Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood is a show that needs no introduction. Fred McFeeley Rogers was the original virtual teacher, who’s values transcended politics and religion, and taught America’s youth the basis of being decent, responsible human beings. His dedication to education is one of the main reasons I work in television and run an infotainment YouTube channel to this day.
Mr. Rogers wasn’t afraid to tackle complex issues in ways that kids could easily understand and parents could talk to them about. One of the most notable examples was as a way of explaining civil rights, Mr. Rogers had black neighbor Francois Clemmons join him in a wading pool together.
When we are forced to endure tragic events like mass shootings and terror attacks, one of the most comforting quotes that circulates through social media platforms is fred explaining the presence of helpers. “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
Mr. Rogers even conquered the idea of mutually assured destruction and nuclear annihilation. This happened in November of 1983, when a week’s worth of episodes titled Mr. Rogers Talks about CONFLICT premiered.
The series focused on the topic of war, specifically, a cold war with two separate areas stockpiling weapons and exhibiting strained political tensions. In this neighborhood of make believe story arc, mysterious parts are being manufactured at Cornflake S. Pecially’s factory, and being sent to Southwood. King Friday believes the parts are made to build bombs, and has parts built for the neighborhood as well. The story of course was an allegory for the US/Soviet cold war conflict.
This week’s worth of episodes were just part of a sea of media released in 1983 meant to bring attention to the cold war escalations, including the landmark ABC television movie The Day After, as well as the cinematic films…
…Testament and War Games among so many others during that time. Simply, it was a volatile time in history, and the entertainment world was responding.
I very vaguely recall watching these episodes as a kid. They were part of my local PBS station’s regular rotation of Mr. Rogers episodes. The episodes still felt like any other episode of Mister Rogers, just with a much darker subject matter than usual.
Conflict aired until April of 1996, when it was decided that the show be permanently removed from rotation, perhaps due to global tensions calming in the mid 1990’s. To many younger fans of the show, the episodes would be considered urban legend if it wasn’t for a series of screenshots posted to various fan websites.
What is particularly of note here is that with so much classic television being saved for the sake of prosperity and nostalgia, Conflict somehow evaded the public eye for over 2 decades.
One would believe that at a time when VCRs were becoming common in households that SOMEONE would have all five episodes saved somewhere. But that doesn’t seem to be the case here. For at least 21 years, Conflict was considered lost media.
That is until March of 2017.
With political tensions increasing dramatically between the US and North Korea, a proposed massive increase to military spending, and the elimination of public broadcasting during the earliest days of the Trump administration, the first two episodes of the series, in their entirety, mysteriously appeared on Youtube. A user who went by the name of TROG SLEEP NOW uploaded the high-quality episodes, only to have them almost immediately disappear.
Also, was the uploading of the episodes meant to be a drastic message of despair to the president? Was the user aware of the legendary status of the episodes? Or was it just simply a very odd coincidence.
Although the global stage was calming in the mid 1990’s, it is anything but as we enter the 2020’s, thus considering these episodes dated is a moot point. The specific cold war conflict is dated, this is Although these episodes of Conflict would be considered dated. The US/Soviet conflict is absolutely dated. But to believe that a similar incident wouldn’t occur in the future is just irresponsible. Remember, those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. And with Mister Rogers no longer with us, and his legacy more revered than ever these days, the salvaging of Conflict is something that television historians should take seriously.
Maybe one day we will get these episodes readily available to the masses in their entirety. We will always need them.