“Something has changed within me/Something is not the same/I’m through with playing by the rules/Of someone else’s game”
— “Defying Gravity” from Wicked
In sixth or seventh grade, I woke up. I wasn’t in a coma or anything; I just had the mini-epiphany that hits the more sullen of tween girls. I suddenly stopped buying into the notion that I should be like anyone else in my class, that I should believe everything my teachers told me, that I should pretend to listen to anything I thought was stupid. I started wearing what I thought was cute (as opposed to what was popular), stopped applying lip gloss and refused to style my hair. As you can imagine, black nail polish and Dr. Martens were involved. How did I make good on this quasi-nihilistic vow? I received straight A’s throughout middle school/high school, graduated salutatorian of my class and left for college. I don’t really sound like an Outside Girl, do I?
But I do have a point here. In a chapter of Girlhood: Redefining the Limits, researcher Rebecca Raby concludes that “resistance among girls and young women is likely to be hidden or c/overt–subtle and located in private spaces of interaction.” As you might have noticed, the Outside Girls practice active resistance to societal dictates, gender norms and peer pressure. But they also are undeniably intelligent and often use the system (i.e. school and family) to their advantage. Admittedly, some of these girls wear their disdain on their sleeves. But the majority of them use education and other culturally-approved institutions in order to flout how little they care about fitting in. In other words, they rebel in sensible and discreet ways.
Alex Vause, a.k.a. the coolest character on Orange is the New Black*, is a drug dealer. A really, really good one, despite the whole getting caught thing. Some of you might think, How is a goth-chic dealer working the system in a legitimized, secret way? I will tell you: Alex finds white, privileged, bored young adults and recruits them to be her street dealers/smugglers. Her genius of using rich white kids to move heroin (because our “justice” system is still hopelessly racist and elitist) is her exploiting others to manipulate the system. Yeah, I know that sounds underhanded and Bluth-esque, but if you watch the show, there is no way you would root against her.
Jenji Kohan, the creator of Orange is the New Black and the dearly-departed Weeds, is famous for “putting well-behaved middle-class white women in the middle of stories that typically feature rough nonwhite men,” as Mike Hale‘s succinct review puts it. And it’s true. Nancy Botwin sells marijuana to preserve her McMansion lifestyle and Piper Chapman goes to prison because she was restless after college. (What’s more exciting than smuggling drug money at the request of your kingpin girlfriend?) Kohan creates these characters and is famous for giving them recognizable motivations that land them in seemingly-foreign locations. I can’t help but wonder if Alex herself is a microcosm of Kohan’s creative agenda. Alex uses entitled white girls to do her bidding in OITNB‘s universe; Kohan uses entitled white women to entertain,educate and subvert her audience’s preconceptions. It’s not so different when you think about it. Another similarity between them: totally bitchin’ glasses.
Alex was not always working the system, but the viewer understands exactly why she wants to. After being rejected from the tiny monsters that are fifth grade girls, being denied the fate that Piper takes for granted (“no moolah, no school-ah”), and meeting a father that brings new meaning to the term “disappointing,” Alex wakes up. She is not normal, and pretending she is is a waste of time. Why should she follow societal norms when conventional people are such dull sheep? Other girls enacting resistance to accepted ideologies might pretend to respect their parents while simultaneously breaking every curfew. A few girls could go all Breakfast Club, be the leaders of mean-girl cliques while hiding their consciences. Others, like me, might do well in school to ensure they will one day escape their hometowns and nightmarish high school experiences. Admittedly, few will look as cool as Alex when they are working the system over. Even with the presence of shiny black nails and combat boots.
And, yes, I know that distributing heroin in bulk will not win you any morality prizes. It hurts too many people. Yet, I admire Alex for using spoiled brats to get what she wants. I also love that she is so matter-of-fact about her crimes, her jail time and her passion for her profession. Her work allowed her to travel all over the world, gave her first-class mind something to do and was thrilling for her. She knows what she did is wrong, but she did it by finessing a flawed-as-fuck system. I know it is weird for me to champion a drug dealer (well, maybe not that weird), but I can’t help it. I love Alex Vause because she woke up the moment she met her deadbeat dad. Instead of trying to play a rigged game, she created one with rules of her own.
*If you prefer Crazy-Eyes, Red, Sophia, Nicki, Pornstache, etc., come at me in the comments.
(Image #1 courtesy of weheartit.com; #2 courtesy of hollywoodreporter.com; #3 courtesy of reddit.com)