I became a fan of Grey’s Anatomy when I spent six weeks in Argentina – reruns were on television just about every moment of every day, so whenever I got lonely, or missed Seattle, or wanted to hear some English, it was there for me. Since then, I’ve often imagined a show that, instead of following medical students through surgical internships and residencies and beyond, would follow graduate students getting their PhDs in the humanities. If you’ve been through it, you know that there is a lot of dramatic potential there (and if any tv execs are out there and want to hear a more detailed pitch – I’m ready)! Plus, who doesn’t enjoy seeing lives like their own represented in mass media, so long as it isn’t as the butt of a joke or a mere token or an offensively simplified caricature or something?
Well, part of my wish has been fulfilled. This fall, NBC is airing a new show called The Good Place; the title refers to a place kind of like heaven, which is where it takes place, and one of the main characters (Chidi) is a moral philosopher! I never thought I would see a major network television show where a character holds up a copy of Scanlon’s What We Owe to Each Other and starts giving a brief introduction to contractualism, or where the lead character reads some Kant and Aristotle and starts using what she’s learned in her life outside the classroom!
Is it a perfect portrayal of the life of an ethicist? Of course not – it does play up certain stereotypes (though it violates others), and we could easily get nit-picky about the content of Chidi’s lectures if we wanted to (it isn’t like there is no critical thinking to be done about any given product of mass media). Nevertheless, for now, I’m pretty stoked about the fact that lots of different people might be getting their first exposure to the possibility of real people earning a living by thinking about morality, and the idea that maybe we do make valuable contributions to society sometimes.