Spoilers for Orange is the new Black Season 4.
Social Commentary may be one of the oldest ideas creators have tried to use their stories to express to their audiences. Star Trek is a perfect example of a TV Show explicitly created to be a platform for the writers to do this very thing, using the setting to deal withthe problems of the time such as, but not limited to, the cold war, racism and abuse of power.
I say this because, despite what some people may want to say, stories are rarely “just stories”. More often than not, stories are a way for the writer to express their ideals and beliefs, to try to send a message across. Trying to contextualize a problematic in a way that the audience is able to learn and understand may be one of the hardest things for a writer to do.
Sometimes, the writers just pulls-in whatever is trending and try to pass it as a respectful depiction of a sensible topic.
Time has passed since the whole #LexaDeservedBetter backlash that “The 100″ received after killing Lexa, a queer character that i may have mentioned before (as well as other notorious deaths in other shows that have happened since), and the latest of this trend has been the death of the character of Poussey (a Lesbian black character) in the Netflix Original series “Orange is the new Black“.
Long story short, the character dies in an accident that involved a prison guard that had received poorly training, this supposedly being a form of commentary on the serious problem of Police Brutality in the US and the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
Forgeting for a moment that, regardless of the reasoning behind this death, this is yet another fridging of a character of color as well as a queer character as part of a very worrisome trend, and setting aside how well the topic is discussed (personal opinion: it sanitizes the topic to wash responsibility and is more interested in shock value), I want to focus rather on the fandom reaction.
Namely on the portion of the fandom that, like it always happen, tries to defend and justify the creators choice of killing a character.
This time, they are using the fact this is Social Commentary on Police Brutality as evidence on why Poussey’s death is an effective narrative choice or why she had to die. That her death was meaningful because it was a message against racism and police brutality.
News flat: No, Social Commentary had nothing to do with it. The death was simply shitty writing.
I do see the decision of having a prison guard commiting a case of Police Brutality against Poussey as an interesting one. However, the end result of Poussey dying, that has nothing to do with Social Commentary, it was simple Shock Value from the writers in an attempt to move the audience. An attempt to make you feel bad that she died while at the same time they make the character of the prison guard sympathetic.
Social Commentary would be the fact that the guard used an excess of violence that the shows acknowledges as wrong, that is all it needed to do, death is not a necessity to make that point across.
You can have her survive but badly injured. Have her receive a bullet wound that makes her go through re-habilitation. You could have done that and the Social Commentary would have still been there.
But instead, the creators decided to, like so many shows in 2016, pretend to be clever by doing something everyone else is doing (and please do not bring in that they probably did not know other shows were planning to do it, it’s a shitty justification and you know it).
Poussey’s Death was not Social Commentary. Stop pretending that, because the show tries to (poorly) tackle Police Brutality, it is okay or that criticism has no place there.
Social Commentary can be done poorly or be shitty.