So last week news broke about The Real Alex Vause. The character is based on the character in Piper Kermann’s memoir by the same name. And, of course, real life and television life diverge in predictable (and unpredictable) ways. Vanity Fair ran the first interview with The Real Alex Vause, a.k.a. Catherine Cleary Wolters (who goes by Cleary). It will come as no surprise that she doesn’t look much like Laura Prepon. But, come on, who does? Though, they do both wear dark-rimmed clunky glasses. So, there’s that.
Other key differences Cleary/Alex claims from as seen on teevee. 1) They didn’t have sex in prison. (At least with each other.) 2) She didn’t seduce her into running drugs. (That happened before they were an item.) 3) She was not Piper’s first nor last lady. (I’d like to request we see this dramatized in flashback, please.) 4. She wasn’t the only one to snitch. (She says they all snitched on each other simultaneously.) 5. They were never girlfriends. (To which real-life Piper responded with an, “O’RLY?”)
But you know what, I don’t particularly care that real-life and Litchfield-life aren’t accurate reflections of each other. (Though, it should be noted I care slightly more if Kermann’s written memoir and Cleary’s recollection of history are at odds.) I have always taken the Netflix creation as a work of fiction only loosely based on some form of fact. What I care about instead is the world these characters create together. The heady chemistry on this show and potent cocktail of personalities is what makes “Orange Is the New Black” undeniably watchable. I am not in it for a history lesson. Though I do appreciate the tips on how to make duct-tape shower shoes.
And what makes me most happy is this is a piece of entertainment created by women, based on a woman’s work and featuring women – women of all colors and shapes and ages and experiences. It sounds trite to say it, because it is said so much it sounds almost glib, but we absolutely do not see enough of that in our mainstream entertainment. Yet no one blinks an eye at the proliferation of male-created and centered narratives. And don’t even get me started on race.
Never mind, do. Because while we’re peripherally on the subject of who gets to tell narratives and what is considered the “default,” can we have an aside to discuss the idiotic thing one of the co-writers of “Noah” told a Christian website recently about why there are no people of color in the film? Because this is what he said:
From the beginning, we were concerned about casting, the issue of race. What we realized is that this story is functioning at the level of myth, and as a mythical story, the race of the individuals doesn’t matter. They’re supposed to be stand-ins for all people. Either you end up with a Bennetton ad or the crew of the Starship Enterprise. You either try to put everything in there, which just calls attention to it, or you just say, “Let’s make that not a factor, because we’re trying to deal with everyman.” Looking at this story through that kind of lens is the same as saying, “Would the ark float and is it big enough to get all the species in there?” That’s irrelevant to the questions because the questions are operating on a different plane than that; they’re operating on the mythical plane.So, let’s boil this down. If you have a cast of all-white actors, race doesn’t matter. White people are a stand in for all people. Let’s not get distracted by diversity. Because if you cast a multi-ethnic cast, whoa nelly, that’s where problems begin.
I could write a long, and reasoned response to why this kind of thinking is so harmful to accurate racial representation in our media. But instead I’ll just say, fuck you. FUCK YOU.
OK, this is wildly off topic. But this is how my brain bangs around sometimes.
In short. I enjoy “Orange Is the New Black” for a multitude of reasons that have nothing to do with reality and everything to do with the richness of the stories being told and the people who get to portray them.
Also, as Cleary herself admits, “who doesn’t want to see Donna from That ’70s Show have lesbian sex?” Who, indeed.
p.s. More very good news on that front. If OITNB comes back for a third season, Prepon will return full-time as a series regular instead of her four-episode appearance in Season 2. Glory, glory hallelujah.