The Cultural Significance of Orange Is the New Black in the Week of the EU Referendum
Unless you haven’t browsed the web or picked up a newspaper in the last two weeks, a frightening breeze of hostility is touching the skin of millions in Britain. Our Facebook newsfeeds are a swamp of reports on hatred and murder, scaremongering and lies. We are becoming boldly segregated by our politics, allowing ourselves to become dehumanised. No longer are we identified by our names, but our democratic freedom to favour or disaffiliate from the European Union. And all of this just so happens to occur when Orange Is the New Black – perhaps one of the most iconic Netflix original series – returns for its fourth season.
Can such a popular, often light-hearted US TV show allow our nation to reflect upon our own culture during a time of nihilism and uncertainty? We are certainly no stranger to the women’s prison drama, just take a look at the popularity of Prisoner: Cell Block H (1979-1986; rebooted in 2013 as Wentworth) or ITV’s Bad Girls (1999-2006). And yet, OITNB stresses certain themes – predominant in its most recent season – that similar shows have only vaguely addressed, or failed to acknowledge entirely.
OITNB is often applauded for its progressive representation of race in America; ‘progressive’ being a term that is embarrassing to still be using after 6 decades of fighting for human rights and liberation. In the latest season, racial “tribes” are present again with a divide between Black American inmates and Latin American inmates. However, this divide is now greatly shaken by a ghastly white supremacism, newly found by inmates with “pride” of their white Western heritage. This storyline just so happens to correlate with an ugly right-wing rhetoric in American politics that claims to “make America great again”. But, apply this to certain publicity in the campaign for Britain to leave the EU, and the storyline just so happens to correlate with the times of our own culture.
“CONTROL OUR BORDERS” people shout as propaganda comes through the letterbox, false headlines printed on the tabloids. “THERE’S NO ROOM” they plead from market towns dominated by white Britons. “WE NEED TO BE SAFE FROM TERRORISM” they stress, failing to identify the murder of Jo Cox MP for what it has since proven to be; only applying certain race to acts of terror.
What about love?
White supremacism may flood the latest season of OITNB, but does it stop an entire community from functioning and seeing beyond heritage? Interracial relationships bloom to be sweet and heart-warming; true friendships fail to acknowledge the colour of skin; those with “pride” who are full of hate still let their guard down, occasionally revealing hearts that acknowledge people for what they are: people, not race.
This referendum is becoming ugly, just like the racial divisions at Litchfield Penitentiary. Put aside our cultural differences, we all have names and characteristics that make us the individuals that we are. We understand in a civilised society that racism is morally wrong, and yet reports seem to categorise immigrants – human beings with a right to freedom – as herds of animals. Whilst this all happens stigmatisation of citizens in our own democratic nation is occurring. Violent argument has been favoured over reason as individuals simply become known as “those who want to leave” and “those who want to remain”. If jailed criminals in Orange Is the New Black can put their differences aside and show human compassion, then why are we not primarily doing so in this debate?