Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Orange is the New Black and Trojan Horse Tactics

In a lot of ways Piper was my Trojan Horse. You're not going to go into a network and sell a show on really fascinating tales of black women, and Latina women, and old women and criminals. But if you take this white girl, this sort of fish out of water, and you follow her in, you can then expand your world and tell all of those other stories. But it's a hard sell to just go in and try to sell those stories initially. The girl next door, the cool blonde, is a very easy access point, and it's relatable for a lot of audiences and a lot of networks looking for a certain demographic. It's useful.

- Jenji Kohan, creator of Orange is the New Black

I find the use of the "trojan horse" clever but not heroic. I understand and respect Kohan's use of this tactic. I am incredibly glad that her show Orange is the New Black exists. I love it (and it's problematic elements). What I find unfortunate, nay, deeply annoying is that such a masking maneuver is necessary for those looking to tell the stories of non-white, queer, and otherwise marginalized women of color.

I don't hate the trojan horse tactic of making progressive media. I think it can be a powerful tool, but it is a tool that is primarily used to educate and entertain the kind of people who will be placated by the white, well-off, conventionally attractive, seemingly straight main character. This is important because it squarely aims the show at a white, straight, "conventional" sort of audience.

I guess one of the things I'm upset about is that this show can't really be claimed by women of women of color or poor women as full representations. Non-white and poor characters are featured prominently but the show itself is not about them.

The trojan horse approach to making media is problematic because it does two things simultaneously.

1. In order to be passable to the gatekeepers of Hollywood it puts forth a conventionally acceptable protagonist (white, well off, good looking, seemingly straight) which reinforces the cultural view of who's narratives are acceptable & worth our cultural attention.

2. It panders to the audience of straight, white, well off viewers. The reason Hollywood's gatekeepers give again and again for why people like Piper must be in the foreground is that "it's what the people want".

On this second point I call bull. As someone who has tendency to distrust and dehumanize people with wealth, I don't think that white wealthy straight people (the "they" the gatekeepers are referring to) want to continue to see the boring parade of people who are similar to them dance across their screens. I bet they are bored.

Special letter to the 5 straight white people who read my blog:

Seriously folks, aren't you bored? Aren't you yawning from the painful ease it is to always sympathize with the protagonists Hollywood pushes out? Don't you want to have a protagonist that is viciously different from you? Don't you want to see the world from the eyes of someone the world has insulated you from empathizing with (like say Suzanne AKA Crazy Eyes)? I know you are capable of empathizing with people who are different from you. Can you call up those gatekeepers and tell them you are bored and that you are not as stupid as they think you are? You don't need to be coddled as an audience. Let Hollywood know that having a protagonist with a different race, sexual orientation, or class status than yours will not make you loose your shit? Tell the gatekeepers you're an adult and can handle empathizing with people who don't look like you.


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