Free Minds & Free Markets

The Neighborhood of Make-Believe Prepares for War

Friday A/V Club: Mister Rogers gets grim.

WQEDWQEDFor a week in 1983, life took a dark turn in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. Over the course of five episodes of Mister Rogers, a mixture of miscommunication and anxiety convinced King Friday that another neighborhood nearby was stockpiling weapons. The king then ordered a major arms buildup himself, diverting money from the education budget and issuing an order to "conscript everyone in the neighborhood to help put the bombs together." Some of the other characters were willing to go along with this. ("King Friday wouldn't have us doing anything that was going to hurt anybody. He's always trying to keep people safe!" said X the Owl. "We shouldn't call them 'bombs,' though. We should call them 'surprise treats' or something like that."). But the orders did prompt some dissent from Lady Elaine Fairchilde, here as always the puppet most likely to call bullshit on King Friday. The tensions kept ramping up, with gas masks and air raid drills, until Lady Elaine and Lady Aberlin discerned that the other neighborhood had actually been building a bridge, not bombs.

This comment on the arms race aired the same month as The Day After, a TV movie about a nuclear war. There was a big wave of worry about whether that film was too scary for children to see, and there were rumors that the Mister Rogers storyline was intended as an alternative to The Day After for young audiences. In fact it had been conceived separately and the timing was a coincidence.

Eventually the episodes were withdrawn from rotation. But this month the first two installments of the sequence turned up on YouTube, leading to what may be my all-time favorite Daily Beast headline:

Daily BeastDaily Beast

The article below that headline concedes that it is unlikely these were posted to protest the president's proposed arms buildup. Though I must admit I kind of like the idea that someone is trying to communicate with the White House by quietly adding old episodes of children's television to YouTube.

Anyway. After word spread that these were online, the copyright cadres swung into action and YouTube took them down. (Which is odd, since plenty of other old Mister Rogers episodes are on the site.) Someone else has reposted them, and I'm embedding that video below; the two Neighborhood of Make-Believe sequences start at the 16:19 and 42:09 marks. Watch 'em while you can:

I can't show you parts three through five, but you can read summaries of them here, here, and here. Incidentally, the episodes embedded above also include some lessons about banks and mints. These spill into the Neighborhood of Make-Believe story when King Friday gets his treasurer Mr. Newmoney on the phone and inquires about how much cash is available for war production.

(For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here.)

Photo Credit: WQED

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Kind of disingenuous peacenickery from Rogers, considering how many Charlie he took out as Scout Marine Sniper.

  • Marty Comanche||

    Look, you don't want to cross Captain Kangaroo. When he gives and order, you jump.

  • Entelechy||

    Forgt Makebelieve Land.

    The media mantra of the 80's , PBS included, was that when Carl Sagan Speaks, PBS listens, because science is whatever Carl says on the Johnny Carson Show

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Urban legend. Fred McFeely Rogers was never in the armed forces.

  • Fist of Etiquette||


  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    At least we still have ranger-qualified huey pilot Kris Kristofferson.

  • James C. Bennett||

    One more example of how the media's insane overreaction to Reagan's election ruined my childhood with bullshit nuclear war doom mongering. I hope the kids who are 10 today aren't experiencing something similar.

  • SchillMcGuffin||

    I hope the kids who are 10 today aren't experiencing something similar.

    I'm going to assume you said that sarcastically.

  • Brandybuck||

    Why does Mr. Rogers hate the children?!?!?!

  • Crusty Juggler - #2||

    This comment on the arms race aired the same month as The Day After, a TV movie about a nuclear war

    Fun fact: After this movie was referenced on an episode of The Americans I looked it up on the wikipedia, and learned that more than 100 million people watched the initial airing.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    I watched it. Hell, everyone I knew watched it. But it was at a time when you had three channels to choose from.

  • ||

    I was in middle school, and my social studies teacher actually assigned it as mandatory viewing.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    I seem to recall a certain amount of school involvement too.

  • Crusty Juggler - #2||

    I know, but I think it's really interesting.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    Everyone watched it, but I thought the much less watched Threads was better.

  • Crusty Juggler - #2||

    I learned about the fallout of a nucluear war from Colonel Andy Tanner:

    "You think you're tough for eating beans every day? There's half a million scarecrows in Denver who'd give anything for one mouthful of what you got. They've been under siege for about three months. They live on rats and sawdust bread and sometimes... on each other. At night, the pyres for the dead light up the sky. It's medieval."

  • Robert||

    I learned about it from the Talking Heads.

  • Brandybuck||

    I watched it and it was dreadful. But it was the only thing on TV.

  • Robert||

    It had such a buildup, I figured it had to be some good. Then I screamed at the special effects, "Painting on the film! How cheap could they get?" Couldn't get past the guy who revealed hair loss...meanwhile having a full beard!

  • SchillMcGuffin||

    I didn't think of myself as libertarian back in high school, but I recall thinking while watching it that the only thing worse than life in the aftermath of a nuclear war, was life in the aftermath of a nuclear war with the government trying to reassert control and collect taxes (in crops).

  • Cynical Asshole||

    I must admit I kind of like the idea that someone is trying to communicate with the White House by quietly adding old episodes of children's television to YouTube.

    It wouldn't surprise me at this point to learn that politics really have become that stupid and infantile. It would be kind of fitting for this fucked up Kafka-esque universe. Anyway, I'd think a more direct correlation to real world events would be the lead up to the Iraq war. Of course, they're about 15 years too late for that.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    That Ronnie Raygun had everyone so scurred!

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Ironic that Mister Roger's neighborhood was aired by PBS and is currently said to be on the chopping block?

  • Zeb||

    Like rain on your wedding day?

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Like rain when you're giving someone a golden shower kind of ironic.

  • Robert||

    What's he bldg. in there?

  • RockLibertyWarrior||

    The problem I have with "peaceniks" now and back then is the fact their complete hypocrites for the most part when it comes to state power. They have no problem forcing people at gun point to pay for "education" or "public television" but have a problem when that same state bombs and kills people, their views and causes are completely contradictory and stupid. I find it funny the "peace protestors" only show up when there is a Republican president.


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