Images of Fred Rogers posing with one or both middle fingers extended have long been circulated on the internet with captions claiming they captured the children’s show host disdainfully “flipping off” his audience during the taping of the final Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood episode.
Although the pictures may appear puzzling out of context, they’re actually screen captures from a harmless moment in 1967 when Fred Rogers led some youngsters through the familiar children’s song Where Is Thumbkin?, which is traditionally accompanied by participants’ holding up the corresponding fingers as they are each named in the song.
This clip has become infamous on the internet due to the portion with Tall-man, as not only does it involve him extending his middle fingers towards the camera, but he can be seen cracking a smile while doing so, seemingly aware of the meaning of the gesture:
Fred McFeely Rogers (March 20, 1928 – February 27, 2003) was an American television personality, musician, puppeteer, writer, producer, and Presbyterian minister. He was known as the creator, composer, producer, head writer, showrunner and host of the preschool television series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood (1968–2001). The show featured Rogers’ kind, neighborly persona, which nurtured his connection to the audience. Rogers would end each program by telling his viewers, “You’ve made this day a special day, by just your being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you; and I like you just the way you are.”
Trained and ordained as a minister, Rogers was displeased with the way television addressed children. He began to write and perform local Pittsburgh-area shows for youth. In 1968, Eastern Educational Television Network began nationwide distribution of Rogers’ new show on WQED. Over the course of three decades, Rogers became a television icon of children’s entertainment and education.