Summary: A look at how Mr Rogers communicated his countercultural Christianity through his life and tv show.
I am a big fan of Mr Rogers. Part of what made me pick up this book was a desire to re-connect with the peacefulness of Mr Rogers for my children. My daughter is just old enough that she is starting to pay attention to TV and enjoys the cartoon adaptation of Daniel Tiger. It didn’t hurt that I picked up the book while it was on sale.
Peaceful Neighbor explores Mr Rogers pacifism in two parts. The first is the direct understand of pacifism as being against war and violence. This is explored through looking at Mr Roger’s personal history as well as how he dealt with war and violence on the TV show and how in later years of the Gulf War and post 9/11 he was politically active in small ways.
The second section is a look at peace in other ways, including Mr Rogers understanding of racism, hunger, gay rights, environmentalism and his personal vegetarianism.
I found much of the book interesting as an abstract understanding of Mr Rogers as a liberal mainline Christian. That may seem dismissive, but it is not intended to be. Many liberal mainline Christians do not spend their whole lives living out their ideals. In many ways Mr Rogers is one of the best spokespersons for Christianity of the late 20th century. Many, many people know he was an ordained minister. Many people have commented about he real love of the other and how he cared for those around him.
But as with any good book, Long is aware of Mr Roger’s faults as well. He primarily wanted to speak through his show and with few exceptions, he did not act politically or become a spokesperson outside of his show for the causes he believed in. Mr Rogers also had some blind spots. For instance, he paid his staff quite poorly and they did not have his personal wealth to fall back on. One instance he gave to hunger relief organizations on behalf of his staff instead of Christmas gifts, without really understanding that the Christmas gifts might have been important to some of the staff.
As much as I love the subject, the book I thought was too long and not biographical enough. It spends more time analyzing episodes of the TV show than biographical details. This is not a biography, so maybe I am asking too much, but I think more biography and less episode analysis would have been helpful. Similarly, the method of walking through different subject areas for each chapter seemed repetitive here. It worked well in the recent biography of Billy Graham because the subjects were so varied. But here the subjects were too similar and I by the time I was about 2/3 of the way through, I was getting bored.
In spite of my boredom, I finished and it sparked a desire to watch some of the old episodes, which are available via Amazon Prime and other streaming methods. Mr Rogers was important and the subject is worth the book. As far as I can tell there is not a well reviewed full biography of Mr Rogers. There is one other book that looks interesting, The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers, but again it is not a full bio.