Orange Is The New Black: Is Catharsis Keeping Us Imprisoned?

Like millions of others, I tuned in for the 4th season of Orange is the New Black.  I attribute this in part to my desperation to escape the bad writing and mediocre lemming-like offerings of corporate-sponsored network television.  There’s no denying that the writers of this Netflix series are talented.  They use the dialogue between characters to raise relevant social issues, and their character development skills are equal to those of the writers of Breaking Bad. This show is destined to become a classic. There is something I wondered about, though. Why is it that despite the fact that many of the characters are black, there isn’t a single black writer for the show? Once I start questioning something, it’s hard to stop.

I started questioning the funding, and the purpose, of the show. One thing I realized was that the characters in the series battle corruption so we don’t have to.  By watching, we get to voice our agreement with every injustice pointed out by the writers.  We are manipulated to feel the full extent of our rage against tyranny–and then to experience a catharsis and be purged of that rage when the fictional corrupt sadists are exposed and forced to pay for their crimes.   Once purged, we can continue to blind ourselves to our own participation in, and profit from, maintaining the corrupt system. Meanwhile, in real life, corruption and the sadistic abuse of power goes on, as unpunished as ever. 

I learned a few interesting things about the investors providing the funding for creating the show, too. Those investors are just as invested in controlling the public narrative as they are in making a profit. Capital Research Global Investors, the single largest stockholder of Netflix, is also invested in Monsanto, Coca-Cola, and Halliburton.   The Vanguard Group, the second largest corporate stockholder, is heavily invested in CCA, a for-profit prison corporation, as well as Exon Mobile, JPMorgan Chase & Co., and Phillip Morris.  Both corporations are also heavily invested in the for-profit health care and insurance industries, as well as big pharma.  I rather doubt that these companies care much about social justice, but I can see what they’d want a mass audience to be purged of rage over injustice.

While it’s tempting to view these corporations as the enemy, the real enemy is our own greed and the desire to elevate ourselves above others in status and privilege.  The majority of us are exactly like the fictional characters on the show who succumb to the temptation to abuse power for personal profit and pleasure.  Like the character Linda, who never visits a prison to avoid knowing exactly what makes her life of privilege possible, most of us don’t want to know what makes ours possible, either.  The primary message of #OITNB seems to be that is resistance to power, no matter how corrupt and sadistic, is ultimately futile.  

With the advent of nuclear weapons, drones, and germ warfare, it’s probably true that there will never be another successful violent revolution.  However, many of the atrocities being committed in the world that make us need cathartic entertainment to escape reality are the result of our collective agreement to fund them with taxes. Others are the result of our blind investments in retirement funds and 401Ks with the expectation of guaranteed returns.  The truth is that the only thing that can guarantee a return on an investment is brute force–like war or slave labor produced by mass incarceration.

Wall Street is merely a collective of individuals.  The potential for corruption and abuse by any collective increases exponentially when it is backed by government force. It is that force that separates corrupt vulture capitalism from cooperative, mutually beneficial venture capitalism.  The only kind of revolution that could possibly produce lasting positive change will begin when people become willing to answer a single question publicly and honestly.

What’s in your portfolio?

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