Orange, Black, and the True Colors

“I threw my pie for you.” If this quote fails in familiarity, give yourself a pat on the back for not being involved in media that is beyond raunchy. The quote is from the Netflix exclusive series; Orange is the new Black. How do I know that quote? I used to watch the show. Before I go on, this article is not meant to condemn, nor is it purposed to condone. If anything, I’d just like to hash it out and leave a few lingering questions.

As a writer I found the story lines tantalizing, the character development riveting and not just for Piper and Alex. Season one does a great job of making viewers curious about everyone doing time. As a writer, conversing with the show’s creator Jenji Kohan would be an amazing, invaluable experience for my industry. As a writer, I love dreary plots-in this case a minimum security prison-that force multiple characters to the edge of their humanity. The writing of Orange is the new Black is an explosion of creativity and as a writer I adore that. I get the appeal, as I said I used to watch the show. I was infatuated with the schemes of Alex Vause and cracking up at Crazy Eyes. Just as I delved into the shadows surrounding 50 Shades in Amazingly Grey, I wanted to go below the bright orange surface of this media hit.

3 big things ‘Orange’ didn’t bother keeping behind bars:

1) The Issues of Race, Religion and Politics

There’s definite abuse of race and politics, not too mention the massive fail in the portrayal of religion. Perhaps the writers of Orange want it this way. Why further exploit a prison system instead of attempting a better view? Why make a mockery of any type of religious belief? In reference to Litchfield’s spotlight Christian inmate Pennsatucky, made out to be a bible banger played by Teryn Manning,

“why is it that a very large majority of fictional Christian characters fed to us by mainstream media are so completely and insanely dogmatic? There is no grace, no understanding, no forgiveness in these characters. (Cory, Copeland, Relevant Magazine)

These things further enforce negative mindsets and keep separation and tension active. Creator Jenji Kohan who’s well aware and seemingly intentional with it said; “We talk about this country as this big melting pot, but it’s a mosaic. There’s all these pieces, they’re next to each other, they’re not necessarily mixing. And I’m looking for those spaces where people actually do mix — and prison just happens to be a terrific one.” Is filming an exaggerated show on female prison life the example we should be watching if we as people want to start mixing? Following a lead like that may have more of an oil and water effect.

2) The Stereotypes

There’s loads of praise for Orange but there’s also tons of persecution. The reviews not in favor are just buried in the avalanche of positive. Most are not trashing the show itself but raising questions OITNB seems to ignore. There’s way too much sexual content for TV, which would explain why it’s on Netflix but if that doesn’t twist your gut, there’s also the issue of the prison system itself and how it’s falsely illustrated. Ironically, former inmates refuse to watch something so unrealistic. The biggest criticism with the show has to do with race and how just about every stereotype is not only enforced, but also blown out of proportion. Read the commentary for yourself. “If you go to a network and say, “I wanna do prison stories about black women and Latino women and old women,” you’re not gonna make a sale. But, if you’ve got this blonde girl going to prison, you can get in there, and then you can tell all the stories. I just thought it was a terrific gateway drug into all the things I wanted to get into.”-Creator, Jenji Kohan Is a show like this, one that further enforces the racial and ethnic divides, worth watching?

3) Yes, it is porn

“I want more [sex], everywhere. That’s one of my things. It expresses everything. It’s comfort, it’s release, it’s brutality, it’s companionship. It’s so many things. We’re all doing it. We’re all thinking about it. We don’t see it enough… It’s so vital and integral in life, and it should be reflected in what we’re watching, if we’re reflecting our experiences. And it’s hot.”-Jenji Kohan

Straight from Kohan herself, it’s pornography she’s proud to produce. The sexual nature is beyond explicit. Not just with the constant lesbianism but also the guards, the warden, pretty much everyone gets freaky every five minutes or so. There’s no denying that although there’s a storyline to follow Orange is the new Black is free porn that won’t give your computer a virus. For some, that’s a selling point, for others a show with graphic nudity is gut-twisting enough to not even bother. One has to wonder how author of the book that the show is based on feels about the ‘pornified’ version of her 13 months in prison. According to the real Piper “it was a long celibate year.” These days author and speaker Piper Kerman is an advocate for inmates. Quite the 180 from how she spent her 20’s.

Something I find so very interesting is the intelligence, articulation, and skills of the entire cast. Each of them is talented and well spoken. They are introspective, smart women. None of the need to do a show like Orange is the new Black. The talent this cast has far surpasses a sex-crazed, stereotypical, raunchy ‘dramedy’. Hearing them speak about their character rolls had me questioning why would they settle? Of course Taylor Schilling does an awesome job playing Piper Chapman and Laura Prepon could do no better at nailing the masquerade of mischief that is Alex Vause, it’s easy for them. These actresses are just that good. Kate Mulgrew effortlessly perfects the Russian persona of Red. Crazy Eyes would be no more than a flat annoyance without actress Uzo Aduba’s childlike approach.

The subject matter is salacious and will make any sensible person sick, but the acting, the acting is superb. So much so that Kohan’s insisted saturation of sex is unnecessary.

According to the real-life main character, Piper Kerman, she was never even part of any of that. So why bother lying? I’d like to ask this cast of artful, individual women, why bother playing a roll that’s an insult to your talent?

4) My personal conviction

It hurts my soul. At least now it does, not every conviction hits you at once that would be deadly. OITNB is one I realized prior to the release of season 3 that it’s important to pass. Not necessarily because the show’s quality has been declining since the start of season 2. I no longer watch the show since I now realize that it’s little more than lesbian porn. It’s not like while I watched it I was oblivious to all the sex, there’s a lot of sex, graphic sex. I just didn’t watch it for that reason. I watched it for the story. For each crazy-in-their-own-way-character, at least that’s how I justified binge watching half a season in one night. The truth is, even if you do watch the show for the characters or the plot, the porn is part of it, a big part, even if that doesn’t bother you, is it worth filling your head with images like that?

There’s this verse in the bible that talks about gratifying the flesh or the spirit, or means it’s one or the other. Simply put the flesh is the human default, desires and instincts. The spirit is our source of goodness our moral compass, it is our conscious. Let’s start with the flesh since it’s constantly selfish and insists on being first. I am a Christian but more than that broad label I am a proud follower of Christ. What keeps me from climbing on my high horse is remembering the sinner I was before amazing grace came into my heart. I may strive to be saintly but I’m well aware of my sinful nature. This show, OITNB definitely appeals to my sinful nature. It did for two seasons anyway. Speaking in terms of the flesh, I really liked the show truthfully I loved it. It’s centered on female survival, there is no robust male lead, no knights in shining whatever, it’s just these women making it through. It’s a show about women but not in the way viewers are used to seeing;  “None of the women you see are cookie-cutters but they’re all people you see walking down the street.”-(Taylor Schilling, Dailyxtra OITNB interview)

In terms of the spirit, the fact that there seemed to be abundantly increasing immorality was convicting enough for me to finally be like, okay enough, I’ll find fantastically flawed characters elsewhere. Maybe I’ll create some more, that’s what I did with my first book My Famous Friend. I can do it again, in a way that doesn’t compromise morals.

In a society that shouts for all to be equal, should we be keeping people in the box of their background? A show like this subliminally reinforces the negative, the racial divides, the stereotypes, Christian hypocrisy, and the corruption of the justice system. Is this the wheel we want to keep turning? Could it be that Orange is the new Black is using a dark and edgy appeal to hide some really important issues?

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