The Tribune was asking about its readers’ favorite memory of everybody’s favorite neighbor, Fred Rogers, who is the subject of a new documentary opening at Sundance this week.
I stumbled across Episode 1475, “Mister Rogers Makes an Opera (Windstorm in Bubbleland)” about 5 a.m., some 17 years ago, when my youngest was really young and woke up really early.
You might say it blew me away.
Mister Rogers is only there for a brief moment at the beginning and again at the end. In between is a 26-minute opera, with songs more in keeping with the program’s gentle indoor-voice nature than any Wagnerian blunderbussing.
The basic plot, surprising for a program aimed at the preschool demo, is that the news media might try to fool you into thinking that everything is wonderful, even when it isn’t. And they might use friendly Weather Dolphins to do it.
As the refrain goes throughout the newscast — delivered by a man who, in appearance at least, sort of presages Will Ferrell’s legendary anchorman, Ron Burgundy — “There is never any trouble here in Bubbleland.”
And that Big Business might try to trick you into buying stuff that is not only fraudulent, but dangerous. Like an aerosol can that is supposed to protect your precious bubbles but, in reality, just expels air. Which will lead to increased wind in Bubbleland, which threatens all the wonderful bubbles.
And that you should listen to women — and hummingbirds — who are trying to warn you of impending danger.
And that the news media can redeem themselves by ending their willful blindness to an impending threat and standing up against that threat.
And that building a wall won’t work.
There is no character in Bubbleland that, to my eye, stands in for our current commander in chief. Even Fred Rogers wasn’t bright enough — or gloomy enough — to predict that.
Though the current administration might try to claim it all as supporting their case. To argue that the news media are failing to warn us of existential threats (Muslims, Mexicans). Or it could go the other way, with the media going passive when they should be reporting on the threat of Russian interference with our electoral process.
I’ve also got another favorite memory of Mister Rogers. Though he had nothing to do with it:
George Pyle, the Tribune’s editorial page editor, generally preferred to watch “Animaniacs.” firstname.lastname@example.org