Orange is the New Black disappoints me

I am not necessarily surprised to have to tell you that Judy King was not the poly hero this blogger desires — and only may or may not be the poly criminal Orange is the New Black deserves. Extremely minor spoilers below the cut.

Of course, Orange is the New Black is a show about women in prison, and while one of its central contributions is demonstrating that people in prison are not necessarily bad people, of course they are not necessarily good people either and there are many small villains. Every character has their flaws, and nearly every character has their moment of villainy. But it could be ANY moment of villainy. Judy King’s villainy, however, seems problematically connected to her non-monogamy. Judy demands sexual favors from Luschek in exchange for arranging Nichols return to Litchfield. In a later drug-fueled threesome with Luschek and Yoga Jones, Yoga accuses Judy of keeping people around for her own amusement. Judy responds that Yoga is not there for her amusement; rather, they are there for each other’s amusement. However, the aftermath shows Judy looking content and put together, but Luschek and Yoga looking distressed and disheveled. Perhaps the fact that Judy uses sex as a weapon can be disentangled from the fact that she practices polyamory, but this plot seems to edge close to some terrible Evil Poly Tropes about deviance, violence, and criminality.

It is worth noting that Orange is the New Black does and has engaged with non-monogamy in a variety of forms, particularly with respect to Aleida’s boyfriend Cesar (who was also briefly involved with Aleida’s daughter Daya, and has other girlfriends who play a role in the show). In Season 4, Episode 10 (Bunny, Skull, Bunny, Skull), Cesar’s most recent girlfriend picks Aleida up from the prison and Aleida stays with her despite the potential for it being “weird” because, in the words of the girlfriend, “we slept with the same man and he put a baby in me” although “not on purpose!” Instead of being enemies for this reason, the two women seem to have a sort of kinship tie. The new girlfriend supports Aleida. They certainly yell and fight, but it’s more complicated than that. This relationship is of course not really what we are looking at when we look at representations of polyamory in the media, but it provides an important reminder that the monogamy than many polyamory writings strike back against is only an expectation, a compulsion, and/or a possibility in certain (generally white, generally financially stable and/or upwardly mobile) settings and not others. “Polyamory” in the most general sense, that of multiple loves, is not necessarily revolutionary to many people who were certainly accustomed to families beyond the narrowly defined and narrowly practiced nuclear family of the mid-20th century US ideal. For more on the racial and socioeconomic politics of non-monogamy, see the posts on Swingers.

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