Thursday, September 26, 2013

Orange Is the New Black & Racial Stereotyping

Orange Is the New Black & Racial Stereotyping

It doesn’t take long to make the assumption that Netflix’s new original series, Orange Is the New Black, is an example of racial stereotyping. On the surface of the show there are many different types of evidence one could gather to come to that conclusion, mostly the contrast of the main character, Piper, to the rest of the cast. But even before watching an episode, a person could easily form an opinion on the shows integrity. In Auro Bogado’s article in The Nation, Bogado expresses her feelings towards the advertising for the program itself, “I first saw a poster for the new series on a subway platform. The word “black” plastered near women of all colors in prison jumpsuits made me shake my head in disappointment”. The advertising for the show depicts all different kinds of people, not just different races. Those who feel that Orange Is the New Black is an example of racial stereotyping seem to have the biggest issue with the main character’s own race, social standing and background in comparison to the other inmates. In Bogado’s article she expresses a common frustration about throwing this middle/ upper class “innocent” white girl into the mix, only to be completely horrified by what she is experiencing around these women criminals, whom are mostly of a minority. Its depiction of the races is what puts those against the show in the biggest uproar. Bogado says, “With very little exception, I saw wildly racist tropes: black women who, aside from fanaticizing about fried chicken, are called monkeys and Crazy Eyes; a Boricua mother who connives with her daughter for the sexual attentions of a white prison guard; an Asian woman who never speaks; and a crazy Latina woman who tucks away in a bathroom stall to photograph her vagina”.

Grain of truth, explaining hteir stories in order to break the steretotype

It is, of course, hard to analyze such things with complete certainty. There are many ways a person can interpret any program. A person’s background, upbringing, social standing, and more, play major roles in the way someone views and analyzes the world around them. Like I mentioned before, people who feel the show is offensive seem to have the biggest problem with how these different races are depicted and feel that it is just a profitable ploy in theexpense of others. But the counter argument finds its strength from one of the very ideas that makes those against take offense. Piper’s role and character may contrast the others in a way that offense those of different backgrounds, but another argument is that she actually acts as a sort of gateway for others to relate and understand people who are not like themselves. It may be hard to sympathize with this “little white girl”, but as the creator of the show, Jenji Kohan, remarked, “ The girl next door, the cool blonde, is a very easy access point, and its relatable for a lot of audiences and a lot of networks looking for a certain demographic. It’s useful”. And it has been proven to be useful. Many white women can connect with Piper’s character, even if they have no criminal record or similar lives at all. That connection allows a person to put themselves in her shoes. As the show progresses, you see Piper let these women in and begin to accept and understand their situations. When Piper lets them in, an audience member who relates to Piper may take a similar outlook, this could easily influence any viewer. As Piper learns to understand these women, the show guides the viewer through the same process through flashbacks and empathy, devoting almost an entire episode for each main character to give the audience factual reasoning for forming an opinion on each person. Whether this tactic is successful or not is uncertain, but its attempt to challenge the initial stereotype should be recognized.

What makes it harder to label Orange Is the New Black as some maliciously racist program is its origin. The show is an adaption of a memoir written by Piper Kerman called Orange Is the New Black; My Year In Women’s Prison. Because the show is an adaption and not a complete copy of the book, there are things that happen in the show that are pure elaborated fiction, but along with the fiction are true depictions of accounts by Kerman from her time spent in the women’s prison. In an article by Roxanne Gay in Salon Magazine, she explains this fact makes it hard to blame the show for racial stereotyping “The source material concerns a privileged white woman serving a prison sentence. This show cannot be anything but what it is and that’s fine”. Because there are factual accounts of these women behaving in a certain way, it is hard to make a concrete claim about the shows integrity.

Regardless of the reality of the events, the show still has the potential of victimizing certain races and some feel that this fact is more important. Bogoda explains that that whether or not these are factual accounts, it is still an act of exploitation, “as a bestselling author who’s sold the rights to stories of women that aren’t even hers, she’s profited from the criminalization of black and brown women who are disproportionately targeted for prison cages”.

In the end it comes down to opinion. There are many factors that contribute to how a person views the world around them and what they may find offensive or inspiring. Whether Orange Is the New Black is racial stereotyping is not what is important. In fact, the controversy probably does more good than it does bad, allowing people to step outside their comfort zone and contemplate diversity and the treatment of others. This show could ultimately influence people to analyze the world around them differently than they may normally do so.

Work Cited

Bogoda, Auro. "White Is the New White." The Nation. The Nation, 1 Aug. 2013. Web. 24 Sept. 2013.

 Gay, Roxanne. "The Bar For TV Diversity Is Way Too Low." Salon. Salo Media Group Inc., 22 Aug. 2013. Web. 22 Sept. 2013.

Tillet, Salamishah. "It’s So Not ‘Oz’: Netflix’s ‘Orange Is the New Black’" The Nation. The Nation, 23 Jul. 2013. Web. 21 Sept. 2013.

Kohan, Jenji. Orange Is the New Black. Netflix. 11 July 2013. Television

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