Reflections from “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

Producers and audiences have a moral responsibility to produce moral T.V.: Because we see T.V. as a reflection of our own realities, we bring the things we see on T.V–the situations, ideas, and character traits, resolutions–into our own lives. (As the documentary states), when Fred Rogers returned home from college and saw T.V. for the first time, he saw it both as an opportunity to educate society, but also an opportunity to destruct society (which is the path T.V. more often than not takes). I absolutely believe this is true and had this realization when I one time babysat a 5 year old; when she would play Make Believe, her characters were super sassy, and it wasn’t until we were watching one of those Disney T.V. shows (like ‘The Suite Life’ or whatever) that I realized where the sassiness was coming from–she was imitating what she saw on T.V.–this is how kids process and make meaning of the world around them–they play act what they see in real life. Because of this mirroring effect, I believe (and I think Fred Rogers would as well) that producers have a moral responsibility to ensure they are also creating moral T.V.–T.V. that is not going to promote violence, back talking, debauchery, infidelity, lying, stealing, cheating, etc.

And, audiences have an equally as important moral responsibility to request moral T.V., because producers will continue to produce T.V. that gains audiences and creates profits. This notion made me feel a little guilty about the T.V. I’ve spent my life watching (shows, like ‘The Kardashians’ and ‘The Bachelor’). The more that I, myself, watch these programs, post about them on my social media, click on faux-articles that discuss new dramas, the more producers are inclined to produce these kinds of shows, and the less likely they are to make room for a Mr. Rogers type show (as evidenced in the debate to cut funding for public television during the Nixon era).

Investing in our children is investing in our future: During the 1950’s and 1960’s (The Era of Don Draper), much market research focused on children and suggested that, if companies can capture children at a young age, then they are destined to be life long loyalists to the brand. Companies, like McDonalds, Coca-Cola, Marlboro, etc. figured this out (it’s brilliant, really) and essentially exploited the children to gain profits for their companies.

Other than using them to make life long loyal consumers, children are often forgotten about. We think, because they are young, they don’t have needs, they aren’t really listening to us, that fear is really silly and unimportant, we can recorrect that behavior at a later time. But, Fred Rogers saw the importance of preserving childhood–that, when we preserve childhood, we alleviate their fears, we let them know it is OK to feel the way they do and that they are taken care of, we create better people–better people who do less evil, who engage in less crime, who are more thoughtful and aware of others–and THAT makes a better society.

We should tell people positive things about them: The critics of Fred Rogers blamed him for the ‘entitlement’ generation–that it was when he sung, “I like you just the way you are” and, “You are all special in your own unique way” that created an entitlement attitude. However, as Fred Rogers himself suggests, if this is the message we read from his show, then we are misreading his intentions; rather, what Fred Rogers intends to say is that each of us has inherent value; we should not have to do anything different than just be ourselves to be worthy of love–we should not have to show off to anyone, we should not have to take orders from anyone, we should not have to change anything about ourselves to know we have a special, unique, and intended purpose on earth.

His interactions with children (and adults) were always positive. He always looked at people in their eyes–to see their human worth–and he always spoke words of encouragement, of praise, and of positivity. He told the child, “I’m really glad that you are here”, “That is a really great treasure you just made!”, “That is a really special story you just shared!”

Sometimes, I think as humans, when we think these encouraging, praiseworthy, positive thoughts about others, we feel like we must keep them to ourselves–as if these compliments are a finite resource and if we give away too much, our store will be depleted and we will run out and never be able to recover the resources. But, as we know, words are infinite–I could talk all day and all night and still never use up all the words in the universe–so why not tell people those good thoughts we have about them?

When a community is a neighborhood, the community is/feels safer: I don’t think Fred Rogers advocates to be the kind of neighbor who snoops out his/her window to gather pieces of information to then gossip about later; rather, I think Fred Rogers advocates to be the kind of neighbor who takes a moment, when returning home from work, to greet the neighbor and ask how his/her day was, the kind of neighbor who offers a hand to the broken-down car, and the kind of neighbor who is accepting of other’s different lifestyles. Because, when we know who we live around, when we interact with them, suddenly the world seems much smaller and less overwhelming, we stop making assumptions about the ‘evil’ police officer, the ‘scary’ mailman–and suddenly, our community feels smaller and safer.

Would a Mr. Rogers exist in today’s society? I’m honestly not sure. We certainly NEED a Mr. Rogers–the documentary highlights national and international crisis (The Kennedy assassination, the Challenger exploding, 9/11) that Mr. Rogers served as a spokesperson to teach parents how to talk their children and to talk to children about their grief. In our current society, we could certainly benefit from a public figure that we can seek wisdom from during what appears to be times of increasing tragedy and turmoil. But, are we willing to give up our viewership from those T.V. shows? Are we going to stop purchasing the iPads and aps for our children that exploit their childhood? Will we actively curb our negative language and start telling people about their value? Will we slow down as we drive into our neighborhoods and build relationships with our neighbors?

I suppose that depends on where we intend to place our values. Do we value things that are easy, fun to watch, exciting, things that make lots of money, or do we value relationships, meaningfulness, and service to others?

“In the external scheme of things, shining moments are as brief as the twinkling of an eye, yet such twinklings are what eternity is made of — moments when we human beings can say “I love you,” “I’m proud of you,” “I forgive you,” “I’m grateful for you.” That’s what eternity is made of: invisible imperishable good stuff.” -Mr. Rogers

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