Mister Rogers is certainly having a moment these days. For those of you keeping score at home, here's the summary: There was a documentary film that came out in June. A forthcoming biography is due next month -- And a big-budget Tom Hanks movie is on its way next year. To top it all off, you can now find any number of fun sweater- and trolley-themed gift items. (And we've got some here at The Bookloft – see below.) Cue the cheers from Generation X as one of their soft-spoken heroes gets a pop-culture encore.
But why is this happening all of a sudden?
The timing of all this is noteworthy. Fred Rogers' message of simple kindness and Just-The-Way-You-Are acceptance is clearly resonating in American culture right now. If you saw the excellent documentary Won't You Be My Neighbor, you were most likely struck by one of the film's most powerful scenes: Fred Rogers goes to Washington to testify before a Senate subcommittee on behalf of PBS. It's 1969 and committee chairman/curmudgeon Sen. John Pastore is ready for a fight in an attempt to decimate PBS' funding. But what you see in the archival footage is shocking. Even the meanest political ogre is visibly shaken by the gentle goodness that Rogers displays. That scene alone from the documentary shows with emotional clarity how our world craves the simplest acts of love and kindness.
(Watch the archival footage on Youtube here.)
(Watch the "Won't You Be My Neighbor" trailer.)
Marielle Heller, director of next year's film You Are My Friend starring Tom Hanks as Rogers, says “It’s a story for our times, a story about kindness and family connection and trying to tap into our better self. God knows we need that right now!”
The Good Neighbor by Maxwell King (out September 4th) will be the first full-length biography of Fred Rogers, and tries to convey why he has become such an enduring American icon. You can pre-order it now. The audiobook version is read by Reading Rainbow's LeVar Burton (nostalgia high-five!) and Libro.fm is hosting an audiobook giveaway that you can enter.
Fred Rogers had said that “love is at the root of everything...love or the lack of it.” It's easy to see both sides of that equation in America today. And if there's an upside to the landscape of unkindness all around us, it's that the simplest act of love, gentleness, and compassion stands out like a light in the darkness. Right now is a perfect time to remember Mister Rogers' mission "to make goodness attractive." The host of a bygone era's children's television show succeeded at that, and reminds each of us that we can succeed at that, too.
"There are three ways to ultimate success," Mister Rogers said. "The first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind. The third way is to be kind."
Love and acceptance truly do make a beautiful day in any neighborhood.