|The cast of Orange is the New Black.|
I expected to hate it. I usually avoid tragedies and horror, and since the series is set in a women’s prison I was visualizing Oz-level violence. And then I ended up bingeing on it – not because it was particularly lighthearted (it’s really a drama with a sprinkling of comedy) but because I wanted to know more about Piper’s fellow inmates. I was thrilled that, for once, a TV series was giving voice to the types of women who usually get silenced – black women, hispanic women, lesbian women, trans women, older women, fat women. And they’re all inmates, the types of people that we especially try to ignore. I can honestly say OitNB has the most diverse cast I have ever seen.
And yet it is obvious to me and to others who have written on the show that it painfully illustrates the pervasiveness of privilege, especially white privilege. Piper Chapman is beautiful, thin, passes for straight, is comfortably wealthy, supported by friends, family and a lover, has somewhere to go when her sentence is up, and was convicted for a nonviolent crime. It’s also obvious that although the series has an unusually diverse cast, it only got greenlit because the main character is a pretty white woman.
And oh my god, I hate her.
She’s selfish, she’s spoiled, she’s rude, she refuses to admit guilt for anything, she breaks the hearts of the few people left who support her, she references the Kinsey Scale yet refuses to use the word “bisexual,” and she keeps pretending she’s just a sweet little nice girl who hasn’t really done anything wrong and doesn’t belong in prison. Fuck that. On her first day in prison, she proves just what kind of person she is by complaining about the food to (unbeknownst to her) the head chef. Lady, you’re getting food for free. Some of these women came from the streets where they had nothing. Suck it up. The chef’s decision to starve Piper for a few days is disproportionate retribution, but it finally starts to give the message to Piper that she’s in prison and she needs to stop thinking that she’s above it all.
Fortunately, the series makes it clear that I’m NOT supposed to like Piper and that she’s in some ways more fucked up than the women sentenced for more severe crimes. But it got me thinking that, in most, if not all of the fictional TV series I’ve watched, the main character is never my favourite – and is sometimes my least favourite. And it drives me nuts when the series focuses so much on a main character I don’t like that much. Stop showing me Piper’s bullshit and tell me more about Sophia!
Since making this realization, I have started referring to my recurring loathing for main characters as “Carrie Bradshaw Syndrome.” Sex and the City operated under the assumption that I was supposed to like Carrie, but I usually fast-forwarded over her scenes because I was going to vomit if I watched her spend thousands of dollars on goddamn shoes again, and then watch her be an absolutely terrible person to the people who (inexplicably) love her. I wanted more Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte. And instead I just got lots of Carrie being her neurotic, selfish, irresponsible self. I like Sarah Jessica Parker. I think most of the “horse” jokes about her face are untrue and sexist. But man do I hate Carrie.
I thought about my favourite fictional TV series and where I stand on their main protagonists. (And yes, I watch a lot of animation.)
Sailor Moon – Not my favourite character, she’s pretty close to the bottom. (My favourites are the ones who, comparatively speaking, were in the series the least.)
Futurama – Fry is not my favourite, it’s Bender, and Fry annoys me half of the time.
Adventure Time – Don’t dislike Finn, but I vastly prefer Marceline.
ReBoot – Bob’s okay, don’t like Enzo, but Dot is amazing.
Avatar the Last Airbender – Aang annoys me. I prefer Toph and Zuko.
Young Justice – No real main character here, but there was too much Superboy and Miss Martian and not nearly enough of everyone else.
Star Trek TOS – Boo Kirk. Yay Spock.
The only series I can think of where I don’t dislike or feel neutral towards the main character(s) are the ones with balanced ensemble casts, like Downton Abbey, Community and Slayers.
And the more I think about it, the more I wonder why I tend to dislike main protagonists so much. Is it because series tend to focus so much on the main character that I get sick of them? Is it because I crave more of the stories of the characters that don’t get told? Am I just a rebel or something?
And is it just me who experiences “Carrie Bradshaw Syndrome?”