The Stereotypical Christians of 'Orange Is the New Black'
The following post contains details from the first and second seasons of Orange Is the New Black. (Don't say we didn't warn you.)
I love my Don Drapers and Walter Whites, but we were long overdue for a Piper Chapman. She's the main character of Orange Is the New Black, a Brooklyn yuppie serving time for crimes committed in her adventurous youth (based on the real-life Piper Kerman, whose memoir inspired the show). Her story is not, at least after two seasons, a tale of redemption.
With nothing but time to face her own darkness, Piper is no longer recognizable as the innocent woman who first entered prison. Antiheroes like Draper, White, and Chapman help us explore the darker side of our humanity at a distance. Through Piper, we step into a society-within-a-society—a low-security women's prison—in which women are forced to come to terms with their literal crimes and the ways they became the women who committed them. Stripped of the ability to slip into roles defined by the men in their lives—girlfriend, mother, wife—the inmates find freedom to face those choices that have led them to prison and the internal strength to figure out how to move forward.
Orange Is the New Black is not for everyone; it comes with all the warnings of a typical premium cable show. Yet, it's a show worth talking about. Its cast is refreshingly diverse, and its nuanced treatments of race and sexuality have given recognizable flesh to complex realities that can all too easily become theoretical. Because the show has done so well at this, its handling of another of society's great dividers—religion—has been such a major disappointment.
In many ways, OITNB is a show about how people delude themselves—not just into committing crimes, but also into the beliefs that shape their understanding of who they are. The axiom "prison breaks you" becomes most powerful as it challenges these inmates' most deeply-held convictions. But for a show that does such a good job of plunging beneath labels and inhabiting so complex realities, it fails to portray faith in a way that is at all recognizable to its lived experience.
The first season built up to a cliffhanger that hinged on the outcome of a violent fight between Piper and her "born-again" rival who, after failing to convert Piper like she boldly proclaimed Jesus promised she would, declares herself an "angel of the Lord" and stabs her. Pennsatucky is a Christian character unlike any other on TV: a meth addict who became an accidental poster child of the pro-life movement when she killed an abortion clinic worker—never mind that it was because she insulted her during her fifth abortion—and embraced her newfound "religion" by spouting off Scripture and declaring herself a faith healer.
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