The keen eyed ethnographer is always on the look out for the telling artifact and Jason Haas favored us with a beauty yesterday. (We wrapped up the MIT ethnography course and Jason was reporting research and recommendations for PBS.)
Jason played a YouTube clip that shows Mr. Rogers gently lecturing a committee of the US senate. At the 3:30 mark of this clip, Mr. Rogers says,
…an expression of care, this is what I give, an expression of care everyday to each child, to help him realize he is unique, I end the program by saying, you’ve made this day a special day by just you being you, there’s no person in the world like you, and I like you just the way you are.
There is something vertiginously strange about listening as Mr. Roberts, in his sing song voice, as he lectures the members of the US Senate…as if they were restive, not-very-bright, five year olds. (And, hey.)
"You’ve made this day a special day by just you being you"? This is the song of individualism. And you thought that that was Walt Whitman’s job? Nah. Well, it was Walt Whitman’s job but then it fell to his perfect opposite: a gentle, caring man in a cardigan, no friend to wilderness, a creature domesticated and domesticating, a surrogate parent to the nation’s young.
Today was filled with interesting, mind testing contrasts. In the afternoon, John Deighton was kind enough to show me an astonishing experiment in retail. In downtown Boston, there is a sneaker store that is concealed beyond what looks like a cigarette and candy hole in the wall. The window has dry goods that are dust covered and sun bleached. I am sure there are Bostonians who walk by it everyday without ever guessing that it is in fact a front. You enter a cramped little store, there is a guy surrounded by lotto tickets and cigarettes. You might well enter this shop and leave it again without ever guessing what is behind it’s Coke machine. You must approach the Coke machine and if you get close enough, it disappears every so suddenly, (one imagines a puff of magician’s smoke here, but I don’t think there was one), and you are admitted to the inner sneaker sanctum. Unbelievable.
John and I then went looking for a place to lunch and wondering into the cafe of the Mary Baker Eddy complex. This just as remarkable in its way. Airy, light, well designed, palm trees, sandwiches, agreeable people, and of course with John as always a lively conversation. And at one point I found myself thinking, "maybe this is what heaven is like."
And John and I were left to wonder whether kind of thinking and theory allows you to encompass all of this, a secret sneaker store and Christian Science, the latter already an interesting and unlikely combination, a bet against the odds. A sneaker shrine and a religious experiment, not so far from one another. Shouting distance actually. But cultural speaking, different continents and its up to bloggers, anthropologists, ethnographers, and business school (should they accept this mission) to do the cartography that makes them relative. And once we’ve done that, we might have a go at thinking how to think about Mr. Rogers and the US Senate in the same thought.
With thanks to Jay Gordon for his remarkable experiment. Long and much may he prosper.
The Mr. Rogers video is here.