It’s always been my inclination to speak to little kids as if they were 28 years old. That’s how I spoke to my sons when they were tykes. I simplified my words, of course, and spoke a bit more slowly. I always looked them right in the eye and shrugged my shoulders and behaved as if they were on an equal footing with me and vice versa. I tried to radiate calmness and coolness.
When I meet a kid I generally don’t flash one of those shit-eating, God-loves-you grins like Mr. Rogers did on “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” I figure that a 28 year-old in a small frame doesn’t need that patronizing nursery-school crap. I’m presuming they can smell that, the way adults behave when a kid is around. I can remember being three or four and vaguely resenting it when some older uncle or aunt or stranger would speak to me like Mr. Rogers did on the show, talking in a higher-pitched voice and smiling too broadly and leaning forward and blah blah.
Don’t get me wrong. I respect and admire Morgan Neville‘s Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, and I’m glad it’s already caught on with ticket buyers. (Since opening on 6.8 and in only 29 theatres, it’s made $1,691,704.) It’ll probably be nominated for a Best Feature Documentary Oscar, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it wins.
Do I think that the vibe of kindness and caring that the film radiates…do I think this special warmth, this dandelion pollen from Planet Rogers is what we all could use to de-toxify those awful, noxious Trump vibes? Can the spirit of Mr. Rogers reach out from behind the membrane and heal our country’s divisions?
Naahh. I think you could feed bowls of kindness and consideration and emotional caresses to Trump voters from now until doomsday and they’d still be clueless fucks. They’re damaged, deluded. Hell, many of them are racist ghouls. Redemption for folks of this sort is generally out of the question. I don’t want to listen to these monsters — I want to defeat them at the Battle of Gettysburg.
And speaking of Republicans, there’s something a tiny bit bothersome about the fact that Fred Rogers was one of them. I can’t shake this off. A lifelong Republican, I’ve read. Which meant what exactly? That he probably voted for Eisenhower and Nixon, probably believed in “traditional values”, probably approved of the Vietnam War, was probably skeptical of the anti-war left? You tell me.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is doing well, I suspect, because the little kids who loved Mr. Rogers 40 or 50 years ago are now in their 50s or 60s and are probably looking to re-experience that tenderness, those feelings, that kindly atmosphere. But I also suspect (this is just a guess) that this film is reaching only to 50-plus types. Okay, maybe to their kids or grandkids in some instances. It’s almost certainly not touching under-35 types. It’s an analog memory-lane thing.
From Owen Gleiberman’s Variety review: “To see Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is to be moved, in the end, to tears by the audacity of what Rogers incarnated: the belief that we stop listening to each other at our peril, and that the spirit of higher listening — of love — could be spread through the medium of television. Fred Rogers, in his way, was an activist (in one startling clip, we see him literally save public television with his testimony before Congress). But he was also a forward-thinking individual who says, in one unusually direct and serious interview clip, that it’s essential for us to make ‘goodness’ a foundation of ‘the so-called next millennium.’
“That’s the counterculture we need now. What he means, I think, is that if we don’t ratchet up the goodness, there may not be a next millennium.”
Owen, you’re dreaming. Or rather Mr. Rogers was, and watching this movie was like saying hello to this nice fella again, and it made you feel good. And that’s all. Leave it at that.