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Invisible to the Eye: Rhetorics of Ethical Emotionality in Mister Rogers' Neighborhood

Klaren, Alexandra (2016) Invisible to the Eye: Rhetorics of Ethical Emotionality in Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation seeks to understand the success, significance, and impact of the children’s television program, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood (1968-2001). It explores the nuanced complexity of Rogers’ thought, the dialogical integration of his various influences, and the intentional ethic of care behind the creation of a program that spoke to the affective, cultural, and educational needs of children (and adults) during a period of cultural and political upheaval in the United States.

Despite the program’s longevity and popularity, it has received only scant attention from humanities scholars. The sole monograph to date interprets the program from a pacifist perspective. My dissertation provides the first full-fledged contextualization of the program, its vision and its enactment, as an innovative intervention into the world of children’s television. Delving into the newly available primary documents at the Fred Rogers Archive, I examined and analyzed speeches, notes, scripts, and letters written by Rogers in order to discover and understand his vision for the Neighborhood and his conception of televisual communication. Viewer mail revealed the efficacy and specificity of his heightened parasocial communication techniques and pedagogical objectives. A rhetorical analysis of the program’s first year shows how Rogers interweaves a dialogical ethos with a meticulous study of objects and play to engage young viewers in social-material culture.

Drawing on dialogic theory (M. Bakhtin, P. Friere, R. Arnett, M. Buber), Roger Burggraeve’s concept of “ethical emotionality,” and D.W. Winnicott’s theories of child development, this study shows how Rogers presciently recognized in television the parasocial possibilities for making the critical embodied social-emotional communication connections that humans need to develop and cope in the world. I argue that Rogers deployed the critical orientation of “ethical emotionality” necessary for a “holistic and moral education” (R. Burggraeve). I show how the success of the program revolves around Rogers’ establishment of a space of “emotional safety,” a pathos recognized by Saint-Exupéry as “invisible to the eye,” through rhetorics of care and connection in his televisual encounter. The dissertation’s major findings detail how the program’s success is largely owed to Rogers’ effective deployment of “ethical emotionality,” parasociality, and tele-dialogism to reach his viewers.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Klaren, Alexandraack25@pitt.eduACK25
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairZboray,
Committee MemberBickford,
Committee MemberFeuer,
Committee MemberMalin,
Date: 6 June 2016
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 13 April 2016
Approval Date: 6 June 2016
Submission Date: 20 May 2016
Access Restriction: 5 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 5 years.
Number of Pages: 422
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Communication: Rhetoric and Communication
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: dialogic, communication ethics, media, television, pedagogy, tele-dialogism, mass communication,interpersonal communication, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, Fred Rogers, Mister Rogers
Date Deposited: 06 Jun 2016 19:02
Last Modified: 06 Jun 2021 05:15


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