Orange is the New Black is one of my absolute favorite TV shows. At first, I liked it because it was entertaining, and I’d never seen anything like it. I continue to love it because the characters are incredible. Every one of them has good and bad traits — I love them sometimes and they annoy me at others, just like they would in real life. It portrays real people making realistic decisions, and that’s my favorite thing about the show.
My parents, on the other hand, are not fans (understatement). They don’t like the lesbian themes (although there aren’t nearly as many sex scenes in the later seasons are there were in the first few), and they really don’t like the language. I don’t watch the show when I’m at my parents’ house anymore, even in my own room late at night, because someone might wander around and hear it.
The language can be excessive. It doesn’t bother me anymore, partly because I’ve heard it all before. I don’t swear much myself, but many of my friends in college did, and it became a normal thing to hear. Unless it’s specifically directed at someone, I hear it more as a speaking style than something offensive. But I definitely understand that it’s not something everyone wants to hear when they’re trying to watch TV and relax.
So it begins the question: would Orange be the same show without the swearing?
The issue here is realism vs. portrayal. TV shows are art in that they are stylized portrayals of real or imagined life. Some shows, like Game of Thrones, we understand to be complete fiction. Others, like Orange, attempt to portray things that might actually happen in real life. They attempt to show plausibility rather than fantasy. And part of that plausibility is making characters as realistic as possible. Since real people swear a lot, it follows that some of the characters should also swear. It shows personality.
And there is a lot of nuance in the personalities of the characters on the show. Some characters don’t swear at all unless they are extremely enraged or provoked. Others use swear words as fillers and commas. The use of language is one way the writers show different characters’ backgrounds and values. The women from better socioeconomic backgrounds tend to swear less than those who come from poorer or more broken households. Or they just care less what others think of them. Regardless of the meaning, swearing is a signifier.
It’s true that the writers could have shown that in ways other than swearing. But would it have been as realistic then? Would the characters feel as credible if none of them ever uttered so much as a “dammit”? Would it be the same if the swearing was simply toned down, but not erased from the script completely?
I want to say no. Swearing is a part of life, so why should it be erased from a show trying to portray that? Plus, the women are in prison, and if that situation doesn’t call for the occasional swear word, I don’t know what does.
But as I mentioned above, I do understand the desire to watch TV without being inundated with bad language. And while the show is already extremely popular, lessening the swearing might be a way to draw in even more viewers, and thus get more people hearing the stories the writers want to tell. For example, if more people watched the show, maybe more people would realize how women prisoners are often treated and try to bring about change. But on the flip side (again), real life people swear. So would eliminating that and drawing in that kind of audience really help? Would it really benefit the show’s message to erase the swearing, when it’s not a completely true portrayal of real life?
I don’t have a definite answer to this dilemma. I enjoy the show as it is, and tend to believe that swearing, while offensive to some, is not one of the more important social issues. And I know in my parents’ case, it would probably take more than eliminating the swearing to get them to watch the show, anyway.
What do you think? Would reducing the swearing on Orange or other shows reduce the believability too much?