The long-awaited Season 5 premiere of #OrangeIsTheNewBlack answered fans' most burning question from the Season 4 finale: what happens in the wake of the "Attica" riot that broke out — specifically when Daya gets her hands on CO Humphrey's gun? We got our answer in the episode, but some viewers got something else: offended over the casual mentions of real-life mass shootings.
It was an intense episode and I found myself on the edge of my seat. However, the way that show writer Jenji Kohan decided to use massacre victims — from Aurora to Sandy Hook — as the butt of jokes ruffled more than a few feathers.
Note: This article contains heavy spoilers from the Orange is the New Black Season 5 premiere.
Did 'OITNB' Go Too Far By Joking About Mass Shootings?
Don't get me wrong, I love that #OITNB has pushed boundaries since day one. The show is thought-provoking and it has tackled difficult social and cultural subjects before, so mass shootings should have been any different. Right?
But, as someone who had friends in the Aurora shooting — I had tickets to go but couldn't make it to the theater — I just can't get past lines such as these:
- "Let me the fuck in! It's Aurora, Colorado out here and we're all in the movie theater!"
- "There's a guard out there going full-on San Bernardino. This is where you want to be!"
- And other sarcastic references to mass shootings at Columbine High School, Sandy Hook Elementary School and Virginia Tech.
For me, personally, I think there comes a point where you're not just pushing the envelope with risque humor, but you are in fact making distasteful references to situations that are not in any way funny. The line between the two sides is thin, but it does exist and it can be difficult to navigate around.
The Aurora reference that Gina makes while trying to gain access to the locked electrical office was 100 percent unfunny. Innocent people were killed, paralyzed and wounded at the hands of a mass shooter, and I don't think making light of it for a television show was the right way to go about the storyline.
When Is 'Too Soon' Really Too Soon?
The mass shooting references just kept coming and coming with no sign of slowing down, or even a character looking at someone with a look of, "Too soon?" Would Orange is the New Black have joked about the Pulse nightclub shooting, or the massacre at the Bataclan in Paris? Would the showrunners have added a last-minute joke about the tragedy at Ariana Grande's concert in Manchester?
If not — and I think we know the answer is "never" — why do they assume that Aurora is "safe" for comedy just because our tragedy happened five years ago? What made it all right to turn the death of children at Sandy Hook and Columbine into a joke? How can you use one tragedy and be all right with it, but not use another because you don't want to offend people?
Many other shows and movies make comedic reference to the Titanic, the Hindenburg, Charles Manson and even 9/11. Perhaps, as the decades go on, it feels like less of an outrage. But the major issue is context, and the fact remains: the writers of Orange is the New Black — a series that's been pioneering for its representation and depiction of #LGBT and women characters — weren't concerned with offending a certain segment of their fanbase. They should've known better.
Using these tragedies for punchlines didn't add to the drama; they didn't make the rioters more angry and didn't spark a social media "food for thought" subplot. It was simply distasteful.
Events that change our lives can also change our senses of humor. I am well aware that the reference to the Century 16 shooting in Aurora probably made me angrier than viewers who didn't experience its aftermath, but that doesn't automatically make it acceptable. How would you feel if the joke were about the worst thing that happened in your life?
I hope that Jenji Kohan considers this question, and can learn from it for future seasons of this otherwise great show.