“Orange is the New Black” just announced its release of the second season on June 6th so OITNB fans will get to kick off another summer in their living rooms with Crazy Eyes, Taystee and Red.
The very final scene of the first season left me shell-shocked and wondering about the future of Piper Chapman, the rich Smith graduate blonde snooze. She was found guilty for money laundering and drug trafficking with her oh-so-exotic and cool ex-lover who snitched on her in exchange for a lesser sentence. That’s all good, but really, it’s the curiosity about the rest of the cast that is killing me.
Oh, Alex, where are you? What’ll be become of CO Matt and Daya? Is Pennsatucky still alive? What will be the latest hairstyle Sophia masters? Who’s Nicky’s next lover? Oh my, it’ll be like having a tea party with Ho Hos and moonshine made from toilet water! Exactly how I imagined starting my summer. So much fun!
When I first watched the show last October, some commenters on my Facebook thought that Piper was the most boring character of all. I agreed, her background and crime are advantageous and trivial respectively in comparison to the others, but as I read more about the show, I understood why Piper Kerman and Jenji Kohan wrote it that way.
It’s a television show for pure entertainment. Therefore, it’s racist and sexist because in reality, prisons are full of racism and sexism. If it only shows the white lesbians or religious nutcases, blacks with ever-changing hairstyles (and genders,) Latinas who don’t know how to keep their legs closed, and oh-so-ever disgusting perverted correctional officers with a bad case of blue balls, people will switch to different channel or take their deep-rooted prejudices somewhere else.
Remember Netflix is in this for money. So what will they do to bring in millions more viewers and bucks? Throw in a self-centered chic blonde and somehow, the masses will suddenly decide to watch.
Jenji Kohan, the show creator, said in her interview:
“Piper was my trojan horse… You’re not going to go into a network and sell a show on really fascinating tales of black women, and Latina women, and old women and criminals. But if you take this white girl, this sort of fish out of water, and you follow her in, you can then expand your world and tell all of those other stories… The girl next door, the cool blonde, is a very easy access point, and it’s relatable for a lot of audiences and a lot of networks looking for a certain demographic. It’s useful.”
Piper Kerman, the real Chapman, said in her interview:
“Most of the women in the Camp were poor, poorly educated, and came from neighborhoods where the mainstream economy was barely present and the narcotics trade provided the most opportunities for employment. Their typical offenses were for things like low-level dealing, allowing their apartments to be used for drug activity, serving as couriers, and passing messages, all for low wages. Small involvement in the drug trade could land you in prison for many years, especially if you had a lousy court-appointed lawyer. Even if you had a great Legal Aid lawyer, he or she was guaranteed to have a staggering caseload and limited resources for your defense. It was hard for me to believe that the nature of our crimes was what accounted for my fifteen-month sentence versus some of my neighbors much lengthier ones. I had my fantastic private attorney and a country-club suit to go with my blond bob.”
Kerman knew her advantage and I applaud her for noticing and using her access to her privileged world where she was served her amazing defense lawyer and 15-months sentence on a silver platter. She, in this position, was best able to have her voice heard and receive all necessary support to increase the awareness of the corruption in the criminal justice system among the correctional institutions across the country. People will more likely listen to a college graduate blonde than a high school dropout who lives in the projects.
However, it’s not the reason why I watch the show. Yes, it’s not fair that it has to be the white one to have a story, but it is just a marketing tactic. I didn’t care about the controversies and so on, but I have to admit OITNB does bring to light some of the whole truth about the life in (and out of) a prison.
When I was watching the entire season in October, I ended up visiting Renny twice that month. The first time I visited him, he introduced me to an inmate, “Jose”, a short, balding and meek-looking man who went to Texas School for the Deaf way back then in 80’s but never graduated.
“Hi, nice to meet you.” He said, sighing and grinning shyly. “I love him, Renny, my man.” Renny beamed with pride, his muscular arm wrapping around his tiny shoulders. As Jose left, he turned to me.
“He killed his own brother. He was drunk and shot him and doesn’t remember one bit of it.” It’s been nearly fifteen years, he said. “He broke down crying on his desk in my classroom sometimes, and I had to comfort him. He looks up to me because I’m his teacher.” It hit me that they have built-in culture inside prison and how ignorant I am about it because it seems so distant, somewhere so far and untouchable… much like a television show.
After hours of driving back and forth from Huntsville and several episodes later, one character in the show emerged oddly familiar to me. It was Larry Bloom, Piper’s hapless fiancé.
I could somehow relate to him and his situation; he loved Piper and supported her regardless of her criminal past like I did with Renny. Being engaged or married to someone criminal is completely different from being born to someone criminal. Being a child to a criminal is a force of nature, there’s nothing the child can do. However, I, as an adult, could do something and choosing to be with a person with a criminal’s type of moral values made me feel like I was agreeing to what was really against my values, my beliefs. I felt guilty for remaining with someone with baggage of that magnitude because I loved him. I think it’s hard to accept what happened in the beginning because like Larry, I made the choice to commit to him regardless of the risks and in the end I couldn’t help but ask myself- did I do anything to cause it? I could have just walked away a long time ago and saved myself the pain.
My favorite episode with Larry was the one where he gives the interview with NPR that made his insultingly exaggerated and humiliating article in New York Times seem nothing but a series of banal and naive observations in comparison. He said hurtful things in the interview. However, despite being the clueless little guy he is, I felt for him because I understood the pressure and anticipation of admitting to the world that I was engaged or married to somebody behind bars as well as the misunderstandings and assumptions that come with it.
With my thoughts put aside, I am still looking forward to the drama swirling around the OITNB and hope they’d answer one burning question: Will dirty Joe Caputo and the superbitch Natalie Figueroa get it going? Maybe they will, maybe they won’t, but I’m going to switch on Netflix this summer because like another Facebook commenter said, “Jenji Kohan is a genius.”