what if the worlds/were a series of steps/what if the steps/joined back at the margin

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Caitlyn Jenner Learns To Come As She Is

On the fifth episode of “I Am Cait”, she grows more into her identity as a transgender woman in a world that is not always welcoming and goes to her first pride parade to represent the “t”: transgender. As the series has highlighted, for some this issue is literally life or death because of the misunderstanding and hostility directed at transgender people. For Cait, some of her male friends aren’t calling her back, and her family is a little distant, but the transcommunity has welcomed her with open arms. It is necessary for transgender people to have each other’s backs, because the world at large pulls shit like this:transphobic

Do you see why it’s funny? Because its a man dressed in drag impersonating a trans woman! Oh my god its so hilarious because she used to be a man! Don’t you get it?! The Vanity Fair cover is in the shot, just in case you don’t see it.

Yes, I get it. No, its not funny. Not even a little. Its demeaning and humiliating and says to trans people, “be afraid because your identity is not valid and we will make fun of you”. Making fun in some cases could be the least of a trans persons problem when attitudes such as this Halloween costume start cropping up. Someone might get the cool idea that maybe trans people deserve violence because they aren’t “really” a man or a woman.  Someone might get the idea that its okay to kill a trans person because they got aroused by the trans person and can’t handle what that might mean about their identity. In reality, it means nothing to their identity. If a woman is sexually arousing and happens to be trans, being attracted to that woman has no bearing on one’s sexual orientation (ex. I’m not a fag!). This is dangerous because it puts trans people in a constantly vulnerable position so that coming as who they are is made into a potentially dangerous feat. There is a lot of valid fear for trans people, they are much more likely to face job discrimination (which is totally legal), violence, and murder.

In “I Am Cait”, she learned in this episode that there was a bulletin put out outlining the correct ways to write about Cait’s transition when it first happened for the media. It was viewed 200,000 times in twenty-four hours. There are people who are willing to work with trans people to facilitate their new identities. But there is a lot standing in the way also. That wasn’t the only Halloween costume, this one does a really interesting job of making fun of Caitlyn:


DON’T YOU GET IT?! It’s Caitlyn in her Olympic winning ensemble with a sash saying “Call Me Caitlyn” because shes really a man! Hahahaha. She’s just like any other dude in a dress, she’s in drag and pretending. Once a man always a man.

These are dangerous sentiments. These are the sort of attitudes that get people killed. These “jokes” go from private whispering of friends to a hateful group targeting an individual. The more these attitudes are tolerated and embraced, the more severe consequences for transpeople. The consequences for transpeople can already be severe without having to see public displays of humiliation aimed at one’s identity.

One of the focuses of this episode was Cait getting her “straight guy friends” to return her calls and meet up with her. In an awkward scene, Cait goes to the hobby helicopter shop her pal Sergio runs. In all honesty of the scene, Sergio clearly does not know what to think of Cait’s transition. Cait makes jokes, that “nothings different with me”, playing off her obvious transition, and Sergio clearly doesn’t relate to Cait as he did to Bruce. Bruce was a man and that was simple, Cait’s identity is more complex. He and his coworker are welcoming and Sergio goes with the “whatever makes her happy” line of thinking, but one wonders if this was not on television how Sergio would have reacted in real life. Would he have been still goofily trying to accept it, or would he be more standoffish? Its hard to tell since the cameras have whats called a Heisenberg effect: matter changes simply by a person observing it. A situation changes when the subjects know that they are being observed.

This leads into the second part of the episode where Cait goes to a gay pride parade. It is explained to the audience that historically gay men and trans women have had a tense relationship, that some gay men did not accept trans women as “fully human”. It is all rainbows and smiles when Cait is received, her name even chanted by the crowd. If E! cameras were not following her, what would Cait’s experience be like coming out? Would it have been more lonely, without episodic necessity to insert people like Kate Bornstein into her life for ratings? Cait has admitted that her family has been distant, and one wonders what the lack of cameras would have produced in her life.

Transpeople can sometimes have difficulty feeling like they have a place in the world. Outcasted by the heteronormative gender binary, there is little room for a population so small to declare itself legitimate. The Heisenberg effect of Caitlyn Jenner’s transition can be positive for the public, indeed E! and Caitlyn are working to show the normalcy of transpeople. Cait often remarks about how she has meet all these transpeople “who are just so normal”. This is important for the public to see because like the Halloween outfits above, transgenderism in the public mind is distorted and uninformed. Some people say that they simply do not care because it does not effect them, but in reality, they may know a transperson and be completely unaware of it. Would they like it if someone treated that person in their life like a pariah for any other reason? Why should transgenderism be different? That is the sentiment “I Am Cait” is trying to get across.

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Caitlyn Jenner’s Reality Check

I have been following the “I Am Cait” television show because it is a historic event in transgender history and I want to be privy to it. With all forms of media, there are major pitfalls, “I Am Cait” can be excessive in reality television silliness and narrated dramatic plotlines, but the overall themes of “I Am Cait” that include self-acceptance and overall acceptance for the trans community work to accomplish counter-balance its necessary Hollywood glamour. In the third episode of “I Am Cait”, Caitlyn Jenner gets a reality check about what her new identity means.

Transitioning from one gender to another is an extreme experience that requires patience and time. One thing that has come up several times in this episode and the last is how Caitlyn’s voice is still that of Bruce and how much it bothers her. The trans women Caitlyn spends time with encourage her to accept her voice, that it is a part of her trans identity and is legitimate, that she is no less a woman because she has a deep voice. “You’re allowed to be both,” the women tell her. The other curious aspect of Caitlyn’s new identity is one of keeping her responsibilities to her children and fulfilling her role to them as a father. Despite being a woman she is still a father, a concept that heteronormativity surely despises. However, Caitlyn expresses desires to continue being a good father throughout her transition. Unfortunately, the audience has only seen her daughter Kylie for a short bit during the first episode, and her step-daughter Kim Kardashian. Otherwise, the family is absent. It is unclear if this is intentional on the part of the producers or if it is due to Caitlyn’s family not being as accepting as she would like. Certainly, familial alienation is a theme of the show that is explored.

The subject of sexuality also comes up in this episode. Trans sexuality is a subject that is widely curious to many people and speculated about often. People who are not used to the idea of transgenderism might fetishize trans sexuality because of the non-binary nature of it. If a woman has a penis, how does she have sex? Who would want to have sex with a woman with a penis? These are questions that the heteronormative world seems squeamish about. In Caitlyn’s world, she says she has no time to think about an orgasm at this moment, which is a very valid sentiment given the hyper new nature of her life. Caitlyn also makes an interesting heteronormative statement about sexuality, saying that she would feel more effeminate with a man in a romantic relationship. It is an interesting utterance from a person whose sexuality could change just as much as their gender, especially when she admits to “appreciation for the male form”.

This is important coming from a person who is under media scrutiny. Caitlyn Jenner is the new Christine Jorgenson, the original transwoman who was plagued by Hollywood tabloids after her transition. Jorgenson was a World War Two veteren, causing the sensationalism of her 1950’s transition to be even more pronounced.


Jorgensen transitioned in Copenhagen, Denmark, originally intending to go to Sweden for the surgery however she found a doctor in Copenhagen who helped her. A new woman from a WW2 G.I. was too sensationalist a story for the American media to not pick up and run with. She was ridiculed in the press, widely misunderstood but tried to work with the media by authorizing a movie about her life. Unfortunately, The Christine Jorgensen Story is a product of its time and is itself a work of heteronormative solipsism, including homophobic sentiments. However, she did not fade away. She started speaking at colleges about her experience as a transwoman, became an entertainer, and was featured on a Danish documentary about transpeople. Sadly, her personal life suffered as the result of being trans and she was never able to marry because her birth certificate listed her as male, thwarting all marriage attempts. Like Caitlyn Jenner, Christine Jorgensen refused to let misunderstanding stand in the way of her accomplishments to better the world for transpeople.

Another very important subject that was raised on the third episode was the fact that there is no legal protection against discrimination against trans people in the United States. As it stands now, any trans person in the United States can loose their job or their housing because of their status as a trans person. The beginning of the episode starts with a circle of transwomen recounting their past experiences of the beginning of their transition, and many could not find legal work and instead had to choose to do sex work. This is a constant theme in “I Am Cait” and one that cannot be stressed enough: because of the legal and social restrictions put in place against trans identities, trans people must choose to make unsafe decisions in order to survive. This is unacceptable as a societal practice. Transpeople on their own do not threaten anyone; they are simply people with a non-binary conforming identity, but this fact threatens a power structure that benefits certain individuals over others. This then leads to individual transpeople being put in positions of vulnerability such as having to do sex work. While sex work should not be shamed or looked down upon, because of its illegal status, it is work that can be dangerous, and therefore avoided. However, with little other options to get food and housing, many transwomen turn to this form of work. “I Am Cait” isn’t sure what  to do with this fact other than exploit it, unfortunately. There is little discussion about how alternatives could be found for these women. When one of the women who had done sex work expresses a desire to go to nursing school, Cait decides that she will pay for nursing school and give this woman her dream. However, this is where the show gets very Hollywood-y and not realistic. For most transpeople, there is no Caitlyn Jenner fairy godmother who will heal your trans-wounds with money. There are deep scars and a dearth of hurt. There is isolation and pain. If the show wants to accomplish more than putting a band-aid on a bullet wound, it will have to find a genuine outlet for the type of work Caitlyn wants to accomplish, such as putting together a foundation or organizing a scholarship for trans-youth or setting up a homeless shelter.

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Caitlyn Jenner’s Ignorance Problem

People who are transgender have lived very diverse lives because they have either lived as both genders, a combination of genders, or an ambiguity of gender. If a person had spent most of their life classified as male or masculine and then goes on to transform into a very feminine version of womanhood, then they are going to carry the experiences they had as male over to their experience after their transition. In other words, changing a person’s gender does not entirely change who a person is despite undergoing a massive identity change.

On the second episode of “I Am Cait”, Caitlyn gets introduced to a bunch of important trans women. This is presented like the new girl getting invited to the sleepover for the first time. By this point, the enormity of Cait’s privilege is astounding. She has a lot of cash, a lot of employees and advisers, and a lot of PR persons working on her image. She is more powerful than the average person by many levels of magnitude, and has the power to represent the trans community to the greater world because of her notoriety. This is a heavy burden. She must do it right because people’s lives are depending on it, a point she made in the first episode. But by the second, it is revealed that this might pose more of a problem because of who Bruce Jenner was versus who Caitlyn is capable of becoming.

Trans identities are both inherent and forged, natural and created, just like all other personalities. Experiences that shape us to peruse a perspective on the world are defining and important to a persons disposition. While Caitlyn was still Bruce, she achieved incredible feats in the athletic and celebrity world, fame and fortune were brought, and public scrutiny was applied. When she was married to Kris Kardashian, she raised her children in front of a camera and exposed a failing marriage to the world. Her political views are right wing, supporting isolation and boot-strap mentalities just like how her experiences could have shaped her to have these views. The old “if-I-can-do-it-anyone-can” is a very seductive mentality. To Caitlyn, all anyone has to do is work hard and they’ll get what they deserve. But most of us know, the world does not work like that. Not even a little sometimes, at points when a person is working so hard but so down on their luck that literally the worst thing in the world is happening to them. And this happens often to trans youth, the cost of being one’s own self, pursuing one’s own identity, has come at such a massive cost that they have lost everything, have no food, no where to live, no money, and are living on the streets. There are no bootstraps in this situation. There is only help to be taken.

This situation comes up in an awkward scene with the trans girls. These women are advocates and old timers, they have been transgender for a long time and have worked to make the world a better place for their brethren. They are gathered around, sharing cheese and wine, and the topic of the hardships on transpeople comes up. Caitlyn voices her right wing perspective that “handouts” will only harm people in need, to which all the women are visibly repulsed by. They are seeing Caitlyn for who she really is, the summation of experiences that makes up this person, the person who is beyond the gender or identity.

Fame is a process of isolation. There needs to be the presence of enigma with fame, of superficial royalty; fame is a cage. Caitlyn Jenner has been isolated from the trans community. Jennifer Finney Boylan says, “she wants to be our savior…but sometimes I’m not sure what gets through to her”. Boylan is the author of She’s Not There: Life in Two Genders and is a major trans rights advocate. On top of being away from an already isolated community, Caitlyn has been away from what could be called “normal people”. These trans women were part of some of the first hormone distribution underground scenes, or being part of drag scenes, or having to do sex work in order to pay for surgery. This is the most poignant moment of the episode because Caitlyn’s disconnect from a real person sharing their story about sex work was so telling of her overall suffering from general isolation. The best she could do was relay a book the person should read, Redefining Realness by Janet Mock. Its almost like for Caitlyn, these stories are abstractions, they aren’t real. Many things aren’t real to the rich and famous because of how insulated their worlds are; poverty, war, other economic hardships.

Its important to remember that Caitlyn Jenner is an executive producer and has control over the content. She is a major reality star, a person with star power who is not going to be portrayed audaciously by networkers but instead is going to be a part of crafting her appearance and image on her reality series. Jenner is making a very strategic decision to reveal her ignorance problem and expose the negativity associated with it. If she is going to take on the massive task of representing the trans community as the first major celebrity to transition in their lifetime, someone whose gender is actually tied to their success, then she needs to be real and honest about what her limitations are and how to improve on those limitations.

This is a big undertaking for any televisions series, but especially a reality television show. “I Am Cait” dropped fifty percent in audience size for the second episode, which unfortunately makes sense. It is a little difficult to peg who the program is for. On one hand, transwomen yes. But Caitlyn’s immense amount of privilege might get in the way of making “I Am Cait” a desirable program for struggling transwomen. Celebrity culture people, sure, but is this a topic they are interested enough in to tune in for one hour per week? Because of the marginalization of transpeople, “I Am Cait” is struggling with an audience problem as well, which again unfortunately makes sense. Instead of striving for ratings and audience numbers, perhaps “I Am Cait” should accept what it is: a one season documuseries about a rich and famous transwoman working to help the trans community.

If the producers of “I Am Cait” can continue the thread of exposing Caitlyn’s ignorance problem, then this television series could actually amount to something positive for the trans community. Obviously, the flashy money and hot shots that are nearly pornographic of Malibu take away from the positive feeling about a show where the protagonist is a part of a traditionally broke community. The California landscape porn shots are for the celebrity people, not the queer people. However, it is reasonable to expect limitations on what “I Am Cait” can accomplish for the trans community on the account of who Caitlyn Jenner is and what she is willing to accept about the world.

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“I Am Cait”‘s Version of Reality

Caitlyn Jenner is a transgender superstar who is now famous for at least three distinct reason. First, as her birth gender, Caitlyn became an Olympic champion in the 1976 men’s decathlon and notably set a world record. Secondly, she was married to Kardashian matriarch Kris Kardashian and was part of E!‘s Keeping Up With The Kardashians. Now, thirdly, she has become a transgender superstar and has become the transgender “it girl” of the moment. Her Vanity Fair cover was massively important for transgender recognition and legitimization, and now she is the star of her own E! reality show, I Am Cait.

I am always skeptical about reality television because it is staged and a very odd part of our culture. The spectrum of reality television is nearly as diverse as that of sexuality, and some manifestations are more appealing to me than others. I’m not sure what I was afraid I Am Cait could turn out to be, so I put my skepticism aside and watched the first episode. I hoped for the best, after all it seemed that E! producers and PR persons knew that this was a major historical moment to be on the winning side of. Eventually rights and liberties win out over oppression and restriction.

I Am Cait is aware that it is privileged. Caitlyn Jenner mentions this at least once, her awareness that her experience is not typical of most trans experiences when coming out. She exclaims  that people die over this, transitioning, and that she has a safe and supportive environment to transition within, a privilege many trans people live without. Instead, many trans people live in fear of the public’s reaction to their identity, or even their family’s own reaction which could be violent itself. Caitlyn informs us that trans people have a higher rate of being victims to suicide and murder, and presents the problem as if there could be a solution. The underlying theme of I Am Cait is one of acceptance and understanding but not ignorance. It is glossy and fashionable but not without understanding and empathy.

Two major celebrities appear on the show, Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner. Kim’s bit in the show is light hearted and fashion oriented, something that lightens the mood and shows the audience that a person’s transition can be fun. Kylie’s appearance is a little more unclear since she has not seen her father since her transition. It does seem like a staged appearance for Kylie, a little bit of a reference to Caitlyn’s beginning monologue of many trans people not experiencing acceptance form their own families. We later learn that for the most part the Kardashian clan has largely been absent during Caitlyn’s transition. They offer kind words from the telephone but don’t see her in person. As a PR pro, Kylie also lightens the mood and brings her father blue hair extensions to put in her hair. Though funny, it doesn’t take away from the fact that Caitlyn clearly feels a little bit abandoned from her family from their lack of presence.

Caitlyn’s non-famous family also makes an appearance, and these people are seriously confused about pronoun usage. They constantly refer to Caitlyn as “Bruce” or “him” or other male pronouns. Caitlyn’s mother frets that her now daughter is violating a passage in the bible that forbids men from wearing female clothing. E! predictably overlay dramatic music during this scene, and a LGBTQ counselor awkwardly answers that since Caitlyn has always been a woman, even when she was Bruce, she is not violating anything biblical. This seems like an odd answer, but it gives at least enough relief to Caitlyn’s mother. The audience also learns that Caitlyn had been thinking about transitioning for at least thirty-five years from conversations with her sister. This surprised me, to have the full extent of how deep the secret went revealed on television. It proves the point that these things are never just out of the blue, they are identity issues that are confusing and should be sensitively handled by everyone around the trans person.

I Am Cait gives transgenderism dignity and legitimacy within a Hollywood frame. Prestige and privilege are mandatory, and a sad tale of epic proportions must be included in the entertainment in order to keep the viewer gripped. We learn about a trans teen who committed suicide after experiencing time and time again improper recognition from the adults around him. Quite simply, adults wanted to refer to him as a female, his birth sex, instead of as a male, his gender. To a frail teen ego and underdeveloped mind, this was devastating. It must have felt like that was what they world was going to be like for the rest of his like, confusion about his identity and lack of acceptance. It is easy to see why transgender people suffer from suicide at a rate that is nine times higher than the rest of the population. Including this teen’s story was a good thing to do for the show because it humanized the issue beyond celebrity Caitlyn and took the focus off of fashion, frivolity, and family and on to one of life and death, which was the point Caitlyn originally wanted to make at the beginning of the episode.

I plan on watching I Am Cait for the rest of the series mostly out of curiosity because I’d like to see how Hollywood will combine transgender advocacy with entertainment. After a first promising episode I believe it will successfully achieve its goals of coming off as entertaining and empathetic.

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The Piper Problem on “Orange is the New Black”

I just finished the third season of Netflix’s successful series “Orange is the New Black” and to my delight, Lynchfield Federal Penitentiary is just as fucked up a place as season two left it.

NETFLIX Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) works the Ôpanty millÕ in Orange Is the New Black.

Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) works the Ôpanty millÕ in Orange Is the New Black.

“Orange is the New Black” is successful and compelling because it is told from a white, middle class, educated woman’s perspective. Due to her background, the show’s founder Piper Kerman was able to communicate the some of the horrors of America’s prison system to people who would not normally have first or second hand knowledge. This social phenomenon is the same as when Hannibal Burress pointed out a well kept but open Hollywood secret that Bill Cosby is a rapist; people of the same class or group of people are more likely to be listened to when they have more privilege than the group of people who are typically victims within a social phenomenon. In the case of prison, lower income and less well educated persons as well as people of color are statistically more likely to have more of either a first or second hand experience with the American prison system. Kerman spoke for the unspoken, which obviously has its flaws because the perspective is one of solipsism. Though in OINTB’S case, there is at least something to suggest that there is a certain level of self consciousness in it’s own middle classed white lady solipsism. However, this makes Piper’s character even less likable than some of the characters in HBO’s “Oz”. As commented rather rashly, some people even would want the character dead.

Piper is white, educated, without ethics, crafty, and aware of the loopholes of both the corporate world and the prison world. She is also somewhat fearless due to her privilege and lack of morals and ethics. She lacks a moral code because she sees no problem in lying in order to gain a more favorable position. She lacks a clear ethical code because of how often she contradicts herself due to her lack of a moral compass, she could not articulate clearly why she committed one deed but not another other than a mean’s to an ends. In the third season, the disgusting nature of private prisons makes its way to Lynchfield. This brings many problems, from incompetent staff, to overcrowding, gruel that no one really deserves to eat, and what is modern corporate slave labor. By contracting out labor for pennies (or one whole dollar, essentially worth pennies in this economy) corporate prisons join with corporations that produce goods in an immoral system that exploits prisoners and keeps the oppressive prison industrial complex so intricate that arguably without it, the cost of goods would soar exponentially high. Of course, this is not solely due to the cost of labor being so outrageous. This is mostly due to outrageous CEO salaries and corporate subsidies provided for by congressional favors. In other words, because of people who think like Piper, the world is truly a shitty place.

In America, it is constitutionally ethical that the minimum number of persons stay in prison for an appropriate sentence based on the harm done to society by his or her actions. It is not ethical to contract out this state mandated responsibility because of the constitutional protections Americans are entitled to receive. Prisoners should use the time they are sentenced to reflect of the negative nature of their lives and what happened to get them involved in the correction system. They should be offered programs and services to rehabilitate them to optimize their purpose in society. Prisoners should not be further degraded by staff or expected to receive an undue amount of physical punishment, and certainly prisoners should not be exploited.

The way that the corporate prison system in OINTB and the mindset of Piper are both of an exploitative orientation toward prisoners. For the corporate fucks, overcrowding bunks and dormitories, giving substandard food, and making a maximum profit margin on human suffering was an appropriate way to organize their time and effort when given the task of caring for American prisoners. For Piper, a whole prison full of underprivileged, under educated, and economically disadvantaged women was a playpen for making money from sexually inclined weirdos. Scheming, she used the panty sewing business the prison industrial complex bestowed upon the Lynchfield women and the natural secretions of the human body to pay pennies on the dollar for the panty wearing lady prisoners and earn herself a pretty profit just like the corporate fucks she was being imprisoned by.

Overall, season three was entertaining and well written, but Piper’s character has truly taken a turn for the worst. It is unclear how season four will karmically bestow retribution on Piper, something she is too dim witted to realize.

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The Significance of HBO’s “Oz”

Prison fascinates me, as an American I have somewhat of an obligation to be at the least minimally interested. Paradoxically, the worlds largest democracy imprisons the most number of human beings on the planet in jails, prisons, and detention centers for persons who illegally crossed into America. A nation of privilege, Americans are prudent to ensure the correct persons enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

As a public policy, I disagree with mandatory disenfranchisement of the prison population. If a person commits a political crime, then it is logical to restrict their participation in the political sphere. Granted, when a person commits a violent crime they are trespassing against society, but as Kantian logic dictates, the law is not the utmost determinant of justice. The law can and is manipulated to target certain populations and limit their power within society. Using the loss of the right to vote as an example, despite the fact that prisoners cannot participate in the voting process, their populations are still weighed when determining political districting. That is, even though they cannot vote, they are still counted when figuring out how many representatives a county gets, how much funding an area receives, and the number of electoral votes a state has, which is particularly significant for states that hold federal prisons because federal prisoners can easily be moved from state to state. If prisoners themselves are disenfranchised, then they should not be counted within the political process. This is a manipulation of the law that distorts the political process.

Previous attempts to watch “Oz” were not successful. I found the entire concept too distressing, and couldn’t get past the first ten minutes. However, now after knowing people who have been to jail or prison or both combined with my personal interest to understand the American prison system, I felt compelled to watch the series in its entirety. This was psychologically somewhat exhausting, and completely shocking. First, as a film and television connoisseur, I was fascinated with how the producers and director of the series decided to tell the tale of the Oswald State Correctional Facility, level four (maximum security). Using Brechtian style techniques, “Oz” is one of the only series I have seen successfully pull off a narrator for the entirety of the series. “Sex and the City” attempted this and failed miserably, and generally television and film stay away from direct character narration because it is difficult to integrate into the work. The narrator in “Oz” is a wheelchair bound murderer and drug dealer named Augustus Hill who was thrown off a roof during the bust that sent him to prison thus causing a spinal injury that disabled him. By using something called “Verfremdungseffekt” (“distancing technique” in German) the audience is removed from the immediate storyline of “Oz” and let into one of the prisoner’s minds with Augustus’ narration. It is partly used to show the absurdity Oz’s world, and partly used to allow the audience to process the dramatic and raw portrayal of life in a maximum security prison. Harrold Perrineau (“Matrix Revolutions”, “Sons of Anarchy”, Mercutio in “Romeo and Juliette”) does a fantastic job of bringing the audience into the mind of a prisoner. Augustus guides us through the alliances that have been made, through the seedy underside of the prison black market system, and gives us a peek into how a world of violence effects people.

“Oz” is also one of the most Buddhist shows I have ever seen. Raised as Buddhist, I see the world as the equivalent of a harsh paradise. My father, also a Buddhist, calls the world a beautiful assault. One of the main question raised in “Oz” is the profound conundrum of finding a reason to live despite the harshest, most ruthless, devastating, degrading, and oppressive conditions a society has to offer. One of the questions of Buddhism is finding peace within the world despite the hardships. Can a person find a way to have peace in prison, the show asks us. Is there a way to reconcile the devastation with the desire to see another day? “Oz” gives the answer that despite devastating conditions, humans are hardwired to survive and continue the struggle, whatever it may be. The show also gives credence to the idea that there are individuals who thrive on suffering, those who enjoy violence for violence’s own sake, and people who are truly twisted and bizarre. To be a human is to witness the outrageous.

Certainly, “Oz” has its downfalls. Some of the storylines are bizarre and ill planned giving the effect that one is watching a soap opera. This is only at its worst though, generally the show avoids that feeling. However, given the high shock of the graphic nature of “Oz”, the show avoids sentimentalism for sensationalism’s sake while having the pitfall of overindulgence.

“Oz” will haunt you and leave you feeling psychologically tried. Witnessing a severe portrayal of depraved humanity is not an easy undertaking. I often wondered who exactly watched the show at the time of its airing from 1997-2001 but I suppose one could wonder why I watched this show in 2015.

A society can be viewed by how it treats its prison population. The purpose of prison should be to segregate those who dysfunctionally participate in society and provide them with either an opportunity to improve themselves as citizens of a country, or to ensure that they cannot participate in society because they are too dangerous. “Oz” asks us to suspend our disbelief that we could like any of these individuals who have trespassed against society and possibly see them for their humanity beyond the scope of the worst of their actions.

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Corporate American Prison Culture

I know a lot about prison culture. This is from academic study, intellectual thought of that study, and personally knowing people who have been to prison. I also know a person who was for a short time a prison guard. Some of the most intelligent people I know have not achieved graduation from high school and instead spent their time focusing on immediate survival because the most dire of circumstances were occurring in their lives. They are beautiful human beings who have been forced through a series of situations, both beyond their control and within the scope of their control should they have made wiser choices at the time, to embrace the view of the world that we contain both the capability for doing bad deeds for reasonable reasons, such as feeding one’s own child and providing for their family in ways that they would not be able to achieve by the legally presented choices that are available to them. For some this had to do with race, but always it had to do with economic status. The intersecionality of race, socioeconomic status, and gender made each person’s experience unique in regards to how they interacted within what could be called, “the underworld”.

My time in the underworld was extremely colorful. I met some of the most influential people in my life, individuals who contributed greatly to my formation. All of these individuals committed illegal acts. Many of these individual’s familes knew that they committed crimes in order to make a living and accepted the money in order to live. I take a Kantian view of the law: the law is not inherently moral or ethical just because it is the law. Some of these individuals were my lovers, others were just my friends.

Currently, after devouring “The Jinx”, I tuned into “Oz” on Hbo.go (thank the Buddha for whoever came up with the idea of putting all of HBO’s programming online).  Yesterday, I picked up a copy of Harper’s and to my delight, Harper’s Index (an assortment of statistics that reveals a theme about domestic public policy or economic’s or sociological facts) focused it’s first on the American prison system, an institution I personally devote a lot of time to studying both academically and recreationally. Through my journey of “Oz”, I have found myself profoundly questioning the corporate American prison system. While reading Harper’s statistics, I found myself morally obligated to share my feelings and opinions publicly. For example,

  • Minimum number of times in 2014 that Rikers Island correction officers broke the bones of an inmate: 98
  • Days of solitary confinement a South Carolina prisoner was assigned in 2012 for threatening a prison employee: 41
  • Years of solitary confinement he was assigned in 2013 for posting on Facebook: 37

Read those last two statistics again. From this specific example, we can see that this inmate was being made an example of in the second statistic. In the first, we see what is viewed as a routine occurrence within prison due to the culture of violence. What can be derived from these statistics? That prisoner’s having access to the first amendment beyond the scope of the walls of the prison is more dangerous than a threat of violence to one of the prison’s employee’s.

This should be disturbing to any American who supports the first amendment because the discrepancy is between days and years. What is so horrible that a prisoner could tell us beyond inane ramblings of an inmate.

This this or this.

I am unsure what America is attempting to accomplish with the endorsement of a demeaning and violent prison culture given we are the number one nation for locking people in cages. I do believe that we need prisons, yet morally I feel obligated that a society should ensure the minimum number of human beings are confined by chains. Serious crimes that are directly related to harming other human beings are crimes that should be applicable for confinement away from society for a period of time, and these crimes are both directly violent and non-violent yet harmful. I do not believe that there should be a tremendous amount of comfort in prison, there should be bare conditions however they should be humane. If not for the prisoners, I am concerned about the mental health of prison employees working in such dire conditions.

The more disturbing phenomenon in the combination of corporate and prison culture in America is obviously the private prison system. Like Blackwater and other mercenary armies, private prisons are the antithesis to a democratic society due to the lack of government oversight and the inherently disturbing nature of making money off of the suffering of other human beings. In fact, this could be psychologically compared to antisocial personality disorder, known in laymen’s terms as psychopathy. American corporatism at it’s most depraved has already been compared to having antisocial personality disorder, especially given the Supreme Court decision that endorses the legal principle that corporations are persons.

If corporations are persons, and there are private prisons that are owned by corporations, then that means some of these prisons function as dysfunctionally as the violent offenders they house. This is clearly an ethical and moral threat to democratic ideals.