Now for Some Good News

If you think that civility in America has disappeared. If you think that kindness and decency are lost in a sea of cynicism, then this commentary is for you.

Two documentaries – RBG, an “affectionate look” at U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Won’t You Be My Neighbor? about PBS superstar Fred Rogers – are making the rounds in theaters and the reaction to both could be a sign that Americans are more drawn to their better angles than political and cultural divisiveness.

“ ‘…Alaska is a pretty red state,’ Collette Costa, a co-owner of that city’s Gold Town Nickelodeon told The New York Times (June 26), “Nevertheless, she said, ‘I’ve had to hold over RBG for four weeks now, and it’s the biggest moneymaking film I’ve shown since we bought the theater eight years ago.’ ”

“[RBG] is the surprise hit of the season,” The Times writes. “Since its release May 4, its grosses have exceeded $11 million, a remarkable achievement in 2018 for a specialty film (whether nonfiction, art house or foreign). Similarly, audiences are also saying, ‘It’s you I like’ to the director Morgan Neville’s portrait of Fred Rogers, public TV’s ‘Mister Rogers.’ That movie, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, has collected nearly $7.5 million. (Most documentaries this year earned less than $200,000 at the box office.)”

The opening line from the RBG trailer perfectly encapsulates Ginsberg’s clarity and determination in fighting for women’s equal rights.

“I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask, of all my brethren, is that they take their feet off our necks.”

The diminutive, soft-spoken 84-year-old was the second woman appointed to the highest court in the land by Bill Clinton and she takes the job seriously enough that she keeps herself in the top physical shape possible. But it’s her opinions on the court that take center stage, not her social life.

“I don’t have close friends who are right-wing nutcases,” Ginsberg says.

Slowly but surely, Ginsberg would work her magic like “a kindergarten teacher,” she says, adding, “[the male justices] didn’t get gender laws.”

No one could ever accuse Ginsberg of argle-bargle, a phrase that Justice Antonin Scalia frequently used to describe a majority opinion he disagreed with.

What RBG really illustrates is a woman who began as a lawyer, happens to be on the Supreme Court, and relies on her personal commitment and willpower to utilize the law for positive change.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is an endearing look at Fred Rogers, the PBS superstar of the thirty-minute television show, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.

I’ve written about Rogers before (Mr. Rogers Goes to Washington, Mar. 18, 2017), but Neighbor offers more insight behind the man.

While Rogers show came along too late in life for me, (My default children’s shows growing up were Howdy Doody and Captain Kangaroo.), nonetheless, Rogers approach was most appreciated by the real kids with whom he would interact. With his soft voice, approachable manner and sincere language, Rogers was the perfect friend to all he encountered. And his message was clear:

“Love is at the root of everything,” Rogers gently describes, “all learning, all relationships, and all for the lack of it.”

Why are audiences showing such an interest in RBG and Neighbor?

“ ‘People are looking for positives, looking for heroes, for people they’re interested in hearing more about,’ Tom Brueggemann, an industry veteran and box-office editor for IndieWire said. ‘And it’s a way of being with your community. One thing that makes watching movies in theaters different is that you’re watching it with other people.’ ”

Civility, kindness, decency, love. That’s the fundamental message of Fred Rogers. Ginsberg’s message is likewise clear: equal rights is vital to us all.

Two people, one theme: all lives have value.

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