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restricted access Is a Trojan Horse an Empty Signifier? The Televisual Politics of Orange Is the New Black
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Is a Trojan Horse an Empty Signifier? The Televisual Politics of Orange Is the New Black Jason Demers Abstract: Orange Is the New Black self-consciously negotiates the politics of the gaze. It demonstrates how the women-in-prison genre contrives objects out of subjects, and it stages a looking back: women meet the gaze with a disdain that the audience is made to share. While it is initially a white, middle-class protagonist who looks back, her privileged position is relinquished via a ‘‘Trojan horse’’ strategy that can be read through Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe’s theories of hegemony and the empty signifier. In this collision of narrative structure and political strategy—challenged gaze and Trojan horse—lies a potential model for producing liberationist cinema. Keywords: gaze, feminist film, women in prison, identity politics, Ernesto Laclau, Chantal Mouffe, hegemony, empty signifier, television studies, Orange Is the New Black Résumé : La série Orange Is the New Black (en français, L’orange lui va si bien) traite consciemment de la politique du regard. La série montre que le genre de « la femme en prison » crée des objets à partir de sujets, et elle met en scène une riposte : les femmes emprisonnées soutiennent le regard posé sur elles avec un dédain que le public est appelé à partager. Bien que ce soit au départ une protagoniste blanche issue de la classe moyenne qui soutient le regard en question, elle renonce à sa position privilégiée en empruntant la stratégie du cheval de Troie, une stratégie que l’on peut lire à la lumière des théories d’Ernesto Laclau et de Chantal Mouffe sur l’hégémonie et le signifiant flottant. De cette rencontre brutale entre la structure narrative et la stratégie politique (regard défiant et cheval de Troie) émerge un modèle possible de production cinématographique libératrice. Mots clés : regard, film féministe, femmes emprisonnées, politique de l’identité, Ernesto Laclau, Chantal Mouffe, hégémonie, signifiant flottant, études sur la télévision, Orange Is the New Black, L’orange lui va si bien 6 Canadian Review of American Studies/Revue canadienne d’études américaines ahead of print article doi: 10.3138/cras.2017.023 This ahead of print version may differ slightly from the final published version. Orange Is the New Black begins in the shower, a point not lost on Matthew Thomas of TheRichest.com in an article on ‘‘The 15 Hottest Scenes Yet from Orange Is the New Black.’’ The series opening scene comes in at number twelve on Thomas’s list: During the series’ opening seconds, we are greeted by a voiceover from series lead Piper, telling us about how much she loves baths and showers because of the way they make her feel. Even better, however, we get a pretty great idea of what she means when the accompanying visuals feature her in the company of two of her lovers, Larry and Alex. Clearly sensual experiences, this moment got us going right from the start, especially considering it offered up our first view of both actresses, Laura Prepon and Taylor Schilling, nude for the first time. I begin with a quote from this schlock celebrity gossip website not because it provides solid insight into what this opening scene is about, but because it demonstrates what this scene is meant to provoke and undermine: scopophilia—the pleasure not only in looking , but, as Laura Mulvey puts it in her canonical essay, ‘‘taking other people as objects [and] subjecting them to a controlling and curious gaze’’ (46). As Mulvey explains, while cinema is manufactured for the public, its success hinges on its ability to fabricate a ‘‘hermetically sealed world’’ (59), and this separation therefore provides the illusion that the spectator is privy to private, intimate moments, inciting the visual pleasure associated with the cinema. Thomas is especially enticed by the fact that these are, as he puts it, ‘‘clearly sensual moments’’—a steamy shower where a lesbian lover enters, a romantic bath. All of this provides a perfect...


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