‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’ depicts a heartwarming legacy

Miranda Moses

A new documentary, ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,’ depicts the radical philosophies elicited and artistically executed by the gentle mind of Fred Rogers and his popular television program “Mister Roger’s Neighborhood.” It is absolutely for the faint of heart.

With guaranteed tears pouring into your popcorn, the 94-minute film caters to the compassionate, loving part of ourselves that is far too often swept to the side in our adult lives, in our childhood and in our contemporary world. 

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mr rogers and children
The late Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood is shown in a file publicity shot. (Photo courtesy of Handout/KRT)

Although the current generation of college students perhaps missed the secular teachings of Mister Rogers in their early days of media exposure, the various teachings within his program are inarguably parallel to the needs of modern times. The documentary portrays Mister Roger’s disdain with media and his mission to not make the technology an enemy to moral values. Instead, he pushed ideas to harness television as a tool that instead justly distributes morals whilst prioritizing the needs of the audience. 

“Love is at the root of everything—all learning, all parenting, all relationships. Love or the lack of it,” Mr. Rogers proclaimed in the documentary. “And what we see and hear on the screen is part of who we become.”

Rogers’ goals were not derived from ideals of fame or political or capital gain—if anything, the Presbyterian minister was humbly selling the idea that emotions and the humans that hold them are inherently valuable and should be cherished. \

“In its most fundamental sense, he’s trying to explain how we live together in society. And it’s not radical to him. It’s both Christian and it’s human.” -Morgan Neville, director of Won’t You Be My Neighbor? in an interview for thinkprogress.org.

As described by Rogers, his program was, “a plea not to leave the children isolated, and at the mercy of their own fantasies of loss and destruction.” 

During the duration of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”‘s airtime—895 episodes in total—Mister Rogers brought decisive and ‘scary’ issues such as divorce, assassination and political intolerance into the mainstream spotlight. The first week on air depicted the characters of the show, including animal puppets, using notions of love and acceptance to combat the imperious monarch of the neighborhood, King Friday XIII, who had built a wall of fear around his castle.

Not only did Rogers create a medium that made the ups and downs of the world accessible to children, he also acknowledged the humanity within the social and political realities that we face; we are not alone in the feelings we experience as a result of circumstances. 

Responding to fan mail was part of Rogers’s very regimented daily routine, which began at 5 a.m. with a prayer.

The notions of acceptance that Rogers promoted included feelings and the people who held them. Some may perceive his famous words, “I like you as you are,” a song lyric that eludes to his belief that every single child on earth is special. Many have argued that this contributes to some sort of toxic “snowflake” complex that a capitalist baby boomer mentions in an article about millennials ruining things.

However, the fundamental meaning behind the phrase is that no one has to do anything sensational in order to be loved and that human life should inherently matter. He was, in fact, talking to the lost child, to black lives, and to eventually queer individuals. He invited everyone to be his neighbor. He was quietly radical, even for today.

‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’ is now showing at The Lyric. Student prices are $7 on weekdays and weekends and $5 on Tuesdays. 

Miranda Moses can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com and on Twitter @mirandasrad. 

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