As a nation of immigrants, American society is composed of major groups such as White and a variety of minority groups such as African American, Latino, Asian, and Native American and so on. As the number of immigrants increased over a long period of time, the rapid growth of minorities changes the racial make-up of the country’s population which contributed to the development of multicultural society and ethnic related social systems. Despite the transformation of America’s racial composition, discrimination against racial and ethnicity continued in every sections in life. Discrimination against minority groups is less direct compared to the past, but still more hidden behind.
America confronted extreme inequalities between the rich, the poor and the collapse of middle class which caused a large separation of social hierarchy that is hardly changeable. In TV dramas and movies, main characters are mostly described as middle class, who are not too rich or too poor, have a professional job, own a house or apartment and often have leisure time with family or friends. Meanwhile, the poor working class has been underrepresented compared to the other classes. American society tends to idealize and favor the middle class, whereas, ignore the working class as if they do not exist.
Media has an enormous impact on social change. It has the power to influence and manipulate the mass; however, the social issues such as racism and the wealth gap are neither considered nor actively addressed, besides, those problems are more prevalently appeared and encouraged through media. Netflix series “Orange is the new black” addresses the issues of races and class system through the reflection of main characters; however, its perspective on races is biased and stereotypically addressed regarding the non-whites. Positioning Piper as the narrator, OITNB highlights the white privilege and contributes to the formation of the racial stereotypes.
Review and Theory
Netflix TV series “Orange is the new black” represents cross-section of American society such as conflict of multi-ethnicity and class. The episodes are progressed by focusing on the happenings between different races or individuals. The characters consist of different ethnicity, the white, African American, Latina, and Asian, whom are the most distributed in America. The characters of OITNB are separated into racial groups and come together to take the initiative to compete with other groups. The struggle for survival seems very harsh between the women of White, Black, and Latina group. The confliction between races in America have always existed, outside the prison, in reality is even more intense.
The portrayal of characters is quite stereotypical. Piper Chapman, the protagonist of OITNB, is from a white background from the middle-class. Unlike other inmates, Piper has blonde hair, blue eyes, tall, and slender. Her appearance is intentionally designed to call the viewer’s attention to her. Not surprisingly, most of dramas and films set a white person as a main character and depicts their middle-class life style. The life Piper pursued was ordinary, there were no such difficulties as others have such as poverty. Piper is also a white privileged character like other dramas and films; she is the only one who is being ignorant of her unearned position. The severity of situation she has to deal with is not easy; however, there are many supporters beside her and she could somehow end up manage the problems with the help and connection with others. In season 1 episode 4, Piper accidentally stole the screwdriver which left her at a loss because she is going to be punished. Piper’s roommate, Ms. Claudette helped her by hiding the screwdriver in her soup to avoid the inspection. Ms. Claudette puts herself at risk by doing so to save her clueless roommate, but her actions to help Piper seems worthless to Piper and her sincere was taken for granted. Furthermore, Piper even blames Ms. Claudette for the reason of giving her stress which deeply makes Piper an arrogant and unsympathetic character. Piper’s refusal to confess makes other inmates suffer and gets them in trouble. Piper pretends not to know anything and waits until it resolves without her intervention. All the inmates are suspected of staying in the area and are even sexually harassed by an officer. Suzanne, the inmate, is obsessed with Piper but she was only using Suzanne to get rid of Alex, the ex-girlfriend. Mr. Healy, the counselor of Litchfield, gives special privileges to Piper. As an example, Piper is elected as a representative, even though she did not run for the election. Unlike the other inmates, Piper got the power too easily which infuriated the candidates that did run for it. This further induces Piper’s character to become even less qualified as a representative, as her character consistently portrays so far. Piper is well aware of her privileges and often uses it as a tool for survival but denies knowing the fact that special treatment she takes is from appearance and background.
Even though Piper is imprisoned on charge of carrying drugs; it is often regarded as a form of deviation or curiosity. Piper is grown up in the upper middle-class white family and well-educated person. Any of her friends or family takes her situation seriously and refuses to acknowledge that their friend or daughter is also one of those criminals. It was just an unfortunate event that happened. It is often recalled by her mother who is obsessed with keeping up prestige. When Piper’s mother tells her friends about her daughter’s absence, she lies that her daughter has left for volunteering in Africa. The mother thinks lowly of the inmates and cannot even stand sharing the same space with other inmates whom are disgusting, unclean and poor during her visit at the prison. The mother’s perspective can be a form of media contribution towards stereotypes of whites as victims and victimized by the minority as they are just unfortunate to be tangle with the crime. As mentioned by Dukes & Gaither, “Repeated exposure to the underrepresentation of racial/ethnic minorities as victims and overrepresentation of Whites as victims may alter viewers’ perceptions of reality, ultimately, delegitimizing racial/ethnic minorities as victims and normalizing Whites as the archetypal victim” (Dukes &Gaither, 2017). On the other hand, an issue regarding crimes of Piper who came from middle-class is lightly addressed and portrayed as the result of mistake.
As a reminder of her status in the correction center, Piper’s fiancé Larry visits Piper every week to remind her that she is not a permanent member of the jail and brings Piper back to reality that there is another life waiting outside those fences. Piper Chapman also tries to differentiate herself from other inmates; however, upon realizing her current situation with other inmates treating her equally or even lower. She needs to realize that the life in Litchfield is much different from outside the fence. In other words, she must wake herself up and face reality and change herself out of the image of beautiful naïve white lady.
The issue of socio-economic inequalities along the races is well represented on OITNB. Each episodes use flashback to reveal each character’s story and background. The majority of prisoners are appeared as low-class. Rather than the white, the women of colour tend to be shown as the victim of poverty, helpless, and problematic. One of the examples of socio-economic inequalities of poverty is the presentation of Taystee. As soon as Taystee is informed that she will be released, she cannot stop worrying about her life outside. Taystee did not have any support to rely on when she will be released unlike Piper who will have a wealthy background to help her. It truly is a matter of survival to Taystee who has no place to sleep or people to rely on. During her experience outside of prison, Taystee could not mentally handle her life outside of prison because of her poverty situation; therefore, she purposely wanted to get sent back to prison. As a result, in the case of Taystee, it defines the issues that the poor experiences once they are sent out of the prison walls. She realizes that being in prison provided her with more than she can afford in the outside world.
As one of the problematic characters of the show OITNB, Suzanne, the black woman who has mental problems, had been sent to the psychiatric hospital in the past. Her return was an arrangement by her upper-class adoptive parents because she was adopted to upper-class white family when she was young. Not all women of colour come from harsh socioeconomic situations. Despite that she grew up with a wealthy white family, unintended segregation has always followed. During her adoption with the white family, the mother always wanted Suzanne to fit in and be successful just like the other people in their class; however, Suzanne was always bullied during her childhood in the upper class. Thus, leading to Suzanne feeling indifferent from others and eventually causing her to have mental illness. As a result, in the flashback to her graduation ceremony, when the mother passively encouraged her to sing the song she made for the stage; she freaked out and kept hitting herself in the head and calling herself “stupid”. Lastly, The Latina women are described as naughty and troubled, less intelligent, and who only care about their appearance. Dayanara grew up in the abnormal family. Dayanara and her siblings were emotionally and physically abandoned from their irresponsible mother. The flashbacks of many other inmates not only Taystee, Suzzane, and Daya display their struggle for life. The low social background in regard to poverty, exclusion, and social isolation is distinctly addressed through the stories of women of colour. There are whites, but the majority is non-white. OITNB focuses that low socio-economic class is highly associated with incarceration
In OITNB, class system is also well represented through prisoners and officers.
The inmates are treated with disrespect and their basic human rights are drastically dismissed by the officers. During the lost screwdriver act, the inmates are subjected to a body search for the missing tool. Mendez was ordered to search through the inmates, but he took this opportunity to purposely sexually assault every inmate while searching. The example of disregard of rights is shown on the episode of the election for representatives of each race. Healy suggested re-opening the WAC to collect the complaints that the inmates have. However, once the representatives are chosen and gathered at Healy’s office to share their requirements, Healy shows his lack of interest in the meeting. Piper soon realizes that WAC is pointless because it was only for staff’s own convenience to not have every single inmate come to him to complain. The prisoners in Litchifield are placed under the oppressive situation confronting power abusing. It reflects that power in the wrong hands leaves a social injustice which makes people feel helpless. OITNB narrates the episodes based on the side of conflict theory. The conflicts along races and the relationship inmates and officers are the main focus. Similar to Litchfield, society is maintained by some members oppressing others, then others struggling to take back their power. Social problems stem from the oppression and exploitation of the ruler, and the relationship between each part of society is competitive rather than cooperative.
From analyzing the series “Orange is the new black”, the majority of non-whites getting incarcerated are an unfortunate choice made due to the socio-economic class division in society; thus forming a stereotype. Contrast to the white getting incarcerated is a mistake made from a wrong decision made in their life. Therefore, racial stereotype must be eliminated because it can form an invisible social hierarchy.