Goodness as Privilege: What The Good Place Reveals about Morality

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The Good Place is one of the smartest shows on television. 

First of all, the writing is phenomenal. The characters are hilarious, the actors are unforgettable, and the sets are larger than life. But what really sets this show apart is its premise, as well as its ability to carry this premise far beyond what one would imagine. 

🚨SPOILERS AHEAD🚨

In the first episode, we meet Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell), a woman who has died and ended up in “The Good Place”, or a non-denominational Heaven, due to her good deeds in life. Michael (Ted Danson), the architect of that particular “Good Place”, introduces Eleanor to her soulmate, Chidi (William Jackson Harper). Only as soon as Michael’s gone, Eleanor reveals to Chidi that she’s horrible person and has clearly ended up in “The Good Place” by mistake. He promises to protect her and teach her ethics.

But at the end of the first season, we discover that Eleanor, along with Chidi and friends Jason (Manny Jacinto) and Tahani (Jameela Jamil), are not in “The Good Place” at all. They’re in “The Bad Place”, AKA Hell. This has all been an elaborate emotional torture scheme to punish them for their sins in life by putting them all under immense stress. 

Fast forward a few seasons, and the four sinners (along with demon Michael, who has now turned to their side, and “Good Place” helper Janet [D’Arcy Carden]) are trying to create a brand new, more fair afterlife. They’ve successfully proved that even bad humans can change if given the opportunity. Here is what they eventually decide: that people’s actions in life, or their point value, will only be a baseline for their “goodness”.  It’ll be the class, whereas the afterlife will be the test. You’ll go through some sort of trial to make you confront your moral shortcomings, and then at the end you get a recap where you discuss what you did right and wrong, and then you’re rebooted and do it all again – with only a vague memory of the lessons you learned last time. You will go through this again and again until eventually, you hopefully are good enough to gain entry to “The Good Place”. 

The system itself can be argued, and we’ll see how it’s implemented in the show. But there’s one part in particular I want to focus on, which appropriately comes from Chidi, the moral philosophy professor, as they begin to present their plan: 

“The problem with the afterlife is not only that it’s cruel but that it’s final. You get one shot on Earth, and regardless of the context of your life, you’re placed somewhere – usually, the Bad Place – forever, with no chance for redemption.”

Here’s where I want to focus: “regardless of the context of your life”. This is not the first time this has been mentioned: the whole show is about how the situations and reboots the 4 sinners have been through have made them better people. But here, Chidi explicitly brings forward this idea: that goodness, or the opportunity to do good, is a privilege. Just like being born with a certain gender or skin color or into a certain family can give you privilege. 

Let’s take two examples: Boy A is born into a loving family that raise him well and teach him how to be a good man. They bring him to volunteer at a young age, and regularly give to charity. When he’s older, he decides to start a charity that provides clean water for those in third world countries. He adopts a family of children and lives sustainably, because that’s all he’s ever known. He’s never really even given the opportunity to do bad: he’s never tempted, because he’s always had everything he needed, including love and a purpose. 

Then take Boy B, born into a dangerous community with parents that have very little money, or abusive parents. Maybe he’s in the foster system. Maybe his mother is sick, and to help her he has to sell drugs, but the more involved he gets with a gang, the worse he becomes. Maybe something horrible happens to him, and he loses faith in the world and in people. Maybe he hurts someone, and ends up in jail. Maybe he never does anything at all good; maybe his motivations are anything but pure. But it all comes from having too many opportunities where it is better or even the only option to do bad, and not enough opportunities to do good. Or perhaps the cost of doing good is too great, whereas for the first boy, the cost of doing good is nothing at all. 

It’s very clear that the first example is a good person and the second is a bad person. Yes, we still have free will: no matter the cost, it is almost always possible to make the right choice, or do the right thing. But how often that opportunity comes up, or how easy it is to take, differs vastly between different people. Simply put, it’s not fair. We don’t know if Boy A might’ve done something bad if given more opportunity to, or less opportunity to do good. We don’t know if Boy B might’ve done more good in the world if it had been easier. We don’t know which one was inherently better, because they didn’t get the same opportunities. Just like we don’t know if an ivy league graduate or a high school dropout would’ve been smarter if they’d both been given the same amount of money and the same opportunities to succeed. 

It’s not always so extreme. And of course there are examples of people who are given opportunities to do good with little risk, and still don’t. There are examples of people who do good at great cost to themselves.  Perhaps you believe in an inherent good and an inherent bad: that people are predisposed to one. And maybe that is true: maybe that is the “nature” part of the argument, and the opportunities they are given to do good or bad is the “nurture” part. But the point is, we will never know who the better person, A or B, might’ve been had they been given the same opportunities, the same “nurture”. And as in the fictional afterlife in “The Good Place”, their outcomes can be rather final based on what nurture they receive when they are young. Take jail, for instance – America has the highest incarceration rates in the world. It’s incredibly difficult for ex-convicts to get work. And measures such as solitary confinement make it clear that jails are not about rehabilitation, but rather punishment. 

“The Good Place” takes issue with how people are judged and punished in the fictional afterlife. But, as with most fiction, it corresponds with something in our real life society, where we are quick to write off people as good or bad. Like any privilege, people who benefit from their privilege tend to feel they deserve it. If someone is considered a good person, and benefits from it, they think it’s because they are a good person – not because they have had more opportunities to do good than most. We tend to see bad things people do and shake our heads, telling ourselves that we would never do that, without considering how we might act if we’d grown up in their shoes. And society tells people who have done bad things – like people in jail – that they are bad and deserve punishment, rather than assessing how many opportunities they have had to be good. Think of a trial – sure, motive is considered, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a murderer get a lighter sentence because the opportunity to do bad was more prevalent than the opportunity to do good. In fact, the lightest sentences seem to go to the rich (due to their lawyers), who arguably have the greatest opportunity to do good because of the resources they have to give, and have still done bad. Crimes are assessed and punishments allotted not just due to privilege from race or wealth, but goodness, too. Doing bad in the face of more opportunities to do good vs. doing bad in the face of more opportunities to do bad is not a defense I’ve heard of in trials. And like with most privilege, leveling the playing field has to do with systematic change – more money and change in education, in foster programs, into communities where violence runs rampant.

It’s hard to correct problems of privilege once they’ve already taken effect: imagine trying to rehabilitate a Charles Manson type. In “The Good Place”, they have the time and resources to try to do so – hopefully enough that nurture has less effect, and it’s down to your inherent good or badness. But we don’t have that luxury of time and resources on Earth. We can certainly implement better rehabilitation in jails (which would be much more effective in creating “good people” than punishment) – but the problem, as Chidi said, is that you get “one shot” on Earth, in whatever context you are randomly born into. For some people, there may not be enough time or resources to rehabilitate enough.

Without an afterlife, we don’t have the luxury of making life a lesson, and the afterlife the test: we have to make childhood the lesson, and adulthood the test. We need to equalize childhood, or the context of people’s lives, much more: and we need to stop seeing those who have done bad and so much below those of us who have not. We need to consider not just why people have done one bad thing in particular, but every instance of moral privilege or lack thereof in their lives that has brought them to this point. We are no better than those who have done badly, and we have no right to act morally superior, if we are simply a product of our superior environment. 

And I’m not just talking about those who have done small crimes or bad actions, such as our heroes in “The Good Place” – their system is for all people. And this is where the show won’t quite go into (openly) revolutionary territory: as a part of the humor of the show, many of the “sins” that land people in the Bad Place are things like unsolicited dick-picks, or flossing in an open office, or indecisiveness. For an audience, it’s not hard for us to agree that those people should be given a second shot at being a good person. But if you really look at what it’s saying, you’ll see that “The Good Place” is just reminding us that we are all terrible people in our own ways. It reminds us not to judge those who have not had the same amount of privilege as us. And if you look really closely, especially at people like Michael’s arcs, you’ll see that “The Good Place” is arguing that even evil demons are deserving of the opportunity to change, not just servers who say “you hated that!” at your licked-clean plate at a restaurant. If we take the show’s message to its logical endpoint, we’ll see it’s trying to show us that everyone is deserving of the opportunity to do good, no matter what they’ve done or have the capability to do. And that idea is in itself revolutionary.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!!

I hope you’re all having a lovely time with your loved ones this holiday season! I will be enjoying the holidays with my cat.

Nanowrimo Book Preview

YOU MUST BE THIS TALL

CHAPTER ONE

Behind perhaps outer space, horse camp, or a Scholastic Book Fair, an amusement park is the most exciting place a kid can be. 

It’s built into the name: the whole point of the park is to amuse. An old-timey word, amusement – kids today will recognize it as a (hopefully) familiar concept called “having fun”. 

Amusement parks are predictably great at amusing, if for a high price in money and calories. They’ve got everything a kid could ever want: games, prizes, rides, greasy food, sugar. In other words, they’re paradise for both children and coronary artery disease. 

Naturally, an amusement park named FUNLAND would have to be the most fun of them all, right? In fact, you would be almost guaranteed to have fun. 

Even if it killed you. 

*************

Hate is a very strong word; you must be careful with its use. A couple acceptable examples are Hitler, the Baby Shark song, and unnecessary sequels. For other things, “strongly dislike” is preferred. 

But Connor McGrath truly, from the bottom of his heart, hated FUNLAND.

It was not that he hated fun (though his siblings and peers often thought so). It was that FUNLAND, like many other things that promised to be wonderful, was actually the worst. 

It was right up there with chocolate muffins that turned out to be blueberry, or a loving stepfather who turned out to be a big old meanie. The first few times Connor experienced this sort of disappointment, he brushed it off. But it became sort of hard to do so when everything seemed to be that way. Like life itself was a blueberry muffin. 

FUNLAND may have been a particularly bad offender, but that was not the only reason Connor hated it. He hated it because it was the place he was spending the day his mother and stepfather filed for divorce. He hated it because it was the charade he was being forced to participate in for the sake of his younger siblings. He hated it because he, too, would have to be a blueberry muffin masquerading as chocolate for the day. 

Perhaps the first annoyingly misleading aspect of the park was its motto.  The words that lay under the fading wooden sign for FUNLAND read “Fun! Sun! Run!” Which, on the surface, sounded alright. But Connor was more intelligent than most other 14 year olds, and he knew that while rhyming can be a nifty way to advertise, communicate with children, and get a song on the radio, it also often involves using the wrong words for the sake of the rhyme. And if there was anything Connor hated besides FUNLAND, it was false advertising. 

First of all, there was absolutely no running in FUNLAND: Connor knew this because he had been yelled at for it by teenagers in the signature gaudy fur vest many times before. The park was crawling with unenthusiastic employees, many of them plucked from among the more mean and stupid bullies from Connor’s school, and they revelled in their so-called power. 

Second of all, Connor was not sure that even an ant would find any of the rides at FUNLAND fun. There had not been one new ride in decades; the last was a rather disappointing “high-speed” metal coaster that had become the park’s main attraction. Connor wondered why they hadn’t used the money instead to update the park – the other rides’ paint had chipped and faded, leaving a decrepit look that was more akin to a traveling carnival than one of the top 20 attractions of Arizona. 

The only thing that could be guaranteed from FUNLAND’s motto was sun: this was the hottest summer the southwest had seen in a decade, and the state hadn’t experienced a single day of rain. In fact, the sun had become the enemy to many in Connor’s small town, who were not even allowed a sprinkler in the drought. (Many of the wealthier residents ignored this rule, however, enjoying signalling to their neighbors that they were both rich and inconsiderate.) The park itself was unspeakably hot, and only had a single water ride called Sun Garden Mill that only had a single tiny splash and mostly took place in a hot cave. 

One out of three was not very good in Connor’s mind. And besides, if anything, the sun was a detractor. 

Detractor was one of his new vocabulary words which meant it took away from something. He’d been studying very hard at school to get into the advanced summer program at Emory Park, the much nicer summer school upstate. Decisions were due out any day now, and Connor hadn’t wanted to risk seeming stupid if he attended. His little sister Josie had given him a judgemental look every time she saw him studying (in the summer, of all times!), but he’d just ignored her. He wasn’t keen on letting her or anyone else know about his application. After all, he hadn’t even decided he’d go if he got in – who would care for his siblings? And how would his mother, a waitress at the town’s diner, pay? He’d decided to wait until decisions were out to address those particular questions; for now, it was a waiting game. 

Maybe running and fun had once been allowed in the park – it was obvious the motto had not been changed in decades. The sun had long since faded the probably once-colorful sign into a dirty almost-white – sort of like Connor’s clothing, which he’d had to wash himself at the laundromat. All of his clothes had faded, until a rude yet helpful older woman had instructed him to wash colors on cold. 

It was probably better to be faded, anyways. You didn’t want to stand out. 

Connor had learned that the hard way, when he’d moved to Stoneville five years prior and bumped right into bully Tim Myers. Tim had challenged Connor to a fight; and when he got home, Connor’s stepfather told him he needed to stand up and “be a man”. So, the next day Connor had showed up to school in his knight Halloween costume brandishing a wooden sword.

It turned out, fantasy role playing was not a surefire route to popularity. And “being a man” meant some sort of sexist nonsense about yelling in a deep voice and punching walls and somehow not crying while doing these things. 

It certainly didn’t help that Connor wasn’t exactly popularity material. The other eighth graders made fun of his too-short hand-me-down pants inherited from a nameless relative (who had clearly had a problem with spilling things) and his often dirty hair. They weren’t exactly wrong when they called him a poor, low class weirdo from a good-for-nothing family, but Connor didn’t think it was very polite to say so. It wasn’t his fault the water was regularly shut off in his apartment, or that his stepdad couldn’t hold a job for more than a few months, or that all he had to read were old fantasy books. Connor actually thought he was doing pretty well, considering. He got good grades at school, at least. And one day – maybe one day soon – he was going to get out of Stoneville Arizona and become a great writer. And then nobody would laugh at him anymore.

But that day seemed very, very far away from the rusted wrought-iron front gates of FUNLAND, where Connor was busy plastering on a fake smile for his siblings, Josie and PT, and pretending Everything Was Great!! It was like being an adult without any of the perks – he had absolutely no freedom, and all the responsibilities. 

At least PT and Josie wouldn’t have to experience that, not yet. If he acted like the parent, they could still act like kids, and remain blissfully unaware for at least one more day. 

PT skipped forward, wearing the Iron Man costume Connor had gotten him at Goodwill two birthdays ago. Connor wasn’t sure if Connor knew Iron Man wasn’t a FUNLAND character, but had decided against correcting him. He was only 6, and he’d never been to an amusement park; they were all Disneyland to him. His face was alight with excitement, and Connor couldn’t bear the thought of bringing reality crashing down on him. Sometimes Connor was jealous of PT’s age; his ability to believe things were better than they were. Sometimes it just made him sad that he didn’t know their lives were bad because he’d never had anything better.

Josie was wearing her usual scowl, her blunt black bob looking almost blue in the sun, like she was wearing an ice crown. It was clear FUNLAND was not exactly Josie’s idea of a fun day, either; but she wouldn’t say anything about it. Partly because beneath her unfriendly demeanor, she loved PT and didn’t want to ruin it for him. But mostly because almost a year earlier, she had taken a vow of silence and hadn’t spoken since.

At least no one would make fun of her for being there. No one would dare. Everyone in her sixth grade class thought she was a witch after sixth grade ice queen Marcy Davis had insulted her clothes, then opened her locker the next day to see a dead bird. Josie was never caught, but Connor didn’t need rumors to tell him it was her; she loved reading books about zombies and taxidermy and everything that went bump in the night. 

Tired looking adults carting around small children surrounded them, and Connor wondered where they might be going and why. How strange that their lives intersected at this one very moment and then never would again. Or even stranger, they would – and none of them would know they had ever seen each other before.

Connor had once heard that you couldn’t make up someone in a dream – every person you saw in a dream, you had seen before. He wondered if he’d been in some stranger’s dream before. He wondered if he’d been happy.

Connor turned back to PT, who was getting too far ahead – he wished he would slow down. The last thing Connor needed was to get separated from PT, or for PT to get hurt – Connor knew his parents did not have health insurance. But he needn’t have worried – the “no running” rule seeed to also include skipping, and a pimpled employee yelled harshly at PT to stop. 

Connor recognized the employee as Tyler Drenow, a bully in Connor’s grade. Even among the employees, he was especially dumb. He’d been held back 2 years, and was due for a third – thus, he was much older than the other eight graders. As often happens, age crowned Tyler “cooler than everyone else”, and he’d let everyone know that Connor was decidedly uncool. Privately, Connor felt there was more to make fun of about Tyler than him – but he dared not say so. Middle school defied logic anyways, in an upside down version of the real world. One day, kids like Tyler would be mopping the floors of kids like Connor. At least, that’s what he told himself.

Tyler sneered at Connor as he passed, and followed them for a few steps, calling out clever insults such as “how old are you, 4?” or imitating Connor saying “I’m Connor and I’m too scared to ride the merry go round!” 

FUNLAND had always been sort of lame, but had become much more so since the Six Flags had opened upstate. Now, you wouldn’t be caught dead in a photo in front of the mascot bear unless you wanted the picture passed around during the school lunch. It would’ve been easy enough to keep attendance a secret, if it weren’t for so many of the high schoolers working at the park. Connor wondered why none of the employees got made fun of for their stupid fur vests and animal ears, but alas: it was not him who made the rules. 

Connor refused to be bothered by Tyler’s taunts – he’d expected it. Besides, it was a horrible impression of him. It was slightly frustrating that Tyler was being paid to continue him torment from school – which sounded like Tyler’s dream job – but the best thing to do with bullies, Connor had learned, was just tune them out. Actually, that was a good method with anyone who was making you feel bad – like his stepfather, who simultaneously refused to acknowledge the bullying and blamed Connor for it. Adults spoke in riddles like that sometimes, Connor had learned. They always thought they could hide what they were really saying. But Connor was very good at reading between the lines. Which had brought him to the conclusion that his stepfather, though older and supposedly wiser, was nothing more than a classic Stanton Middle School bully. 

Giving up on Connor and turning to PT, Tyler began to make fun of PT’s costume. “Does the brain dead moron think he’s at Disney? Don’t you know your parents don’t love you enough for that? You could never afford it, anyways.” PT’s face fell, and Josie shot daggers at Tyler, but Connor simply grabbed PT’s hand and led him away. Josie shook her head, eyeing Connor as he started talking loudly about superheroes, drowning Tyler out. Soon they were caught up in the crowd, losing Tyler. 

It was, as usual, unbearably hot. Everyone always said that the heat in places like Arizona couldn’t be too bad, because it was just dry heat. Everyone had never lived in Arizona, clearly.

Heat was just heat. And honestly, dry heat just sounded like another way adults tried to speak in poorly concealed code.

They stopped as they reached the center of the park, a square (which was really more of a circle) which housed an animatronic band made up of the park’s (self-touted) “famous” characters – a mouse named Herman playing the harp, a lion named Mildred playing the drums, and the most well-known of the three, the large bear named Barry playing the guitar. The animals was various shades of purple, fur rubbing and falling off as if the animals had a flesh eating disease. Garish smiles were plastered on googly-eye clad faces, a picture of painful joy as they played their instruments. They looked more rabid than jolly. 

“Come to FUNLAND, where the sun and hopes are high!” they sang in cartoonish voices, jerky movements inches away from their instruments as the song played out of tinny speakers. “Come to FUNLAND, where the animals run run run and have some fun!”

Josie shot Connor a look. She looked like she wanted to run run run straight back the way they’d come, and Connor was right with her.

But a few small children seemed transfixed on the animals, clapping along as if they were actually enjoying themselves. Even PT looked mildly excited, pointing out the games closeby where you could win smaller versions of the animals. Reluctantly, Connor brought him over to the Whack-a-Barry, parting ways with a precious $5 as PT tried and failed to win the clearly rigged game.

The park was laid out into four smaller lands: Merryland, which was near the front of the park and held classic rides such as the carousel and merry-go-round; Barryland, which housed Barry the Bear-themed rides like the log ride, bumper cars, and a small coaster; Scaryland, which contained a haunted house, a rapid drop ride, and the “high speed” metal coaster; and Fairyland, a small toddler-friendly area with a treehouse and simple rides. Connecting them all was a small railway that ran above the park. 

All around them were food stands selling greasy, overpriced items like giant pretzels and corn dogs, and diabetes-causing desserts like fried dough and giant sundaes. It was the kind of stuff that coated your mouth and made you feel like you’d swallowed chemicals and gave you a stomachache that lasted weeks. All of it manufactured and fake. Not real – not like the stuff that inspired Connor’s writing. Not like walks in mysterious woods and sunrises on a summer morning or the honesty he only held with himself. 

It was simply not Connor’s scene. He did not like the crowds, the food, or even really the rides. It was certainly not Josie’s scene either – except for Scaryland, of course. She tried to drag them towards the haunted house as they passed, her face lighting up in a way it hadn’t in a very long time. 

“Too scary for PT,” Connor said with a shake of his head, protecting his brother automatically. Josie’s face fell, and her eyes narrowed as she pulled PT forward. “Josie!” Connor said warningly. 

“I want to go, too!” PT said, but Connor wouldn’t have it. What PT thought he could handle and what he actually could handle were two very different things – and this day was supposed to be fun, after all; not scary. Only Josie would see the two things as the same.

 Josie pulled out her signature black pad and pen, scribbling down some words and presenting them to Connor.

I’ll go, she’d written. Stay here with PT.

“No,” Connor said firmly, struggling to be patient. Why wouldn’t children understand that he was simply trying to help them? Why did he have to be the one to be the bad guy? “We’re not separating.” 

Josie fumed the rest of the way to Fairytown, where she refused to go on a single ride. Connor tried his best to act excited as they spun around slowly on a fairy-themed, glittery spiderweb-like contraption, but PT’s smile seemed even faker and less enthusiastic than Connor’s. Connor clearly wasn’t trying hard enough. 

“I want to go on the Scarycoaster!” PT insisted when they got off, referring to the metal coaster – the only ride in FUNLAND which perhaps lived up to the name. 

“It’s too scary,” Connor resisted, distracting PT with lunch (chicken fingers that tasted more like fingers than chicken) – but there was no deterring him. Tired of saying no, Connor relented, and PT practically dragged them to the outskirts of Scaryland, where the creatively named coaster was laid out. PT burst forward excitedly, giving Connor just enough time to smile, relieved that PT actually seemed truly happy for once. 

But just as he entered the line, an arm grabbed his, pointing him towards a sign. 

“You must be this tall to ride,” the sign read. Shooting a worried look back at Connor, PT stepped underneath the sign, just reaching the line. Connor breathed a sigh of relief. 

“Sorry,” the attendant, who Connor recognized as Tyler’s friend (or, more accurately, accomplice) Jimmy, who went to the high school. “You’re too short.” 

“What??” PT said. “No, I’m not!” 

“Hair doesn’t count,” Jimmy said rudely, gesturing to PT’s wild brown curls. PT and Josie both looked at Connor, waiting for his move. 

“Let’s go ride the Bear-o-Coaster!” Connor said, plastering on his best Barry the Bear smile. “It’ll be way more fun.” 

“I want to go on this one,” PT said in a small voice. “You said I could.” 

“We’ll come back when you’re not so little anymore.” 

“I am not a little kid!” PT burst out suddenly, pushing Jimmy aside as he rushed into the line, weaving between adults and carriages and children on leashes. 

“HEY!” Jimmy shouted, running after him, pushing children and adults (including a pregnant woman) aside rudely. 

“PT!” Connor called, running after him with Josie. But they got caught up in the crowd (politeness was a rather inconvenient thing), and soon a large hand pulled at the back of Connor’s shirt, nearly choking him. 

“No cutting!” Connor turned to see Tyler’s pimply face glaring at him. 

“My brother’s in there – “ 

“Then wait in line like the rest of the people. What, you think you’re special?” Tyler thought very hard for a moment, like it required both of his two brain cells, finally coming up with a triumphant grin like he had just solved world hunger. “Yeah….yeah….” he laughed. “You are special, actually. So ‘special’ you should be in special ed.” Connor was fairly certain Tyler himself was in special ed – which really should not have been an insult anyways – so he wasn’t sure how effective of a diss that was. Besides, Tyler always called Connor a nerdy know-it-all – he was really having trouble keeping his story straight. 

“Please,” Connor said. “He’s only 6 – he’ll get too scared by himself. If he goes by himself- “

“Then you shouldn’t have let him get in line without you,” Tyler grinned, baring braces laden teeth like a cartoon pubescent shark. 

“I didn’t, he ran off – “ Connor tried to explain exasperatedly, feeling like he was trying to talk to one of his younger siblings even though Tyler was older than him. 

“That’s not my fault. Back of the line,” Tyler said, unfazed, jerking his thumb backwards. “Relax. The ride’s perfectly safe. Well, if you’re tall enough…” He cackled in a hyena’s laugh. 

Connor turned with a sigh and slunk to the back of the line with Josie, watching the exit like a hawk – but he saw neither PT nor Jimmy come out. Soon they were inside the ride and could no longer see the exit, and Connor waited impatiently, trying to ignore Josie’s looks – she was clearly unhappy with him, as usual. “We’re not going to the haunted house,” he said, annoyed. Josie threw up her hands with a huff, and scribbled something on her pad, but Connor refused to read it, even when Josie crumpled it up and threw it at the back of his head. 

It took over an hour to make it to the front of the ride, and when they did, PT was nowhere to be seen. 

“Next!” the ride operator called, and the person behind Connor shuffled forward, bumping into Connor. “Line 7,” he called towards Connor, pointing. 

“We should go out the last minute exit,” Connor said, finally looking back at Josie, who was already getting on the coaster, shooting him a look that said “we didn’t come all this way for nothing.” 

“Last call,” The operator said. Reluctantly, Connor jumped forward and got in beside Josie, still craning his neck to look for PT. “Enjoy the ride!” The operator called, pulling the level and causing the ride to begin to climb.

The ride shook through two loops, 4 hills, and 8 turns, the seats barely seeming secure, just as Connor had feared. Their heads rattled around, causing Connor’s pretzel and fried dough to come up into his throat. When they finally stumbled off the ride, Connor stumbled to a nearby bench with Josie’s help, forgetting to even look for PT as he squeezed his eyes shut and tried to regain his bearings.

“Hey!” a voice barked as Josie shook his shoulder. Connor looked up, blinking away stars and chasing away nausea to see Tyler and Jimmy. “Your psycho little brother went Wolverine on my friend!” Tyler called. 

Jimmy held his arm angrily up, presenting a large bite mark. Next to Connor, Josie nodded in appreciation. 

“Probably has rabies or something,” Jimmy added. “Little freak!” 

Josie stood suddenly, eyes blazing as she stepped up to Jimmy. Connor jumped to his feet, trying to pull her away. 

But as anyone with motion sickness knows, sudden movements only make it worse. And when you’re already fighting to keep down your lunch, they can sometimes produce….well, undesired results. 

In this case, throwing up all over someone who already has plenty of reasons to hate you. 

“Arghhh!” Tyler screamed, wiping puke off his uniform. “You’re going to pay for that, McGrath!” 

Still dizzy, Connor took a step back. Josie pulled him away as Tyler lunged for him, still dragging him along as she ran, weaving between the crowd as heavy footsteps pounded behind them and parkgoers cried out in disgust, puke rubbing off on them. This time, they were saved by etiquette being broken, and the pandemonium that broke out at Tyler’s rudeness helped them get lost in the throng. 

“You three are dead!” Tyler called from a rapidly increasing distance. “You hear me?? Dead!”

Looking for PT became rather impossible as they were being hunted themselves, like wild geese trying to find a needle in a haystack in the middle of hunting season. They used what was almost the last of their money to buy bear-ear hats, donning them as a disguise each time they passed an employee, but there were a couple near misses. As the park started to get dark, they still had not found their little brother. 

The park closed at sundown – apparently, lighting was out of the park’s measly budget – so most of the park’s visitors were beginning to make their way towards the front entrance. PT had to be among them, Connor reasoned, so they joined the group. 

They made their way through the throws of people to a tree near the exit, stepping up on the base to get a better vantage point. “Do you see him?” Connor asked. Josie shook her head.

Unfortunately, the tree was also a good vantage point to see them from. 

“Hey!” came a voice suddenly. “McGrath!”

“Crap,” Connor said, ducking back down into the crowd. “It’s them.” Tyler and Jimmy had spotted him and was heading towards them, pushing against the traffic leaving the park. “Come on,” he said to Josie, pulling her towards the side. But the teenagers had longer legs, and were gaining on them. Connor and Josie ducked behind trees, changing routes and running deeper into the park.

“You can’t run from me!” Tyler called. Connor wondered how he’d gotten the job at the park. He sounded like a cartoon villain to everyone he’d ever met – he couldn’t exactly see Tyler charming the pants off his interviewer, unless he’d been asked to give a Mojo Jojo impression. “I’ll find you!”

The crowd grew sparse as Josie and Connor made their way to the center of the park, weaving between buildings and rides. Finally they stopped to catch their breath by the animatronic band animals, turning to see if Tyler had followed them.

They waited in silence, scanning every entrance to the square.

“Come to FUNLAND, where the sun and hopes are high!” the song suddenly broke out again, causing Connor and Josie to jump. They turned to see that the animatronic band had begun playing again. “Come to FUNLAND, where the animals run run run and have some fun!” they sang in their nasally voices. 

But something was off. The tune was faster and higher pitched than normal. Their hands actually seemed to be playing the instruments, and the sounds became jarring and loud, off pitch.

“Come to FUNLAND-where-the-sunandhopesarehigh!” They screeched. Sparks began to fly from the guitar as a string broke. “COMETOFUNLANDWHERETHEANIMALSRUNRUNRUNANDHAVESOMEFUN!”

Connor took an instinctive step back, grabbing Josie’s arm as the band’s movement quickened, too, until the strokes of the ear’s guitar became a screeching cacophony, and the strings on the lion’s harp began to break, and the beat of the mouse’s drum became more of a vibration.

The animals began to shake off their hinges, almost as if they might fall. The very foundation rocked left and right, as if the animals were trying to free themselves of it. But that was insane. It was a jarring malfunction, but it was just that, Connor told himself. Most things in life could be explained – it was simply science that had not been discovered yet, or some phenomena Connor had not learned yet. It was still Normal. 

Until the mouse’s foot broke loose from the base with a loud series of creaks, then stepped forward. Until the lion’s paws broke free and it began to drag its back legs forward. Until the bear’s eyes moved to Connor’s and narrowed as his arms reached out, leering out at them. 

Until Connor watched the animals come to life, and could no longer brush the events off as anything other than horrifying, utterly impossible-yet-possible paranormal activity. 

Next to him, a grin began to creep onto Josie’s face 

“Awesome,” she said.

Hannah’s Guide to Christmas Makeup

IT’S THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR!

Look, I’m going to make this super simple. It’s Christmas. You already know gold/silver/white glitter, cat eyes, and red lipstick are go tos: see below.

You’ll find about a million tutorials for this (see here and here).

You already know my favorite products, too: Rimmel Kate Moss lipstick in 108, NYX Fine Line liner, and NYX metallic glitter in really any color.

But say you want to change it up this year: I have a couple new palettes that I’m obsessed with. And no surprise, they’re…..

FROZEN THEMED!

Yes, I’m talking about the Elsa and Anna eyeshadow palettes by Colourpop!! If you’ve read other makeup blogs, you know I love Colourpop. They’ve got great prices and pigments, and these palettes do not disappoint.

Let’s start with the Elsa palette:

Image result for frozen palette colourpop

This one has some really great colors. My favorite is the upper right corner, called Northern Lights. It’s a really pretty champagne pink. Fair warning, the white color on the top left (Cuddle Close) and the silver on the bottom middle (Ice Crystals) both have a bit of a blue tinge!

The colors are gorgeous, and create the perfect icy winter look. See below for a great tutorial! (Which also uses the other Elsa makeup!)

Now for the Anna palette!

Image result for frozen palette colourpop

This one’s a lot warmer, like Anna. I love Scooch In, the top left, as a highlight color, and the Arendelle gold glitter is gorgeous. This palette is also great for fall. Here’s a tutorial below!

Here’s another great tutorial that uses both!

Overall, I like Elsa’s palette better, but I tend to use shadows from both when creating a look. It’s really fun to experiment with mixing colors like purple and blue like Elsa does, and Anna’s looks are really nice and more everyday.

Anyways, besides my signature look, that’s what I’m wearing this holiday season! What about you?

The Definitive Ranking of MCU Films

Okay, I saw this list on Buzzfeed, and I had some STRONG disagreements. So, presented below is the ACTUAL definitive ranking of MCU films.

23. Thor: The Dark World: I watched this for the first time on an airplane. ON MY NEIGHBOR’S SCREEN. Yes, that’s right, it didn’t have sound. And it still prevented me from watching Marvel films for years. Thor: The Dark World is like a DCU film: overly serious but not good enough to be any kind of art. We don’t have enough to really feel Loki’s “death”. It’s just a big “meh”.

22. The Incredible Hulk: Alright, this is a good enough movie. But compared to the other MCU films? Meh. Also loses points for pretending it’s in the MCU when really the Bruce Banner doesn’t even act the same and they totally forget about his girlfriend.

21. Ant-Man: Look, I LOVE Paul Rudd. I love his friend that tells stories Drunk History style. But this is just a big eh from me.

20. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Better than its predecessor. Still meh.

19. Thor: You guys, I’m gonna be really honest here. I love Thor. But this movie kind of sucks and it’s time we all admit it. Important introduction to Thor and Loki’s characters, but when it stands alone, it’s kind of hard to get into. The worldbuilding isn’t amazing and also comes at the expense of actually caring about the characters. Why wouldn’t they let Chris Hemsworth be funny? (except for the one moment below)

18. Iron Man 2: I actually really enjoy this one. But it’s a horrible film on its own. It’s barely got a plotline, and Tony is just a dick (which is normal, but this time he really doesn’t have any of his redeeming qualities). Though I love Don Cheadle, points off for recasting. Also a confusing plotline with that – so Tony wanted to create War Machine? Why all the fuss, then? And then they were just friends at the end??

17. Doctor Strange: A really, really solid (if trippy) film. I actually thought I wouldn’t like it/that Doctor Strange was just a Tony Stark knockoff, but it actually was pretty well done. Loses points for lack of connection to other characters in the MCU and a kind of overdone plotline of skilled asshole loses said skills (we saw it in Thor).

16. Avengers: Age of Ultron: Look, I wanted to like this one, I really did. But it feels like a knockoff Avengers film. It just doesn’t live up to the other three, and Civil War feels like a way better film. It set up a lot of character conflicts nicely, but the conflict was a little bit confusing because it didn’t have a strong villain and hero. Ultron had nothing to do with the bigger plotline (involving Thanos, which all other Avengers films have), and Vision is kind of just eh. It also felt like the Avengers never took responsibility for what happened in Sokovia, and the fallout is unclear (though they do a great job of doing all that in Civil War). Also, the Natasha Bruce storyline felt rushed, and Thor kind of felt randomly thrown in.

15. Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol II: This is a great, funny film. But did anyone feel the need to watch it more than once? It’s not as good as the first, and is just kind of “there” compared to it.

14. Iron Man 3: I feel like this move gets undeserved hate. I actually loved it, but maybe I’m just a sucker for RDJ. I loved the way in which it showed the actual fallout on Tony’s mental health from the Avengers, and the twists it had. Also, Pepper was a BAMF.

13. Spiderman: Far From Home: This is a funny, sweet film. I absolutely love Tom Holland and Jake Gyllenhaal, and I loved the twist of his character, and especially the twist at the end. But it had a lot of pressure on it as the first post-Endgame film, and I felt like it didn’t quite live up to it.

12. Captain Marvel: I love the female empowerment message, the hero-villain switch, the relationship between Carol and Fury, and the 90s nostalgia. Points off for the beginning being a little confusing.

11. Captain America: The First Avenger: a really good, solid introduction film. Has literally every superhero trope in the book, but does them all well. Loses points for being so far in the past.

10. Spiderman: This is honestly a really cute film that does no wrong. It feels much smaller than the other films, and I kind of love that.

9. Captain America: Winter Soldier: A great film. There’s nothing I love more than a mind control storyline and good old fashioned brotp. Great personal conflict mixed with wider implications for the whole MCU. Points for Natasha and Sam’s inclusion.

8. Black Panther: I hate putting this so low. It’s amazing, and it got me to watch all of the MCU films. The music alone puts it in the top ten. It literally can do no wrong. Only reason it’s not higher is the others are a bit more important to the universe.

7. Captain America: Civil War: I love the character conflict we get here (can we all agree Cap was in the wrong here??). I love all the characters we get to see/meet (Hello, T’Challa and Peter Parker). But most of all, I love that Bucky’s back to Bucky and he finally really reunites with Steve.

6. The Avengers: A classic. Does a really good job of introducing Hawkeye, Natasha (disregarding Iron Man 2), and Ruffalo’s Hulk, while also blending Cap, Tony, and Thor’s storylines well. Honestly iconic.

5. Iron Man: I mean, this is the film that started it all!! It’s got to be in the top five! “I am Iron Man” has got to be one of the most iconic MCU lines ever. I seriously get chills just thinking about it.

4. Avengers: Infinity War: I honestly can’t believe how many characters they packed into this movie without it feeling weird. They did such a great job of blending all the stories. Points off for Steven and Tony never meeting.

3. Avengers: Endgame: I mean, come on. The perfect conclusion to the series (except for Nat, they did her dirty). Funny, heartfelt, exciting, dramatic…I loved it. I cried six times. Best part: Peter and Tony reuniting.

2. Guardians of the Galaxy: Okay, I know this doesn’t tie at all into the other films really (though it heavily features the power stone), which goes against what I’ve been saying this whole time. But it’s the one Marvel film I make people who don’t like Marvel films watch. It’s just a damn good film. Funny, crass, and heartwarming, with amazing music and an amazing cast.

1.Thor: Ragnarok: This is one of my favorite films of all time. They actually let Chris Hemsworth be funny, and it really paid off. Bonus points for introducing us to Queen Valkyrie, finally having a good Loki/Thor bromance, and Jeff Goldblum (enough said). Also, it was a stroke of genius to add Hulk in.

HIATUS ANNOUNCEMENT: NaNoWriMo

November is National Novel Writing Month (aka, NaNoWriMo), and I am going to attempt to write my fourth book. It’s called You Must Be This Tall, and it’s a middle grade horror story about kids stuck in a possessed amusement park overnight. (What can I say, I’m not ready for Halloween to be over!) You’re supposed to write 50,000 words, which means I’m not going to be able to spare any precious words for this blog. I’ll be back in December!

Opinion: Do We Really Have an Overmedication Problem?

I remember the day clearly. It was senior year of high school, and we were pitching what would become our senior essays to our teacher. I sat near his desk, and heard one of my classmates pitch her idea:

“I want to write about overmedication. I think people are way too fast to prescribe medication like antidepressants to people who don’t actually need them.”

As I listened to my teacher’s positive response, I couldn’t help but feel a pit deep in my stomach – I was facing a years-long, quickly worsening depression. The stigma against medication and treatment at all was keeping me from help I so desperately needed. Her pitch felt like the exact response I was afraid of if I did seek help – and yes, elect to go on medication:

“You don’t need it. There’s nothing wrong with you.”

Obviously that was not what she meant, and I’m sure she had good intentions and that her essay was an interesting and well-researched exploration of the overmedication problem in America. I want to be clear: I do believe there is a problem with overmedication. But I guess I feel as if the hysteria surrounding overmedication masks the much larger issue: and that’s undermedication of people who need it.

Speaking from personal experience, medication saved my life. I was going into my fifth year being depressed, and things were getting desperate. I found it incredibly hard to find help, both because of my lack of motivation and the lack of resources. I didn’t want my parents to know the details of what I was going through, as they were apart of the aforementioned group that believes Americans are overmedicated and overdiagnosed. Without their help, financial or otherwise, I found myself in a huge predicament. Even as I swallowed the money and my pride and forced myself to seek help, the indifference of professionals I called shocked me. They didn’t have appointments available; they could only see you once a month; they could see you maybe in 4 or 5 months.

When I finally got to see a therapist, it was after being on a waiting list at my campus’ mental health services, for which I did not have insurance. After one session, the woman told me that if I wanted consistent help, I would have to find someone else, as I did not have the insurance to cover more regular visits (even if I did, they would only be every few weeks). I reached out to the psychology department on campus and eventually was connected with a therapist-in-training there, who I am deeply thankful for. The campus psychologist continued to see me once a month or less, and yes, prescribed me medication after I had seen my therapist a few times.

The first medication did not work. I spent about six weeks on it with no effect.

She switched my medication to the one I remained on for over a year afterwards. That one weekend of the switch – Memorial day weekend – I barely left my bed. It was the worst few days of my life. I remember wondering if I would make it to the end of the weekend.

And then, miraculously, things started to get better.

Therapy had not helped me much before that point, because I lacked the will to even try to get better. I lacked the hope to see that I could. I was addicted to my depression; it was the only constant, comforting thing in my life.

The medication lifted all that, so that the therapy actually began working. I was willing to work on myself. I was able to work on myself, more importantly. And when a new psychiatrist took me off the medication, and a year later I started to spiral again, I made the decision to go back on. This time, I was not suicidal, or anything near it. I was not as desperate. But I could not motivate myself to get a job, or make friendships, or get past the tough transition I was going through post-grad. The medication made those things possible.

Obviously therapy was a huge part of that as well. I have been to therapy before without being on medication, and in less serious cases, it has helped immensely. But if I had been so worried about overmedication that I hadn’t allowed myself to take medication, I might not be alive right now.

Obviously, this is my own personal experience. It’s something my father, a lawyer, would call “anecdotal evidence”. But it’s pushed me to look more into this alleged problem we have, and the damage public outcry over it might be causing. Had others experience what I had?

And here’s what I found: less than half depressed people receive treatment worldwide. In some countries, it’s under 10%. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people 15-29.

According to Dr. Pies, a professor of Psychiatry at SUNY, there’s more of a problem with mis-match between symptoms and medication prescribed, as there are problems with undermedication, overmedication, and the wrong medication. Geriatric patients in particular are often under-treated, and many people in general are not prescribed the correct dose.

One of the biggest concerns about overmedication of antidepressants is its use on people who do not actually have depression, but rather a related disorder such as bipolar disorder, for which antidepressants are not always the best treatment. However, this doesn’t necessarily feel like a problem with overmedication to me, but a problem in education of doctors and patients alike in the difference between bipolar disorder and depression. If people were more accurately screened, and there was less of a stigma, people might receive the medication they need.

I also want to talk about the so-called negative effects of overprescription of anti-depressants. Antidepressants are not addictive – besides, overdosing (which is often not fatal, and would obviously lead to more serious treatment) there is very little reason to fear misuse. Most of the side effects are not very serious, and are comparable to a lot of medications. The exception here is that they can increase suicidal ideation, especially in teenagers. However, the reason why suicide attempts can occur after medication is prescribed is because the medication lifts the person’s motivation – a necessary step in recovery, and something that can happen even if the person is improving without medication. Also, many of these attempts are not fatal. In addition, many of these suicide attempts occur as a result of misprescription of antidepressants in people with anxiety or OCD. Again, it seems the problem is more mis-diagnosis and prescription. It’s not that these patients do not need medication, but that they need a different one.

Unfortunately, I did not find a lot of research on whether or not people who attempt suicide are usually on medication/diagnoses prior to the attempt or not. Thus, it’s hard for to assess the number of people who are suicidal who are not receiving treatment they need. It’s also impossible to know the true amount of people struggling with depression, and due to the stigma, many keep it a secret. It’s completely possible not to know that a close friend or family member is suffering from depression, due both to lack of education in the warning signs, and the person not showing any signs (called “smiling depression” – these people can be at increased risk for suicide).

All in all, it’s very hard to assess the undermedication problem. We do know that depression is very treatable; around 80% of people get better with treatment (it’s also hard to know how many people who committed suicide might have gotten better with continued treatment). Professionals agree that both talk therapy and medication can be helpful.

The stigma around mental health disorders and especially medication is well-documented, and can lead people not to seek treatment. While again, it’s hard to know exact statistics as many people keep this to themselves, it’s a serious problem. People may think they need to “try harder” or they’re just going through a tough time – leading to their depression actually getting worse. This means that the stigma around medication is actually causing people to get more depressed, leading them to a place where they probably will need medication.

There are a lot of obvious problems with the prescription of antidepressants. It’s hard to know which of the 22 FDA approved antidepressants will be the right one, leading to doctors and patients trying out a number of different antidepressants, some of which can cause adverse side effects. I’ve already mentioned the side effects. But I think in the media we need to stop demonizing antidepressants, as this is a major cause in people not seeking treatment when they need it. If we can frame it instead as a lack of research, testing, and education in different disorders and medication, then we can actually bring down the overmedication of antidepressants without making people who need them feel as if they shouldn’t seek them.

The moral of the story is this: before starting your rant about how everyone’s popping “happy pills” they don’t need nowadays, remember who might be listening. Because you might be part of the reason someone is not seeking the help they need. And it is not up to you to assess whether or not they need medication – even if they’re your best friend or family member.

The only people it’s up to are them and their doctor. And if we can erase this stigma, while focusing instead on education, then that’s the way it will be.

And that way, we might even be able to fix the “overmedication problem” you’re so worried about.