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Fred Rogers vs. The United States Senate: 1969

Published in Blog Archive, Culture Bully. Tags: .

Last night over some delightful pizza a discussion was had that touched on the power of Mr. Rogers’ classic television show; one friend in particular addressed this, his 1969 appearance before the United States Senate Subcommittee on Communications in hopes of continuing funding for the young PBS. The situation is, as best I can come up with, is given an unparalleled description by the Fred Rogers entry on Wikipedia, “His goal was to support funding for PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, in response to significant proposed cuts. In about six minutes of testimony, Rogers spoke of the need for social and emotional education that public television provided. He passionately argued that alternative television programming like his Neighborhood helped encourage children to become happy and productive citizens, sometimes opposing less positive messages in media and in popular culture. He even recited the lyrics to one of his songs.

The chairman of the subcommittee, John O. Pastore, was not previously familiar with Rogers’ work, and was sometimes described as gruff and impatient. However, he reported that the testimony had given him goosebumps, and declared, ‘Looks like you just earned the $20 million.’ The subsequent congressional appropriation, for 1971, increased PBS funding from $9 million to $22 million.”

“What Do You Do?” Lyrics:

What do you do with the mad that you feel when you feel so mad you could bite?
When the whole wide world seems oh, so wrong…and nothing you do seems very right?

What do you do? Do you punch a bag?
Do you pound some clay or some dough?
Do you round up friends for a game of tag?
Or see how fast you go?

It’s great to be able to stop when you’ve planned a thing that’s wrong,
And be able to do something else instead and think this song:

I can stop when I want to can stop when I wish.
I can stop, stop, stop any time.
And what a good feeling to feel like this and know that the feeling is really mine.
Know that there’s something deep inside that helps us become what we can.
For a girl can be someday a lady and a boy can be someday a man.

Last nights informative review of Rogers’ appearance came with the caveat that he talked about anger and pain in a way that was fierce, but did so with a sensibility that addressed children and adults alike. I couldn’t have predicted just how much this song, as Rogers read, would impact me though.

For myself personally these last few months have been a very strange place, mentally at least, to live in, and possibly it is just the mental gravity of life that makes this song important for me. I’ve had to cut off relationships, even those that were blooming, for fear that I may ruin them or that they may ruin me. The struggle on my side of things has been with the identification of whether or not I am unable to control what I do and who I become when around substance. I have destroyed relationships because of my abuse and I have caused a lot of people pain. Now going on the longest sober stint I’ve been on in years, combined with the control that I’ve given myself in situations which could have landed me in danger, I am starting to find a wholesome peace with myself – one that is encouraging and scary at the same time. So to those friends, whether they know it or not, last night’s pizza and this morning’s video have taken me one step closer to someday becoming a man.