Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

By Dan Clendenin

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Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018)

This documentary movie about Fred Rogers (1928–2003) and his television show for pre-school children called “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” (895 episodes from 1968–2001) has received uniformly rave reviews. In our age of violence and vulgarity, it is a shocking commentary on personal and civic kindness. Like many people in the theater, my wife and I just wept at times as we watched this ordained Presbyterian minister fulfill what he understood to be a sacred calling in an otherwise media wasteland. One of Rogers’ sons noted that “for a man who spent his whole life in television, my dad really hated most of what was on TV. He thought it was horribly degrading for children.” So, it was an unlikely medium for a powerful message: that, as Rogers said, “love is the root of everything.” Margaret Whitmer, one of the producers of the show observed how, “if you take all of the elements that make good television and do the exact opposite, you have ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’. Low production values, simple set, an unlikely star. Yet, it worked.” Indeed it did, and for his efforts Rogers was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, along with numerous other awards.

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