By Koleana M.
Netflix released its third season of Orange Is The New Black last month, and it has been widely panned in the internet world. Rotten tomato released OITNB’s audience rating and the results were an interesting 74%. That’s only 3.8 out of 5 stars for Orange is the New Black: Season 3. Many critics claim the season is anti-climactic, flashbacks are poorly integrated, and the drama is lukewarm in comparison to the previous 2 seasons. While you’re free to compile your own feelings about how this season stacks up to the first two, I’d like to highlight the ways in which the third season converges dramatization with exploitation of society’s parochialism towards things that are different, while still maintaining its pervasive nudity; which is exactly why everyone needs to watch and learn.
Let’s take a looksie at some of the societal issues this season brings to light and how the characters work through them.
In Ruby Rose’s first scene on the show as an inmate, Piper Chapman (Taylor Schiling) asks her if she considers herself as belonging to the category of ‘women’ and Rose responds with “Yes, but only because my options are limited”. Rose gracefully and directly exploits Piper’s (and the world’s) need for placing people in gender boxes and only allowing a human to either be a man or a woman. Why do we feel this need to categorize? Gender can be fluid and identification can fall somewhere on a spectrum. Just as we have progressed into considering sexuality as a spectrum as well, it’s clear that we should open up to the concept of gender fluidity too. And it worked out wonderfully that the character who spearheaded the notion of gender fluidity in this show is a rather androgynous and extremely gorgeous Australian model named Ruby Rose. See her self written and directed music video addressing and showing us that she is the quintessential example of gender fluidity here.
This season we also learn more about our favorite butch Big Boo, who also struggled with her parents’ and society’s need to impose their expectations of appropriate gender representation on her, and she fought with this all of her life. She’s a woman who loves women and also loves dressing like a man. Big Boo doesn’t fit into heteronormative stereotypes that the world tries to place upon her. Why can’t we just accept her for who she is!?
Currently battling Caitlyn Jenner for the number 1 spot as America’s favorite Trans woman is Laverne Cox, who plays the character of Sophia in OTINB. Sophia is an inmate and the prison hair stylist- a job that perfectly embodies her interests in hair, make-up, and all things feminine. Her fellow inmates love her, her services, and coming into her prison salon for weekly gossip and beautifying. Until a little tiff with one Latina inmate causes a riot against Sophia and she is attacked in her salon by 3 inmates, cursed and beaten for being a man pretending to be a woman. In speaking with her prison counselor about that hate attack, Cox reveals that although she has undergone gender readjustment surgeries and taken every step she can towards becoming a woman, she’ll never really feel accepted in the eyes of people who don’t want to even try to understand transgender. Preach honey. We may never truly understand a struggle that’s not our own, but the least we can do is try to be accepting and supportive.
In this season, the extremely controversial Tiffany Doggett, or ‘Pennsatucky’ (played by Taryn Manning) evolves from being a crazy meth head hick to a character whom becomes humanized as we learn she has suffered and continues to suffer through mental manipulation and sexual abuse. Her mother didn’t raise her to understand that she has dignity and a voice in sexual encounters, but rather told her to ‘keep her mouth shut and let him do whatever he wants to do’ to her. With this mindset, she grew into a teen prostitute, drug addict, and ultimately ended up in prison, where she continues to suffer sexual abuse from correctional officer Coates. He repeatedly forces his sexual will upon her and then coddles her with donuts and ice cream leading her to think that these transactions are acceptable. The trauma Doggett endures makes it evident that parents need to have clear and in depth conversations with there children to help them understand their bodies, sex, love, healthy relationships and dignity.
White dominance in the work force:
Also in this season, Piper begins a dirty panty smuggling business and employs a band of inmates to provide the goods for sale. Through this business venture, she exploits her workers in many ways and fights very hard to keep her slavedriver position. The moment Flaca conspires against Piper because she wants fair pay, she fires the Latina panty girl and blackmails her to keep her mouth shut. Piper gives her employees an unreasonably low pay, keeping the profits for herself and her family. When Ruby Rose succeeds in stealing the profits- Piper plants contraband all over Rose’s cube and drops an anonymous tip to the correctional officers that they need to search Rose’s bunk. Upon discovery of the planted makeshift weapons, lighters and drugs, Rose is immediately hauled off to maximum security prison just 2 days before she was supposed to be released. Piper’s descent into madness as a mob boss of a panty business accurately depicts white dominance. Piper has been challenged to understand her white privilege throughout the entire series, and now that she is in a position of economical power, she fails to show us that she has learned anything of value. Instead of mitigating white supremacist conventionalisms, she makes it clear that she comes from a historically dominant ethic group and is incapable of leading with a more modest and balanced role.
Through season 3 we learn a lot more about our token mute, Norma, who develops a loyal following of inmates that are seeking spiritual enlightenment, solace, connection to a higher power, and probably the most important thing for prisoners- mental and emotional acceptance and perseverance to make it through their prison sentences. The show does an exquisite job of helping us see what a slippery slope it is between spirituality and cultism, and how easy it is for a person to codify a spiritually operatic culture. It’s normal for people to want to believe in something. An entire level of Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs is dedicated to human’s innate desire to feel like they belong to something. We are social creatures and find a great deal of fulfillment in being accepted, which is what makes organized religion so popular. This is also why certain people have so easily talked others into ‘drinking the kool aid’. I don’t think Norma has any deeply malicious intent with her followers, but she likes the attention she gets- her followers constantly refer to her as their God, savior, mom, grandmother, guide and prophet. And her followers are excited to have something to believe in, someone to believe in, and are relentless in their quest for signs from the universe. This all seems fine and dandy until this cult becomes exclusive, its followers assume elitist attitudes and begin bullying an inmate so much so that she is driven into a depression and attempted suicide via pill swallowing. Whoa. Sh*t got heavy real quick. People can believe in whatever they want to believe in, but it becomes a problem when their ‘beliefs’ are harassing, bullying, and intimidating others all in the name of their ‘God’.
Alcohol & substance abuse:
My personal favorite character, Poussey, struggles hard with alcohol addiction in this season. And I understand it. She’s sad she’s in prison and she’s lonely. She just wants someone to love! I feel for her, I really do. Unfortunately, her character seems to be very misunderstood by her group of friends so she finds release in concocting her own homemade hooch and indulges in drinking it and napping all day long. While this blossoming alcoholic is meandering through her sentence, Soso tries to commit suicide in the library by downing a bunch of prescription pills she stole from the doctor’s office. When Poussey sneaks into the library to take a swig of her hooch she stashes in the ceiling, she finds Soso’s unconscious (but not dead!) body laid out on the floor among the shelves of books. I see what the writers did there. Having Poussey discover the body of an inmate who also was trying to find escape through substance abuse is probably the most effective way to get the woman off the hooch. And all of our hearts are warmed in the final episode when we see Poussey and Soso holding hands, having found what they were looking for all along – LOVE.
So while the first couple of seasons were all sex and naked women, (no complaints here), the third dives head first into some very serious societal issues. Every episode has layers of conflict, exploitation and oppression and the characters fight all these injustices while dealing with the fact their they live behind prison walls. OITNB directs spotlights over a lot of things that we struggle with, struggles other people are having, and how we may not be the person enduring the struggle but the least we can do is be allies for the cause.
And whether you watch the show for all the drama and deep sh*t, or you just like seeing all the naked ladies, this season has a lot to offer its audience – and her name is Ruby Rose.