The “Trojan Horse” Technique in Popular TV
Jenji Kohan is the writer and creator of the hit new Netflix series “Orange is the New Black” which explores the fictional lives of incarcerated women. In an interview with NPR, Kohan discussed her main character Piper Chapman, a wealthy white woman who the viewers follow into the prison. Chapman, as the interview details, was Kohan’s “Trojan Horse” into the prison world. As she said beautifully:
“In a lot of ways Piper was my Trojan Horse. You’re not going to go into a network and sell a show on really fascinating tales of black women, and Latina women, and old women and criminals. But if you take this white girl, this sort of fish out of water, and you follow her in, you can then expand your world and tell all of those other stories.”
It seems like a brilliant technique to get support for a possibly controversial show: Allow the character who represents the “norm” of TV (aka white, wealthy, blonde, seemingly straight, etc) to experience the controversy and react to it as the audience would.
This interview got me to thinking, the Trojan Horse way of opening up a TV show is not a new idea at all; in fact it seems to be the basis of the writing of most popular TV on right now. For Example:
- New Girl: a sweet late- twentysomething woman is given access to the man cave of the apartment she rents a room in.
- Big Bang Theory: A ditzy blonde woman is given access to the nerdy social world of brilliant scientists.
- The L Word: A straight woman moves in next to a lesbian couple and gradually gains access to the lesbian social sphere.
- Glee: The show starts with Finn a popular high school jock who gains access to the Glee club
- Queer as Folk: A nervous high school boy is given access to the social group of well-to-do gay men
- Lost Girl (an underrated show that everyone should watch): A seemingly normal woman gains access to an underground SiFi community.
- Once Upon A Time: A typical woman is brought into a fairytale town where time has stopped.
- Weeds: a regular housewife experiences the drug dealing business
- Adventure Time: Even this kid’s show follows a regular 12 year old boy who explores a post-apocalyptic world
I’m sure there are many more! But this leads to a few thoughts:
- Most of the people we follow into the world of each show is a woman (or in queer as folk a gay man). You almost never see a strong masculine character experiencing a new world or gaining access to a community he was not already a part of.
- Is this because strong masculine (white) men are assumed to already have access? Is it because women are allowed more emotions to experience these new communities? Its is because women are foolish enough to get themselves into all of the drama of the show? or is it just because strong female characters are in?