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How ‘Watered-down Fiction’ Can Act as a Primer to Hardcore Reality

Welcome to "The Real Housewives of Litchfield County Jail!"

by
Becky Graebner

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October 2, 2013 - 8:00 am
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Sir Trevor McDonald

Americans love reality TV.  There are a few shows that give viewers a glimpse of the “inside” life of prisons but I doubt the majority of Americans watch these shows or would even choose it when given a choice with CSPAN.  Who wants to see the gory behind-the-scenes details of our toughest prisons?  That’s too real.  Instead, viewers prefer the sugar-coated entertainment of shows like Orange is the New Black and don’t realize how real the pain and terror can be inside America’s prisons.  However, despite its script and watered-down representation of prison life, fictional Orange is able to give audiences a dose of real life, gritty America.

Our society puts great stock in authenticity these days; from organic foods, to “less is more,” to the glorification of “being yourself” as the perpetual best policy we delude ourselves with thinking we just naturally pursue truth. However, when we enter our little worlds of entertainment and dream, we sometimes allow the fiction to mask the biting reality that surrounds us.  We, as Americans, wish we could fix our country’s social problems — inequality, crime, and poverty.  Yet, we don’t like studying these issues in order to better understand and fix them.  We like to pretend that they don’t exist and allow their softer, fictional representations to rock us to sleep at night.  Why?  These problems aren’t pretty.  In fact, they are ugly, depressing, and, bottom line, they scare us.

Orange is the New Black is “edgy,” it has some funny writing, decent actors, and offers a unique premise compared to the myriad of crime shows and comedies on today.  The setting is a women’s prison? Unique.  Audiences are allowed to enjoy the warm moments of Orange, but we should never forget their real-life basis, the “reality” behind the fiction. (There really is a Piper who went to prison!)

The premise of the show (women surviving in prison) and the issues that Orange unearths in some of its episodes (acceptance, class and racial inequality) are ideas that we as individuals need to recognize and face head on.  The first step is for some of us to admit they exist.

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