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Netflix Releases a Documentary About the 'Dark Side' of Bob Ross' Oil Painting Empire and I Simply Cannot

If there have been two pop culture figures in my lifetime that were pure and good and who left behind an enduring legacy that represents the very best of humanity, they are Mister Rogers and Bob Ross. There have been others who were decent and tried their best. But only of those two can you say they have been (as the Old Testament phrased it) weighed in the balances and were not found wanting. 

Mister Rogers has gotten the film tributes he deserved, both in the documentary "It's You I Like" and the historical fiction treatment with Tom Hanks playing him in "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood." Both are so full of genuine, sincere kindness that they bring you to tears. For the way they show the potential of human beings to be kind to one another, but also for the way you consider your own shortcomings as a person. 

Bob Ross deserves the same homage. His unique brand of gentility, which brought you into his vision of a world of incomparable beauty and invited you to cherish, capture, and preserve it, needs to be celebrated. Now, as much as ever. 

But this is 2021. The radiant, infectious positivity of such an artist can't be held up to the light and admired. It has to be exposed. Because everything is awful now. So Netflix drops a documentary tomorrow called "Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed." Which, as The Daily Beast says, sounds like a true crime series. But I'll add, a true crime committed by a man who was the closest thing America had to a secular saint. Fortunately, according their description of the film, Ross at least comes away unscathed. And the vitriol is saved mainly for Annette and Walt Kowalski, "a couple who were smitten with the young artist. They advised Ross to strike out on his own, and in the process, they became the nuts-and-bolts businesspeople behind the Bob Ross phenomenon that would take off once they struck a deal for the PBS series (The Joy of Painting), which would run from 1983 to 1994."

[T]here’s nothing jokey about Joshua Rofé’s Netflix documentary (Aug. 25), which serves as both a loving portrait of the landscape painter who inspired millions to pick up a brush, and a disheartening exposé of the various ways in which his work, and legacy, were exploited by the selfish partners closest to him.

Rofé’s film is, first and foremost, a celebration of a caring, ambitious man who rose from humble origins to become a unique (that afro!), ubiquitous presence on American public television. ...

To the same degree that Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed venerates Ross it censures the Kowalskis [whom the film alleges] spent the better part of Ross’ final year trying to get him to sign over the rights to his name and likeness, and once he passed away, they—through their Bob Ross, Inc.—sued to get what they wanted. ...

For the past 26 years, the film alleges, Steve [Ross] hasn’t seen a dime of the millions made off of his father, even though Ross had supposedly intended for his son and half-brother to be the joint beneficiaries of his IP rights. Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed is thus a tale of a warm-hearted soul who seems to have been taken advantage of, in life and death, by those who valued him solely as a vehicle for making money.

OK. Deep breath. It's a relief at least that this man wasn't a fraud or some kind of closeted monster:

Giphy Images.

Or some schill in the pocket of Big Oil Paint and manipulating us for his own greedy, nefarious ends. 

But still, it sucks to hear this. That his own estate (allegedly) was stolen from his own loved ones by manipulative and underhanded greedheads. If true, it serves as a reminder we did not need that there is nothing in the works of mankind so beautiful and so pure that someone can't turn it into just another thing they can exploit to benefit no one but themselves. Not even Bob Ross' legacy.

Even though my worst fears weren't realized on this and Ross remains the pure good he always was, this still makes me root for an asteroid to come and destroy us all. The planet needs a reboot. I just hope the next dominant species produces more Bob Rosses and more Mister Rogers than we were capable of. 

Sorry about bringing this all up. Keep watching this until you cheer up.