The Power of the Mind: A reflection on Orange is the New Black

I’m not writing this piece because I think my written word is better or more important than anyone elses. Or because I think I’m smarter or more privileged or more deserving. I’m writing this piece because I need to in order to process season 4 of this television show.
This last month of my life (June, 2016, to be precise) has opened up my mind in a shit load of ways. I was having problems at work, I stood up for myself, Brexit happened, the EU might be ending. I feel like I’m living out the story in a history book; this point in my life feels monumental. Not only because of Brexit but because I’m almost done with my doctorate and I need to figure out what I want to do with my life. The only thing I know is that however I end up “making my living” (which life-willing, will be in a diverse set of ways), I need to be making art.
Season 4 of OITNB, a television show that was previously really starting to piss me off, is a game changer.
Season 4 has fucking ripped my heart out from my chest because it managed to convey so much about the world today in a setting that is wholly unfamiliar to me, prison.
I’ve never been arrested, not even close and that’s because I was born into privilege. Not because my parents were better, smarter or nicer than anyone elses. I’m a white, upper middle-class “millennial” who had the opportunity to transfer to a British university and then complete my doctorate with a full scholarship. I got my scholarship on my merit but that doesn’t mean other people who didn’t get that scholarship deserved it any less than me. I do not know how it feels to be systematically fucked over by society, because I was lucky enough to be born in a sheltered suburban town. I’m doing a PhD in Experimental Psychology, but surprisingly, I’ve learned the most about my mind, not from reading academic articles over and over again (although they can be super interesting!) but from interacting with people, getting fucked over by politics and most importantly, via art.
The best thing about art is that it can heal psychological and societal pain. Not with a cheap bandaid but from the inside out. This season of Orange is the New Black forced me to empathize with white supremacists, a macho gay men, war veterans, young white men, a woman experiencing hallucinations and delusions, Asian Americans, Black Americans, Hispanic Americans (from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic), a Polish woman, a very rich southern white woman etc etc. This season really made me realize that NO ONE in this world needs to be boxed into a category (unless it’s self-imposed!!). Just because someone did something wrong in the past, doesn’t make them a rapist, a criminal, a murderer for life. Just because someone isn’t in jail, doesn’t mean they’re not capable of doing something horrible. Organized religion can spur hate but it can also teach an individual and groups of people about love and non-violent protest. The most important realization I had from watching this show is that our opinion of someone doesn’t fucking matter. People forcing their opinions onto others is what breaks innocent people. It’s what prevents people from meeting their full potential.
I’m privileged enough to be in a position where one of the only obstacles in my way is my own insecurity. A lot of wonderful people in this world aren’t so lucky. As a universal society, we need to remember that. We need to perform random acts of kindness and keep telling our loved ones how much they mean to us.
When I was in my teens, I found a FB group created by the Elite at my theatre camp, French Woods Festival of the Performing Arts. It was a fantasy cast of Mean Girls and I was cast as that girl with too many emotions. That stupid Facebook group broke my heart and made me not want to do theatre professionally because I decided that the most talented theatre people must all be selfish ass holes. The only person who lost out from that thought experiment was me, the girl who gave up on herself because a bunch of kids I don’t know were cyber-bullying a girl they don’t know. Well fuck that shit.
We don’t need to let other people have power over us! Let’s make art!
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