Sunday, September 15, 2013

Orange is the New Black

Hopper and I finally got a chance to hop on the bandwagon with everyone else and watch Orange is the New Black.

I think we made it about 10 minutes.

Naked women and people sitting on the toilet doesn't make a show edgy. And if you need to work that hard, I don't need to waste my time watching.

Also, I agree with Merrill Streep: nudity is not acting.

Look, I'm sure that it's a faithful representation of life in prison. Probably you see a lot of naked women in the shower if you're a woman in prison. And I don't doubt that the night before she went to prison, Piper Kerman sat on her toilet and cried. That's a real thing people do. But there's a reason I stay out of prison.

I wanted to watch Orange is the New Black because I was moved by Piper Kerman's story on The Moth Podcast. You can listen to it here. But that story was great because it made me feel like I was there. I could understand in a small way what it felt like to be in prison through listening to a story about the small problems Kerman experienced. Understanding the day-to-day troubles that Kerman experienced in prison allowed me to relate to her.

A story like that is a kind of art.

You know what's not art? Real life. If the women are actually naked and talking about each other's bodies, it's not art. It's just criticism of women's bodies. Art, even documentary, has to offer the viewer a chance to make a leap. It takes you to the place where you can insert your own connection. And while I can relate to sitting on the toilet crying, when I see someone doing it, panties down and snot flowing, I feel like a voyeur, not a viewer.

Sometimes art puts us in that position, so that we can confront our own status of privilege or entitlement or otherness. I'm never a fan of that kind of art, but it has its place. But in this case, we are meant to relate to Piper's character: she is the white, middle-class woman who unexpectedly finds herself in prison with women of color, career criminals, and others who appear to be profoundly different from herself. In The Moth story, we are brought into the experience of life in prison precisely because we relate to Piper and she speaks our language. When she describes her experience, we can imagine what it would be like for us, because Piper appears to be just like someone we might know.

But I don't watch my friends crying on toilets. At least, not with their pants off. And if they'd done the shower scene that starts the first episode without showing any nudity, I would have been sincerely uncomfortable, but I would have been uncomfortable while relating to the characters. Instead, I was doing a double-take, then wondering if Hopper was sexualizing the women, then judging their bodies, then wondering what woman wraps a towel around her waist.

All of that took me out of the story. It separated me from the characters, because I could only think about the actors and their nakedness. I wondered about the purpose of the choice and the impact it was supposed to have on me and I was profoundly uncomfortable, but not because I was imagining what it would be like to shower in prison. Instead, I was uncomfortable because I felt like a voyeur inappropriately viewing women in the shower.

That's not art. Art is supposed to connect you to something: this separated me from itself. It's a shame. I think Piper Kerman probably has some more interesting stories to tell, but I won't be watching them.

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