“Won’t You Be My Neighbor” is a documentary of epic proportions that examines the life and deep philosophy of Mr. Rogers. Perhaps in a losing war Mr. Rogers fought against the random entertainment in his day in order to educate and most importantly give love to people. When you asked Mr. Rogers what his TV show was all about he knew, and it wasn’t focused on being escapist fantasy unlike the majority of television and film today. The majority of television and movies are random entertainment with little afterthought on the effects of their “art,” and it indeed is hedonistic. It’s hedonistic because previous generations couldn’t sit on their ass and literally waste their lives watching pointless movies and TV that doesn’t make you question and change your habits or life. Previous generations worked then worked some more, and we reap the benefits of that being able to waste time consuming random entertainment. The concern of most TV and movies is making money followed by entertainment, and perhaps that’s where a lot of the TV and movie artists go wrong. Real artists create their art with love. They just do it for the love of it, and continuously create. If the artist is very aware they do it with love for other people as is the case with any great artist from any art like Diego Rivera in art, Tupac music, Neil deGrasse Tyson in astrology, Manny Pacquiao in boxing, or Martin Luther King Jr. in the civil rights and work movements. That is the similar spirit that Fred Rogers set out with in making Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, love.
The film gives you a look into an intense Mr. Rogers you never knew. He was someone with very disciplined beliefs, which you wouldn’t question if you had known he was an ordained minister. You may come away saying he was strict because the way he talks about TV. He understood it was a very powerful invention and medium to teach. Of course now we have all types of terms to talk about what culture such as TV does that wasn’t really used during his time. A culture can create passive consumers who are stuck in the never ending cycle of consumerism when their emotional needs are marketed to, or it can create cultural agents who act within a culture and are very aware that the things they watch and buy is what they support. It’s true few people are cultural agents and most people don’t give a fuck about the next generations, but there are always a few who will be life long fighters and life long learners like Mr. Rogers. We learn about Mr. Rogers mission to combat the random entertainment of his time and his journey, which wasn’t smooth by any means. At a point they were going to shutdown PBS (public broadcasting service) until Mr. Rogers showed up to testify. The struggles only make you respect the man even more.
A quick little tidbit is that George Romero worked as a cameraman for the Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood show before he blew up the zombie genre through Night of the Living Dead. Similarly to Rogers there was deep thought put into his zombie films although people overlook the parody representation of consumerism via zombies in the mall and the multiculturalism he supported by giving the lead role to an African American. Powerful philosophy and thoughts propel many great artists. Many people tend to believe those people were simple, but the truth is the work they did is more than what the majority of people do in a lifetime. All you have to do is watch, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” to learn that Mr. Rogers was just another dreamer who took action in his life and put forth a super human effort in creating his art. That was no easy task for the ordained minister, producer, and majority creator of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood..
This really is a must see documentary for people who want to know and appreciate one of the great TV personalities of human time, Mr. Rogers. It is also a great movie for any into movies and television in general because you will definitely come away thinking about life just a little if you’ve never thought deeply about culture at all before. Afterall, culture defines us so you may ask yourself what the influence of our culture is today. It provides us with the actions that are seen as positive and those seen as negative as well as all we can consume via goods and services unless we get to a creative point where we can create something ourselves. To do so in any art is hard and Mr. Rogers Neighborhood didn’t just pop up out of thin air as a result of some corporate entities bidding that had billions of dollars. Instead it was hard work, imagination, and philosophy all behind the story and set of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.. Also if you’re looking for a definitive collection for all the Mr. Rogers episodes be prepared to be upset. There is no complete series DVD or blu ray collection as of yet though there is a collection of about 30 episodes for $10 at Best Buy that’s $15 on Amazon. “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” is sadly only in select theaters that include the Landmark Theater, River East, and Cinemark in Evanston. If you ever had an inkling to go to the city or Evanston this movie is enough reason to do so.