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Monday, June 30, 2014

Someone Needs to Get This Guy a DVD Box Set of Oz

Posted by on Mon, Jun 30, 2014 at 3:09 PM


Noah Berlatsky offers up a unique critique—and a very deeply derpy critique—of Orange Is the New Black at The Atlantic:

Orange Is the New Black has been justly praised for its representation of groups who are often either marginalized or completely invisible in most mainstream media. The show has prominent, complex roles for black women, Latinas, lesbian and bisexual women, and perhaps the first major role for a trans woman played by a trans woman, the wonderful Laverne Cox. There remains, however, one important group that the show barely, and inadequately, represents.

That group is men.

This may seem like a silly complaint. Men, after all, are amply represented in the media, in major and minor roles, whether on Game of Thrones or Mad Men or Breaking Bad or The Wire. For that matter, there are in fact a number of male characters on OITNB, such as counselor Sam Healey (Michael Harney) who gets a typical guy-plot about struggling against disillusionment and prejudice to be a good man. Why should OITNB, unique in being devoted to women, bother with more men? The reason: While media is full of men, real-life prisons are even more so. Men are incarcerated at more than 10 times the rate of women. In 2012, there were 109,000 women in prison. That's a high number—but it's dwarfed by a male prison population that in 2012 reached just over 1,462,000. In 2011, men made up about 93 percent of prisoners.

So this show set in a women's prison, a show based on a woman's memoir about the time she spent in a woman's prison, the only show on television featuring a large ensemble of female actors tearing it up (but with a half a dozen equally compelling male actors playing complex roles)—one of the best shows on television (okay, it's on Netflix, but I watch it on my television)—this show is to be faulted for not being about... men. Men in men's prisons.

Your complaint doesn't seem silly, Noah. It is silly. Back to the derp:

The few male prisoners who are shown on OITNB are presented in almost aggressively stereotypical ways. Early in the second season, when Piper (Taylor Schilling) is being moved to Chicago to testify in a drug trial, we're shown a number of male inmates being transported as well. They are presented as a threatening, uniform mass. The one prisoner who is given a more substantial role is a black man who makes frightening sexual verbal advances towards Piper; he's a contract killer and refers to himself, apparently without irony, as a "super-predator." He eventually delivers a message for Piper in exchange for her dirty panties. The one male prisoner we meet, then, is violent and abusive, with a sexual kink that is presented as laughable and repulsive. He deviant, dangerous, and the show seems to think that he is exactly where he belong—behind bars.

Female prisoners on the show are treated very differently.

The female prisoners on OITNB were "presented" the same way that kinky male contract killer was. Miss Claudette, Red, Crazy Eyes, Pennsatucky, Gloria—almost all of the women Piper encountered at Litchfield seemed dangerous and threatening, most in "aggressively stereotypical" ways. Their complicated, messy, three-dimensional humanity didn't emerge until we got to know them better. The more time we spent with Miss Claudette, Red, Crazy Eyes, Pennsatucky, Gloria, et al, and the more time Piper spent with them (and, to the show's credit, we don't just see the other characters through Piper's eyes and experiences), the more we learned about their motivations, needs, and grievances. And all of this new info—including their backstories—served to complicate viewers' (and Piper's) initial misconceptions, preconceptions, prejudices and fears.

We couldn't spend as much time with the men with whom Piper was briefly incarcerated in Chicago... because Piper was incarcerated with them briefly. So we didn't have a chance to learn about their backstories, motivations, needs, grievances, etc. But the takeaway for most viewers of OITNB—even (especially!) viewers who've never given a thought to prisoners—it this: Prisoners are human beings who are worthy of respect, compassion, and understanding. And if that's true for the female prisoners we've gotten to know at Litchfield, most viewers will conclude it's likewise true for the male prisoners we only glimpsed in Chicago.


Comments (24) RSS

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keshmeshi 1
...almost all of the women Piper encountered at Litchfield seemed dangerous and threatening, most in "aggressively stereotypical" ways.

No. A few seemed threatening. Piper's original three cell mates (it wasn't really a cell, but whatever) were pretty supportive of her and helped her out a little before her commissary money went through.

And no shit male inmates are more likely to be intimidating and violent. Far more men are imprisoned for grievous violent crime than women are. Is it now considered offensive to point this out?

Is there or is there not more violent crime among male inmates than female inmates?
Posted by keshmeshi on June 30, 2014 at 3:23 PM · Report this
I'm pretty sure Season 2 was all Joe Caputo's fantasy after he was hit on the head.
Posted by DisplayName on June 30, 2014 at 3:45 PM · Report this
seatackled 3
This show must be horrible. I've never even heard of a man being sexually aggressive, and yet this sounds like that is all this show depicts.
Posted by seatackled on June 30, 2014 at 3:47 PM · Report this
Oz was the shit. Still crushing on Mayhem guy from his turn as Brian O'Reily. Funny how actors on that show seemed to be funneled directly into Law and Order and all its variations
Posted by Zbot on June 30, 2014 at 3:50 PM · Report this
Julie in Eugene 5
Christ on a cracker, that guy is stupid. Iron Jawed Angels totally didn't have enough men either. And Milk didn't have enough straight people.
Posted by Julie in Eugene on June 30, 2014 at 3:51 PM · Report this
brandon 6
I'd watch a show that takes the OITNB approach to look at mens minimum security prison, I think but thats mostly because I want to see hot man on man sex scenes. Good luck getting that off the ground though. The one "gay" guy show we have, "Looking" barely has any gay sex in it!

As for Oz I think it was a much less human look into prison. I don't remember sympathizing with them and any sex was usually coercive. So I'd like to see it re-framed using OITNB as a model for character development.
Posted by brandon on June 30, 2014 at 4:02 PM · Report this
"This may seem like a silly complaint. Men, after all, are amply represented in the media, in major and minor roles, whether on Game of Thrones or Mad Men or Breaking Bad or The Wire. For that matter, there are in fact a number of male characters on OITNB, such as counselor Sam Healey (Michael Harney) who gets a typical guy-plot about struggling against disillusionment and prejudice to be a good man."

That is where he should have stopped, because that was where I stopped agreeing with him.
Posted by Hanoumatoi on June 30, 2014 at 4:03 PM · Report this
Ophian 8
I've long been upset that Looney Tunes featured so few non-animated characters.
Posted by Ophian on June 30, 2014 at 4:29 PM · Report this
And he's not even RIGHT about the dudes on the plane to Chicago. There's the threatening weird panties guy, but there's also the bro that one of Piper's seat mates recognizes from the old neighborhood and is almost jovially "what can ya do?" about their respective situations.

Seriously, that was like half a scene, but it was hilarious and heartbreaking at the same time. Those two characters' lives were so fucked that they reacted to encountering each other on a prisoner's flight the same way most people would to running into a high school acquaintance at the mall.
Posted by sallybobally on June 30, 2014 at 4:29 PM · Report this
I dunno. Berlatsky's piece is perfectly consistent with the trend of deconstruction by pseudo-leftist check-boxing of art and entertainment in question.

You know: Unless what ever it- OITNB in this case - reflects perfectly your personal little version of utopian worldview it's "problematic." What ever the fuck that means. We demand the artist, writer, musician, actor or whatever express OUR insecure visions, not theirs.

This is something the rightwing and Christian extremists used to do back in the day when they were winning the culture war and the left were the counterculture artistic insurgency.

But now that the we've won the culture wars so now all that remains is to purge the traitors and find that art or entertainment that isn't perfect enough.

Berlatsky's comments are not that much different than those that, for instance, accused Stephen Colbert for being racist. The good being the enemy of the perfect, as it were.
Posted by tkc on June 30, 2014 at 4:53 PM · Report this
seatackled 11
Then you must like Space Jam.
Posted by seatackled on June 30, 2014 at 5:12 PM · Report this
@11: Who Framed Roger Rabbit is his favorite.
Posted by Hanoumatoi on June 30, 2014 at 5:17 PM · Report this
seatackled 13
Isn't there a tap routine out there with Gene Kelly and Jerry?
Posted by seatackled on June 30, 2014 at 5:43 PM · Report this
scary tyler moore 14
yes, seatackled, in anchors aweigh, and it is wonderful.
Posted by scary tyler moore on June 30, 2014 at 5:45 PM · Report this
Ophian 15
@11, @12, look, while live-action Americans do have their media presence, I can see that you don't take the over representation of stop-motion Americans in animated works seriously.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit was a good stab at addressing the issue, as was that great work of socially conscious art, Song of the South, but it is not enough. It is a fact that live-action Americans are actually a majority, and their overwhelming exclusion from animated spaces is a travesty.

Check your privilege.
Posted by Ophian on June 30, 2014 at 5:51 PM · Report this
Well, my partner, the love of my life, spent nearly 2 decades in prison so now I know a fair amount. 1) women's prisons are more violent. Mostly cuz men establish the hierarchy and keep to it. The violence that brought them there is usually left behind. 2) The notion that all guys are having sex is bunk. It really depends on where, geographically, you are. Where he was (Massachusetts), sex between inmates was considered a sign of weakness, so you went without.

But honestly, complaining that a show which is about women doesn't give men enough attention: cut me some slack.
Posted by phuni44 on June 30, 2014 at 7:44 PM · Report this
Oh, also he caught this show and laughed at the inaccuracies.
Posted by phuni44 on June 30, 2014 at 7:45 PM · Report this
Not enough women in Shawshank Redemption, either.
Posted by phgf on June 30, 2014 at 10:38 PM · Report this
sissoucat 19

The more I read you, the more I love you.
Posted by sissoucat on July 1, 2014 at 2:23 AM · Report this
Right on the money. No one complained that there weren't enough female inmates in Oz or Shawshank.

The Bedchel test specifically makes an exception for stories that take place in all-male or nearly all-male settings (see The Name of the Rose). Why shouldn't OItNB get a pass too? (I haven't actually seen the show yet; does it pass? Are there ever two men who talk to each other but not about a woman?)
Posted by DRF on July 1, 2014 at 6:50 AM · Report this
lord knows women are NEVER presented in "aggressively stereotypical" ways on tv and in movies...
Posted by db206 on July 1, 2014 at 8:28 AM · Report this
Alison Cummins 22
DRF, no, the Bechdel/Wallace test does not make any such exception. If all films, television shows, radio plays, novels, comic strips and so on were all set in all-male environments then we would have a problem. That’s the point.
Posted by Alison Cummins on July 1, 2014 at 10:27 AM · Report this
debug 23
Did the author watch season 2?

There were two main plot lines devoted to non-stereotypical men who work at the prison. The disabled prison guard who got an inmate pregnant and the disillusioned manager who tries to get back to what he liked about the job originally.

Sure, they're not actual prisoners but they're imprisoned by the same institutional system as the women.

Both men are treated realistically. They're good but make poor decisions and often end up being influenced by the system to behave cruel or indifferent.

We even see some of their out-of-prison life, which is akin to the women's flashbacks in purpose.

I don't think the purpose of OITNB is to be a critique the US criminal justice system. The prison is simply a device which allows for focusing on stories and conflicts involving an interesting and diverse set of female characters.
Posted by debug on July 1, 2014 at 11:12 AM · Report this
Thank you, Dan! I read that guy's commentary and all I could think was "what the frack? men are all over the TV screen and movie screen; women are portrayed stereotypically all over the place; and you're complaining about ORANGE?"

He needs to get off his whiny hobbyhorse. Look around. Men are NOT underrepresented in media. We finally get a great show centered around women, and he's bitching because he wants more men. Frack him.
Posted by abrock_ca on July 1, 2014 at 11:49 AM · Report this

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