Monday, January 4, 2016

My Debt to Orphan Black

In certain regards my political views have become increasingly raidcal over the past few years. There are many reasons why that is the case. Certainly part of it has been my study of the Bible, theology, and ethics. Some of it has been through the development of relationships with a wider net of people. A third, and key component has been television. No, it has not been through watching cable news outlets, but because powerful storytelling has opened my eyes to understand the world in a clearer fashion. Then theology can step in to make sense of my improved understanding of reality.

While there are many shows that I like, there are only two shows that I cherish, and for different reasons. Orphan Black is one show, and it's story and characters has forever changed the way I see the world. There's much I could write about related to Orphan Black, worldview, and ethics, but a lot of good ground has already been covered in some lengthy online articles (here's one of the best for a taste). Today I want to hone in on something very specific.

I chose this picture carefully.[1] On Orphan Black, the phrase 'I am not your property' speaks at two different levels. The obvious level is the relationship between the individual and corporations. The second, and more subtle level, is the way we cheapen each other and destroy community by defining others mainly on the basis of some characteristic(s).

Even before I began watching Orphan Black I had a an anti-corporate streak in me. I expressed some of those sentiments here, in what may be my single favorite post I have ever written. Orphan Black helped me see that I had not fully grasped the depth of the perversity of our corporate controlled economic system. The tale of the clones is, in many ways, the tale of you and I. Many of us are like Krystal Goderitch, 'happily' living our lives under the control and direction of our corporate lords and masters without even realizing it. We are pawns used by the powers in charge and act on their behalf without really knowing what we're doing or why. We have this sense in the back of our minds that something 'isn't right,' but we can't put our finger on it.

It may seem strange that I picked Krystal out of all of the clones to identify us with.[2] I think we all want to believe that we're Sarah. Yes maybe corporate America has given us certain genes, or predispositions, but we are free agents and are solely responsible for our own messes. We aren't under their control, and the moment they try to exert their control over us we fight back with a vengeance! How deluded we are!

What do we all want? We want to be happy. Often, we equate happiness with being able to do, have, and experience whatever we want. Having and experiencing whatever we want are consumptive activities that mostly enrich major corporations.[3] How do you pay for it?[4] By working a job, often for a corporation, or a company that services corporations, or for a company that aspires to be a corporation. They've got you. You're enslaved. Unless you're very lucky or supremely talented you work for them on their terms so that you can buy stuff and experiences that they and other corporations sell to you. Wages are held as low as possible and prices as high as possible to enable the corporation to maximize their profits. We keep coming back day after day to make sure we can maintain our lifestyle and the illusion of happiness. Deep down, though, we know that this isn't the path to true happiness. However, advertising and social pressures (often experienced on corporate owned social media platforms) make us too timid to really try and break free. For many of us when we realize we've been sold a bill of goods end up medicating to different degrees like Alison. A decision that can easily destroy us and everything we love.

Now some of us try religion as a path out of this.[5] But too often we end up like Helena destroyed by seemingly righteous culture. Christian culture in particular has figured out how to monetize the rejection of conformity to the image of the perfect life sold to us by corporate America. They have crafted their own "perfect life" that parodies many of the values and consumptive patterns (go to Christian movies, not secular movies - either way you're still buying and going)  of American culture and don't end up bringing any of the liberation promised. It just ends up being slavery to a different set of masters.

Fortunately, Orphan Black gives us a solution to the problem. The answer is to seek happiness somewhere else than where the corporations are trying to lead us. Happiness comes through life together as a family where we accept each other as we are, look out for one another, and put each other first. This isn't easy. Like Cosima, we can be our own worst enemies, particularly when we are unable to forgive, but that is the only way to true life and freedom.

Obviously family is a place where we can experience this, but I'd like to argue that this is also what the Christian church is supposed to be like. Rather than focusing on enforcing a certain view of Christian culture, let's focus on loving one another, which means accepting each other for who they are.

This will segue us into our second topic. One of Orphan Black's goals is to get you to move past a shallow and superficial way of understanding people where they are labeled based on some characteristic that they have and treating them as if that fully defines them. Arguably the most famous exchange on the show is the instance where Rachel, upon meeting Cosima, notes that she is gay, and Cosima quips, 'my sexuality's not the most interesting thing about me.' On Orphan Black they are particularly focused on sexuality, but we see other characters presented as more complicated than our default labeling would suggest (Sarah is far more than the 'grifter' that Angie thinks she is, even Rachel has a sensitive and sentimental side, and Krystal has depth as a human being).

One isn't limited to their past. That's one of the big things that the clones, especially Sarah, have to learn. Helena may have been a ruthless killer who hunted their sisters, but she too can be turned and even trusted through love. The turning point in the whole show is when Helena finally realizes that Sarah loves her and isn't trying to use her like everyone in her life had to that point. Sarah only came to love her when she realized that what they shared was more important than the differences that they had and that, through love, Helena could be transformed. Love overcame the box that Sarah had originally put Helena in. It also enabled Helena to escape the box that she had subconsciously put herself in.

Both the dance and dinner parties that close out the first two seasons are powerful because they show the beauty of family when they accept and love each other as they are. To me that's a portrait of what true family should be like. That's a portrait of what the church should be like. We are empowered by the Holy Spirit to love each other with the transformative, redemptive love of Jesus. We should be able to be the leaders, building a beautiful alternative society that eschews the message of our corporate powers. Only then will we regain our credibility and only then will we find true happiness, when we are finally known by our love.

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[1] Image taken from http://screenrant.com/orphan-black-season-3-character-posters/

[2] Rachel may actually be the identity of some of us, if we're the ones in power. Be warned by her story. Everyone will be discarded by the corporation when they outlive their usefulness.

[3] Obviously sometimes our money is going to local small businesses, which can be less problematic, but not necessarily so.

[4] Or how do you pay for being able to do whatever you want?

[5] I'm softening the anti-religious rhetoric of the show. The show clearly favors spirituality over organized religion. I want to focus the critique a little more carefully than they do.

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