OZ is one of the most claustrophobic and suffocating series you will ever see in your life. Not only is it one of the most original products of the always perfect HBO, a unicum of crudeness almost impossible to find elsewhere, but also because the world he created is captivating, immersive, and shocking in its stark authenticity. Creating such a universe also presupposes the construction of a language, a specific jargon that belongs only to these characters and the reality in which they live.
The slang used in OZ recalls the direct and no-frills one of prisons – among other things OZ was perhaps the first series to deal with the prison system in such a realistic way – and he builds a space that does not exist outside that prison. The numerous characters thus find themselves undeniably linked by the cultural language they share and, at the same time, completely separated from the outside world, which does not understand them. In some way, therefore, language constitutes the first enormous barrier with those who are “outsiders” and the first point of contact between those who become an “inhabitant of OZ”.
And we start right here.
The title of the series itself already says it all: OZ is the abbreviation of “Oswald”, the fourth level correctional institution where all the narration takes place. In the original language, the name lends itself to a very interesting play on words, because OZ comes from “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”, where Oz was precisely the name of the kingdom where Dorothy ends up when the tornado hits her house. The choice is ironic for more than one reason: first of all because, as in the real world of Oz, “magic” (i.e. drugs) exists in the world of the series and then because there is also a real “Wizard of Oz”, i.e. the creator of the experimental arm himself Tim McManus. Probably the authors they also wanted to highlight the macabre difference between a simple and happy world and one that was destructive and full of pain.
The pun continues with “Il Paradiso”, which in the original series is called “Emerald City”. In Italian it was precisely rendered as “Paradise” and is to indicate the experimental arm created by Tim MacManus, with the aim of re-educating even the worst prisoners. Its official name is actually fifth arm and it is where most of the events take place and almost all the protagonists of the series live. Paradise has its own rules, built ad hoc to give life to a project to accompany prisoners towards complete rehabilitation. For example, there are no normal cells and inmates have the option of living in a common room most of the time, sharing spaces with each other and with the guards.
3) And Normals
Precisely because Paradise is a different and at times special place, it is no coincidence that the inmates of the other wings are called “the normal ones”, to contrast them with those who are part of the rehabilitation programme. In OZ it happens that inmates can switch from one arm to another, but not as often as it might seem: Heaven’s rules are strict, and MacManus is pretty much its one and only God. It is he who can choose who can try to join the project and he is the one who decides if the program is working. In the event of a negative response, one returns to the normals, i.e. to the arms equipped with simple cells with bars.
4) The aquariums
And speaking of cells, let’s talk about “simple cells with bars” because those in Paradise are different. An essential element for the success of the project is what detainees are always visible to the omnipresent eyes of the guards. Precisely for this reason the Paradise cells are characterized by Plexiglas walls that allow you to see everything that happens inside. In fact they are called “aquariums” and it cannot be said that their inhabitants like being on display in the public square like this. In fact, we often see the various characters cover the transparent walls with blankets, in order to guarantee a minimum of privacy.
And yet, despite the absolute lack of privacy, OZ has a lot of things going on. The rawness of the series is also revealed by the number of deaths, threats, tortures, rapes that take place. To keep everything under control but also to prevent prisoners from taking too many liberties, a “shake” is called every now and then, i.e. a search that takes place both on the prisoner’s body and in the aquarium he occupies. It goes without saying that most of the time we discover the existence of strange rings, ranging from arms trafficking to drug trafficking.
In fact, the latter runs freely in Paradise, despite the watchful gaze (actually less attentive than it should be) of MacManus. We mainly talk about heroin and cocaine of which the so-called “Zombie” group are strenuous consumers, while the Italian American group is the absolute controller. To avoid being intercepted, the Paradise inmates call the drug “te*te”, a sexual slang which also underscores the desperate hunger many inmates have for their addiction.
In reality, often all this caution is not necessary, because although MacManus has good intentions, most of the men who work for him are completely corrupt as well as being even more violent than the prisoners themselves. AC is short for Agent of Custody and that’s what Heaven’s inmates call their agents. In OZ we often witness moments of pure torture by the AC, as well as under-the-counter agreements to grab weapons, drugs and money with the very prisoners they are supposed to re-educate. A rule of Heaven provides for close contact between inmates and ACs 24/7, which often leads to the emergence of intense and decidedly dangerous relationships.
While we’re talking about re-education, we’re also talking about some of the most violent inmates you’ve ever seen. And the punitive methods must ultimately be equally violent, otherwise we risk losing control. Both MacManus and the director of OZ, Leo Glynn, who instituted the “hole”, are well aware of this. It is a tiny isolation cell, without air or windows, where the prisoner who has committed a serious crime is left without clothes for days (sometimes weeks) and with only a bucket for his needs. A dark place, so called to give the sense of claustrophobia and abandonment it inspires on prisoners. More than one man has lost his mind, never underestimate the danger of humiliation and being alone with your own destructive thoughts.
Another punitive instrument is the “lockout”, i.e. the definitive closure of the cells. This happens when something serious happens, usually something involving two people from two different groups. To avoid the escalation of violence, it was decided to confine the detainees to their cells until a later date. A particularly frustrating operation, above all because not all prisoners live with members of their own group. Furthermore, the fact that the cells are made of Plexiglas, and therefore completely visible to everyone, further reduces the privacy of the aquarium occupants, making the lockout even more frustrating.
10) Membership groups
Paradise was built for peace and harmony to reign, but in reality it is a very delicate reality made up of balances of power and reputation. The wing is small and very crowded so it is no wonder that every inmate naturally converges towards their own ethnic, religious, cultural or political group. The names of the groups themselves are part of time-tested slang, even if not all of them have a particularly inspired name. The most original is certainly that of the “Zombies” of Adebisi, i.e. the group of African Americans who are so called because of drug abuse. Then we have the “Aryans”, the neo-Nazi group led by Vern Schillinger. The “Sicilians”, i.e. the most powerful Italian-American group that controls the drug dealing square. There are the “Latinos,” which obviously encompasses Latin Americans, and the “Irish,” headed by O’Reily. Then we have the group of “Muslims” who make religion their fulcrum headed by Kareem Said. It is important for OZ inmates to know which group they belong to and why each group brings with it allies and enemies to consider. The last group, that of the “Others”, includes all the members who are not part of any alliance or ethnic-social element and is the most mobile and least defined group.
The post The OZ Slang Dictionary, A Better Understanding of OZ appeared first on Hall of Series.