In order to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, the school system in my town was closed as of the final bell last Thursday. As such, Friday began what my kids are referring to as the great confinement of 2020. We’ve been pretty strict about limiting their social activities (what activities? they would argue) and they have been miserable as a result. What’s funny about this is that we rarely see them emerge from their bedrooms until mid afternoon on any given day off but once they are told their movements are restricted, all of a sudden they had grandiose plans that had to be put on hold. What intrigues me is that the biggest change for them is not being able to have friends over—but whenever they have friends over they all wind up on a couch, with the TV on, staring at their phones. It’s one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen.
Friday night, after hearing how we are slowly ruining the lives of our offspring, my wife and I watched A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood starring Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers. Earlier that day I learned that the actor and his wife had contracted the coronavirus in Australia which makes me wonder if Covid-19 will be renamed Tom Hanks disease—maybe the actor will do for the coronavirus what Lou Gherig did for ALS. Too soon?
The movie itself wasn’t so much about Mr. Rogers as it was about Lloyd Vogel, a reporter for Esquire magazine assigned to write 400 words about the children’s entertainer. Vogel is played by Matthew Rhys who, at one point during the movie, gives us a brief reminder of Philip Jennings, his character from The Americans. At one point, I anticipated Martha coming out and asking where Clark is. Apologies for the digression.
The set designer expertly recreated what I remember from my childhood and I found myself getting emotional during the film. I watched Mr. Rogers Neighborhood religiously as a kid in the 1970s. It got me thinking of how much simpler of a time it was then the time in which our kids are living. We played outside, all the time. People popped over unannounced and it wasn’t awkward. We only had a handful of channels to watch, most of which came in fuzzy. The world wide web wasn’t a thing. We lived.
Today, my kids can watch any movie ever made on a device that fits in their pocket. They can video conference with a friend with a few taps of a screen. They can create, edit, and distribute videos for anyone in the world to see. And they are bored. All the time. I believe it’s because they have access to so much that their imagination muscle has atrophied. Hold on, I have to stop typing for a minute, “Hey you, get off my lawn!”
Sorry for the old man rant, I just had to get that out of my system.
I do wonder, though, if Mr. Rogers Neighborhood would make it onto the air today. Consider the pitch: a male Presbyterian minister, whose middle name is McFeely, wants to do a show for children. It involves puppets and a place called the land of make believe. My guess is that it would be a tough sell.
As the next few weeks unfold, we are going to continue to do our part to slow the spread of Tom Hanks disease, even though it means continued grumpiness in the Carlon household. Some people have told us that we are overreacting, maybe we are, but at times like these I do believe that every little bit counts. Plus, there’s a potential upside to our elective isolation, we will have a lot more family time and that’s something you can never have too much of. Of course I reserve my right to change my opinion on that by the end of next week.