Imagine that Lionsgate Television serialized Jack Abbott’s In the Belly of the Beast, shot it as a “comedy-drama” in the spirit of Mork and Mindy, complete with humorous but serious lessons in life and prolonged observations on human behavior, sans laugh tracks and yuks. Then you’d have the overall flavor of Orange Is the New Black, a Netflix featured series about a woman’s time in a federal minimum security prison.
Jack Abbott, for those who are unfamiliar with the name, was a convicted murderer whose 1981 book about the cruelty of prison life became a bestseller and was championed by those literary lights, Norman Mailer, Jerzy Kosinki, and Susan Sarandon. Prison, averred Abbott, was but a reflection of America society in general. He blamed it for what he was.
Taylor Schilling, whose last major role was as a fashion-challenged and acting-deficient railroad executive, Dagny Taggart, in a skewed, bizarre, and often esoteric production of Ayn Rand’s prophetic novel, Atlas Shrugged, plays Piper Chapman, a kind of conflicted Mindy, a blonde, blue-eyed inmate sent up for fifteen months for drug trafficking. She is based on the real-life Piper Eressea Kerman, also a vacuous nonentity on whose memoir, Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Woman’s Prison, the series is based, who was also indicted for the same offenses.
Chapman is sent to federal prison for fifteen months for transporting a suitcase full of drug money for Alex Vause, a lesbian and an international drug smuggler and Chapman’s former lover. In the series, Vause also appears in Litchfield Prison, a very convenient plot development, because if she didn’t show up to confront Chapman about her sexual proclivities, and to finally “break up” with Chapman, the series would only be half the length it is.
Kerman married, a year after being released, Larry Smith, a fringe writer who specializes in something called “Six Word Memoirs.” Kerman reputedly now works as “a communications strategist for nonprofits,” specifically Spitfire Strategies, which is devoted to advancing “social change.” Given the content of both the book and the series, that should not come as a surprise. Did Lionsgate Television contract with Spitfire for advice on how to indoctrinate viewers? The series certainly qualifies as an engine for “social change.”
And just when you thought that Hollywood could not lower the limbo bar of grunge, angst, grossness, slice-of-life naturalism, and political correctness any lower, along comes Orange Is the New Black (Orange/Black). It accommodates scurrying human rodents and other vermin small enough in character to squeeze under the bar.
Orange/Black may or may not be a subtle metaphor for American society. It is difficult to probe the motives and intentions of anyone who produces such expensive rubbish. The excerpts of the book I read I found boring if not unreadable. I won’t quote them here.
I watched all thirteen episodes of the series, in order to ensure a fair and objective evaluation of it. The hard part was recovering from the ennui of watching such rubbish.
When Kerman’s book appeared in 2011, it was so drowned in establishment praise that it’s hard to rummage through the layers of exuberant and lavish superlatives to find any substance. All one finds is a fork-full of dry cake smothered in gobs of icing. One is expected to care about Kerman’s sojourn in prison. The message is: Confusion and self-effacing introspection are the new norm. Fifty shades of banality are the new heights. When you glance down in appreciation at your prison shower room floppies, you have attained Karma.
Much is made of owning a pair of shower room floppies in the series, because to not wear them is to risk contracting a fungus. But the fungus so apparent in this series isn’t physical. It is mental. It is philosophical.
Last June, Netflix signed a second season contract for the series. It might now feature some Muslims as additional Morks who can instruct Chapman on the art of being human. Chapman, being a white, infidel female, has no wisdom to offer anyone. I’m sure various Muslim advocacy groups have protested the absence of female head-bangers in the prison population. Perhaps Piper Chapman will see the light and champion the creation of a special arse-lifting room just for Muslims, and the issuing of free prayer rugs and Korans by the prison commissary. Just as we do for the killers in custody at Gitmo.
The first season brandished a gamut of virtually every other “minority” or “oppressed” group imaginable in American society today, all Morks in their own eclectic ways: lesbians, butch and covert; a black transgender character and hairdresser and former fire fighter; Christians, tame, laid-back, zealous, maniacal, and even homicidal; Hispanics or Latinos of unknown nationality (maybe Mexican, maybe Colombian, who knows?); various shades of jive- and street-talkin’ blacks, from Obama tan to midnight blue; corrupt and conniving prison administrators, and corrupt and sex-cruising male guards, all white; butch female guards; indefinable whackos of various stripes; and followers, leaders, groupies, and non-aligned female felons of virtually every kind.
Then there’s Galina ‘Red’ Reznikov, the incarcerated wife of Russian origin who runs the prison kitchen and a drug smuggling operation, played by Kate Mulgrew. Anyone familiar with the actress from the Star Trek: Voyager TV series, in which she played Captain Kathryn Janeway, will not at first recognize her, for she has filled out and her faux Russian accent bears little resemblance to her commanding tones as captain of a research ship roaming the stellar voids in search of plots.
Outside the prison fence in civilian life, there is a darkly satirical presentation of American society, dominated by Larry Bloom, Piper Chapman’s fiancé, portrayed by Jason Biggs. Larry is an angst-ridden wuss of a “journalist” who finally dumps Chapman because, as he says at the end of the season, he was engaged to her out of fear, which wasn’t quite right. Double Duh.
Larry has two stereotypical, nattering Jewish parents. His parents question his choice of Piper Chapman as a fiancé and wife. Chapman, after all, is a blonde, Waspish shiksa whom they do not approve of. His mother is always serving food. His father seems never to rise from the kitchen table. Larry hangs out for wisdom with Chapman’s brother, an obese drop-out who lives in a trailer in the middle of a forest because he doesn’t like people.
One must wonder: Why is it okay to stereotype Jewish parents, but not ethnically identifiable criminals or non-criminals? Say, blacks or Hispanics, or Asians? I guess it’s because most Jews are “white.” And, of course, in this culture, it’s open season on anyone who’s white. Or is remotely white. Such as George Zimmerman. In Orange/Black, blacks and Hispanics get a pass. They’re just victims of “the system.” They are distaff Jack Abbotts. Some of them have even committed murder, too, as well.
So, Orange/Black is a racist Netflix series. One can’t help but reach that conclusion.
There are lesbian sex scenes, and heterosexual sex scenes, all lovingly and graphically depicted by a creature who specializes in grunge, Jenji Kohan, the series’ co-creator, writer, and producer. Kohan was also largely responsible for 102 episodes of the TV series Weeds and 47 episodes of Tracey Takes On. Neither of which I have seen, because I gave up on prime time TV years ago as fundamentally unpalatable. But, to judge by their IMDB descriptions, they are all darkly satirical and designed and produced to elicit chuckles while instructing you on how sick you and American society are.
Most importantly, Orange/Black on all counts is profoundly anti-man, that is, anti-man the gender, not the species. There isn’t a single sympathetic male character in the series. That should not come as a surprise, either. I say “profoundly” because without the anti-man mantra, the series would not work.
That makes Orange/Black a sexist Netflix series, governed by feminism. Again, no surprise.
The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Advocate, and other publications – all the usual suspects – collectively applauded Orange/Black for breaking new ground in the routine cinematic flagellation of America and men. That’s the new norm, as well. Read these for yourself.
I don’t think I’m spoiling it for anyone by revealing that in the very last episode of the series, in the very last minutes, during a Christmas pageant put on by the inmates, Chapman is cornered by a “meth-head” Christian maniac, Tiffany Doggett, an inmate with bad teeth who intends to kill Chapman for not respecting her religiosity, for not acknowledging her “gift” for working miracles, and for refusing to be “converted” and joining her little gang of groupies. Chapman, in a rage of fury, winds up beating her to death. I think. Whether or not Tiffany ascended to heaven in her pageant angel costume, or was put in intensive care for a smashed jaw and lost teeth, will be revealed in Season Two of Orange Is the New Black.
Do I care? No. Will Chapman be exonerated, or sent to solitary, or to a maximum security facility? I don’t care about her fate, either.
Why do I torture myself watching this stuff? Because someone’s got to do it, to say the things that need to be said. Because the establishment isn’t saying them. You would expect Jenji Kohan to take the Fifth. But she isn’t. She boasts of her ability to produce grunge. And that is all that is being produced in our culture. Blame Immanuel Kant. He started it all.
One last word of advice: If you want to watch an adult depiction of female criminality, I suggest watching Leave Her to Heaven, or Double Indemnity. Or perhaps the appropriate episodes of the old Perry Mason series.
Family Security Matters Contributing Editor Edward Cline is the author of the Sparrowhawk series of novels set in England and Virginia in the decades leading up to the American Revolution, and also of Whisper the Guns and First Prize. His essays, books reviews, and other nonfiction have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and other periodicals. He is a frequent contributor to Rule of Reason and The Dougout.