orange is the new black

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Humanizing the Inmates in Orange is the New Black

*Orange is the New Black* released its latest season this month, and it struck me the way the program continues one trend — to humanize and rationalize the criminality of the inmates. Like Piper, who is written as a hapless entrant to the Litchfield Pen., it seems as if each inmate is offered a flashback account of poverty, racism, LGBTQ bigotry, and bad luck that result in incarceration. In this season, explicitly focused on the inhuman treatment of the inmates and the dehumanizing treatment of Poussey’s death, this narrative choice is especially potent. Yet, there’s also the occasional lapse in the narrative — like when instead of killing and dismembering a hitman-guard an inmate enslaves another or dreams of eating human flesh. How effective is the humanizing narrative in this season and cumulatively in *OITNB*? Is the narrative goal for viewers to understand the prison system to be horrid, in part because the inmates are mostly undeserving of incarceration?

  • I too found the message to also be a little inconsistent. Were they still trying to be sympathetic? Were their terrible actions on (mostly) innocent people justifiable in the writer's eyes? (especially considering how many of the inmates never cared about Poussey) Still, it was refreshing to see a darker, more complex OitNB. The series was starting to get cartoonish. Every inmate was a victim of circumstance (even if they did something terrible it was always somebody else's fault), while every guard and person outside the prison were villains. It just added a level of realism that when these people were put in charge of the prison, they were no better (amd in a lot of cases worse) than the guards they hated (it might also be a good idea to use the Stanford Prison Experiment as a parallel). – AGMacdonald 7 years ago

Orange Is the New Black and Social Change

Audiences have been captivated by Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black, but could there be any evidence that the show has inspired a rise in advocacy for prison reform as the show brings attention to issues which would otherwise go unnoticed? Does the fact that the show focuses on a female prison garner more sympathy for prisoners than shows that focus on male prisons? Does the fact that it is based on a true story add to a need to investigate truths about the prison system in the U.S.? A study on the social impact of the show might want to take these things into consideration.

  • I think OITNB as well as the author's personal experiences and advocacy have brought attention to the prison-industrial complex and made it a prominent social issue. While this isn't a new problem, the prison system has been lifted to a topic of importance, s hopefully the advocation and the pushes for change won't slow. – abigailp 9 years ago
  • As an avid fan of OITNB, I think there is a definite sympathetic tone to the show as compared to a male populated prison show such as, OZ. The difference that should be noted is that the creator wanted to set the tone of empathy for these women who found themselves in precarious situations--either by own fault or a victim of circumstance--whereas OZ wanted to be gritty, raw, and leave people in a state of shock. OZ aimed for sensationalism in focusing on the prison rapes, fights, and horrific treatment of prisoners. An interesting thing would be to have a medium between these two. Though I do enjoy OITNB, there are numerous moments where it almost feels as though it glorifies the women, and they have become such a topic of pop culture. I have a love/hate relationship with this ideology because, what if young girls view the show and think, "oh, that's not so bad." As for adults, we view the show through a different, more mature lens and look at social injustices that younger generations wouldn't view as horrific--such as lack of opportunity, low SES, inability to read, no available classes in prison, etc. – danielle577 9 years ago