Mr. Dressup vs. Mister Rogers - Who’s the Bigger Pedophile?
If you grew up in Canada or the northern United States between the late 1960’s and the late 1990’s, with parents who relied on the television set as a babysitter from time to time, chances are you were befriended by two, seemingly kindly, older gentlemen - Mr. Dressup (Ernie Coombs) and Mister Rogers (Fred Rogers).
Mr. Dressup aired from 1967-1996, and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood from 1968-2001. While both shows were similar in theme and target audience - often referred to as the Canadian and US equivalents of one another, though both Coombs and Rogers were American by birth - I think it goes without saying that Mr. Dressup was the far superior program, not because I have a Canadian bias, but rather if only for the fact that he was infinitely less creepy and entirely less apt to explore your “bathing suit zone” than Mr. Rogers.
Don’t believe me? Approximately the first minute of each show should help to prove my point. Let’s start by examining the opening sequence of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood:
The camera pans slowly over a model (or very rudimentary tilt-shift photograph) of Mister Rogers’ ‘hood.* We’re clearly lured towards his house, and once inside, the first thing we see is a traffic light, flashing yellow. CAUTION, children. You’re entering the home of a single, middle aged-man who wants to be your friend. Immediately upon shutting the door behind himself (and presumably locking it), he starts getting undressed. Sure, it’s just the removal of his jacket and dress shoes in exchange for a cardigan and sneakers, but one could construe this as “slipping into something a little more comfortable,” no? To make matters worse, throughout his wardrobe change he sings, wondering aloud - Could you be mine? Would you be mine? - to an audience consisting largely of preschoolers. I’m shocked that he didn’t somehow manage to work a brown paper bag labelled “Free Candy” into this segment. Given that the intro was developed long before the days of registered sex offenders, he even gets away with suggestively announcing that “I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood, with you.” And he did. For 33 pervy years.
In contrast, Mr. Dressup’s opening sequence seems relatively harmless (see below, beginning at 0:08).
The sheer fact that it’s animated, as opposed to live action, dials the pedo-metre way down (though I implore you to stop watching at 0:44, when the episode begins and he starts maniacally laughing and spasming - hands suspiciously unseen - in his sleep). As well, Mr. Dressup is accompanied by the loveable Casey and Finnegan throughout the entire intro, so we’re never once alone with him. There’s safety in numbers, right? The buddy system? The only fault I can see with this opening sequence happens when Mr. Dressup motions Casey towards the suggestively named “Tickle Trunk.” Innocent as it might be, there’s the slight suggestion of “why don’t you get inside,” as if we were faced with a white panel van parked outside of a local elementary school. Nevertheless, in the grand scheme of things Mr. Dressup acts in far less questionable ways than Mister Rogers and, hell, doesn’t start off each show by disrobing, so that’s major points in his favour.
I can’t speak to the quality of today’s children’s programming - I’m too old to be watching and too young to have ruined my body with a kid of my own - but I would hazard a guess that things have changed substantially from the days of the duelling Mr’s, starting with the fact that, in this day and age, chances are slim to none that a network would ever pick up a show for preschoolers hosted in the home of a single, middle-aged man looking to play dress up and make a few new friends.
* Clearly this intro was developed long before the subprime mortgage crisis, as evidenced by the lack of foreclosure signs on the model lawns in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.