Won’t You Be My Neighbor? – Fake Arguments

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? – Fake Arguments
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Won’t You Be My Neighbor? – Fake Arguments

Kids, like adults, are special, important and unique.

Of course someone would dispute this. Of course someone would actually blame Mr. Rogers’ philosophy for the demise of today’s youth. And of course these people would be doing what’s become increasingly popular – arguing against someone for something that person doesn’t actually believe.

It was such a small sliver of Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, but it counted as the most remarkable to me. That Mr. Rogers, who was so pure, could be seen as bad by anyone, anywhere.

The people who think today’s culture is too self-absorbed are correct to be alarmed. But it’s gross negligence to miss divergence between Rogers’s message and the message that gets kids to a narcissistic place.

Sometime in the second half of the 20th century our society started to reevaluate the treatment of children. As in, maybe we should not hit our kids. As in, maybe we should offer a little more support. These were positive developments.

But then the developments kept going. Maybe I shouldn’t punish my kid because he’s too fragile. Maybe I should fight his battles at school. Maybe he shouldn’t get a job because it will be too stressful.

These moves are probably wrong, but possibly not in certain contexts.

Then we push even further. Let’s just lie to our kids. Nobody will call it that, but that’s what it is. You are the funniest. You are the fastest. You are the smartest. On and on and on. To the point where compliments mean nothing, where they are as routine as “hello.”

You want a real explanation for an entitled generation? This incessant lying seems as good as any. After all, who could blame a kid for expecting the world to bow before him when his parents have been doing so since his birth? And from this protected environment, how could a kid ever be properly equipped to deal with the world when it refuses to bow?

So yes, as well-intentioned as this lying is, it’s problematic. And if Mr. Rogers was promulgating it, sure, let’s crucify him. Get those ratings and page views with principled disagreement against this evil man hidden in well-ironed sweaters.

Unfortunately for the pugnacious, there isn’t room for principled disagreement because Mr. Rogers so clearly believed that lying to kids was bad. It’s only through bad faith and selective editing that a critic could avoid engaging with Rogers’s actual point (or one of them): Kids, like adults, are special, important and unique, and the best way to respect that reality is through honesty about the good and bad things in life – don’t worry, they can handle it, especially when you never ask them to change who they are.

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” made me THINK.

It was set up to be a good, hard cry; in the middle of Mr. Rogers’s 2002 Dartmouth commencement address he says:

“What is essential about you? And who are those who have helped you become the person you are? Anyone who has ever graduated from a college, anyone who has ever been able to sustain a good work, has had at least one person, and often many, who have believed in him or her. We just don’t get to be competent human beings without a lot of different investments from others. I’d like to give you all an invisible gift. A gift of a silent minute to think about those who have helped you become who you are today. Some of them may be here right now. Some may be far away. Some, like my astronomy professor, may even be in Heaven. But wherever they are, if they’ve loved you, and encouraged you, and wanted what was best in life for you, they’re right inside your self. And I feel that you deserve quiet time, on this special occasion, to devote some thought to them. So, let’s just take a minute, in honor of those that have cared about us all along the way. One silent minute.”

The film did such a wonderful job of forcing the audience to answer the question. (My soccer coach, Joe Schmidt, was my answer.) It was moving, but not enough for tears.

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” did not make me CRY.

 

Adam Schaefer

Adam Schaefer

Adam likes banana flavoring more than bananas. His first R-rated movie was "Beverly Hills Cop 3." He is also a semi-famous somniloquist.
Adam Schaefer

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