"Won't You Be My Neighbor?" Has Perfect Message for Extremely Divisive Times

"Won't You Be My Neighbor?" Has Perfect Message for Extremely Divisive Times

I often tell anybody who will listen that no matter what a stranger says to you on the street, nine times out of ten that person is just asking you for your money. It doesn’t matter what they open with; in the end, they just want free money.

Now consider what an overwhelming majority of our mail (both electronic and physical) is- people asking us to buy something. With snail mail, it’s all bills! Everyday when I login to my inboxes, I find that 95% of it is “news releases,” or “story pitches” that don’t really amount to anything except “publicize our product, and get nothing in return.”

In other words, a disturbingly high percentage of our daily interaction with other human beings, across the spectrum of communication means, is “gimme, gimme, gimme” or “take, take, take.” So who is actually about giving? Well, Fred Rogers certainly was when he was alive.

The documentary of the man, and the show “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood,” is entitled “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” and it is a real tear-jerker. As it’s awards season, the fifteen documentaries shortlisted for the Best Documentary Feature category at the Academy Awards will play at the Music Box Theatre between now and February 3, 2019.

Go here for more information and a screening schedule.

When I took in Morgan Neville’s 94-minute documentary, it got very dusty in the theatre, as the saying goes. There weren’t many dry eyes in the house and with good reason.

I myself teared up on frequent occasion during “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

mr rogers neighborhood

Neville is already an OSCAR winner and it appears he could add to his collection next month, as he’s made an eye-opening, thoughtful, insightful presentation here of a man who is the best of what we can possibly be, and its release couldn’t be more timely, given the current climate of divisiveness.

For starters, the movie takes you back to the much simpler time of childhood, and the reactionary impulse that is nostalgia is of course an emotional one. Like Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, this documentary also works on multiple levels.

The greatest takeaway here, on a macro-level, is a chronicling of Fred Rogers’ excessive kindness.

It’s just astonishing today, to ponder that

1.) someone this giving and kind once existed and

2.) didn’t have that sense of charity and kindness corrupted by power and fame.

We live in a society that’s becoming increasingly transactional, and alarmingly less civil. Our market economy is moving further way from actual products and services, and instead towards punitive fees and covert charges that accompany the products and services purchased.

mr rogers neighborhood

Thus, the concept of admitting when you’re wrong is frighteningly being spun into a sign of weakness, when in reality it’s actually a sign of character.

Towards the end of the doc, the idea is posed- what would Fred Rogers think of today’s toxic civil discourse? How would he react to the death of class and manners?

That’s left up to the viewer to interpret, but there are plenty of answers provided. Yes, Rogers basically saved PBS. Yes, he truly was that devoted to providing uplifting, positive television to children. Rogers was influenced by some of the greatest child psychologists of all time, and he himself when on a psychological journey through the course of his show.

At one point in the film, it’s best articulated as Rogers starting out as his puppet Daniel the Tiger and ending up as King Friday XIII.

If you don’t remember Mr. Rogers Neighborhood working on additional levels when you watched it as a kid, then this film will jog your memory.

daniel the tiger

They once did a full week on death; another full week on divorce. RFK was assassinated during the very first week of the show and they didn’t shy away from approaching that topic.

Most importantly, both the show and the man tried to teach that everybody is capable of being loved, and loving others, irrespective of how society has subjectively valued their individual worth.

That was his message when he said that everybody was special. He was simply trying to teach all children that they have basic, inherent value as a human being.

It’s a shame that got convoluted and conflated with the everybody-gets-a-trophy generation ideals, because that is an entirely different concept and it actually originated after his show went off the air. It is sad, when you think about, media talking heads and pundits distorting his legacy, and trying to reduce it to the ethos of the participation trophy movement.

neighborhood trolley

Thus, you can smile when you see Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and realize it’s here to right that wrong. Hopefully, the message gets across properly and the correct legacy of Fred Rogers will live on.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, a former writer for NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com, regularly appears as a guest pundit on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the “Let’s Get Weird, Sports” podcast on SB Nation

He also contributes sociopolitical essays to Lineups.com and Chicago NowFollow him on Twitter and Instagram. The content of his cat’s Instagram account is unquestionably superior to his.

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