By Liam Grogan
We live in an era of absolutes in the media. With every story, there’s a rush to make things as black and white as possible so we can easily distinguish between who we believe to be right and wrong. Democrats and Republicans, boomers and Gen Z-ers, Thanos and the Avengers, dogs and cats.
A byproduct of this transformation is there is rarely ambiguity as to who are the heroes and who are the villains.
When Luke Skywalker fights the Emperor, we understand he’s the good guy. But why? Because he chooses to do the right thing. The choices are blatantly laid out in front of him: to choose to do right or ill, and Skywalker always ends up acting for good.
But what about the rest of us, whose choices aren’t laid out so blatantly diatomically? Most of us want to be good people, but it’s seemingly never that simple. We all want to do right by our fellow man, but putting that into practice is infinitely more complex than just wanting it to be so.
Quite simply, what does it even mean to be a good person in our modern society? Enter the sitcom entitled “The Good Place.”
“The Good Place,” which will air its final episode on Jan. 30, was originally pitched by show creator Michael Schur in 2015. He spent months studying religions and mythologies in an attempt to create a show that would be based around his original one.
What started as a religious study, however, would quickly evolve into an ethical one. How we act on Earth is what determines where we end up after death, but how can any of us be sure whether we’ve truly led an ethical life?
These are the questions proposed to our four main human characters: Jason, Tahani, Chidi and Eleanor. For one reason or another, they’ve all led deeply flawed lives during their time on Earth, earning them a sentence to eternal damnation. While there’s no question they are bad people, the show begins to examine how one becomes a better person.
Self-improvement can be frustrating. I’m reminded of the legend of Sisyphus, who was doomed to eternally push a boulder up a mountain, knowing that he would never truly succeed in getting it to the top. When asked about this act of self-improvement, Schur stated, “As long as you’re not being complacent and ignoring the feelings of other people… then you’re doing a good job because the attempt, the desire to be better, is actually more important than the result.”
It was never about getting the boulder to the top of the mountain, but rather the effort of trying to push it at all. Trying to be a little better today than you were yesterday, sometimes that can be enough.
Perfection is just an illusion, but the mere act of trying to be better is something we can all do every day. The difference between trying and not is as stark as night and day or black and white.