What ‘Orange Is The New Black’ Can Teach Us About Escaping

Pennsatucky Orange Is the New BlackLike most of America, I have been devouring the second season of Orange Is the New Black since last week, when Netflix released all 13 episodes at once. I binge-watched three episodes the first night, hungry for more, and now that I’m three from the end, I’ve put off finishing it, hoping to savor them.

If you haven’t seen it, then let me be about the 328th person to tell you that you’re missing out on a comedy that’s both funny and insightful. The show manages to open up a very difficult conversation about the state of our prison system and humanizing a class of citizens many Americans have long ignored. The spirit of the prison reform movement championed by Piper Kerman, the woman (and former felon) whose memoir of the same name inspired the show, courses through every episode.

And yet, we are watching the Orange because show runner Jenji Kohan knows better than to bash our heads in with a “message.” Instead she allows it to be a secondary character, omnipresent but not hogging the screen. She has elevated Orange from “guilty pleasure” to “pleasure with redeeming qualities.”

It’s “OK” to binge on Orange, even encouraged by pretty much everyone.

A rare thing indeed … which begs the question, why aren’t we talking about entertainment binges for what they are? An increasingly valid form of escapism? Let me explain.

As we’re getting our enlightenment on an important issue from what is, still, “just” a TV show (well, a Netflix show … have we created a word for these never-seen-on-TV but not on the web either shows yet?), the popularity of Orange also gives us an opportunity to discuss the taboo that is how important (or not) it is that our escapes from the real world matter.

We are a country where only 25 percent of employees with paid time off take it all. We work longer days, and we retire later.

We are stressed, and we need an outlet.

But not everyone thinks so.

Ruth Graham created an outcry when she published an article on Slate last week titled “Against YA.” “Read whatever you want. But you should feel embarrassed when what you’re reading was written for children,” the subhead reads, and it sums up well Graham’s elitist attitude about people’s private reading time. Graham seems to think adult Americans’ time spent curled up on the couch doesn’t count if it you aren’t devouring “big ideas” and trying to make sense of convoluted sentences.

The trouble with Graham’s assessment that by reading “maudlin teen dramas” we adults are somehow “missing something,” is that she assumes we need “it” to begin with.

Should we all want to learn and grow as human beings, beyond the school years? Naturally.

But if Orange shows us anything it’s that what can amuse you can teach you and help you grow, but — and this is a BIG but — the former alone can do wonders for you.

Folks haven’t been binge-watching Orange because they are hungry for prison reform propaganda. That’s merely a side benefit. We’ve been watching because we sometimes we need to escape a world ridden with long days, heavy bills, cancer, and God knows what else.

It’s OK to binge … sometimes you need it.


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Disclaimer: I am a member of the Netflix Stream Team and as such receive free Netflix. I was not, however, compensated for this article, and all opinions expressed are my own.

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