TV Shows, Pop Culture

Dear Orange is the New Black: You should be ashamed

And you know what? Fuck your shock factor.

Warning: major spoilers ahead.

Orange Is the New Black should be ashamed of themselves.

I just finished watching season 4 of Orange Is the New Black, and I am distraught. I am angry, upset, and distraught. I have never felt more offended by a show’s desperate need to deliver a shock factor for the sake of ratings.

And you know what? Fuck your shock factor.  

I first started the season with high hopes. I had caught glimpses of headlines praising the season as one of the best, and I was excited to see what the show had to offer. Now I realize the praise was because the show intentionally wanted to have the viewer experiencing several levels of shock, disgust and sadness. It tortured many of its character beyond reasonable agony, and displayed scenes that left nothing but a deep anguish for the human existence. But one of the season’s worst crimes? Using a smart, happy, black lesbian as the scapegoat to get that visceral reaction to reach maximum potential.   

Let’s give this show the benefit of the goddamn doubt. Click To Tweet

Let’s start first with the show’s pathetic excuse of a representation of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by using Muslim and Jewish inmates having to share the same cubicle. First heinous mistake: the Palestinian problem is not a Muslim problem: it is a human problem. The trope of representing the problem as an inherently religious problem is old, my friends. What would have been new? If in all the show’s pseudo-representation and supposedly stereotype-breaking grandeur, they chose not to use the violent Palestinian oppression as an excuse to show an obvious political view under the facade of a “neutral” explanation.

When we first meet Alison Abdullah, we immediately know she is a black Muslim woman from her hijab. And of course, she is put in the same cubicle as Cindy, the recently converted Jewish black woman. Great, I thought. Let’s see what they do with this.

I want to say I wasn’t surprised, but I was. My naivety got the best of me, and I was immediately rubbed the wrong way about the conversations of “space” the two women were having. But I thought to myself, no, Sara, do not see something that’s not there. Let’s give this show the benefit of the goddamn doubt.

Let’s try to remember to stay focused on moving forward. Click To Tweet

Fast-forward to episode 6, and any illusion that this could be about anything else flew straight out of the window and crashed. Taystee sits down Abdullah and Cindy for an opportunity “to reach some sort of agreement for this problem.” The following exchange then happens:

Cindy: No, the problem is she gobblin’ up all my real estate like some hateful Monopoly shoe.

Abdullah: I am always the car in Monopoly. You know? I never did shit to you except claim what was rightfully mine. They gave me a bed, I slept in it. And ever since, you been making this bunk an unsafe place.

Cindy: (laughs sarcastically) See, that’s funny, ‘cause I think nine out of ten experts would agree that you made shit unsafe when you put a bomb* in here  

Abdullah: I retaliated against actions you took.

Cindy: Oh, hell no ‒

Taystee: (interrupting the argument) Ladies! Ladies. Let’s remember to use “I” statements, please. Seems like digging up the past ain’t gonna get us nowhere. Let’s try to remember to stay focused on moving forward.

* referring to the Diet Coke bottle that bursted on Cindy when she opened it in the cubicle

Hey, OITNB, if you’re going to make a political statement, please don’t pretend you aren’t making up a false portrayal of the ethnic cleansing that has happened to the Palestinians since 1948 Palestinian exodus. Of course, you wouldn’t because then maybe some people would be more upset, but I see through your bullshit. In the course of one exchange on your popular television show, the history was represented as one where Palestinians came into Israel, bombed it, and then complained about it being unsafe, even though “9/10 experts would agree you made it unsafe”. I’m not going to write an article talking about every unfactual point this one conversation held, nor am I going to plead with the world to start opening their goddamn eyes to the ethnic-cleansing of Palestinians, but I just want to give a shout-out to those writers: you are not the first to rewrite history to suit your narrative ‒ but it still does not, and will never, not be a rewritten story.

But, hey, what should I have expected from a show that killed off a black lesbian? Click To Tweet

But, hey, what should I have expected from a show that killed off a black lesbian in the most violent, traumatizing way for a couple of cheap tears.

Poussey Washington was a smart, trilingual, beautiful black lesbian woman. She was one of the show’s greatest characters, and she was beloved. I am not angry that they killed a main character. This is a television show, and these characters are fictional. Yes, death is sad, but it happens. But why does media always kill the LGBTQ character, especially when they’re a person of color? That’s what I am angry about. I am angry they used the trope of killing a happy lesbian as a cautionary tale that lesbians can never be happy ‒ but in the name of a poorly constructed plot of racism.

On top of that all, for her to be choked to death in the same way Eric Garner was is just bad fucking taste. It is an offense to his death, and the death of all the black lives that have died in the name of police brutality. Oh, the show is so smart, it started the season with the white lesbian Alex Vause almost getting killed from asphyxiation, but it ended the season with the black lesbian getting the final boot. Oh, how fucking classy.

Racism is real. I root constantly for series to show the many faces of racism. This season, and the seasons past, had several, blaring representations of racism. The point did not have to be driven home by using the death of a black lesbian when happy lesbian women rarely make it alive to see the end of a series.

I root constantly for series to show the many faces of racism. Click To Tweet

Overall, this season left me not with an “enlightened” perspective that I valued, but a feeling of great sadness for what qualifies as good television these days. What does it say about us as viewers that we call scenes of human depravity and misery as beautiful scenes? This season did not want us to feel pain. This season wanted us to suffer. In the words of Pennsatucky, “You know the difference between pain and suffering? Pain’s always there, but suffering is a choice.” We gain nothing from suffering, we learn nothing from suffering. We learn from pain.