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.

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.

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.

Opinion: Why Demi Burnett is So Important

This season of Bachelor in Paradise has been a doozy. There’s been a Hannah G love triangle, an actual fight, a confusing baseless rivalry between Derek and John Paul Jones, and of course, all the Blake Stagecoach drama.

But through it all, there has been one shining light: Demi Burnett.

We first fell for Demi on Colton’s season, where her big personality captured the attention of Bachelor Nation. But she’s really shone this season on BIP, when she revealed that she had been dating a woman – Kristian Haggerty – who later came on the show.

Now, this is a big deal – the Bachelor franchise has never featured a same-sex couple before. There was one openly bisexual contestant a couple seasons ago, who sexuality was really not taken seriously, but she was not in a same sex relationship in her time on the show.

The Bachelor has historically been very apolitical, not wanting to alienate any of its large fanbase. Demi’s relationship with Kristian has been a marked departure from everything the show has stood for – namely, heteronormative standards and stereotypes about marriage and love.

Bachelor in Paradise, to their credit, portrayed the relationship between Demi and Kristian with the respect and care that it deserved. Fans couldn’t help but root for the two from the moment Kristian came on the show, in one of the cutest scenes in BIP history. This is a big deal, coming from a show with a conservative and problematic history.

This meant a lot of responsibility rested on Demi’s shoulders – a fact she struggled with throughout the season. She was still trying to figure herself out, not trying to become the poster child for the Bachelor’s new gay-friendly vibe.

But that made it even stronger – by seeing Demi struggle through her own journey, we were able to see the damage of our nation’s heteronormative standards and what people have to face today in coming out. By showing the support Demi received from ex Derek, best friend (and Bachelorette) Hannah B., Chris Harrison himself, and the other contestants, viewers were shown an inspiring love story that hopefully made others feel more comfortable coming out themselves.

But the credit really goes to Demi herself, who consented to have her story (the good and the bad) shown on television. She was entirely open and honest throughout the process, and the conversations she had with Kristian were some of the realest conversations we’ve ever seen on BIP. She was incredibly brave going on to BIP and sticking the process through, yet still vulnerable, and there’s such power in that. We need to see more gay couples on tv – especially ones that have happy endings – and Demi and Kristian have been a huge part of that.

What we always loved about Demi is she’s large and in charge and unabashedly herself – when she came out on the show, she was continuing that tradition, making her fans confront any sort of prejudice they might have had. They loved Demi for being herself – how could they change their opinion now when she was just continuing to do that?

It was like a close friend coming out – you felt like Demi was your best friend throughout the entire journey (as she was to many of the castmates), and you couldn’t help but root for her.

Of course, we hope for a day in which we don’t need people like Demi Burnett to help our nation accept same sex couples – but unfortunately, there are still many in our nation who are prejudiced, and it takes strength and courage to stand up in front of them and say “this is who I am, take it or leave it”. Demi did just that, and we love her for it.

We wish Demi and Kristian the best, and hope that the Bachelor franchise learns from her and continues this new wave of boundary pushing and acceptance!

Opinion: I Used to Love “13 Reasons Why”. Now I Can’t Stand It. 

13 Reasons Why has been no stranger to controversy since season 1 originally aired. From public outcry regarding its graphic depiction of rape and suicide, to mental health experts warnings that Hannah’s tapes gave teens false expectations of what happens after a suicide, there were a number of valid concerns presented.

At the time, I saw why there was such controversy. I even agreed with a lot of the suggestions, and am glad they took out the bathroom scene from season 1. But I was also conflicted, because I saw the other side: which was the lack of media surrounding suicide.

If we don’t portray people in media who are suicidal – and I mean really suicidal, and have been for a long time – kids who are feeling that way will feel like they are beyond repair. Because they don’t even know there are other people out there who feel that way, or that they can get better. Or even worse, they seek out people to relate to online, or in their lives – where the information they’re receiving is not regulated at all. At least on a show, there is not only some standard of what is shown, but it’s out there in the public, so that a conversation can be started. What the show gets wrong, other media can correct.

I understand the criticism that Hannah does not get better – however, I do believe the show does a good job of convincing the viewer that Hannah did not have to die. If one thing had happened differently, she might not have. Her suicide was not presented as inevitable, and Hannah was not presented as beyond repair. Unfortunately, she did not receive the care she needed – a fate that too often befalls people in real life. We need those stories as much as the recovery ones, so that we can be affected – and, as the show’s main character says in the season one finale, “do better.”

The show does depict recovery as well, with season 2 featuring prominent recovery stories for Alex, Skye, and even Tyler (disregarding the last episode). Even though Hannah didn’t receive help, others did – showing teens today that it is possible to get better.

The show was not perfect by any means. The triggering issue is extremely valid, and the show did go too far in some aspects. However, I do not feel the show’s subject matter alone was too triggering to be important. Teen dramas have long used suicide for shock factor – off the top of my head, I can remember at least one suicide attempt in every single teen drama I’ve seen (to name a few, Gossip Girl, One Tree Hill, 90210, Pretty Little Liars, Teen Wolf, The OC, and the Vampire Diaries). Oftentimes, the attempts were the result of something supernatural, a last-ditch escape effort of a villain, or dismissed as a one-time situation that’s never mentioned again. Rarely do shows present depression and suicide with the gravitas it requires – at the very least, 13 Reasons Why presented suicide seriously and earnestly. It was an extended storyline that had the potential to make people feel heard.

Which is what makes it especially disappointing that the show’s gone where it has.

Season two was certainly more teen drama esque than the first. It was more unrealistic. Hannah’s continued involvement felt like a gimmick, especially as Clay’s mental health was really not addressed. It also continued to reinforce the idea that people somehow “live on” after their suicides. But I still felt the show did more good than harm – we saw continued efforts of the characters to heal following Hannah’s death/her confessions in season 1, and we continued to see how hard suicide/depression is on everyone without feeling like the show was blaming Hannah, or Alex, or Skye.

Things started to go downhill in the finale.

In a way, the show turned itself into a sort of evil twin of Glee – trying to tackle far too much without the capabilities to handle it all. But at least Glee was always earnest. 13 Reasons Why turned itself into the exact shows it had seemed like such a departure from, by featuring a character who seemed to be a great example of recovery getting brutally bullied and sexually assaulted, then attempting a school shooting at a dance, only for our main character to jump in front of the gun and play hero when he’s half the problem. Again.

It was a bad move. It upset a lot of people. But I still had some hope for season 3. They were moving on from Hannah – there would be other storylines. Maybe they would try to handle this storyline with Tyler with some sort of care that they had shown Hannah’s.

I was vastly disappointed when I saw the first episode.

Tyler is in serious need of extensive professional help. By having our cast babysit him and “protect him” by hiding the truth, the show presents the idea that something this large can be handled by mere teenagers. Sure, he later goes to counseling and takes up boxing – but that is simply not enough in the real world. Tyler deserved immediate, around the clock, professional care. I understand why many of the characters didn’t want him to get in trouble – but they were not protecting him or anybody else with what they did, and it was a dangerous idea to show viewers.

I’ve previously thought the character of Bryce was a good case study, and even though I was upset Jessica and Hannah did not get the justice they deserved from the courts system in season 2, I felt like the show was accurately depicting what often happens with young, white, athletic rapists like Bryce Walker. This kind of story is important to tell because it enrages people to see Bryce not get what he deserve – which can lead them to actually look into this problem in real life and make a change in our country.

Killing him off was fun for the viewers, as horrible as that sounds, but it was not the justice Jessica and Hannah deserved. Showing him as sympathetic most of the season, after facing essentially no consequences for his actions, was not what Jessica and Hannah or any other rape survivors deserved.

It all feels very gimmick-y, almost click-bait-y, or sensationalized. It no longer feels authentic or earnest, or like it’s trying to start a genuine conversation. It’s taken the trust of people who thought they were having their stories represented and then broken that trust seasons in by presenting their trauma for the sake of drama/suspense/tension. It’s not the only show to do so, but it’s the only one I can think of that does this after seeming to promise viewers they would not in the first two seasons. It almost feels like a betrayal.

Beyond that, the beginning of the season just isn’t good.

It’s hard to introduce any character into a tight-knit group of characters that’s never had any addition before, especially as not only a main character but the narrator. It doesn’t help that Ani doesn’t seem to fit in the story. She’s brash, calling things as they are – on a show where all of the teens are keeping huge secrets (which the series derives its tension from), this doesn’t introduce a foil so much as feel like they’re crossing over two completely different shows.

The structure is also off. It’s very unclear when they’re showing a flashback vs. the present. Season 2 left off on a huge cliffhanger, and they then start season 3 with a time jump. They keep flashing back to directly after season 2, but it’s often unclear how much time has passed. Also, they keep referring to something that happened the weekend before, so they also flash back to that, meaning there are basically 3 storylines going on at once. It’s too much, and it’s honestly just confusing without really piquing your interest much. I get that the whole “who can you trust” plotline worked well in season 1, but here they don’t even give you one character to stand behind who’s trying to figure it out.

Clay has turned into all the worst parts of his character. He doesn’t have the same drive for justice that made you root for him – and he’s not the only one. The characters mostly just seem to not know what’s going on. It just doesn’t work anymore – it’s not saying enough or doing enough good to make all of the bad worth it anymore. And in an ever-improving tv landscape with teen dramas that are deliciously fun, like Riverdale, or gut-wrenchingly authentic, like Euphoria, no one really has the patience for that anymore.

My consensus? Serena van der Wooden 13 Reasons Why is officially irrelevant. 

Opinion: Why Does DC Entertainment Suck?

In the mid 2000s, DC’s superhero brand (and in particular, Batman) was thriving.

Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy was critically acclaimed and commercially successful, a hard feat for not only superhero films, but for any film. The gritty, dark tone lined up with their Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson-led trilogy from the 90s, and continued to prove that stories about (mostly) men in costumes could be Serious Cinema.

Marvel Comics – partnered with Sony and Fox respectively – were putting out similarly successful Spiderman films with Tobey Maguire, and X-Men films with Hugh Jackman. They were not as critically acclaimed as the Batman films, and Spiderman fell down a bit of a meme-worthy rabbit hole, but they did well in the box office.

And then Disney acquired Marvel Entertainment.

You don’t need me to tell you that Disney is a mastermind of marketing and basically owns the world – and it’s easy to say that Marvel’s current success is due to Disney. Its name, merchandising, and theme parks alone are enough to catapult Marvel’s films to success. But what did Marvel and Disney do so well together that DC and Warner Bros have not been able to replicate? How did Avengers: Endgame become the highest grossest film of all time, and Justice League fail so hard?

As usual, it all comes down to branding.

Disney helped brand Marvel into an entire universe with 23 connected films (and even more tv shows). It turned Marvel’s films into exactly what the comics were: a giant series of characters and stories that sometimes connected. You didn’t have to read every single Marvel comic to be a fan – everyone had their favorite characters and issues. Disney took advantage of its mass catalogue of IP, utilizing littler-known characters like the Guardians of the Galaxy so that they weren’t just relying on a single character to run a franchise.

DC Entertainment did this too, eventually setting up their own universe in 2016 with Batman vs. Superman. But this move came sloppily, and too little too late. Batman had already had so many recent versions (much like Spiderman), and Affleck was a controversial choice to begin with. Marvel, on the other hand, set up their franchise with a single character’s origin movie, relying on a popular Marvel character rather than the most popular cinematic one. By introducing three main heroes in their own films (Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger), by the time they actually had a crossover film with The Avengers, the audience was excited to see the characters meet, and had already begun to know and love Tony, Thor, and Steve (as well as the actors in those roles). They were invested, unlike in Batman vs. Superman. That film also made the crucial mistake of pitting heroes against each other too early on; Marvel didn’t do this until Civil War, and was thus able to build enough history to make this emotionally resonant.

Marvel’s films were good, but they were also campy and silly. They later embraced this even more with Thor: Ragnarok and Guardians of the Galaxy, finding a formulaic sweet spot of one-liners, bright colors, good music, found family, badass female characters, and exciting action scenes. (This formula is very evident in Captain Marvel.) Marvel’s films were built for fandoms, wanting to inspire the same amount of fan loyalty as their comics – and they did even more than that with their fan servicing storylines, fanfiction inspiring relationships, and little winks to the audience. Their huge cast features many beloved stars and has great chemistry – meanwhile, an interview featuring Henry Cavill and a clearly unhappy Ben Affleck promoting Batman vs. Superman became a giant meme. Simply put, Marvel’s films are just a lot more fun than DC’s.

It’s unclear if DC Entertainment was trying to position themselves as the darker, more serious, critically acclaimed superhero option. It makes sense; after all, many of the comics were gritty and artful, and not just fun. But whether or not they meant to, in Disney’s monopolizing of the “fun” market, that’s what they became.

There are inherent problems in this position – first, critically acclaimed films do not always make money. Second, it’s hard to create a formula for a critically acclaimed film. I don’t see Tarantino doing the next Batman, and even if he did there’d be no way to ensure it would be any good. But at least if DC had gone this direction, they would’ve had their own brand and fandom.

The other option was to copy Marvel. This was potentially a good option – they actually successfully did so with their TV shows, creating fun and campy series building off the more serious Arrow, much like the MCU started with Iron Man. They truly built up their characters and fandoms before committing to crossovers, and it worked.

They could have done the same thing with their films. Or they could’ve gone the critically acclaimed route.

Instead, they did neither.

Wonder Woman seemed a return to the critically acclaimed films of DC’s past, getting rave reviews. But this film came on the heel of the dramatic failure that was Batman vs. Superman and the Marvel knockoff-turned-trainwreck that was Suicide Squad, and was later followed by Justice League, which certainly didn’t bode well with the brand. DC is just all over the place; the prime example being the frenzied recut of Suicide Squad to make it more “fun” after the stunning reception of the lighthearted trailer. They’re always scrambling to meet market interests far too late, a fatal mistake in branding and marketing.

Which brings me to my main point: DC Entertainment (at least when it comes to movies) has no solid brand. They refuse to commit to either side, and in doing so make it impossible to succeed at either. Sure, they may have a hit every once in a while, but they’ve yet to find a formula that works.

It will be interesting to see how Marvel moves forward in the wake of its original superheroes retiring, and what DC puts out after the upcoming Joker film (and casting yet another Batman). But for now, I’m good just sticking with The Flash.

Opinion: Is “You Need to Calm Down” Problematic?

Taylor Swift’s new song “You Need to Calm Down” is an anthem against critics and bigots alike. The music video is a celebration of gay culture, just in time for Pride month. It weaponizes a normally demeaning statement to people speaking out against inequality towards those who are perpetuating it.

It’s also an absolute bop, and the music video is pure fun.

But is this a great example of a straight star using her platform to celebrate the LGBT community, or is Taylor profiting off of gay culture without actually dealing with the repercussions of being a part of it?

She wouldn’t be the first straight popstar to benefit from being an icon for gay culture: Britney Spears and Lady Gaga have done so for years. But something about Swift feels different: is it because she’s become the poster child for White Feminism? Is it because she built a career singing about men in blatantly heterosexual songs? Or is it because of the time in which she so publicly announces her “ally-ship”: a time in which other popstars like Halsey and Hayley Kiyoko are so unapologetically queer? It’s certainly a very different time in pop music than when Swift first gained fame, crossing over from an even less queer-friendly genre: country.

Many have decried Taylor’s “activism” of not speaking out about political issues until far after the fact, such as her not announcing support for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race. By staying silent on most issues, she hasn’t had to risk alienating her fans. Then she can choose strategic moments to speak out where she’s sure it will actually help her image. Is that what’s happening here? Has Taylor waited for a time when being gay is more “cool” (AKA, profitable) than it was when she became a star to embrace it?

The timing – to use a word from the song – is certainly a bit shady. But overall, I think that Swift actually does a good job at supporting a group without exploiting them. Instead of positioning herself as a “gay savior” against a group of “haters”, her music video gives most of its screen time to actual gay activists, musicians, and tv stars. It also ends in a call to action to support the Equality Act. This goes along with recent efforts by Swift to be more political.

Is the timing suspect? Sure. Should Taylor have spoken out before? Absolutely. But she’s here now. I think we don’t give people enough credit to change in today’s cancel culture – if you were once problematic, you always will be. While it’s important to address people’s past mistakes, if we punish people even after they change, we’re alienating a huge section of the country whose minds we could change. Polarization is becoming an increasing problem in this country, and it’s making it impossible to make any actual strides forward when we all disagree so strongly. I think one of the ways to bridge this gap is to invest in education and actually try to bring people to change rather than “cancel” them. And though Taylor Swift is obviously in a huge position of privilege, we can’t discount her from this grace. Especially not when she has such a large opportunity to change even more peoples’ minds.

Swift is the biggest pop star of our generation. Not only that, but she’s built a lot of her fanbase in the south and midwest with her country roots and All-American appeal. She’s always been popular with families and children, unlike some more “controversial” fellow popular musicians. This puts her in a unique position to enact change; and she’s finally doing so in an authentic way, instead of building up a largely straight and white celebrity girl squad to parade around her feminism. By setting the music video in rural America and featuring anti-gay protestors, she’s also actively positioning herself against the Trump-voting Middle Americans that once might have been her fans. Fans that she’s made clear she’s okay with losing (like President Donald Trump himself, who likes her music less now).

Swift’s recent actions, including “You Need to Calm Down”, are overall good. That’s not the argument; the argument is whether or not she is trying to position herself as the Queen of Gay Rights, when that title should be going to some of the actual gay people featured in her video.

I don’t believe she is. I believe she learned that lesson with her Feminist Queen phase, and that’s why she’s actually encouraging real change instead of just making a fun song and video.

Whether or not you agree about Swift’s intentions, the fact remains: the video led to a boost in donations to GLAAD. Some good came out of it. And in today’s dumpster trash cycle of news about ever-growing hate, we need all the good we can get.

Opinion: Why Riverdale is the Best Satire of Our Time

If I were to posit that “Riverdale” is the smartest teen show of our time, I would get more than a few laughs. After all, this is the show with levitating cult babies, mass seizures, a giant monster named the Gargoyle King, and a juvie fight club, all within the span of a few episodes. 

The writers are certainly not Hemingway. 

But they just might be Shakespeare. 

Yes, it’s wild. It’s ridiculous. Most of the storylines are not even related, to the point where characters who are supposed to be best friends barely interact for episodes on end. 

In fact, all of the main characters seem like they’re in different TV shows. Jughead is in some kind of private detective noir. Betty is in an actually pretty good CW version of Nancy Drew where she’s also got to deal with family drama and romance. Veronica is in a teen “Dynasty”, or a later season of “Gossip Girl”. Archie is in a different Netflix rom-com every week, playing whatever the hunk is that film – the football star, the singer, the juvie bad boy, the rugged nature scout. Cheryl is in a dark teen musical satire like Heathers or Carrie (very accurate choices for the show’s musicals) – over the top, dramatic to the point of being cartoonish, yet still dark. 

And all of them are playing it completely straight. 

The show does not require good acting (sorry, Lili Reinhart, your talents are wasted) – it’s driven instead by wild storylines and a strange nostalgic style that seems to drive shows into Halloween costume-level success. It doesn’t even need good friendships – Betty and Veronica and Jughead and Archie rarely have scenes together, unlike the Serena and Blairs and Liars of the previous teen dramas. Relationships are the same – Archie and Veronica’s relationship is entirely based off sex and 1-2 teary phone calls, while Jughead and Betty act more like adult-in-teenage-bodies cop partners than boyfriend and gilfriend. Cheryl and Toni probably have the most substance, actually discussing real issues in their relationship- yet still, they often act more like posing Victoria’s Secret models than an actual couple. 

Yet people still care – people ship the hell out of these characters. Why? Because they rely purely on the precedent of teen dramas before them. Good girl meets boy from the wrong side of the track; rich city girl falls for townboy; high school princess falls for the last person you’d expect; we’ve seen it all before. We don’t even need scenes of actual substance between any of them – we’ve got that association to love these couples just because we always do. 

Which allows the show to satirize these kinds of relationships – by showing that people will still ship them even with zero substance and increasingly ridiculous situations. Veronica’s father tries to have Archie killed, and then puts him in jail. Jughead brings out a literal dark side in Betty, who dons a dark wig, becomes a cam girl for an episode, and does a striptease to become the “queen” of Jughead’s gang. Cheryl and Toni rob houses for fun, then create their own all-girl, school-sanctioned gang, then both get involved in a cult. Somehow, we still find a way to see these relationships as real. 

It’s not just relationships, either. There a million tropes that are satirized – to get information, Betty and Jughead continuously meet the creepiest coroner I’ve ever seen, who is such an over-the-top character that if he had been on similarly soapy mystery Pretty Little Liars, people would’ve thought it was too much. Veronica is clearly the “boss bitch” character – the show pushes this even further by making her the literal owner of multiple businesses as a high schooler. Cheryl is the mean girl with a heart of gold, and she has some of the most over the top lines I have ever heard in my life.

Yet it’s like we hardly notice – because we’ve come to expect nothing less. 

Don’t even get me started on the adults – besides for Fred Andrews, a bona fide good father (who we will miss dearly), they are the most ridiculous characters I have ever seen. The show takes the “parents are the enemy trope” and puts it over the top. Hal is a serial killer. Alice is a cult leader’s wife who gives away Betty’s college money (although it later turns out she’s actually pretending and is an FBI informant). FP runs a gang of literal teenagers with names like “Sweet Pea” and “Fangs,” along with his own son Jughead. Penelope is yet another serial killer, and also happens to run a brothel. Hiram Lodge is a drug kingpin and murderer. Again, we accept it all without question. 

This brings us to the true genius of the show – it may be a satire, but it’s still attracting the very same fans of the exact shows it satirizes. It does their tropes so well that it can’t help but not – riding on the success of these earlier teen dramas, it doesn’t even need to be earnest or trying to say something or even emotionally resonant. It just needs to be interesting. And it’s made itself immune to the critique many of its precedents faced – by training the audience to expect the ridiculously implausible, nothing it does is seen as too far-fetched. It’s impossible to jump the shark, because the very universe they’ve created jumps the shark, and has from the start. Next season, Archie could be manning a spaceship next while Dilton Doyle’s ghost diffuses a bomb hidden in Hal’s casket, and nobody would bat an eye. 

Shakespearean dramas were also seen as soapy and low-class in their time. Shakespeare made up ridiculous insults and words that would not sound out of place coming from Cheryl’s mouth. Half the adults were murderous. Young lovers did completely unrealistic and foolish things in the name of “true love” that actually had very little substance. And look how his stories appreciated today. 

Okay, maybe it’s a stretch. But one thing’s for sure – “Riverdale” is much smarter than anyone gives it credit for. The writers are very well-versed in their subject matter and their audience, and they’re mocking us and what we’re willing to accept. But they’re doing so without any sort of judgement or real goal – we’re all just having fun together. And there is something so refreshing about something that has no agenda but fun in today’s world.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Opinion Pieces

All my life, I’ve been the “quiet girl”.

This has allowed people to constantly mischaracterize me, and even like me because of something they’ve projected onto me that isn’t even really me. I’m polite, I’m quiet, I’m shy, and I always do what I’m told.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t have opinions.

I understand that many times in life, an opinion isn’t necessary or helpful. When a friend’s talking about their love life, they want you to listen, not offer opinions. When someone asks you your thoughts on a political situation you don’t know a lot about, it’s better to ask questions and learn rather than start spewing out misinformed opinions. When someone clearly is ranting and has a very strong opinion about something, saying your opinion is definitely not going to change their mind.

I’m not saying to shut up and keep your opinion to yourself. I’m saying that I say that to myself far too often.

I’m afraid of rocking the boat. I’m afraid of alienating people. But if somebody is going to dislike me because of my opinions, then I wouldn’t want to be their friend anyways. I know the price to pay for being outspoken is that not everyone will like you – and everyone liking me is one of my more unrealistic goals that I live by.

I’m also scared of being wrong. I’m scared of not realizing something, and speaking out before I have all the facts, even when I think I do. I’m scared I’ll later change my mind, and that stating my opinion now binds me to it.

I’m scared of seeming annoying. I hate when you’re just trying to enjoy something, and everyone has to have an opinion about it. I hate when someone who hates teen dramas spends an hour talking about how stupid they are when they know you like them, and I don’t want to be that person.

But I’m tired of staying quiet. And I think this blog is going to be a good place to actually start voicing my opinions in a neutral context where nobody has to listen if they don’t want to. I need to learn how to actually speak my mind – so that I can move towards being the person I am in my mind in actual real life. I’m far too afraid of seeming mean or unlikeable, or having people laugh at me. But you know what, who cares? It’s my blog and I’ll rant if I want to.

So get ready for some more opinion posts by yours truly. Probably nothing groundbreaking, but you never know!

Opinion: Dress Code is Unbelievably Sexist.

Okay, so I keep seeing dress code in the news. You can see what I’m talking about here, here, here, but there’s constantly something new about it.

I’ve been saying this since middle school, when I wrote an essay about dress code being sexist. This was almost ten years ago. But just to reiterate my own experience now that people are receptive, I’d like to talk about it again.

When I was in high school, we had a dress code that was basically no midriff, no cleavage, no tank tops, no bras showing, and shorts that had to hit 2 inches above the knee.

I only got in trouble for breaking it once, when my bra was showing during gym because of my racerback tank top in my gym clothes. I was asked to put on a sweatshirt outside when it was still summer.

My best friend got in trouble countless times, once being paraded around the cafeteria crying by the vice principal (a truly horrible woman who came from teaching at a catholic school) who shamed her and basically insinuated she was a slut.

But here’s the funny thing (okay, it’s not funny at all): I broke dress code constantly, and besides that one time in gym, I never got in trouble.

I was careful. I didn’t stand up in the cafeteria if one of the vice principals was nearby. I never wore shorts, always skirts – shorts (that were not bermuda shorts) always broke dress code, while skirts didn’t always, so it didn’t attract an immediate warning. But the biggest reason why I didn’t get in trouble was because I was a “good girl”. I got good grades. I was quiet. I was unpopular and shy. I was scared to talk to boys. I was well-behaved and polite.

My best friend struggled in school. She had a reputation and was popular among boys. She went to parties. She was still, to me, a “good girl” in a lot of ways. She was certainly a good person. But she was targeted any time she even came close to breaking dress code because of the way the vice principal saw her.

We broke the same rule – me much more so than her – and she was the one who got in trouble.

This was just further proof to me that dress code was bullshit. It was about targeting and shaming female students for their reputations and looking “slutty” more than it was about actually maintaining a professional atmosphere. My outfits were certainly not “professional”, and honestly had a blatant disregard for dress code. Rules that target certain students – not even just girls, which is bad enough, but girls the administration sees in a certain way – are completely discriminative and unfair.

And the administration doing so makes it so much easier for boys and other girls to do so. High school is basically like a tidal pool of hormones, a training ground where kids pretend they know who they are, where they’re supposed to be taught how to be functioning humans. And the culture of high school teaches sexism, discrimination, slut-shaming, and the idea that its girls’ fault if men are distracted by their attraction to them. It completely supports victim-shaming – these are the same men that will go to college, where there is no dress code, and see women dress provocatively and find this an invitation. It honestly makes me sick to think of.

Look, an 18 year old in college can wear whatever she wants and the world doesn’t fall apart. Why can’t an 18 year old in high school do the same?