Friday, July 12, 2013

Orange is the New Black

I recently mentioned in my review of The Bridge the difference between making a point and stating one. Like Mr. Mackey saying, “Drugs are bad, mkay,” it’s hard to take anyone seriously who takes a complex issue and tells you, out right, how you should feel about it. Cinema is, in many ways, the art of manipulation, yet the moment we feel like we’re being manipulated, we stop engaging. So, after the dull civics lesson that was The Bridge, imagine my excitement watching the vibrant gut-punch that is Orange is the New Black.

The story is that of a privileged white girl who has a privileged white girl business selling soap and is engaged to her nice Jewish boyfriend and is going to prison for smuggling drug money into Belgium ten years ago (the statute of limitations for such an offense is twelve years). Once in prison, she has to deal with… you know, prison. But specifically, women’s prison. The well-trod images of men’s prison are twisted or just thrown out the window, but the themes still remain intact. Like any prison, male or female, the actual punishment is not confinement as much as it is dealing with the other people in prison. The tension is still there, the sense of dread. Yet, the shower sex appears to be consensual and the white supremacists want advice on which dress to wear to their wedding.

What makes Orange is the New Black so effective is that its message lies in its humor. It is so ridiculous that a woman would be going to prison ten years after smuggling a suitcase into Belgium. It’s so ridiculous that it’s funny. But it begs the question, (without ever actually asking the question) “Why are we putting this woman in prison?” Our hero, Piper (played by Taylor Schilling) is a model member of society. She’s starting a business, getting married. Yet, the state takes her out of her life and thrusts her into prison to, what, rehabilitate her?

Just looking into Piper Kerman’s (the author whose memoir this show is based on) life story, it’s clear that there is a flaw in the system. Changes should be made, in mandatory minimums, and in the idiotic war on drugs, but Orange is the New Black doesn’t need to make any suggestions. All it needs to do is tell an honest story, and we’ll get the point. So far, it has succeeded.

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