So we've compiled a list of the stories that inspire us. Some of these are straight up happiness in narrative form, and some are heavier stories filled with struggle, but what they all have in common is they imbued our writers with a sense of the goodness of humanity. We could all use a bit more of that in the days to come.
By Maddy Vonhoff
Supergirl is truly a joy to watch. It’s unapologetically feminist and doesn’t beat around the bush while calling out gender expectations in society. Supergirl is all heart, she struggles with expectations placed upon her, she blames herself when things go awry, she deals with love and loss, but somehow no matter how many tragedies and betrayals she endures, she never loses her compassion. Supergirl gave the bad guys a chance to change their ways on Episode 2 and she continues to give them that chance on Episode 22, never becoming jaded or cynical. She genuinely believes in the good in people, a far cry from the “gritty reboots” of modern-day superhero stories. Forget gritty realism, if you believe in real change, watch Supergirl.
By Kristen Johnson
Groot is an excellent example of a story that blends light-hearted humor with deep, complex emotions. It shows us there are universal feelings and struggles, but we must unite in order to overcome our obstacles. That juxtaposition is a difficult balance to maintain, but not only does Groot do it beautifully, but it delivers above and beyond. The best way I can describe this comic is that it is simply delightful. It touches on so many emotions akin to GOTG and always keeps an optimistic tone through the unyielding spirit of Groot. It emphasizes joyous and wonderful things: the importance of friendship, helping people in need, how failures and obstacles can help you forage unexpected but wonderful paths, and finally, doing what you feel in your heart is right even if it goes against everything you’ve ever known.
It emulates the sheer optimism and charming, warm-hearted aspects of Groot’s character that made us fall in love with him in Guardians, and it is one of the most inspirational comics I have ever read. It is a refreshing change not just from the general comic book world, but also a nice reminder that the world itself can use more of that attitude.
Independence Day (1996)
By Casey Hayden
Even ol’ Ronnie Reagan got this concept and made it plainly clear, at three separate speeches, way back in the 80’s. You know he knew all the secrets about alien cover-ups, and this was his way of hinting at the cat in the bag – had to be.
But really, this wouldn’t bring about world peace, only war of a different kind – against an off-world entity. We must get better at compromise that doesn’t end progress, share-and-share-alike, sustainable coexistence, and brokering lasting peace the hard way – through dialogue and sacrifice rather than domination… which is the perfect segue into my other inspirational bit of filmic arts which you can see below.
Welcome To Night Vale (2012 - present)
By Alexander Kramer
Welcome To Night Vale, a podcast started by Commonplace Books (now, Night Vale Presents) in Summer 2012, features the everyday life of a little desert community -- where a variety of paranormal, supernatural, conspiratorial, and just plain weird events are the norm.
Narrator Cecil Baldwin, a radio-host in Night Vale, keeps his cool and stays optimistic among the bizarre and often-disturbing events (and loss of station interns) in the small town. While the first season takes its time with the underlying story, when things start to get serious involving new leadership of the town, Cecil puts on his gloves and subversively delivers a few inspirational speeches. Although his views clash with his management, Cecil is a strong supporter of the following rebellion of children against the interlopers. He even goes as far as selling cookies and other sundry weapons from his recording booth as a fundraiser to their coup.
In one of his covert speeches, Cecil ruminates on the town's condition and requests to listeners to "[t]hink on lots of things. Think about heroes, and whether we should even need them. The answer is, we do not" in trying to get Night Vale residents to realize they don't have to stand for the current state of affairs. This sentiment seems to ring true with many people who feel dissatisfied and saddened by the election results last week.
Even when the host is not fomenting a revolution the show just naturally has an inspirational feel. Mostly through the way the town and its residents persevere despite the many, many dangers that lurk in town (and glasses of orange juice). It is also just a feeling that pervades through the stories and episodes: things that are weird, unreal, and conventionally terrifying are just accepted in Night Vale, and this extends into the way many of its characters are treated within themselves (except white men wearing stereotypical Native American headdresses).
Night Vale boasts a strong gallery of characters, including many underrepresented identities, people of color, five-headed dragons, and a young girl who is a detached man's hand. Diversity is definitely at the core of the show. In continuing to give voice to minority demographics, the show makes a point of playing alternative and less-known bands as its "Weather" segment. The writing by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor is strong and emotional, and does very well in making the paranormal feel very normal and mundane.
If you're feeling like you need to get away from the current news cycle, I suggest listening to the first few episodes of 'Welcome To Night Vale', and see if denying the existence of mountains is right for you.
Stargate SG-1 (1997-2007)
By Ian Seymour Hansel
I love this show for the same reason that it is different from most of the current sci-fi and fantasy shows: it’s lighthearted and episodic. The show relies heavily on this team working together without falling back on making its members distrust or dislike each other for easy drama (even Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel would fall back on this quite often). Stargate SG-1 is positive toward science in its characters’ interactions as well as usually having sci-fi plots that make some effort to follow real-life science. On top of all of this, Stargate SG-1 is one of the few stories that flips the Hollywood trope of the military being evil. For this, Stargate SG-1 is the only show to be officially endorsed by the US Air Force.
If you don’t have the time to watch ten seasons of Stargate SG-1, you can watch Stargate Atlantis, SG-1's spin-off show that focuses on the elements that made SG-1 great and even improving on some of those elements. You can stream both on Amazon Prime and Hulu.
The Dark Knight (2008)
By Walter Lutsch
The Dark Knight might seem a strange choice from a casual perspective. Great action, a great villain in the form of Heath Ledger’s Joker and a bit of a downer ending reminiscent of The Empire Strikes Back. But The Dark Knight features one of the most gripping and powerful arguments for hope in humanity in the ferry scene.
The Joker, consumed with proving his ideology of human barbarity to Batman and the world, fills two ferry boats with explosives. Packed with passengers, each boat is given the detonator to the other boat and told that if one of them detonates the other ferry, they get to live. If neither does so, the Joker will detonate them both. One ferry is filled with prisoners from Blackgate Prison and Arkham Asylum, the other with ordinary citizens.
As the Batman grapples with his foe physically in a building overlooking the waterfront; the passengers on each ferry grapple with the fear for their lives and the guilt of murdering another ferry full of people to save themselves. As the clock ticks down, the guards on the prison boat consider the choice with trepidation; while the citizens on the other side take a democratic vote. The vote, like another we recently witnessed, causes stomachs to lurch in despair as those in favor of detonating the other ferry outweigh those unwilling to sacrifice other lives to save their own. Switching over, a mean looking prisoner approaches the guard holding the detonator and persuades him to give him the switch citing ‘I’ll do what you shoulda did ten minutes ago’. And then, in what is both Christopher Nolan and Batman’s message about the decency of humanity, the prisoner tosses the detonator out the window into the waves.
In the end, the other ferry also decides not to go through with it and sets the detonator down, proving the Joker wrong for all to see.
At his core, the best version of Batman for me has always been the one that believes that anyone can be redeemed. That is why he doesn’t kill, not just because it’s a perversion of the law, but because it removes the chance for growth, for healing. And no matter how bad things get; no matter how much I might worry about the state of my country or the world, this movie reminds me that I still believe that its people are fundamentally good.
Over The Garden Wall (2014)
By Robert Bojorquez
The two brothers, Wirt and Greg, are two sides of the same youthful coin; Wirt is cautious and full of trepidation and Greg is silly, optimistic, and carefree. As they go on their episodic adventures, they are threatened and followed by The Beast, of which they are warned by The Woodsman. There’s an obvious fairy tale-esque theme that pervades the show and the quaintness is charming and likeable. And then the show gets scary, and boy oh boy, is it ever suspenseful and spooky. This show is equal parts perfect for lulling you into fall from summer and keeping you on edge right around Halloween. While Wirt is constantly fearing for the brothers’ safety, Greg is the balancing lens of cheerful brightness that lights the way through the Unknown for the boys as they interface with the various denizens of the scary woods.
The show doesn’t have quite the large lasting morals like a fable would, but it does have this light topicality that provides the escape from the real world we all need from time to time; that holds especially true and poignant now. Aside from the stellar animation and enjoyable writing, the cartoon features an amazing voice cast that includes Elijah Wood as Wirt, Christopher Lloyd as The Woodsman, John Cleese, Tim Curry, and more more more.
Shin Godzilla (2016)
By Ian Coleman
Shin Godzilla feels like just the pep talk for this moment in American history. As a just a person, it’s so easy to feel helpless right now. Health insurance is a transient thing now for many, hate has so much more space to breathe. Most of the people that will suffer from these had no say in their happening but have to deal with the consequences all the same. Shin Godzilla’s protagonists find themselves in a similar bind with nothing but brains and dedication to defend against a ticking clock to nuclear annihilation and a literally unstoppable monster. Still though, the soldier on, locking themselves in basements and enduring as many stinky shirts and soggy noodles (watch the movie and this will make perfect sense) as it takes to get a countermeasure ready. The idea that even the mightiest monster can be stopped with teamwork and the power of intelligence and learning is one we all need to remember as we ready ourselves for harder times ahead.
The Matrix Trilogy (1999 – 2003)
By Casey Hayden
We all want freedom. But none of us can actually be free if any among us is not. We all deserve freedom from attack, freedom to pursue happiness. It is time to redefine the phrase “freedom, and justice, for all” because there seems to be some sharp disagreement about what that looks like. And watching all three films in The Matrix Trilogy actually helps.
The West Wing (1999-2006)
By Cody Olsen
Focusing on the fictional administration of President Josiah Bartlet, The West Wing is at its core about the nobility of democracy and government. It’s unafraid to present those in the highest echelons of leadership as decent, hardworking, yet flawed individuals. Not the ego-driven cynics modern day political shows traffic in. West Wing characters strive to do good, while grappling with the frustrations of running a deeply divided country (yes even back then). Created by Aaron Sorkin, the show is known as much for its sharp dialogue as it is for pioneering elegant camera techniques not frequently seen on television before then. The show is hilarious when it wants to be, and deeply moving as well, often taking time to meditate on the value of friendship and loyalty.
There’s no better time to start the show, a podcast called The West Wing Weekly, hosted by former cast member Joshua Malina and West Wing superfan Hrishikesh Hirway, is currently working its way through every single episode. They analyze the show, interview former cast and crew, and frequently have on the real life counterparts to our show’s heroes to talk about their work. Watch The West Wing and then get politically involved, we need it now more than ever.