Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Orange Is the New Black- A Review (Spoilers inside)

I would like to branch out for a spell, for a few paragraphs, for a page and give my thoughts as a geeky, literary white woman, on the new Netflix Original Series, “Orange is the New Black.”

There has been much trash heaped upon it, as there has been much praise. Some of the negative comments were regarding the depiction of prison to be too clichĂ©, or too racially segregated. But former inmates ( pointed out that much of what is shown is true/accurate to what kind of experience they had. Does this surprise anyone? Props to the creators and writers from not shying away from depicting the prevalence of self inflicted segregation in (federal) prison. (I know many people were mad that it wasn’t the harshness of state prison being depicted, but the show is based on a true story and they were trying to stick to Piper Kerman’s account of her time in federal, not state.)

The other end of the negativity spectrum has to do with the Christian right backlash against it. On one hand, this is silly. If you don’t like the depictions, don’t watch it. But on the other I think that many Christians who have cried out against the depiction of Pensatucky as a meth & abortion addicted ignorant southern Christian , have decidedly ignored the quiet presence of Sister Ingalls, the nun who landed in jail for peaceful anti-nuclear protesting. (

I tend to think that those who voraciously point out what they don’t like about other people/shows/lifestyles is what they fear the most about their own selves. Myself included. To me this is a small scale version of the current battle between the moderate right and the extreme tea party right.

But: SPOILER ALERT [None of the reviews mentioned that Pensatucky was never religious until she got to jail. It was something she was roped into playing at by those who paid for her lawyer after she killed a nurse at an abortion clinic. I would imagine that Christians would have more of a problem with the way the religious people who manipulated her acted than her own actions at that point. It is unclear in the first season whether she does it to continue getting legal help from the right, (because that would be smart) or whether she starts to believe. Based on her conversation with her lawyer, I think she is a believer. Hard to say, they did make it look as if Piper killed her, which is one of the reasons I kept from reading the book. I already know what happens to Piper and Larry.] END SPOILER ALERT

And lastly, one of the things from my perspective that was so striking is the frightening understanding that THIS COULD BE ME. Not that I have ever run drugs intercontinental with my lesbian lover per see, but I am a young white woman who makes artisanal bath products and has a fiancĂ©. I tend to say the wrong thing often. I have done a few stupid things in my life, and it comes down to luck. Piper had the bad luck to be named by Alex, Pensatucky had the good luck to be supported by the anti-abortion coalition that saw her commit her crime. That is the core of Jenji’s message. We try to distance ourselves as people on the outside, from those on the inside. They are different, they are other. But they aren’t. I imagine making the same mistakes, preaching the same secular humanism and Robert Frost poetry.

Not only did I feel a great deal of empathy for Piper, I was also terrified during the finale because of it. SPOILER ALERT [Piper’s breakdown and subsequent ruthless beating of Pensatucky is something I admit to having fantasized about doing to certain people who push me too hard. It made me terrified that I could actually commit this kind of crime, because the scene exposed the ruthlessness of humans as caged animals, and that should make anyone uncomfortable and sick to their stomach, as it did to me. She was backed in to a corner, betrayed or abandoned by every one she loved. That place is not far away for any of us.] END SPOILER

Every minute of this show I was on the edge of my seat, willing Piper to make a smart decision and then holding my breath to see what the outcome of her choices would be. Good art should give you a physical reaction. It should punch you in the gut, rip your heart out, uplift your soul and send it spiraling down.

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