Orange is the New Black: 7 Things We Should Talk About

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The internet is currently filled with the love juices of thousands of queer-identified ladies wet for Orange is the New Black. Netflix has somehow managed to stay afloat and functioning, providing instant download for all to enjoy. Almost every queer lady status update I’ve read has mentioned being in the process of watching OITNB or professing their undying sexual attractions to a multitude of characters (a large chunk of them being hot in the pants for Poussey. -cough-).

Whenever something gets shared around my feeds in a frenzy, I step away. Lezbehonest: I’m skeptical of any media that is gleefully consumed without critique and anything wrapped in the sacred canopy of “there’s a pretty white girl on the teevee” also gets a fair degree of side-eye. But the ads for OITNB kept poking at me from bus stops on Fordham Road, to Autostraddle reblogs on Facebook and it’s not like I don’t have a thing for prison shows ( Scared Straight is that shit sometimes). So I gave in and decided to watch, mostly because Jenji Kohan is the creator of the show and I loved loved Weeds. Also, I’m always curious about the things that get white lesbians all a flutter. Tegan and Sara was a win for me, so why not OITNB?

Thank you, white lesbian culture.

Thank you, white lesbian culture.

It’s important to be super fucking aware of why a show or movie resonates so deeply with people and with ourselves. Is it really just lesbian representation that clicks a switch or is it a mixture of groundbreaking television and old school tropes that no one dares to dismantle? And it’s not just about dismantling the patriarchy, it’s about responding to art. That’s why part of the reason why people create, right? To evoke emotions, thoughts, fucking feelings from the people around them. I’ve got mad feels, ya’ll.

Real Quick: A Legend for the nicknames I gave to characters from OITNB

Piper = Main Character White Girl
Alex = That 70’s Show
Nichols = Wild-eyed Junkie Lyonne
Larry = Nebbish Boyfriend
Daya, Maria, Gloria, Flaca, Maritza, Aleida etc = Latin@ Clique
Tricia = Cornrows

Seven Things from OITNB That Deserve Some Real Talk

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1. Of course, the main character is a pretty blonde white female with access to wealth! (even if that money belongs to other people.)

This isn’t even the fault of Orange is the New Black. This shit is just life. Close your eyes and tell me about your favorite show where the lead actress was/is a Native American, Dominican, Mixed-race or something other than white. Now name a show that isn’t Scandal. It’s ok. Like I said this is just another instance of a good show where I just have to nod my head and accept the fact that it’s about a white woman and her friends and her life experience. Yes, Virginia, there are other characters on the show that get a shot of screen time but our real emotional investments are to be centered on this one character. Now unless I limit myself to watching Univision and BET for the rest of my life, a white female lead usually opens the door to characters of color.

Sooki led us to Tara and Lafayette.

Sooki led us to Tara and Lafayette.

Angela gave us Ricky

Angela gave us Ricky.

I was going to finish this up with a picture of the cast of Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman but I felt like that would be overkill.

2. Prison makes Piper talk to Brown People.

Do you think if this was a show about Main Character White Girl’s Life with Nebbish Boyfriend there’d be any POC characters involved in a nuanced way? Nope-ity Nope Nope, my friends. Main Character White Girl has to engage with people like Sue, Poussey and Taystee and the whole Latin@ Clique because they’re all doing a bid together. The reason this show can dive into characters of color so deeply is because in prison (TV prison, I’m referring to TV prison because I’ve never been to prison and don’t want to assume anything about that life) even though people are segregated by race, they still have to deal with each other. That’s the reason we can even have this discussion or this show because it’s set in a prison. Also, the prison system set up in OITNB also allows for all of the characters to experience an equality of sorts. None of the POC are in service to Main Character White Girl; they’re not her maids, sassy co-workers/underlings, nannies, or someone that makes her coffee at Starbucks (oh hi, Lena Dunham). They’re in prison just like her and bam Main Character White Girl, welcome to the first time you’ve probably ever had lunch at a table with a group of black women.  Just like take that in… even if it doesn’t mean anything to you, just sit with that shit for a minute.

Screen shot 2013-07-20 at 9.19.09 PM

So we’re supposed to give a fuck that you’ve got problems?

And to be clear, again it’s not just an OITNB thing, it’s a life thing. People of color and white people seem to only exist on shows together within certain genres: Crime/Justice System, Reality Housewives TV, Hospital Dramas and Sesame Street.

3. Stereotypes are delicious and uncomfortably real.

I wanted to be mad about Daya getting pregnant, like damn of course the Latin@ folks are the only characters with pregnancy as part of their storylines because all we do is pop out babies, ya’ll. Opp! I just popped out another one while writing this. But then it’s like — why does that upset me so much? It’s not like it isn’t part of real life. Lots of cousins, lots of pregnancies and babies and baby showers and oohh they’re having another baby and oohh she’s pregnant again, lots of tears in delivery rooms and it’s a beautiful thing. Am I playing into some unchecked shame shit? Like the media has framed stories about pregnant women of color in such a way that I’m embarrassed to see it on television? Is that a thing? Or am I justified in wishing that the pregnancy storylines weren’t just for the Latin@ folks? I don’t know. What are we supposed to do when we see stereotypes that aren’t completely ridiculous and speak to elements of our everyday lives? I don’t know all the things.What do ya’ll think?

How does it feel to see Poussey and Taystee interacting with each other in a way that can be considered a stereotypical representation of black female friendship? I’m caught between loving them and wondering why this is the most visible way a relationship between black women is portrayed.

that's love, ya'll.

that’s love, ya’ll.

4. Class divisions trump whiteness

she-a-lesbian

Pensatucky gives Main Character White Girl that “you ain’t no kin of mine” look in every single episode. I love that there is a place in this show where whiteness isn’t a free pass to friendship or loyalty. Can we talk about class for a second? Like how people like Main Character White Girl and Pensatucky are also pretty much never on the same TV show and don’t often party in the same bars in real life? What is it like to talk about “white privilege” when you’re living below the poverty lines and addicted to meth/heroin etc?

5. Main Character White Girl seems to be the only person in this prison with a life worth returning to on the outside.

The fuck? First of all, the whole Latin@ clique seems to either be related to each other or just happy as hell to be up in that bitch, so no cares about getting out. Poussey and Taystee are in love or something so no need to be freed. Obviously, the situation Taystee faced outside of the legal system is super real: no home, no family, no job prospects etc. Kohan is seriously a master at weaving real life throughout this show BUT it still all fits into this strange narrative that only Main Character White Girl has a real life. She is the one that needs to be saved. Listen, I get that it’s based on the adventures of the real Main Character White Girl that went to jail but the only reason a memoir like that blows up is because innocent white girls are not supposed to go to prison. Tell me a memoir about someone like Tastyee that gets a movie, TV show and book club… and if you say Precious...

6. Why aren’t the QWOC getting any action??

wait-for-me

And by action, I mean sex. This is kind of like “Queer-Baiting: The QPOC edition.” So Cornrows and her boo get to smooch, Wild-Eyed Junkie Lyonne gets to smash her hands down That 70’s Show’s pants and Main Character White Girl gets her church freak on but but… no ladies of color get down with the get down? Sue’s sexuality is dismissed by Main Character White Girl because Sue is scary and not gentle and not a pretty soft unicorn lesbian. None of the Latin@ folks are dykes (just yet). Sophia’s relationship with her wife makes me weep every time they’re on screen together. And we also have the tender unspoken thing between Poussey and Taystee, as far as love representation goes. But why aren’t the black and brown queermos having sex on this show? I’d like to see some bodies like mine tangled up sweaty naked awesome. Main Character White Girl and That 70s Show do nothing for me.

I am bored.

I am bored.

7. The Implosion of White Privilege (Spoiler Alert, weirdos.)

THAT LAST EPISODE. HOLY SHIT. And when it was over, all I could think was “so that’s what happens when a white person is stripped of all of their white privilege”. SHE KILLED A BITCH. (Or, almost killed a bitch.) Main Character White Girl’s whiteness no longer held any weight. Her pretty little face, assumed innocence and NPR connections couldn’t be used in any way, not to give her another chance or to save her life. In that moment, Main Character White Girl realized that the world gave not one fuck about her and she was gone.

Wait, what? No one's gonna save me? Did everyone forget that I'm a White Woman in the United States?

Wait, what? No one’s gonna save me? Did everyone forget that I’m a White Woman in the United States?

So those are all of the major serious feels for Orange is the New Black. Look, yo, like I said, the show is pretty awesome. I love the diversity of characters and the sex and all the shit that lots of people dig about this show. But does that mean I have to watch it without critique? Whenever something awesome or momentous is given a critical eye, people freak out! Like “CAN’T WE JUST HAVE SOMETHING? WITHOUT YOU HATING ON IT” kind of freak out… and like, chill. Sure, we have good things, good TV things but why not have some feelings too? If art can’t create dialogue within communities, then what is it good for? What are some of your  inflammatory feelings? Are you feeling defensive or like this whole article is on some bullshit? Do you give one fuck about the show that almost every queermo you know is rightfully in love with? Orange is the New Black gives me some hope for the future of multi-representational media. Hope is good, ya’ll.


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Gabrielle Rivera is an awesomely queer Bronx bred, writer, spoken word artist and director. Her short stories and poems have been published in various anthologies such as the Lambda Award winning Portland Queer: Tales from the Rose City and The Best of Panic! En Vivo from the East Village. Her short film "Spanish Girls are Beautiful" follows a group of young Latina and Caucasian girls who like girls as they hook up, smoke up and try to figure sh*t out. She also freelances for Autostraddle.com while working in the film and television industry. Gabrielle is currently working on her first novel while bouncing around NYC performing spoken word and trying to stick it to the man.

gabrielle has written 79 articles for us.

236 Comments

  1. Thumb up 9

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    i also have #6 feelings, and not just because i have a monster crush on janae… i think the relative lack of (declared) queer woc on this show is the only thing i don’t like about it, actually. it seems like sophia likes both women and men though, because she wants to be with her wife but also expressed enthusiasm regarding male nipples in a convo with the nun. she hasn’t openly identified as queer of bisexual buttt i think she is

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      I think we can assume Sophia identifies as queer, since she is a woman with a wife.

      I assumed the nipples comment was more of a reference to her transition than a sexual preference, but who knows. She could be bi — definitely queer though.

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        I interpreted the conversation between Sophia and Pornstache, when he was being vulgar and crude with her, about the sausage McMuffin vs. egg McMuffin to mean that Sophia was a lesbian. She just said something cryptic about only ever liking egg on her McMuffin. I could be totally reading too much into that weirdly suggestive conversation, though!

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        I agree with the comment about no sausage on the McMuffin to be pretty sapphic-ly indicative.

        Also, I learnt the difficult way NEVER to assume that anyone identifies as queer. Queer is a term that a ton of people are still not comfortable with.

      • Thumb up 9

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        i thought she was queer from the start and got those same vibes from her flashbacks!! and i was so excited for the big lesbian reveal… but then she seemed into guys and had a boyfriend in later flashbacks, and because i’m used to every other show on television where boyfriend = straight, i was like, well, she still seems queer to me, but this is television, so, chances are slim…. but it’s not normal television. it’s OINTB! so i personally haven’t given up on her being queer/bi/gay.

        that’s what’s trippy about this show… every time another character turned out to be queer i was like “oh, this must be the last one, surely we’ve reached the max limit of queer girls on a single tv show.” i’m so used to queer subtext being just a tease rather than a clue.

        • Thumb up 5

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          Yeah I got “Damn the patriarchy” not so much “Yay another on our team!” from those scenes.

          It seems she wanted attention, but all of the boys were threatened by her competitive nature and the fact that she was just better than them. I was like “damn” when the moment she got arrested the guy she liked said “Stop showing off!” just like the little boy when she was younger. It goes back to girls playing demure and dumbing down their intellect in the classroom, so the boys feel as though they have something offer. I mean the patriarchy effs up the psyche of men too.

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          i wanted her to be queer because, hello, cute, but i actually think that in the context of a show with so many queer characters, there is something usefully expectation-breaking about having a masculine-acting (whatever that means) girl who likes boys.

      • Thumb up 11

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        I’m pretty sure those longing looks were for the boys in those scenes…I know we all ship female characters like there’s no tomorrow, but I don’t think there’s a chance with this one.

        I hope they go deeper into her story, but I think she attributes success in track to failure in “normal life” or having a relationship with a guy. The playground scene was the first instance (where she “showed off” with her speed, so the guy went for the other girl) and the locker room scene was the second instance (where she won the meet, but the guy still went for the slower girl). I think it’s why she sabotaged her career as a track athlete.

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        The reason I thought Wastson liked the girl in the flashback is because they interacted right after and it didn’t cut back to the guy or his reaction.

        I feel like it’s a no-win situation with #6. If a lot of the woc (particularly black) had been portrayed as gay, people would’ve whined about stereotypes. Also, we don’t know any of the Latinas’ sexualities for sure, except maybe Daya and her mom. A lot of assumptions here….

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        I was at first thinking Watson was queer but I actually think it’s more of a statement if she isnt, about how guys only go for the girly girls and never for the tomboys. Watson just wants to find a guy who loves her because she’s a badass and not in spite of it.

  2. Thumb up 5

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    i really appreciate this article, as i’ve been trying to think critically about oitnb while simultaneously loving it a lot.

    sidenote, poussey’s and taystee’s friendship must really strike some chord within me, because i always well up when their scenes are on.

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      Thank you! I’m glad they make someone else cry, too. They’re just like my best friend and I… we both come from bi-racial families and have gone through tons of shit together (me coming out, her weight problems; so not as bad as prison thank god!).
      I don’t know if I can say that I see their relationship as being some sort of stereotype of a black friendship, but maybe my own feelings about it get in the way. I’m not black, but I’m from Detroit and a most of my friends aren’t white, and I’ve never noticed that was a thing.

  3. Thumb up 1

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    “…a white female lead usually opens the door to characters of color.”

    “Main Character White Girl seems to be the only person in this prison with a life worth returning to on the outside.”

    “Where are the black and brown dykes??” in a show full of dykes are some of the reasons why this show makes me a little uncomfortable. I’m also not a fan of the pacing so I’m bored to which is just a no-no in the realm of television. I’m quite sure I’m going to pass on this. (I haven’t been able to watch more than 2 episodes.)

  4. Thumb up 15

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    As poor white girl I don’t think I can even comment on most of this so I will say that your article gives me a lot to think about, some of it stuff I had already thought, some of it not.

    I have a hard time criticizing the show, simply because of Sophia. When a show gives me someone like me in a positive light it’s hard to pay attention to other faults.

    I did want to say though, in reference to to #5 when you say no one but chapman has anything to look forward to on the outside my first thought was no, Ms. Claudette seems to have something better on the outside than Chapman does.

    • Thumb up 4

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      YES! Poor Ms. Claudette. Such a tidy, justified murder! Let her and Baptiste be already.

      And Sue! She seems to have a very loving and supportive family situation, but they are white. Regardless, they advocate to keep her out of The Shoe/Psych, which is clearly good for her.

      Red seems like the kind of gal who will always land on her feet (although she cannot for the life of her stay out of trouble, in or out of the clink).

      Also I am highly confused as to why That 70s show thinks she can be some free-wheelin’ lady of leisure who drops X willy nilly on Cambodian beaches without a job/not as a heroin dealer. BAD AT MATH, 70s SHOW.

      Sadly, Sophia’s problems seem trans-related first, prison-related second, sadly (and probably tellingly). Man, the scene where she could tell her kid signed the Christmas card himself completely and totally wrecked me. Such a perfectly done mom moment.

      I feel like Yoga’s in it for the long haul, having killed a kid and all. It’s only fair.

      70s show pretty much nailed Nicky’s character and position in the laundry room dressing-down, and I have no idea how any of that would play out post-sentence but it seems just as likely as not that she’ll immediately squander any privilege she’s handed when she gets out.

      I don’t feel like we know enough about Poussey, Track Star, Lorna, Chang, Red’s OR Pensatucky’s white minions, and most of the latinas to know how they’d fare outside, or what does or doesn’t await them. In most cases, it seems (stereotypically) safe to assume not very much.

      Also, I want more than anything for Daya’s mother to DIAF, she is the absolute worst.

      • Thumb up 4

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        Especially given the reasons for her murdering that guy. I mean, in my world-of-teevee-ethics, that murder was TOTALLY justified and righteous. Ms. Claudette’s character is one of my favorites, and that actor that plays her is just magnificent.

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          when I saw Miss Claudette’s storyline all I could think was “This lady is GANGSTER” and I want all of the things for her. I was sad she didn’t get her appeal, and kinda bummed she ruined anything further for herself by choking the guard out… :/

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      Does Chapman actually have anything waiting for her on the outside? She has no job, no fiancee, she’s got family but otherwise is stranded. And we don’t know how much her family will really be supportive after she cheated on her fiancee with her ex-gf etc, since they weren’t super supportive of her sexuality before.

      Taystee’s situation was so sad. I really wanted her to be able to get back on her feet; it shows how hard it is in our society to reintegrate into society after being convicted.

      It looks like there is a handful of characters that really don’t have a reason to go back to the outside, but the rest are either resigned to their current situation or we just don’t know their backstory.

  5. Thumb up 37

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    Forgetting Sophia in your count of the QWoC is a problem, OP. Also, I think buying into the show’s /initial/ dismissal of Sue is missing the really awesome move they pulled. Piper saw her that way. And by the end of the season she finds she was unequivocally wrong. They are using the white gaze to show us how wrong it can be. There is no lack of QWoC in this show except for the ones you’ve dismissed or forgotten.

    • Thumb up 9

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      “Sue’s sexuality is dismissed by Main Character White Girl because Sue is scary and not gentle and not a pretty soft unicorn lesbian.”

      I don’t like how Sue is dehumanized in the show, but I don’t think you’re comment is correct. It’s like you’re saying that if someone’s sexual advances make you uncomfortable you should then ignore your feelings and make sure you’re not dismissing there’s. Piper’s character didn’t handle the situation right, but I’m pretty sure if someone got all touchy with me and started calling me her wife I wouldn’t exactly be stoked.

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        And also at that time in the show that Piper met Sue, it’s not clear that Piper continues to identify as anything but straight and a core value of self-determination is that we choose who to be sexual with- some of that recoiling could also have been the thought that she would owe a sexual favor without her choosing that “debt”.

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      I totally had Sophia on the brain while writing this piece but I thought her storyline was so incredible and so well done. I didn’t have any “this doesn’t feel right” kinda feelings. That’s why she’s not in here but I can see how it would seem like I dismissed/forgot her. Sophia’s character has yet to make a specific distinction about her sexuality (i think) but from the hints that have been dropped by her and the developments in her storyline, yes queer queer queer.

      but still not getting any making love/sex/being naked with someone else time on the teevee which is one of the things I’d like to see on OITNB.

        • Thumb up 6

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          yeah, it’s not just her though. none of the queer woc on the show get any girl-on-girl action. i would like to see sue enjoying being single (as she told piper she was in the second-to-last episode) for example…

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          Whoa, you might want to slow down there a little bit. I know a ton, and I mean a ton, of straight trans women who don’t identify as queer. Since we are women, a lot of trans women who are straight identify as any other straight woman and don’t see why they would call themselves queer.
          In fact, I know a large number of trans women who aren’t straight who reject the label queer because of how often the mainstream queer community has pushed us aside or ignored us. So I don’t think it’s really fair or accurate to say that all trans people are queer.

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          Just want to back you up, and address misconceptions like Mey’s. Queer is a label specifically designed to be inclusive of all gender AND sexual minorities. It is NOT short hand for “homosexual”.

          It seems like an honest mistake to make, but I would hate for that misconception to be perpetuated, especially since it erases the rich history and philosophy of the queer movement, which is very specifically trans* inclusive, and, indeed, would not have existed without trans* people complicating traditional understandings of gender and sexuality.

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          Kati and NobbyKnees, “queer” is a term that is inclusive of all of these identities, but the most important issue is that someone is saying that Sophia, a trans* woman, HAS to identify as queer, while Mey is pointing out the truth that nobody HAS to identify as queer even if their existence fits in a box that someone else could call queer. Labels should only be chosen by the self.

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          @NobbyKnees, I understand where you’re coming from, and I, as a trans woman who is attracted to other women, I do id as queer both because my sexuality and my gender.

          That being said, not all trans women do. If some trans women identify as not being queer, then they aren’t. I think there’s something really icky about telling trans women that we have to id as queer just because of our gender.

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          The thing is, Sophia hasn’t rejected queer as a label. If she does that later in the series, then hell yeah, categorizing her as queer would be way off base!

          In the absence of an explicit denial, however, leaving a trans* character out of an examination of queer presence in a work of art is dismissive and othering. Frankly, Kati was calling the article’s author out on a damn important oversight.

          We’re not having a discussion about whether or not any of the other characters self-identify as queer, despite their obvious status as sexual minorities, so why is a member of a gender minority getting the run around?

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          @PaperOfFlowers: Well then why are we assuming that all the other characters who could conceivably be called queer are queer? Why is Sophia, the trans woman, the only one where we stop and say “Well wait maybe she doesn’t identify as queer.” I was a little taken aback by what seemed like the OP’s erasure of Sophia from the QWOC ranks.

  6. Thumb up 41

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    Additionally, something else this show does very well in terms of marginalized sexual experience is show an amputee in a sexual relationship. This is very significant. They NEVER show disabled characters as sexual beings.

  7. Thumb up 22

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    I’m a big fan of the show. Love it. That said, it does have it’s issues and those issues are worth discussing. I’m a POC too so I get all the criticisms people have about this show. That said, I don’t think their a television on the air that is NOT problematic in some way. There is no such thing as a perfect tv show. For the most part, there is nothing about this particular show that offends me to the point of not wanting to watch it anymore. Not yet anyway. There is always season 2.

    For all the things this show gets wrong, it’s still done quite a few things right as well. For example, there is Boo and Tricia. When is the last time you saw a lesbian on tv who wasn’t a feminine,”traditionally attractive” girl? This show has those two but I also give them credit for having the opposite as well. Then they have Sophia. A trans character played by a trans actor and she is a real three-dimensional character and not some caricature or pandering after-school special created for the sole purpose of winning a GLAAD award. And while, yes, this show is told through the eyes of a white woman. Yet again. The rest of the cast is still more racially diverse than most network television. And the show also doesn’t pretend that race isn’t an issue. They bring up the racial politics of the prison environment and I do think they occasionally address not only Piper’s white privilege but her upper-class privilege as well. I want them to do more with that next season but at the same time I could do without ever seeing Larry or her family ever again. And on a personal note, this show accomplished something I never thought possible which is make me fall in love with Natasha Lyonne. I think she hits it out of the park in this role and if the show had to be about a white woman, I would prefer Nichols over Piper any day of the damn week.

    So yeah, there are things to criticize about this show but there are also alot of things to love as well.

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      i agree re: boo, i think the fact that they’re showing butch and MOC dykes is a huge deal, i love that.

      also i like that although they’re not all gay, i feel like many of the latin@ and black women on the show are shown as being dorky/nerdy in ways that we usually only get to see with white or asian characters on mainstream teevee — taystee with the library and harry potter, daya with anime, sue with her shakespeare, etc.

      also LARRY IS THE WORST

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        Yes, and especially so often totally stripped of pandering to or even giving a shit about the male gaze, because prison, which in turn does something really interesting to the more femme characters.

        So often in TV everyone female, gay or straight, is more or less femme, and if they aren’t it’s usually some cheap, slimy indicator of their worth or status (ugly/dorky/poor/unworthy of male attention/etc). I love the relative absence of that dynamic in this show, where Sophia and Lorna are the femme-y ones (though it is kind of jacked that they are both portrayed as sort of longing over past loves that have basically ceased to exist, but whatever).

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      I totally agree with preferring that if the show had to be through a white perspective Nichols would be more interesting to me. I just can’t root for Piper- she’s blind to her own privilege and selfishness 95% of the time. I don’t connect with her or like her as a character at all. I hope next season continues to provide opportunities to develop other characters’ stories and wish it would allow Piper to fade away from the central storyline.

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    i too veer back and forth between being unhappy about the racial/sexual politics of the show and then thinking they’re being really groundbreaking and smart. I will say this, though; prisoners in california are on hunger strike right now (and facing retaliation for it) for, among other things, an end to solitary confinement. While the show doesn’t go all that deep into the travesty that is the prison system, the episode about piper being sent to solitary on the whim of a guard was powerful, i thought; i guess i’m hoping that that educated some viewers, who may have came to the show for the conventionally pretty white lead and the supposed hilarity of the premise.

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      I definitely have moments where I briefly consider how this show is a Disneyfied version of what it’s like IRL – even solitary, even Psych, even gross, awful Mendez and Healy and idiot Bennett – and my heart sinks and I feel guilty for enjoying it so much.

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        I think that in part that’s related to the genre/tone the show has aimed for – I read that it’s billed as a ‘dramaedy’. So while it absolutely has its moments analysing the effects of somewhere like SHU, psych, etc, it then pulls back to a more light-hearted tone which I guess can make it’s consideration of these things seem, at moments, a bit light-weight.

        (I’m not really excusing the show here, BTW, I’m just intrigued about their choice of tone. I haven’t read it but maybe it’s related to the style of the memoir?)

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          Dramedy is a legit genre, and honestly for me, I prefer my drama to have some comic moments. It’s not necessarily about levity. It’s about balance and wholeness, because life is not all drama or all comedy. If anything, the funny moments give the dramatic moments extra depth and poignancy, I think. (Then again, I’m a Whedonite, so I’m probably biased toward that approach.)

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          Yeah, I wasn’t saying dramaedy wasn’t a legit genre (I used quote marks mainly because I haven’t heard that term before, I’ve usually heard ‘tragicomedy’, but I think that’s used more for theatre than TV) – the best of tragedies have funny lines too. I was more thinking aloud about whether the show always gets the balance between the two right.

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      It is important to highlight how messed up the prison system is, especially with all of the problems in California over the past few years. However, I hate that Watson’s visit to the SHU for talking back to what’s his name, the supervisor for the electric team, wasn’t protested as outside of regulations while Piper being sent there was immediately pronounced illegal and corrected. I know that has to do with her privilege and the people outside (Nebbish Boyfriend) who go to bat for her, but I wish the show had more directly addressed that. For me, the moments when OITNB hits people over the head with inequities in our system, like when Taystee tells Poussey what it was like outside, keep me watching the show to see how/if consumers of the show might be forced to think about their world view.

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      Volunteering on an LGBTQ legal infoline, one of the things that I do is respond to prisoner letters, mostly to send them the addresses of groups that might be able to help with their particular issues. Probably half of them are in solitary, usually as part of a larger pattern of mistreatment by guards. It’s so sad.

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    So, I’m not supposed to like Piper very much, or take her story seriously because she comes from a privileged white background? And IF she killed it was in self defence. Hardly due to being stripped of all her privileges.

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      I don’t think Gabrielle is saying that, AT ALL. She’s opening up the critical conversation on race and social class by bringing up plot lines and stereotypes in the show. She’s right–having a white person as the protagonist opens it up for other POC to come in, not because we can’t have POC without white people, but because generally, the audience would not respond so warmly (i.e. feel bad for) a POC who did the same crime she did because of racial stereotyping and profiling. And, if this were a story about Piper in her normal life on the outside, there certainly would not be as many POC–look at her husband and her friends for proof. I don’t want to speak for Gabrielle, but she is talking about the racial tropes that are overused–it doesn’t make the show BAD, or that we should dislike any character because of their race or dislike the writers of the show, but I think she’s talking about feeling conflicted about certain racial tropes, for example, Daya getting pregnant–why are the only pregnant inmates we see latina? Why are is it such a trope for latinas to pop out babies? It doesn’t necessarily make the story BAD or de-value their character worth because Daya is fitting one part of a stereotype, the writer is simply questioning these tropes.

      And, yes, Piper was stripped of some of her white privilege in that final scene. She reached out to Healy to help her, a guy who only liked her because she was an educated, white, cis-gendered female, passing-for-straight. He felt bad for her. She couldn’t identify with Pensatucky(sp) simply by being white, because even though they share a skin color, and some privilege, they were worlds apart. Pensatucky DGAF if Piper was white or not. She wanted to waste her. So in that moment, yes, she was fighting for her life, and we should feel for Piper because Pensatucky is clearly a damaged, delusional, scary individual. But in the moment, her white privilege meant nothing and it was going to do nothing for her.

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        I’m totally on board with 90% of the article, but can’t help but quail at #7 as well. I can’t recall another time when I’ve seen the assault and attempted murder of a queer person by a viscous homophobe framed as them being stripped of white privilege.

        Yeah, she’s experiencing how awful and scary it can be to be a minority, perhaps for the first time in her life, but it’s not because she had her white card suspended while in prison, but because she *is* a minority: a bisexual woman!

        There are plenty of instances in the show where she gets her white privilege good and checked, but asserting that as one of ‘em makes me extremely uncomfortable. Maybe someone can tell me how I’m misinterpreting things?

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          (i like piper too although i don’t think her character was written to be “likeable.” i mean she’s hella self-absorbed and in that way reminds me of hannah hovarth from girls a little, who i also like sometimes, which is an unpopular opinion, but i find their self-absorption so blatant that it’s actually really funny to me? like when everybody’s waiting for the phone and she’s like i’m on hold, it’s about my company as if anybody would give a shit. i find them both really entertaining as characters.) (i also like jenny schecter, while we’re at it)

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        I agree w/ @riese and I also enjoy Hannah from Girls and not because I particularly relate (I don’t) or I even find her sympathetic, it’s just that she is, in her ridiculousness, an entertaining character. I think I enjoy Piper for the same reason, even tho if i stopped to think about her as someone real I probs wouldn’t be friends with her.

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      Maybe this is just me, but it seems like what was being stripped was her straight privilege, not her white privilege. Healy was more than happy to open doors and move mountains for her when he thought she was on the straight and narrow. It was only after that changed that he decided to throw her to the wolves.

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    I’ve been looking for the right recap to talk about this, but I’m not sure there’s really gonna be a right one. I kind of want pensatucky’s little sidekick to have the Gay for her after findingout she’s in traction, cause that rebuff is gonna have all the feels, you guys, all of them.

    I mean, all the feels don’t totally belong to Poussey and Taystee, nobody gets those feels.

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      I honestly find this show much less disturbing than Weeds, where the contrast of the Nice White Lady and those dangerous drug dealing Latinos was just too messed up for me. Weeds set the bar so low that it makes OITNB look much better by comparison. I don’t want to say that Kohan is entirely responsible for the ‘upper/middle class white person gets into unexpected hijinks’ trope, because Breaking Bad does the same thing, as do many stripper memoirs and Girl Interrupted and so on, but this is the second time she’s played this card. And it really sucks that many people whose lives are devastated by the drug war or the criminal justice system do not get to tell those stories, while people like Piper Kerman and Jenji Kohan get so much mileage out of them. It’s great that this show means to interrogate class privilege and white privilege but it would be much more satisfying to see that done with a non-white main character as our anchor.

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    Here’s what I like about this show:
    Every single response to this article that I initially thought, started with, “But I wonder such-and-such about so-and-so.”

    Instead of giving us predictable, one-dimensional characters, they’ve shown different variations on the LGBTQ experience. Which, I TOTALLY agree still has issues we should talk about. We just have to actually DO the talking. So thank you for this article!

    I’m hoping with the next season, they’ll be able to really delve into some of the issues all of us queermos have been/are/should be talking about. This show has the potential to really be great for our community (and also really terrible, but let’s stay positive).

    Sidenote: I seriously need to know every single character’s back-story (except Piper, because I mean Larry? Gag me).

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      Right? The only time I wasn’t riveted by this show and its unpredictability and strong characterizations was when it was about milquetoast Larry and his NPR/NYT adventures. I openly laugh at the idea that anyone would downgrade from Alex to Larry without harboring regrets.

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        I have only seen the first few episodes, so grain of salt, but I find your last sentence frankly ridiculous. I would absolutely choose to be in a loving, stable relationship over her situation with Alex. I feel like a lot of people in the community approached this show generally disliking Larry as the white guy who gets in the way of the queer relationship, and didn’t ever give him a fair chance.

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          I personally don’t like Larry a)because he’s played by Jason Biggs and b)because he starts to really become an asshole by the end of the season. Having seen every episode more than once at this point, IMO Piper just has more chemistry with Alex and Alex to her credit seems to understand who she is better than Larry does. But more importantly Larry really started to piss me off with his actions by the end of the season. I find his obtuseness far more annoying than Piper’s in the grand scheme of things. After learning that he is essentially living off his parents, who are paying his rent, while he whines about Piper(to her own friends and family) and uses her and the other prisoners stories to try to make a name for himself I was too through with him.

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          Honestly, I don’t like Larry because he never finds a way to grow his perspective or grow as a person. How stable can their relationship be when they’re living off of his parents? It’s also just creepy how he exploits all of the people Piper has told him about in his story and doesn’t stop to think that he might be impacting their lives or using them. I hope he gets hit over the head with that in season 2.

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          I agree with Emily. Frankly, although Larry’s character is a privileged dick, should we really blame Larry for that? Or should we blame the screenwriters for making a simplified villain of a male lover in a show focused on queer love and sex? It’s tiresome how simplistic all the male lovers are in films about lesbians / queer women, and while it does kind of give privileged people (straight, white, upper class cis men) a taste of their own medicine for how they render minorities and women in film, it does make you wonder if minorities are really any better. I made out with a guy at Stonewall Inn, and a drunk woman was making faces at us and being obnoxious as if he didn’t belong there with me. He’s trans. Trans people have been marginalized at Stonewall Inn and places like it since always.

          In the show itself, neither Alex nor Larry really offer Piper a great personality to end up with. Alex is fucked up and manipulative, and Larry is fucked up in terms of exercising his privilege. Neither of them are very understanding of Piper’s perspective. Nor is Piper very understanding of theirs. I guess Piper gets what she deserves with both of them, in a way.

          Larry’s personality is fabricated for drama’s sake. But the real Piper Kerman ends up with her male partner… I think it’s obvious why. At least Larry is not as manipulative as Alex. Of course, I’m not attracted to many men, much less his type, so I almost couldn’t care less about him anyway, but … but I think his character lends some fun drama to the show.

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    Yes, massively agree with number 4 – I haven’t read any discussions of the class divisions/interactions in OITNB so far (though admittedly I haven’t been reading about it that much!) and it’s something I’ve been thinking about a bit.

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    In terms of tribal affiliation, I have no idea where I would fit in. I’m a privileged, boring-looking, white-skinned latina who only gets paler as times passes (vitiligo, perras). The WAC episode intrigued me with the mention of an “other” group, but then no representative from that group is shown or elected. My guess is I’d be “white”; I don’t know. (Related: http://on.cc.com/GzLIbX)

    “Class divisions trump whiteness” Yes. Class divisions trump many things. The contrast between Piper and Pensatucky is stark. When Piper gets sent to SHU, there’s pressure to get her out (“This liberal, wealthy offenders, they’re connected.”); when Pensatucky gets sent to Psych, there’s nothing. She gets out because Piper intercedes, and Piper gets involved only because she played a part in getting Pensatucky getting locked up in Psych in the first place.

    I also love Poussey and Taystee together. And I like that Marisol and Maritza’s friendship exist, even if it hasn’t been explored yet. I appreciate both those relationships as they are, but wouldn’t mind if they took them in other, more comforting directions.

    Anyway, this show and all your points about it have made me think feelings and feel thoughts.

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    I think the show deliberately picked a yuppie white women as the lead, not because it’s the norm in the entertainment business, but because they wanted to use her to emphasize white privilege and upper-middle-class privilege in general. This is indicated in the way the series is edited – cutting from Piper’s privileged life in NYC and comparing it side-by-side to her life in prison. This calculated acknowledgment of the dichotomy between her life outside and inside of prison not only allows the viewer to understand why she has feelings of white privilege, it also allows the viewer to absorb how this white privilege distorted and warped Piper’s view on life.

    And, on another note, I don’t necessarily think the show is told 100% from Piper’s point-of-view. It’s obvious that she is the main character, but I think the show does a great job in not letting her steal all of the screen-time, not even half of it. In each episode, the producers give us a background story of another inmate, shown from that particular inmate’s point of view. Four of those background stories have been women of color (Sophia, Watson, Miss Claudette, and Daya. In addition, two episodes delve pretty deep into the lives of Taystee and Sue).

    Other notes:

    Agreed. Since when are there no gay Latinas?

    Also, Poussey and Taystee’s relationship has been developed extremely well. You can almost feel Poussey longing to take it to the next step, but being way too scared to be shot down. It’s palpable, guys…and heartbreaking.

    Black Cindy is totally underrated and hilarious.

    This post is the longest ever…

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    One beef: The writing is generally very good, and pains are taken to show characters beyond what is on the surface. This is true of every group inside the prison (the blacks, the latinas, the middle class white ladies) EXCEPT the poor whites. With every other character, you are given an inside look at their motivations and desires, and they are often shown to be the same motivations as all people. Again, this is not true of the poor whites. They are characterized and demonized. Any inside looks into their lives are exactly what anyone familiar with poor white stereotypes would expect. There are no surprises. You are supposed to automatically know these characters as soon as you hear their accent.

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        Yeah I was impressed by how Tricia’s character was crystallized: the getting out the car that was obviously turning a trick (without driving home the street-kid-to-sex-work cliche), the book of debts (which I thought Boo would use to find out about Mendez, but I was wrong!), her inability to accept “help” from the kid she used to run with. I like how they left how she got hooked on drugs out of it. Just showing how easily she was manipulated by Mendez was enough, and one of the most difficult scenes for me to watch. Her suicide was devastating. And that Mendez got away with it let me trust the show’s writing. Really amazing character. Complex and true to her origins.

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      I know they’re from more working/middle class backgrounds, but I thought aspects of Voss’s and Red’s back stories dealt well with class. In particular, Red saying “there are the people that serve the food, and there are the people who eat the food” and Voss’s experience being poor and surrounded by wealthy white peers in childhood and in her business.

      I get what you’re saying about poor whites, but it seems like you’re talking more specifically about Pennsatucky’s born-again clique. Poor white women from rural backgrounds.

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        OMG. Pennsatucky was a horrible, overly dramatized caricature of a homophobe. But at the same time, kind of imaginable. I’m more tired of the simplistic homophobic villain than the potential stereotyping of the poor white. It was almost funny the way it reminded me of my own youth growing up in a small, conservative, mostly white town in Texas – with all the “you’re going to hell” crap. I never came out of the closet in high school, so I don’t know how I’d have been treated. I’m from a poor and half-white background and didn’t even think of the possibility that it was stereotyping poor whites. Though I’m somewhat biased by the fact that I hated my hometown and a lot of the people in it. As for Pennsatucky’s little gang, that part was even more ridiculous than the character herself. Didn’t seem realistic at all.

        Oh, and the flashback scene showing that Alex is of poor background was the worst scene in the show. I thought I was watching a different show. The part where the rich, white girls are bullying her was hard to watch in juxtaposition to a show that is otherwise pretty decent (and I don’t say that about many shows). I thought the show was trying to emphasize her class background in the most childish way. Here it wasn’t the poor whites, but even the rich white girls who were portrayed as one-dimensional and stereotypical. Can someone please address class issues in film without resorting to stereotypes?

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      Vause was poor. In the same way Chloe Moretz is poor in Hick. But I guess I don’t feel bad for her.

      Tricia… !!!!!!!!!! Poor. Granted we don’t know if she ran away and maybe her parents are wealthy, but the fact that her friend got her life together via the welfare program shone some context. But Tricia’s storyline… just sadness. So she was sympathetic.

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    #4 hits home. My sister is the white lower class meth adict who has been in and out of the system since she was 14. Without the privilege of funds and connections we have had to just sit back and watch as she was shuffled through the system. Don’t even get me started about the class barriers when it comes to rehab.

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    I’m still really weird about the fact that there’s a real Piper, and that most of these characters are based on real people. I mean, are they still in prison? Do they have access to Netflix in prison? I mean, I get that the issue is “addressed” in the show, and that Piper Kerman is a big advocate for prison reform.

    But, like, she’s getting royalty checks, from both the book and the show. And, if the investment isn’t in Piper the character (the personal narrative of real Piper), but in the other, more disadvantaged people (the narratives of the people she met), how much is Piper said to be doing the work associated with the money. I mean, yes she wrote the book, but the people she met were the ones whose lives made it compelling. The lives they lived are, in effect, the selling point of the book/show, and they aren’t seeing a dime.

    It just reminds me of the issues around “Paris is Burning”.

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        in the book, Yoga was doing a two-year sentence on a marijuana charge.

        i’ve read that they used the memoir as a “jumping-off point” but that beyond the basic premise, very little of it is by-the-book, so to speak. like voss didn’t show up until a month before piper got out of prison IRL. but i haven’t read the book, just pieces and i’ve skimmed it some.

        when she’s yelling at larry about the radio show and says like, these are real people you can’t just talk about them like that — i feel like that’s the attitude the show takes, too, that yes somebody might be inclined to just grab the anecdotes, but then we do get to see the full people behind them, too, the whole story, the context, etc.

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          I think you’re probably right regarding the stance they’re taking on intruding on people’s lives. The real piper did an episode of The Moth a while back and told one of her stories from the book. The story doesn’t come up in the show, and it’s about her first couple of months there so it likely would have, but you can definitely see where they took inspiration from.

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          ok so i read the entire book last night and the show is COMPLETELY different, like kohan said they just used the book’s premise as a jumping-off point and that is completely true. there’s some anecdotes and characters in the book that have inspired parts of the show, but most of it is just an entirely different story altogether. i think i’m gonna write a post about it as part of a post i was already working on about this show and prison, so i’ll just leave it there for now!

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    “Main Character White Girl’s whiteness no longer held any weight. …In that moment, Main Character White Girl realized that the world gave not one fuck about her and she was gone.”

    That’s how I understood it as well.

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    Super appreciating this article. http://inthesetimes.com/article/15311/white_chick_behind_bars/ <–this article didn't really do much for me (it was spot on about the class issues, I felt, but the POC nudity thing was kinda weird). Also, for all the complaining I want to do about Piper all the time, I do agree with I-think-it-was-Kate/Kade's statement that she's merely used as a vehicle to tell these other, super diverse and interesting stories. Nothing about Piper is likable or sympathetic, in my experience of the show. I definitely watch for the other characters, and from what I've read, so does the rest of the internet. It makes me feel a little bit better about her unacceptable annoying and privileged-ness.

    But you all if this show doesn't win every single GLAAD award I'm gonna be pissed. Fuck you, Modern Family and Glee.

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    I think that the show actually does a really good job of commenting on class privilege even within the whites. Tricia, Red, and Alex are great examples of poor whites, and Red specifically says she wants to move up in the world, while Alex is resentful of how she and her Mom are poor when her Dad is rich and famous. I think she kind of felt like things would be righted once she met her Dad, and when that fell through in a sense, the drug runner was there to pick her up in her vulnerable moment and show her another way to get money and/or feel important. *I feel like Alex and Red’s attempts to move up class-wise is actually what got them into criminal activities (and thus into prison) in the first place.*

    That being said, I would like to see more background stories out of Pensatucky’s clique, partly because they were a bad stereotype of white country folk and partly because they were a terrible stereotype of Christians. I am glad that the nun is shown to be much more progressive and/or understanding, but the Christian hick stereotype made me uncomfortable. I actually don’t mind stereotypes for the most part, because they exist for a reason, and like in the movie “Saved!” the whole thing was a satire of religion, but it was disappointing in this show because every other group seemed to be examined more closely instead of being there for jokes and ridicule.

    On a side note, I wonder how Sue does in prison considering that she is from a WASPy and presumably rich family, but yet she is black and thus gets grouped that way. And in prison, she acts quite “black,” you would never guess that’s her background until you see her parents and hear her talking with them, with a totally different voice and different mannerisms. I found that moment fascinating!

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      I should also mention that I’m a lower-middle class white woman, and I completely understand that urge to move up in the world, and how it can lead to criminal activity. Been there, done that. So that’s the lens I look at this show and this article through. I identified with Alex more than any other character, especially once her background as a poor kid whose cheap clothes got made fun of was revealed to me. And Red’s speech about wanting to be the one eating the bread and how she’d been left out by the snooty rich ladies just broke my fucking heart.

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      How would you like to see the Pennsatucky and her group’s white country folk back story played out?
      To make us sympathetic of the Christian hick stereotype that she embodies? I ask this because I don’t see, immediately, how they can make that likeable to me.

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        That’s a good question, but Kohan managed to do it with tons of other characters, so I’m sure she could find a way. You don’t have to make every group likeable, but examining them closer would serve the purpose fine. I just felt like they were there as a joke as opposed to real characters a lot of the time, and I didn’t feel the same way about any other group except for the prison guards.

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        As someone who has dealt with SO many Pennsatuckies after coming out (I graduated high school in rural Southeastern Tennessee, and my parents still live there), I don’t really see a need to defend or redeem her character. Tennessee, which has a massive problem with meth, is quite literally filled with Pennsatuckies. I can justify their assholery in my head (lack of education and experience outside of Hickville, TN, mostly), but they’re all still assholes.
        I don’t know. I get that talking about class is important. Obviously, it’s important. But I don’t think Pennsatucky’s storyline needs to go anywhere special. Also, while I hate Piper, she totally had the right to beat the SHIT out of Pennsatucky. P was trying to kill her, and had been trying to kill her for quite awhile. I’d beat her up, too.

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          I kind of agree with you, coming from a small town in Texas. I don’t justify their assholery as lack of education – living there was hell for me. Still, the murder threats and follow-through were over the top in my opinion. I say this partly because I am so tired of people getting murdered in queer movies, and the sheer absurdity of the homophobia – while often realistic – is getting old and I just want to see more positive portrayals of queers where it’s not all about “realistically” watching our kind get murdered on screen or otherwise face extreme discrimination for our sexual orientation. Saying “it’s realistic” has become an excuse to never make a mainstream queer movie where one of the main characters doesn’t get murdered.

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        I’m not sure I need to see Dogget & her little 700 Club become more sympathetic, but as far as where there storyline heads, I’d like to see further explorations of the hypocrisy inherent to the drugged-up yet acting-super-Christian lifestyle. In particular, a story of Dogget’s journey from surprised, vengeful, abortion-having murderer to in-prison-martyr. She seems to truly believe in God by the time we first encounter her. Enough that Alex’s joke on her really screws with her mind. So somewhere between us seeing her enter that courtroom and see her supporters with surprise, and her dictating a response to fan mail in the laundry, she’s undergone a legit faith change. I’m curious to see how that new conviction of ultra-right-wing faith plays out in contrast to the earlier choices we see her making in flashbacks. And I’m curious to see it continue to be challenged. I believe she may develop feelings for her stringy-haired sidekick, and I’d like to see that get explored. I guess, coming from a rural ultra-religious background, I must desire to punish myself, because Pennsatucky is the character I absolutely LOVE to hate!

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          yes all of these things!

          i hate pennsatucky like whoa, but i think they’ve made really deliberate and fascinating choices with her character and i’m interested to see how that pans out

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          Yeah I come from a heavily religious background too, and I do love to hate on the stereotypical hypocrital Christian asshole characters too. And like I said, there’s a place for that. I just didn’t like that they painted such a character with such broad strokes in this show, because everyone else is quite fleshed out. It seems really hypocritical.

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          Pennsatucky seems more like an opportunist than anything else; her entire reason for going to prison was for shooting someone who insulted her, not because that person worked in an abortion clinic. It was misinterpreted by fundamentalists, who ended up hailing her as a pro-life hero and paying for a lawyer she otherwise NEVER would have been able to afford. I think she’s only had a change of faith based on ego; she believes in God because she thinks God has CHOSEN her, therefore making her higher up than anyone else, which, considering her class status, she probably has never felt before. I think her characterization is directly related to being poor, and how suddenly be lauded changes her.

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      I completely agree about Sue’s character. She’s fascinating and I can’t wait to learn more about her. I suspect she’s even more waspy than Piper but I’m guessing she acts “black” and tough because, well, this is prison and you have to survive.
      On the other hand, I’m glad they didn’t try to redeem Pensatuky’s character because she’s awful. It’s not just the racism, homophobia and bigotry (or the fact that she shot a nurse because she felt insulted), it’s that she’s dumb. Ignorance isn’t an excuse for being evil. Sorry, I just hate the character and the final episode was so satisfying for that reason.

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        I don’t mean Pensatucky in particular, I mean that group of women. None of the other ones seemed especially crazy or evil, but they still perpetuate the stereotype without us seeing their background. I found Pensatucky’s backstory hilariously ironic, and I can kind of see how she latched onto the “protector of the unborn” thing over the guilt of her own abortions and killing the nurse. I assume that’s why she latched onto it, anyway. She may be crazy, but I have to believe she has feelings.

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          i agree with this.

          also, she doesn’t have to become a sympathetic character or anything. the issue i take at the moment is that, yeah, she IS awful, and so far, at least to me, most of it seemed to come across as due to her beliefs rather than her twisting whatever she touches because she’s just kind of terrible. if we got a little more nuance, i think that’d come across better.

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      I don’t think the entire Christian population of the prison did fit into the stereotype.

      If you look at how many characters wear crucifixes, you see many of the Latina characters do, along with Lorna, and Sophia clearly has been actively religious in the past, although her current feelings on religion aren’t clear. Miss Claudette talks about Jesus as her saviour and obviously there’s the nun too.

      Extreme right-wing Christian fundamentalists certainly don’t come off well on the show yet but Christianity as a whole is by no means reduced to a stereotype.

      I did feel like even Pennsatucky had a sympathetic moment when we saw her face after she learned all the people at the court turned out to see her. Her religious awakening seems to stem from her desire to fit in/be accepted.

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        Touche. This is a really good point that I didn’t think about, how Morello and several of the others do. I felt like the nun was the main counterbalance to the stereotype, but it wasn’t strong enough… but then again, I wasn’t thinking of any of the others… not that wear a crucifix necessarily means anything, but it is a good point.

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      I actually was kind of pleasantly surprised by Pensatucky’s backstory, in as much as it would have been incredibly easy to just make her the crazy fundamentalist who killed the nurse at the abortion clinic because of her religion. It would have fit with the character as she was presented. Instead we’re given a woman with no apparently zealous religious leanings, pragmatic enough to know that she is not having any damn baby in her financial situation (although apparently without access to/desire for birth control, if that was her fifth abortion), who snaps and kills a woman out of injured pride, and the religion is a born-again thing relatively newly acquired. She clearly has mental issues, and she is a frightening character, but I thought the backstory put a little more flesh on the bare-bones stereotype of the fundie hick.

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    I marathon watched OITNB as soon as I saw it first talked about on AS and loved it. However, I really enjoyed the questions and criticisms raised in this article. I was trying to organise my opinions on the issues raised before leaving a comment and joining in the discussion.. UNTIL… i realised that there’s 3 WHOLE EPISODES that I haven’t watched!! I watched the series on an outside source that wasn’t Netflix and somehow i was under the impression there were only 10 episodes? This article and some of the comments confused me when talking about the ‘ending’ and now i know why! Because I haven’t actually finished it ages ago like I thought I did. The exciting realisation that I have 3 more episodes to enjoy has made me lose track of all the things I was going to say relevant to this article. So I’m very sorry for this completely unrelated comment… but THANK YOU SO MUCH for making me realise I’m missing half the story!

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    Can’t even say I’m not a fan of this show, but I really appreciate that you took the time to go over this. I’m critical of pretty much all pop culture and agree that it’s ok to talk about the things that are wrong about the stuff we like, and that doing so doesn’t make a person a ‘hater.’ I have sort of held my impressions on OITNB with a grain of salt because I know that at least two of the writers on the show are women of color and it’s rude/fucked up for me to, in effect, lecture women of color how they write about privilege.

    Mostly I was uncomfortable with the way Sue was done, for reasons that were mentioned. It’s like the way Piper and Alex like girls is cute, but Sue’s way is portrayed as weird and scary. I also think Piper is meant to be semi-sympathetic because we can see that most of her problems in prison stem out of her privilege but the tone is like we’re supposed to feel kind of sorry for this person who is suddenly figuring out how things work. I don’t know if this is objectively true. I could be reading it this way because I’m white and in other ways carry privilege similar to Piper’s. I also don’t know if this is something the writers are totally behind or if that’s just the kind of thing you have to do to make a show that’s successful in a white supremacist culture, you know?

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      Sue’s way is portrayed as weird and scary because of the aggressive manner in which she pursues it and inability to take no for an answer and recognize the social cues that it’s time for her to back off.

      That’s not connected to race. If anyone did that, man or woman, you would feel peeved off. I don’t think that portrayal is intended to say that queer feelings from a POC is invalidated or not okay. That interpretation may be taking it too far.

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        Oh totally, I’m behind you on the bit about her not picking up on the social (and verbal) cues that Piper wasn’t interested. She did cross some boundaries in a not rad way. I guess what I was trying to say is that I wasn’t hyped about her character (one that is portrayed as weird and scary) being pretty much the only example on the show of a woman of color being queer?

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          yeah i feel similarly about her being the only example on the show of a woman of color being openly queer (besides sophia, who was in a committed relationship for most of the season so we didn’t see her hooking up or dating). it sounds like sue’s boundary-crossing is probably a result of her mental illness, rather than her personality. i’m really glad they fleshed her out more as the season went on and made unexpected choices with her character. i’m excited to see her next season. our hearts broke for her so hard during that radio show. fuck.

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      I agree, Sue was one of my favorite characters, and I really hope we get more on her backstory/mental health issues in the next season. The bit when she’s cleaning the bathroom and explaining how it helps with her feelings totally hit home. And “chocolate vanilla swirl” was cute.

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    I want to bring something up that I genuinely have conflicting feelings about and I’m not trying to be facetious or ignorant or all “meh, poor white people.” Anyway…

    I feel like Piper is getting a lot of shit for being white and middle/upper class. I can see how it would be frustrating to always see casts of white characters and white leads constantly represented. And then I’m sure it would be even more infuriating to see a character of a different race or class represented in a two dimensional and stereotypical way. While I haven’t had to deal with this because I’m so white I’m practically a polar bear, I do have a small idea of what it’s like to not see representation of a part of yourself (the whole gay thing in my case.) To be angry with these characters and the show creators makes sense, but I don’t see why someone’s life or story isn’t valid because he or she is white and possibly middle to upper class. And I realize that unfortunately this is how many people few the lives of others who don’t scream WASP. I’m absolutely not saying that we have it rough. The white view point is predominately presented in the media and world, but for the real people who fall into those categories, it seems wrong to hold their whiteness and class against them. Obviously it makes sense to hate them if they hold myopic views or if they ignore their white privilege. It’s absolutely justifiable to have anger toward the ones who pretend there aren’t race or class problems in our country, but to dismiss white people doesn’t really seem like a way to address the frustration constructively.

    I know I’m coming from the perspective of a “privileged white girl,” but I also know that my dad (who grew up lower class and entered marriage that way) works 14 hours a day to make sure that our family has what we need and that isn’t something to write off. I think most people, of any race, want to be finically secure so why mock those who have obtained that status through hard work? I appreciate the conversations about how to create actual justice in the judicial system, to acknowledge our privileges and our prejudices and to become more aware of why these systems of oppression continue to exist. But the whole “stupid middle class white people” bit seems like a copout as opposed to some of the other conversations occurring on Autostraddle.

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      I don’t think this conversation thread is about hating “stupid middle class white people.” I think for individuals who do spend a lot of time unpacking their own identity and privilege there can be a tendency to speak in a type of short hand that assumes those reading it have spent time doing similar reflection that many people, especially those in the “middle class white people”, never do. That can sometimes come off in an upset or angry tone, but really it’s about acknowledging the reality of experiences in our country. And I think it’s fair to get angry that being white endows people with certain advantages, especially since there has been constructive conversations here unpacking how people of different experiences interpret what’s happened on the show. Also, I don’t think Piper is just getting a lot of shit for being white and middle/upper class, she’s also getting a lot of shit because she’s so self-absorbed and sometimes down right selfish.

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    I found it interesting how the OP interpreted the final scene. I agree that it had everything to do with no one giving a fuck about her, but I didn’t connect it to race or class privilege. It is right after Pensatucky says, “God doesn’t love you, because you’re not worthy of God’s love, you’re not worthy of anybody’s love” that she snaps and loses it. She has lost both her lovers earlier in the episode. That and Mr. Healy purposely left her out there to die, because he stopped liking her as the series went on. Now I could see that being a thing about race/class, because Healy at first was very sympathetic to her because she was white and upper-middle class, but I originally saw it more just as his revenge to her for beating him by playing the system to get the track reopened and an approval of marriage by Fig, not to mention the awesome speech she gave him in the SHU. And yeah, if she had not destroyed that, Healy would have helped her… just remember that she herself destroyed her privilege with him, partly because she didn’t like him reducing her to a stereotype.

    Also, look at the previous times when Piper has blown up at someone – they’ve really all been regarding someone touching a nerve with something they’ve said, digging into her psyche. 1) She blows up at Alex in the dryer scene when Alex calls her out on being a horse’s ass (remember Piper had told Larry she felt like she’d been an asshole to Alex). 2) She gets all up in Healy’s face with that amazing speech when he says that he knows/gets her, and she did that when she was in a very precarious position with regards to her safety/physical well-being. I read that speech as being brought on by the fact that she is breaking away from society’s expectations of her and is enjoying doing so, and so being stereotyped really bothers her. 3) Then she flips out completely at Alex when she calls her out on pretending everything is okay after Piper finds out Alex ratted her out, because she is afraid of being alone. That was the biggest “hulk out” of all prior to the final episode, and that was a particularly harsh and deep dig into how she was acting and why. So in my mind, her outbursts don’t have so much to do with being physically vulnerable so much as being emotionally vulnerable, especially given that she delivered that provacative speech to Healy when she was in danger physically. And Pensatucky’s “you’re not worthy of anyone’s love” was a super harsh comment that completely resonated with how she was feeling at the time, and I feel very strongly that that was why she attacked her, and with such fury. Before that, she just didn’t want to die, but it was that comment that made her go on the offensive.

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      Wow, I wish I had written this comment. Your comments, particularly those, in the second paragraph, are so perfectly stated. I love when folks can clearly articulate their insights into other people’s* emotional vulnerabilities and motivation patterns…without needing the formality of a psych’s couch.

      *television characters included

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        To be fair, I made a mistake. After rewatching the hulk out scene, the blow up was before Alex asked if Piper was clinging on to her because she was afraid of being alone. But she had just been trying to get her to admit her anger, which Piper didn’t want to, so it’s still along the same lines.

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      I interpreted the last scene the same way–it wasn’t so much Piper experiencing a lack of privilege for the first time (although I think that was definitely a good part of it) as it was Pennsatucky echoing exactly how Piper was feeling, and Piper physically reacting to that.

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    I thought something the show did really well was the memorial for Tricia.
    There Piper was, in the chapel, wanting some sort of official, traditional memorial, crying to Alex because she thought nobody cared.
    And then we get the scene of all of Tricia’s real friends memorializing her in their own way, taking care of her stuff, people bringing in contraband food and booze to her closest friends at her bunk, and Piper coming in at the tail end, maybe finally realizing that she was not the one who was affected most by this death.
    I thought that particular concept was a particularly poignant way to highlight Piper’s privileged perspective, and make the audience question Piper’s view of herself and others.

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    I’m Black and I want to speak to these things:

    “Main Character White Girl seems to be the only person in this prison with a life worth returning to on the outside.”

    I think Piper is an anomaly. Most of the of white women in prison probably resemble everyone else in the white tribe. So, there could totally be a Black version of Piper walking the halls of Litch, but the show isn’t about her. It would be nice to show that, but would it be representative? How many Kamala Harris’ or Melissa H Perry’s or June Ambrose’s go to prison? Probably not a lot. In the same way I don’t think a lot of Piper’s end up there too. There are a few, but I imagine more Pennsatuckey’s and Tricia’s and the errant Nicols and sometimes the Vause’s who get caught.

    So I’m not offended that friendships like the ones I have with my friends aren’t shown. I guess not that many Bryn Mawr or Spelman or UPenn going, quinoa eating, Ira Glass loving black chicks end up in prison? Who knows.

    “How does it feel to see Poussey and Taystee interacting with each other in a way that can be considered a stereotypical representation of black female friendship?”

    See above. Firstly. There is NOTHING wrong with the way Taystee and Poussey interact. They’re hilarious. I interact with my friends like that sometimes and other times I don’t. Minorities learn to code-switch early on. But they’re in prison. Why code-switch? Plus the episode where they’re mimicking “white people?” I mean to me they weren’t mimicking white people, they were mimicking privileged chicks. [Please see Shit Bougie Black Girls Say on YouTube] Because nothing they poked fun at was unique to white women. It was unique to a higher socio-economic class. But point is, they made it clear they know how to interact on a generically American level. But again, they’re in prison. They’re just going to be au natural. And also. Yay to hot sauce!

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    Does anyone else have any comments/feelings about Poussey’s saying that Miss Claudette was “into some slave trade shit” in one of the earlier episodes? What was that about? Was it just another rumor, or was it her misconstruing Miss Claudette’s home cleaning business?

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    I’m about halfway through the first season, I like it but so far what’s bothered me the most is Piper’s declaration to her family and fiance that her time with Alex was just a ‘fling’ or a ‘phase.’ As if there’s no such thing as a bisexual person, and anyone who can have a happy relationship with a guy would never date a woman again. It kind of seemed like they wanted to make some drama with Piper having an ex in prison, but oh yeah they’re segregated by gender so better make that ex a girl. But Piper can’t be actually queer, so make it a mistake-girlfriend she had in her post-college wild days. This may very well be addressed in later episodes, I’m going to keep watching… I just felt like the explanation of the Alex/Piper relationship was really awkward.

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      I tend to see that as Piper trying to make her experiences fit into the hetero-WASP worldview. Nice, rich, white ladies aren’t supposed to like sex with women, so she explains it away as just part of her wild post-college days. In the first episode, she does say to Larry that she was in love with Alex, but she certainly doesn’t repeat that to her family. But Piper’s views and statements about her sexuality evolve over the course of the season anyway. And the real reason Piper has a female ex is because that’s what happened IRL – this is based on a true story. It’s not just a plot device to create more drama.

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      I also didn’t like that scene initially–I think I actually groaned when Piper said she “wasn’t a lesbian anymore”–but after finishing the season, I think that was done deliberately. I think, as Lisa said, Piper was trying to fit into a mold by denying/downplaying certain aspects of her past, which she ultimately has to confront when she’s in prison.

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    The ability to be openly queer is often a result of privilege as well, whether that comes from money or color or other source. Is it possible that we don’t see lesbian sexual activity among or by the QWOC (at least in the first season) because they are more likely to lack privilege and also to experience stronger cultural taboos? Taystee and Poussey would be prime candidates to break that barrier IMHO, but with the racial divisions being a source of protection in prison, maybe the fear of being gay, let alone acting on it, means there was less lesbian activity among the QWOC. Or again because of the racial divisions, that Piper didn’t have the exposure to it to include in the memoir on which the show is based? Thoughts?

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    Please take my feelings on the show with a privileged, upper middle class white grain of kosher salt, but I thought that no scene better exemplified race relations in the prison than in episode 6. The sequence of each table/clique making fun of each other and exhibiting their own prejudices was amazingly well done. Worth re-watching.

    Regarding #5, I think there are plenty of white characters who seemingly “have nothing waiting for them on the outside.” Alex will be in her 30s or 40s with no job skills/experience other than as a drug runner. Morello is waiting on a fiancee who never visits/writes/or talks to her. And Tucky is a recovering meth head who will be used up and spit out as a mascot for the Pro-Life movement.

    And as for Piper’s “imploding white privilege”, I feel like that is such a simplistic take on her mental state in episode 13. Maybe I’m overly defensive of Piper bc I have a lot in common with that character (much like I was for Jenny on TLW – Jewish, self absorbed, mentally unbalanced writers unite!) but to assert that her meltdown was due to “white people problems” is CRAZY condescending.

    Piper didn’t melt down because the commissary was out of Luna bars and Allure. She freaked the fuck out because she lost her fiancee: a man who she genuinely loved and who represented one of her strongest links to the outside world. Like or Loathe Larry, he was important to Piper, and when we lose our important people it sucks.

    Piper also lost Alex, someone who she loved/cared for, and who was temporarily her port in the prison storm. She lost an ally and a friend, and basically lived a redux of their break-up.

    And finally, Piper has been harassed and threatened by Pennsatucky, heightening the daily fear that living in prison provides her.

    Feelings of loneliness, despair, isolation, and concerns about getting shanked in the shower or while you sleep.

    Yep, classic white girl problems.

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      Yesyesyes. I feel that piper is a character that you will learn to love. And she will learn how to be a lovable person. When she first arrived at the prison she was very different from the rest of the group. She seemingly had a stable home to return to, was engaged, blond, beautiful and.. probably at least not poor.. stereotypical white girl. Everyone in that prison knew exactly what kind of girl she was. Or did they? During season 1 we have gotten to know Piper. Gotten to know who she really is. And she is farfarfar from perfect. And I actually think a lot of the other inmates have it far better than her. So maybe their confidence, past experiences and perception of reality will help Piper become that lovable person. I can see it happening, and with that ending in episode 13.. she will probably stay in that prison for a while..

  31. Thumb up 11

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    “so that’s what happens when a white person is stripped of all of their white privilege”

    And here I thought that anyone in danger for their own life would beat the shit out of an attacker. Or wait, is it just white people?

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      ok SO this is how i read that scene: no, it’s not just white people. that’s exactly the point! there is a level of disenfranchisement and terror inherent in having no privilege — in knowing the authorities will automatically think the worst of you, knowing because of your race and/or class/education that you’ll be punished more severely than more privileged people, in knowing the police aren’t on your side, in knowing because of your race that the police are more likely to kill you than save you from being killed. when people feel they have no institutional support, they will often take matters into their own hands. i mean, look at all of human history, look at the conflicts happening all over the world right now! and the world does judge people without power for acting out in response to that powerlessness, and i think this show is asking us to rethink those judgments.

      piper’s first defense was asking healey, the powers-that-be, for help. that’s what she’d always done in her life, and that’s what had always worked. it’s all she knew. it’s all many of us know.

      she asked him for help and he walked away.

      (he walked away in solidarity with pennsatucky, even! who has far less institutional power than piper, despite being white, and would generally not be the one getting support from the powers-that-be over somebody like piper.)

      she had no institutional support. no protectors. nobody looking out for her. nobody in charge had her back. not even her former friends anymore.

      in other words: she felt the same way that most of her fellow inmates, especially the brown and black ones, had felt all their lives. and when you feel that way all your life, you develop coping strategies, other ways of feeling protected or feeling like somebody has your back, other ways of dealing with attacks or confrontations or moments of despair and hopelessness. you might more consciously form alliances with other prisoners, for example, you might even put up with a relationship you hate because you need the protection more than you can afford emotional honesty — you make these compromises that people with inherent power might not have to make as often, or with such severity. maybe you learn how to walk away, or how to diffuse, or you learn to pick your battles. maybe you get mean and bitter and unpleasant to everybody all the time, or maybe you decide not to give a fuck and turn everything into a joke. maybe you learn to fight back in a restrained, measured way, to ensure minimum negative repercussions. or maybe you don’t. maybe you fight back full-force every time, knowing it’s every woman for herself, scrappy and full of rage. and all of those responses are reasonable responses to feeling disenfranchised. all of those responses make sense.

      i think that’s what the last scene was showing us: that many people think of themselves as being above certain kinds of behavior, like beating the shit out of somebody (and let’s be clear, she didn’t need to keep on punching pennsatucky. she went above and beyond. pennsatucky is like a foot shorter and 50 pounds lighter and her body has been ravaged by drugs, so we’re not just talking about defending herself, we’re talking about really going to town on her). but we don’t realize, until we experience it firsthand, the absolute panic and terror of complete disenfranchisement. when all of that bears down without warning, who can say what we would do? what if it turned out that feeling protected was the only thing keeping her sane? piper never learned how to cope under these circumstances, it was the first time in her life she had no control over anything at all.

      for people who’ve never had white privilege or class privilege, that scene might seem like comeuppance, or it might feel like a rare opportunity to feel like, look at how i’ve gotten stronger coping with this feeling every day of my life, and look how poorly she copes with it when it all hits her at once. and that’s okay and completely reasonable and makes sense and i support that. i mean as a gay person, we’re often feeling that way towards straight people when we witness them reacting like maniacs to the loss of a privilege we’re completely accustomed to doing without (but really wish we didn’t have to). for people who’ve had white privilege and/or class privilege, that scene might just seem terrifying or even relate-able… and that’s okay too! and we can explain how we saw that scene, or how it felt to us, without needing to be defensive. admitting white privilege is not admitting being a shitty person, it’s just recognizing all the macro elements that go into human behavior, and talking about them. it’s not our job as white people to tell gabby how to feel about that scene, this is a dialogue, not a fight.

      honestly i think the interpretation of that scene as a reaction to a suden loss of privilege — which is exactly how i saw it too, at the time, before gabby even wrote this — is really extraordinary sociologically, and really well done. yes, piper felt really personally defeated by that whole day, and the anger built up, and the despair, and the panic, but that final act of healy walking out — i think jenji kohan is a smart fucking lady, and i don’t think she wrote that exchange merely to provide the cherry on top of piper’s shitty day, i think it was an intentional decision to comment on things a little more macro-style. it’s not the only way to read that scene but in my opinion it’s the most interesting way to read it.

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    A lot of the cast (especially those whose stories didn’t get to be explored) have said via twitter in the last few days that their flashbacks are to come, as well as more filling in of the gaps in the bigger storylines. Though I am dying to see more of people like Poussey and the full story of Daya’s incarceration, I think it was smart to only show a handful of stories in this season, so as not to overwhelm people. It established the characters and gave us hints at their pasts (like Suzanne) but there’s still A LOT to look forward to! And we already know there will be at least one more season. I’d rather have it stretched out like this than see them cram everything into one season and then have to just make up things as they go and throw continuity out the door (this is you, Glee).

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    I still don’t get how the hell Tucky could be made the paragon of the pro-life movement. Sure, she shot up an abortion clinic, but wouldn’t it have come out that she’d aborted 5 children, and had in fact aborted the last one the same day she attacked the woman who ‘disrespected her?’ But I digress.

    The REAL reason I was commenting is because of the questions of lower-class white privilege. I would LOVE for someone to write this piece and/or discuss this in a forum. I feel like the lower-class white demographic is one that slips through cracks easily because they inherently have white privlege, but generally don’t have the means/knowledge required to use/exploit it (unless of course the republican calvary appears in his very fine suit to coach a TV meth-head into acting and becoming the paragon of pro-life right-wing intense christian women).

    What do you do if you’re unable to gain access to money or whatever you need because you’re either too poor or too white to readily access help? I think it’s also significant that necktat white girl’s backstory is a street kid who doesn’t have money ‘right then’ but keeps a log of everything she’s ‘borrowed’ and is determined to pay everything back. You see her companion in the backstory find help and rise out, but she gets stuck. Why did she get stuck out on the street? Why does she get more lumped into the black crew scenes then with the white ones? I don’t know where I’m going with this anymore. Hopefully someone followed at least part of it.

    Total sidenote: the line “It’s not a racial thing, it’s tribal.” In the first episode. THAT DOESNT MAKE ANYTHING BETTER AND MY SKIN STILL CRAWLS.

    Anyway. I know my viewpoints are probably skewed/wrong, and I would LOVE LOVE LOVE someone to redpen the hell out of this comment and teach me something new, if you’re willing.

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    Also I loved how they kind of f’ed with some stereotypes and expectations with certain characters just based on our first impressions from people. With Alex’s story, for instance, the way they segued into it from the “rich bitch” coversation with Pensatucky really had me thinking that the little girl in the flashback was Pensa-, and not Alex. I don’t know if that’s just me, but when they continued the flashback and Alex was at her rock dad’s door I was like WHOA I FEEL LIKE AN IDIOT/ASSHOLE. Which I think is what the show is trying to do, to some degree, to the viewer to reflect Piper’s experience of discovery in jail. Same with Watson, just from the way she was acting so tough when we first met her (and giving stereotypically ‘butch’ vibes) I didn’t expect her to be a young woman sick of boys being “intimidated” by her talent (which is how I interpreted it, but I know others might see it differently and that’s cool too).

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      The first time through I thought it was Pennsa’s flashback too! And then I saw other discussions and I realized it was Alex.. and damn

      I think, that flashback, less to reflect Piper’s experience in jail, highlights the similarities between Alex and Pennsatucky.

      As if Pennsa- and Alex had come from the same place, the same background of poverty and struggle- one common thread and look how different they ended up. One, articulate and successful (relatively) and the other a bible thumping jesus freak. Yet what made the difference was only temporary. Alex pursued her wealth via illegal means. And they both ended up the same, in jail. I’m not sure if there’s any specific meaning, but I just thought it was interesting.

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    ALSO also I recognize that there is a lot to critique about the show and writing and no show is perfect. I do. But I am just SO INCREDIBLY HAPPY that this show exists because these women are amazing actors, many of them theatrically trained (Juilliard and AADA alum, to name a couple), or have been in Broadway and off-Broadway productions for years, and it is just so nice to watch something where everyone is pulling their weight and just being so “present” (sorry I’m a drama school nerd) and you can allow yourself to truly get sucked into the show and it is so rare to come across a cast this strong. They’re all incredibly funny AND ALSO can break your heart into a million pieces. This is another reason why I’m sure we will see more from everyone we’ve been introduced to (and others, like the Warden) because I trust that they wouldn’t waste such amazing talent (if I’m wrong you can send me anthrax next year).

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      Yes! This is pretty much why I still like the show. I don’t care for the Bermuda triangle of doom (Larry-Piper-Alex) and I try to swallow my bisexual feelings about how the show fails at portraying fluid sexualities simply because there are so many awesome things: The super diverse cast, the often multi-dimensional characters, the surprising story lines, awesome acting and so many feelings about everybody’s feelings (except for Bermudatriangleofdoom’s).

      The worst/best part for me was probably Sofia and her wife. It so damn well written and even better acted. Both POVs are understandable and it is so obvious, that there is no middle ground, no compromise, to be found. And there is so much pain simply because there is also so much love between them. So my heart broke for them because John Lennon lied, love is not all you need. And love alone was not enough to save their relationship. But just when I thought, that nothing would make me smile ever again, the show gave Sofia a moment motherly happiness. So good. So many tears.

      The second best thing are Taystee Poussey! Love them. Ship them in any way or form. (Also library moments are always a plus.)

      MOC women! Who are hot. Or sweet. *feelings*

      The worst/worst thing is Pornostache. He and Sofia. He and Lorna alone in the truck, tears in her eyes. Tricia. He’s so fucking creepy, just let him be forever gone already! I swear, there is just one fictional character that I hate more than him and that is Joffrey from Game Of Thrones, who makes me want to rip off my skin.

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    I think one of the most interesting aspects that the show maybe just hasn’t gone into yet is the hierarchy within the groups. It seems like the white kitchen workers and related folks have Red and the white Bible thumpers have Tucky as their leaders. However, the groups of color don’t have such a strong top down kind of system in place. I wonder what this is meant to say/if it’s meant to say anything. And if there are head honchos in the other groups, if they’ll come up later. Or if the latin@s getting kitchen duty will introduce that dynamic into their relationships.

    Annnnd I feel like for the most part in the flashbacks we’re seeing good people that have done bad things. The only truly unsympathetic characters thus far (to me) are Tucky and Daya’s mom. What will the show look like if “bad” prisoners are introduced? Or how will we be effected if we see a character’s backstory that’s not TV justifiable.

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    I just have to say something…I made it about half way through all the comments and kept reading stuff about how the show “picked” or “made” the main character a “privileged white woman.” You do realize that the show is based on a book about the true life story of a “privileged white woman”, don’t you? They didn’t “create” the main character! I haven’t read the book (yet), but I am assuming the other characters are also based on real people from the book. You can sit there and analyze white vs WOC, straight vs gay/dyke/les/queer (whatever the hell you want to call ‘em) all day long, but the fact remains this is based on someone’s real-life experience. I don’t deny that there is probably a lot of “artistic freedom” added in the show, but jeez ladies why do you have to “process” everything fucking word of the show???

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      There are plenty of women who’ve had experiences in prison, but the one whose story GETS TOLD is Piper’s. Who is not only white and rich and privileged *in general,* but specifically is really, really, REALLY unrepresentative of women in prison in general.

      No one HAD to tell HER story. No one HAD to pick her story over the stories of women of color who’re far more targeted by the legal system.

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    I agree with #6, Gabrielle. Even though there is a presence of queer WOC, I do not see it as a coincidence that all the girl-on-girl action that’s been on the show has been white-on-white. It seems to me that, in television, producers are very hesitant to show lesbian scenes between women of color or interracial couples, even on shows that are specifically marketed to lesbians and women of color.

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    (cont’d)…Like on the L word. The only core character who is a WOC is Bette, who is half-white and, (as was addressed on the show) white-passing. They were hesitant to show interracial sex on the show, especially between two WOC. I think it implies that there is something more offensive about showing intimacy between lesbians of color, which is really surprising, since that show was all about busting through taboos and championing the under-represented.

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      Alice and Tasha were a central couple and very much interracial. They were in a relationship for three seasons and I’m pretty sure were shown being intimate, or at least laying in bed together. Their relationship was one of my favorites, but I may be biased because I love Alice :3

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        Who could forget Tasha or Carmen? They were wonderful characters! As I said, they were hesitant to show interracial sex on the show… Carmen wasn’t introduced until season two, Tasha was intro’d in season three. I take issue with the fact that ALL the ladies of color were “balanced out” by white counterparts.

        The thing about “at least laying in bed together,” that is also what I’m referring to. There is a direct correlation there. The more color there was in a couple, the less graphic the sex scenes. Sex between two WoC was always implied, never shown.

        …I just don’t think that Chaiken pushed herself hard enough to consider the racial diversity of her audience. Like, maybe she didn’t particularly care to see two WoC fully getting it on. She obv. had no problem showing every angle and variation of white-on-white sex.

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          Actually, the first time that Tasha and Alice get together is relatively graphic. It’s not just “lying in bed together.” They’re in the middle of a fight, Tasha asks Alice, “Then why the f*** am I here?” And Alice yells, “Because we want to f***!!!” And it doesn’t cut away quickly. So while I get your point, and agree that the L Word did keep all their queer WOC “balanced” out by white women, they weren’t hesitant with their sex scenes between the WOC and their main characters (namely Carmen/Shane & Tasha/Alice).

          Also, Lena on The Fosters is half-black like Bette on TLW, but she is not portrayed as passing-for-white (there is actually a really interesting discussion on this between Lena and her mom, but I digress).

          And Emily on Pretty Little Liars is Asian (mostly; a couple episodes ago she listed her background and it’s a mix of a bunch of different things). Also, Emily’s first girlfriend is another WOC (Maya is at least half-black, though they’re never really clear about her parents). Though, in Emily’s case, I would agree that they aren’t nearly as graphic with their lesbian sex scenes as with their straight ones (probably due to it being on ABC Family – they’ll push some boundaries, but never too far).

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      i agree montana… there are a handful of examples – tasha, carmen, bette — but that’s like 5% of the total cast, and no r’ships between WoCs. it’s not even realistic, social groups in WeHo are usually at least a tad more racially diverse than that.

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    In regards to #1, I thought Jenji Kohan’s interview with Hitfix where she sorta touched on it was super interesting. There’s a point in the interview where she says: “You took the blonde, blue-eyed girl-next-door and you put her into this world and, you know, you’re not gonna go into a network and say, “I want to talk about black women and Latina women and old women in prison.” You need a guide. You need a way in. She was our gateway drug.” (http://www.hitfix.com/the-fien-print/interview-orange-is-the-new-black-creator-jenji-kohan-talks-prison-netflix-and-jodie-foster) which frustrates me at how true that statement is. That no network would have looked twice at this show if not for a white female protagonist at the center of it. It’s 2013, why can’t we tell stories about minorities without using a white lead?

    I do appreciate that by the end of the season it feels more like an ensemble show than just a show about Piper.

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    SO hot in the pants for Poussey! Taystee dancing for her in the window was one of my favorite scenes. I’m calling that it might be a set up for a falling for the straight best friend kind of deal with them.

    Also something tells me that Miss Claudette’s dude will bail on her because of how much they have made her invest emotionally in him (kind of like Morello and her dude), but I really hope they break the stereotype of the unreliable black male role in him. Not visiting her for ten years while he was with someone else doesn’t give him a good starting rep with me though.

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      I second that! I never really got the impression that Taystee’s feelings were anything but friendly, but Poussey keeps looking at Taystee in a way that reminds me of myself when I totally had a crush on my best friend but still thought I was straight. I guess we’ll find out…

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    I’ve not had a chance to watch this show, but I will.
    What I’d like to contribute to this discussion is my experience working as a substance abuse counselor in a “residential” (as if there was a choice on where they could live) substance abuse treatment program at a women’s prison. The commonalities among the ‘ladies’ is they would be eligible for parole within 3 years and their charge was substance-abuse related. Charges ranged from manslaughter to retail fraud to possession. My clients straddled every socioeconomic, racial and ethnic rung. There were friendships that crossed these rungs, and some that did not.
    But what I really intended to comment on was the girl-on-girl stuff; you know the phrase “lesbian until graduation”? Well there is also “lesbian until parole”. It can get very lonely there and there are woman who will couple with other woman because it’s all they got. And there are the real bonafide lesbians, but they tend to prefer other real bonafide lesbians. (caveat-i’m basing these comments totally on my 1 year there)
    (sorry about the length, yet I could go on and on and on)
    And yes, as I get caught up with the dishes in the sink and the laundry, I will watch OITNB.
    p.s. I googled “pensatuckies” and the only result was this article. :-)

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    Initially, I absolutely refused to watch this show based solely on the fact that the show’s title is horrible and possibly racist. However, after seeing a bunch of talk about it on Autostraddle, I felt I should give it a fair chance – mostly I was in it for the lesbians but hey.

    I was pleasantly surprised by how good it was and though I noticed that the main character was a white upper-class woman and I was afraid that she would somehow pull that whole “upper-class white person saves the depraved lower-class POC” trope in the end, I still felt good about the show because there were deep and meaningful stories from the WOC, even if it was through this white woman. I like that the show shows her class and race privilege and makes her out to be a shallow, self-centered individual.

    Furthermore, I totally noticed all the racism and stereotyping coming from the characters but I thought the show displayed it in such a way that we, the viewers, were supposed to realize these racist comments and laugh BECAUSE OF the absurdity of said racist comments. However, like you said, there is the issue of the Latina women who appear to be the only ones getting pregnant and that is definitely a problem I noticed. I hadn’t picked up on the fact that there are no overtly queer WOC (except Sue, but she’s rendered asexual because she “is scary and not gentle and not a pretty soft unicorn lesbian”), or at least, none who are having sex. I’m so ready for Poussey and Taystee though. I love their love. <3

    I'm curious about their friendship though. That is the only thing I'm not totally on-board with you about. I don't disagree, but I just don't quite see what you're talking about. If you would (or anyone really), could you explain in greater detail what you mean by their "stereotypical representation of black female friendship"

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      Yes to the racism bit. I laughed so hard at Morello’s comments about hispanics, and when Alex said, “Can we get back to Lorna being racist? More of that, please!” I was totally on board. It was really funny, actually… you could see that the higher class/more educated white women at the table with her were simultaneously horrified and entertained by it, because they know that’s just not something you say. Piper’s face in particular was priceless. And the thing is, I got a bit of flack from people for finding that scene funny, but clearly it’s supposed to be. It’s satire of racism, and it was done perfectly because it was funny and yet really uncomfortable to watch at the same time, because it maybe hits a little too close to home and makes you realize that our society is still highly racist.

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      I’m confused as to why the title is racist. It’s a fashion expression along the lines of “Pink is the new black” to denote how crucial pink or orange fashion pieces are since black dresses/accessories are always “in” because black goes with everything.

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        I’ve heard the “___ is the new black” being misconstrued either way. In the case of the show, I think it’s based on fashion, but I did read an op-ed once called “Gay Is Not the New Black” (it was a critique of people saying the gay rights movement mirrors the civil rights movement) where a commenter got pissed off because they thought the headline was a fashion reference.

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    While I agree with most of this critique, and I do think we should be speaking critically about the show so season two can be even better I feel like the show is doing an amazing job. You can’t have everything from the very first episode or season it takes time.
    I agree with all of the comments in the article except seven. I don’t think she killed her because “she lost her privilege” I think she killed her because she was angry at her life and she was afraid for her own life, and I think most people would have done the same thing if there life was in danger and they knew no one was going to do anything to help them.

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    Is Piper really the only one with a life worth returning to? She’s definitely better off than many of the girls in there, for sure. But they state that Larry’s parents pay their rent, and they’re shaky at best. So she probably doesn’t have a place to live when she gets out. She doesn’t have a job. Her ‘business’ is clearly falling to pieces, and when she gets out, she probably won’t have the money to start it up again. And who is going to want to buy soap from a convict? Her relationship with her parents is strained. Again, I realize that we see characters with circumstances far worse like the Diaz women and Taystee.

    But Sofia also has a strained marriage and a difficult parent-child relationship (severely different circumstances, I’m aware). Red really didn’t have all that much wrong at home. Miss Claudette wants out because she has someone waiting for her. Suzette’s parents were shown at Thanksgiving and seemed rather supportive. Granted, we don’t know all of these characters’ backstories, but I think it’s a stretch to say Piper is the singular character with a life worth returning to.

    I have a feeling that if they show her get out of a prison, she’s going to have the same problems the others have. Who will hire me? Where can I get money? Who still loves me? She knows people with money, so obviously, she at least has the possibility of solving these problems. But what happens when no one wants to help her? The show basically depicts the stripping of white privilege, putting everyone on the same level. Should we see her get out (which I don’t know if we will), I really don’t think she’ll be in a good place.

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    Orange may or may not be one of the reasons I skipped work yesterday. We should have a write-up about “excuses/lies you said just to watch OITNB,” bahaha! :)

    Also, let me just add some of my comments :)

    *Suzanne
    I would love to see her back story, too! I thought they were going to show it but unfortunately, they didn’t. I’d like to think she’ll play a very important part for Season 2. I particularly loved the part when she threw pie at Alex.
    Piper: “I’m (still) not your wife”
    Suzanne: “I threw my pie for you” – she said very matter-of-factly and it made me laugh, like, OMG this actress is good!

    Also yes the rest room scene, that was very nice. My heart went out to Sue on that scene. And then she slammed Piper yet again with “start inside out, or (else) you’ll step on the clean,” ha!

    *Poussey
    Man, when she sang Amazing Grace during the pageant, damn I cried like a baby. I was waiting for a flashback of even just a bit of her memory of her Mom because she said she was in prison when her Mom died and she wasn’t able to go to the funeral. I hope they explore her story in the next Season.

    *Tricia
    I got really sad when she died. And her story. Damn.

    *Sophia
    RESPECT. She’s a person of principle and I love how she became friends with Sister (Nun).

    *The pacing
    Man, I love PLL but you gotta give it to OINTB for keeping a very good pace and maintaining a good timeline and making sure the story telling part is consistent. I don’t think I can recall a scene where I got confused or bored. Needless to say, I love this show!

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    Great article.

    I watched all episodes so far, and I agree with much of what you said. But I think the whole idea of OITNB is: playing with stereotypes.

    For example, you mentioned on #5 that Main Character White Girl seems to be the only person with a life worth returning to on the outside. I don’t see it like this. For me, it’s the opposite: once she got into prison, she noticed she was living a fake life. Like a great epiphany. Would she return to the Typical American White Girl life after she confronted herself inside prison? I don’t think so…

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    Can i just say Suzanne? Forever. fucking hate the forced media asexuality of people who do not conform to whichever of the ‘hott’ stereotypes.

    Sadly Alex does nothing for me (maybe because of resembling my ex whom i still resent) and i just end up wishing it was Piper and Sue i am supposed to ship.

    And am down with Taystee Poussey ship even before it’s official.

    Sophia btw is adorbs but again i hate forced storyline asexuality and the boring token non-straight, non-queer, bottom feeding, obv doomed fustercluck which is like pulling teeth and which i have to force myself to watch. Wall, paint, 6 hours solid. Look, Sophia, so many eggs for mcmuffins….

  49. Thumb up 6

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    “so that’s what happens when a white person is stripped of all of their white privilege”.

    THIS! I’ve been trying to articulate the reaction I had to the final scene and I haven’t been able to put my finger on it but you totally nailed it! I have to say, I lost my shit watching that scene, I could not understand Healy leaving her there. I try to be as aware of privilege in my day-to-day as I can I guess, but I am still sort of processing the concept that it is possible for society to collectively give not a single fuck about your well being or even your survival. This is literally mind blowing to me. I am aware this probably comes off as a bit naive, but I hadn’t even realized until I saw her in that situation how much I had just presumed her safety was a given.

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    Another thing I wish we’d talk about is the bias against and treatment of characters who are “crazy”,”mad” or have “mental illnesses”. I’m talking mainly about Sue and Pensatucky.

    “Crazy” doesn’t automatically make you a laughing stock. “Crazy” isn’t synonymous with evil. “Crazy” doesn’t mean you should be dehumanized.

    Hearing the inmates call Sue “Crazy Eyes” makes me want to barf. Seeing Pensatucky locked in a freaking cage in psych disturbs me down to my core…even though I do not like this character for all the shitty things she’s done.

    What scares me even more is what people watching OITNB are thinking. I can’t help but think there are people out there laughing to themselves or smiling smugly about a woman being locked in a cage.

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      My sister is a psychiatrist and she works in a prison and always tells me that if I am ever incarcerated, never ever ever plead insanity because they will strap you to a bed for the rest of your life. “Crazy” prisoners don’t get sentences. They are just trapped there until someone with power decides they aren’t “crazy” anymore.

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        Uggghhhhhhhhhhhh…. wow. And it’s not just prisons. The whole mental health institution and treatment of people with mental disorders. Like, if you ever go in for therapy or psychiatry, they make you sign away your right to harm yourself or even express thoughts of harming yourself. If you so much as tell your therapist that you are thinking of killing yourself, they’ll call the cops and have them take you away to a hospital. This happened to me once, but I ran out the door of the therapist’s room and jumped on my bike and didn’t go home until late evening. A housemate later told me that some cops came by looking for me.

        I’m still alive almost two years later. That would’ve been totally pointless and just enormously frustrating to be hospitalized – imprisoned for having suicidal thoughts, which are actually really common.

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    One of the things i enjoy most about this show is being able to see little pieces of myself in the characters. My two favorite characters happen to be Piper and Crazy eyes .I like Piper because white or not any woman that lives a pretty regular life could end up like her in the blink of an eye. Mr.Healey only likes her when she appears to be the ideal white woman but abandons her when she shows her true colors. There are so many girls in this world that get away with things because they don’t look like the stereotypes you know. I like how she does her best to survive in prison and doesn’t let fear affect her. I like crazy eyes because for one she is HILARIOUS, but you can also tell that she is a smart,cultured and sensitive woman. Ps. I loved watching Pensatucky getting the “lords wrath” served upon her lol.

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    i’m truly humbled and honored by the conversation in this comment thread. seriously, all of you have given me so much to think about. thank you for respecting my feelings on race, class, and the show. thank you for being vulnerable and sharing your thoughts. some of you expanded on things that i wrote in ways that blew me away. some of you brought up points i hadn’t even thought of and i just want to thank ya’ll so much.

    i’m not an expert on race and i don’t think i’m right about everything ever. thank you for understanding that i’m just some weirdo trying to navigate this world too. race is a part of that. class is a part of that and so are sex and love and all the other things.

    because of this conversation, i edited #6 to reflect what I really meant. I don’t think my writing was clear and I appreciate the dialogue that helped me make it better.

    i hope that we continue to have conversations like this on Autostraddle.

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    So I’m a white cisgendered lesbian, but I easily pass for straight in my day-to-day life. So when I originally watched the show, I identified strongly with Piper, even when I couldn’t stand her half the time. And the fact that I couldn’t stand her made me question my own actions/privileges/etc. Which is good. But one part of the show which I absolutely loved at first, I’m really beginning to question after reading this article and alot of the subsequent comments.

    In the episode where they bring in the juvenile delinquents to try and “scare” them into cleaning up their acts, none of the tactics of the WOC or more “trashy” looking inmates (i.e. the people you would stereotypically “expect” to be in prison) works to influence the juveniles at all. But then they leave Piper alone in the bathroom with the girl in the wheel chair, she gives her that really intense speech about finding out who you really are in prison, and everyone listening seems really impressed. At first, I loved the speech, because it showed that Piper was seemingly acknowledging some of her privilege and selfishness, etc. But then I realized how ridiculous it was that the show made it seem like the only way to get through to potential future offenders is by showing them how far the privileged white girl can fall… Like, we expect the WOC and other non-privileged inmates to end up there, so they have nothing to share with the kids that could help them turn down a different path. It just seems so backwards to me…

    Did anyone else have the same initial reaction? Or did most of you call that moment on its bullshit from the get-go?

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    Hey, it’s not OK for you to say that Piper is the only one who have a life that worth returning to on the outside.

    Who are you to judge the “reality” of the other characters?
    Do you do that in your life? Compare your issues with the issues of persons that have a lifestyle different from yours?

    What makes you think that the life of a fucked up poor woman is way worse than yours?
    Sometimes who has nothing is waaay more happy and grateful than someone who has everything and only shit in the place of a heart.

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    I haven’t read through the multitude of comments yet to know if this has already been mentioned, but Yoga Jones/Patty Mayonnaise’s backstory: damn. I feel this way about every backstory with the exception of Piper/Alex, really. But damn.

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    I read this article before leaving for work, and I spent most of my shift thinking about it. That’s how good it was.

    One thing that I had rolling around in my head: I know it might not be that big of a deal, but Daya liking manga? I think the only time I saw a poc anime/manga fan was Kendra in Degrassi, and she was never a major character. Whenever I watch/read anything having to do with nerd culture, it’s always white people (usually white dudes, with the odd white girl thrown in, and I swear to God if I hear “she’s only doing it for attention” one more time I’m going to make Piper’s last scene with Doggett look like they were just having a friendly chat over tea). I know that’s no reflection of reality, and I loved that aspect of Daya’s character.

    Again, it’s a small thing, but I thought it was worth mentioning.

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    The whole reason I love the show is that it shows all of these issues. No . . . OITNB is not a realistic portrayal of prison or of lesbianism. But its a great fable about what it means to be female in 2014. Not everything is as I would have done it but eh . . . I’ll write my own story some day.

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