Sunday, September 6, 2009

Mister Rogers Goes to Washington

The film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is celebrated by film critics and even some political scientists for embodying the idealism of the average citizen's ability to go to Washington to make a difference. In practice, the 1939 Frank Capra film is more fictitious than its supporters would like to believe, but there have been moments in our history where life does seem to imitate art (or at least James Stewart).

Substitute Mr. Smith for Mister Rogers, and let the ever-reliable Wikipedia fill us in on the rest:

In 1969, Rogers appeared before the United States Senate Subcommittee on Communications. 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, "I think it's wonderful. Looks like you just earned the $20 million." The subsequent congressional appropriation, for 1971, increased PBS funding from $9 million to $22 million.

The video footage of Mister Rogers' testimony (along with Senator Pastore's surprising reaction) is embedded at the top. If you like politics, or endings where the good guy wins, give it a look.

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