Breaking Television Show on Orange is the New Black

The clip that I have chosen is from season four of the Netflix original series Orange is the New Black. The scene in the clip is of the death of Poussey Washington, one of the inmates at Litchfield Penitentiary, a women’s prison. In the scene, the inmates are protesting by standing on the cafeteria tables when one of the prisoners, Suzanne, has an episode from her mental illness. Upon seeing this, her friend Poussey jumps from the table and is pinned to the ground by a guard that views this action as dangerous. From the guard pinning her down, she loses her consciousness and then dies.

This scene is completely different from anything that one would see on television as little as ten years ago, and it goes directly against the Television Code that we learned about earlier in the semester. There are many aspects of this scene that are contrary to Television Code, especially the negative portrayal of law enforcement officers. The mere fact that there was a protest shows that there was some kind of negative portrayal earlier in the series (maybe even in the episode) that would cause an uproar in the prison (in this case, the prisoners were protesting their unfair treatment by the authorities in the prison). Later, when the correction officer actually does kill Poussey, he is portrayed very negatively because he murdered her, even if it was not on purpose. Murder is inexcusable and puts the correction officer in a negative light.

Another main part of the Television Code that is broken in this scene is the presentation of cruelty. Poussey’s death is an unusually cruel death. She is constrained under the knee and hand of the much larger correction officer. The scene shows her struggling to breath through her eyes widening and the audible, shallow gasps she makes. This is incredibly cruel and is also potentially quite disturbing to viewers. This obviously against the Television Code as part of the reason for the Television Code beginning was to protect viewers from disturbing scenes, especially the younger viewers that the show is aimed towards. These are only two examples from a very short scene of the evolution of television away from the Television Code, but it shows that television is a changing medium that is moving away from traditional family values.

-Annie Cohen

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