogers! Hopefully he absorbed something nourishing from it…

Mr Rogers was truly and loudly unashamed to be kind, nurturing and positive. No wonder certain people hate him 🙁

Joekster
Joekster
2 years ago

Also, Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister. I think he had a better knowledge of who Jesus was (And is, IMO) than either the Duke or some broflake on the daily wire.

Amy E
Amy E
2 years ago

When you’re surrounded by “tough” guys as a kid, you badly need someone like Mr. Rogers in your life. I can personally attest to that.

Naglfar
Naglfar
2 years ago

John Wayne was also well established as a racist asshat and awful person to be around. Fred Rogers all the way.

I had no idea Fred was bi, but I did know that Officer Clemmons was gay.

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 have a name for a neighborhood patrolled by jackbooted men with guns. We call it a fascist police state. I much prefer Mr. Roger’s neighborhood.

Conservatives love to talk about how much they love police states, but I wonder how fast their opinions would change if the ideology of the people in power was a left wing one. I can’t imagine they’d enjoy communism that much.

Allandrel
Allandrel
2 years ago

@Joekster

Also, Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister. I think he had a better knowledge of who Jesus was (And is, IMO) than either the Duke or some broflake on the daily wire.

One of the things that I love most about Fred Rogers is that he was deeply religious but never mentioned it on his show, because he knew that some of his audience would not share his faith and he wanted to be there for everyone.

Moon Custafer
Moon Custafer
2 years ago

John Wayne sat out WWII.

I sometimes like to watch this early clip of Mr. Rogers talking to a cat, because it’s just kind of soothing (and also even Fred Rogers couldn’t help saying “you’re a kitty” when in proximity to a cat):
https://youtu.be/mT5NeN0RCsc

Naglfar
Naglfar
2 years ago

@Moon Custafer

John Wayne sat out WWII.

Another chicken hawk? I didn’t know that, but I’m not surprised. Most Republicans were/are chicken hawks.

even Fred Rogers couldn’t help saying “you’re a kitty” when in proximity to a cat

Well, he was only human.

jsrtheta
jsrtheta
2 years ago

All my life I heard about what a “real man” and “tough guy” John Wayne was, how he embodied masculinity.

In truth, Wayne stayed home during WWII while other, less macho, guys went to war. Men like Jimmy Stewart and George McGovern. Wayne had multiple opportunities to join the fight, and never took them.

I never liked John Wayne. My distaste has only grown over the years.

Nequam
Nequam
2 years ago

It’s funny– even as a kid I don’t remember avidly watching Mr. Rogers (I wouldn’t be surprised if I had it on as background noise but read during it as opposed to the more attention-grabbing Sesame Street and Electric Company) but the more I read about Fred Rogers the more I like him.

John Wayne I can take or leave– and mostly leave.

weirwoodtreehugger: chief manatee
weirwoodtreehugger: chief manatee
2 years ago

Thanks for the clip Moon Custafer, it was so cute!

In truth, Wayne stayed home during WWII while other, less macho, guys went to war. Men like Jimmy Stewart and George McGovern.

My maternal grandfather was a lot more like Fred Rogers than John Wayne and he went to WWII. He never, ever talked about it though. Because he was a gentle soul and the experience traumatized him. Especially since he lost a brother. Fuck anyone who fetishizes war and violence. War damages everyone touched by it. And as I said on Twitter earlier in response to this story, it takes more courage in a culture that rewards cruelty and greed to be kind than it does to be a toxic gun loving asshole.

Anyway, I’m a grumpy, horror movie loving atheist, but I’ll always have a soft spot for Mr. Rogers. I wept through the whole documentary, pretty much. In fact, I’m on my period and have had a couple of glasses of wine. I think I’m primed to watch it again!

Talonknife
Talonknife
2 years ago

One of my favorite Fred Rogers facts is that he actually belonged to the same fraternity that I do, Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia. I’m considering seeing if I can organize a trip for my fraternity brothers to all go see the Mister Rogers film together.

Dormousing_it
Dormousing_it
2 years ago

Fred Rogers was the speaker at my college graduation. Once he had finished speaking, the Dean remarked, “Well, you guys sure quieted down fast, once Mr. Rogers started talking.”. Maybe you had to have been there, to find it funny.

Echoing what others have said, about John Wayne. Also, he walked like he perpetually had a load in his pants. Sooooo macho.

Ooglyboggles
Ooglyboggles
2 years ago

I miss Mr. Rogers. He did good in this world.

BBBB
BBBB
2 years ago

Conservatives prefer fake heroes to real heroes.

Buttercup Q. Skullpants
Buttercup Q. Skullpants
2 years ago

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 was the dad I never had. He was the dad who came home, put on a zip cardigan and sneakers, and wanted to play with me. The dad who came down to my level and indulged my endless questions. The dad who told me, “Your feelings matter. You matter.” I still cry every time I see him. How many thousands of lonely kids did he comfort?

Among all the other shows aimed at teaching kids their ABCs, his show was the only show to address emotional intelligence. He helped kids conquer the terrors and anxieties of childhood with nothing more than gentleness. He confronted big issues like bigotry, bullying, illness, death, and divorce head on, armed only with honesty. Talk about courage.

John Wayne, on the other hand, appeals to men who are smaller than they think they deserve to be. He’s a completely hollow icon. Everything about his screen persona is fake. Cowboy? He could barely ride a horse. Patriot? He never served. So much of toxic masculinity involves bullshitting people.

The right gets its idea of manliness from John Wayne movies: that kindness is weakness, that speech contaminates virility, that vigilante violence is necessary because the state is too weak to dispense justice. And so you get bullying, anger, and straitjacketed emotions. The sort of problems that only Mr. Rogers can solve.

TacticalProgressive
TacticalProgressive
2 years ago

I grew up loving Mr.Rogers as the mentor who saw the world as his beloved neighborhood and all humanity were neighbors to look out for.

I have my flaws and failings; but I always wanted to try and be the sort of person that Mr.Rogers encouraged kids to be when they grow up… and I still do. To bring healing in the many different neighborhoods in the world, especially now more than ever. And it broke my heart knowing that such a earnestly good, kind, gentle, accepting and loving man was taken by of stomach cancer. No person deserves to meet such a slow and painful death, least of all Mr.Rogers.

We need Mr.Rogers again, or least someone cut from the same cloth as him… because we need more people like him… because the world has become a much sadder, meaner, and scary place without him.

I miss Mr.Rogers even as a 30 year old going on 31. But i keep all the lessons and words he shared close to my heart. And in my eyes; we need more men in the world like Mr.Rogers, not war-hawking, bullies, bigots and ilk like John Wayne and those who wish to idolize him and propagate his hyper-masculine toxic bs.

I will always be your neighbor, Mr.Rogers…

galanx
galanx
2 years ago

The excuse given for John Wayne is that he really wanted to go to war, but goshdarn, that studio had him on contract and wouldn’t let him. Which didn’t stop Jimmy Stewart. And I Imagine if a patriotic symbol like Wayne wanted to go, a studio wouldn’t stand up and publicly stop him in the midst of the Great Patriotic War.

Moggie
Moggie
2 years ago

Don’t forget that John Wayne was an enthusiastic supporter of the Hollywood blacklist, and remained unrepentant about this for many years after. Scumbag.

As a child, I was very sensitive to fakeness in adults, and I remember detesting Wayne for his performative masculinity. He was frequently held up as a male role model, and I always wondered “why would anyone want to be like that?”

GrumpyOld SocialJusticeMangina
GrumpyOld SocialJusticeMangina
2 years ago

One of the classic chasms in American culture is whether you take Fred Rogers or John Wayne as your masculine role model. Fred made “soy boys” look like the real men.

Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
2 years ago

OT, but this article is at-least-tangential to multiple topics of recurrent interest around here: Nazi “race science”, fat-shaming, hiring biases …

https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2018/11/body-stereotypes-personality-debunked-eugenics/575041/

Penny Psmith
Penny Psmith
2 years ago

I didn’t grow up with Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood; we didn’t have it here, and I only learned about that show as an adult.
My husband, however, did grow up with it – and I think Fred Rogers must have at least some credit for his emotional intelligence.

Kevin
Kevin
2 years ago

@ Dormousing – it

The way people walk. Splash damage. Please be careful.

Victorious Parasol
Victorious Parasol
2 years ago

My favorite Mister Rogers moment (at the moment, anyway):

@Moon Custafer

I can easily imagine Mr. Parasol reacting that way to a kitty. I married a good man.

@Talonknife

Hail, Sinfonia! I was Phi Beta as an undergrad, and our chapter hung out with the Sinfonian chapter ALL the time – I still have fond memories of joining those guys for a round of “Keep America Singing” every week before going to our respective meetings.

Buttercup Q. Skullpants
Buttercup Q. Skullpants
2 years ago

Reagan also projected the same sense of fakeness. The 1980 election marketed him as a rugged antidote to the cardiganed, tree hugging, solar-panel-installing Jimmy Carter. (Carter served in the Navy during WWII, while Reagan was assigned to “motivation on the home front”, ie making movies about the war). Reagan helped plant the crop of right wing callousness we’re reaping now.

As far as picking a role model goes, here’s an easy quiz. Which one of these are you more likely to experience in your day-to-day life?

A. Heartbreak
B. Disappointment
C. Low self esteem
D. Marauding gangs of immigrants invading your neighborhood with bushel baskets of drugs

Even if it were D, I’d still pick Mr. Rogers.

Naglfar
Naglfar
2 years ago

@Buttercup Q. Skullpants

The right gets its idea of manliness from John Wayne movies: that kindness is weakness, that speech contaminates virility, that vigilante violence is necessary because the state is too weak to dispense justice. And so you get bullying, anger, and straitjacketed emotions. The sort of problems that only Mr. Rogers can solve.

You can see the roots of the alt right in those ideas. When people argue with them, they call those people “snowflakes” or mock the idea of feelings and emotions. Or they oppose any sort of kindness for its own sake. And they love violence.

@GOSJM

One of the classic chasms in American culture is whether you take Fred Rogers or John Wayne as your masculine role model. Fred made “soy boys” look like the real men.

I’ve never paid too much attention to role models in the world, but if I had to pick one of these people to base my ethos around, it would definitely be Rogers. John Wayne was a racist, he abused the people around him, and he was in no way heroic.
I find that often the men who take up toxic masculinity as an exterior are those who are very insecure about their own masculinity, so they pursue it to a toxic degree to feel better about themselves.

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