On “Orange is the New Black”

Orange is the New BlackI recently finished watching the first season of Orange is the New Black. This show is unlike any other show out there. It mixes well-written comedy with poignant themes about culture and humanity with which almost any viewer could relate.

The show takes place in a women’s prison, where we learn about all the inmates, their backstories, and what brought them to the prison. It paints a different picture of criminals, as we see how they fell into their crimes. They become more human. We see, because of human desire and emotions, anyone could easily get caught up in the crimes that they did. We’re not so far off from them. It really shows how people are not born evil, instead, because of turns of fate in their lives, they stumble into the crimes they commit.

The main character, Piper, is a rich, white, blonde woman, who at the beginning of the series seems very innocent. The audience sympathizes with her as we see the people around her manipulated her when she was impressionable. We believe she only made mistakes because she was young. She’s somehow different from the other inmates. This is the audience’s mentality as well as Piper’s.

We begin to see, however, that she is not as innocent as we believe. She made choices, just like everyone else there. The way the writers built this perception of her in the beginning, and then completely changed it by the end of the first season is really impressive.

Just like Piper, any of the people there could justify their actions. They could make excuses as to why they shouldn’t be there. Other people certainly influenced them. Many of them fell into the wrong crowds or got involved with something they didn’t think would have such large consequences. But, not one of the characters was framed. None of them were wrongly convicted. Any of them could make excuses, like Piper, but when it comes down to it, they all made their choices and committed their crimes.

Through her experiences in prison, Piper begins to see this and understand humanity better. She gets sucked into the culture there and out of her life outside prison. But, we begin to see the life in the prison is where true humanity is shown. It’s where people are forced to recognize that they are not invincible. It’s where they have to come to terms with the mistakes they’ve made and the people they’ve hurt. Prison shows them their flaws.

Each character is a reminder of this theme. As Piper learns more about each person, she realizes her own true nature. Though she struggles, bit by bit, she stops making excuses for herself and becomes empowered by the person she is.

The end of the season, which I’m not going to give away, is quite a shocker. I’m not sure how it’s going to fit in with this theme and the rest of the series. I am very eager to find out, though.


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