Fifteen years after the last episode of Mister Rogers aired on August 31, 2001, its spirit of affirmation lives on in an unlikely place—the modern advice column, according to this piece in the Atlantic. Dear Sugar, Ask Andrew W.K., Ask Polly, and others challenge readers to reimagine the advice column as a place where adult problems are considered with dignity, and where feelings are taken seriously. These columns tackle heavy topics including depression, infidelity, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, but all insist that a community can lift up and support an individual through struggle. It’s an idea that directly echoes what Rogers championed through his life: the importance of being a good neighbor and valuing each person just as they are.
Modern advice columns (which I’d argue includes the latest iteration of Dear Prudence where Mallory Ortberg, formerly of The Toast, has taken the helm) feel as though they’re coming from a close confidante, rather than a sadistic personal trainer. In doing so, they achieve exactly what Rogers advocated — they allow each individual the space to be vulnerable.
It’s not a surprise that the kinder advice column evolved online, at a time when so many are accustomed to seeing vile comments from strangers. Just as Mister Rogers showed that TV could be a medium for education, not just mindless entertainment or bad influences, these columns challenge prevailing notions about the Internet as an intrinsically dumbed-down or hurtful place. Ask Polly and Dear Sugar showcase the best of the Internet, its capacity to provide a space for empathy, rather than outrage or anger. Like Rogers, they assert that children and grown-ups can be wiser and better when they embrace love and kindness toward one another, and toward themselves, too.