HBO is an American subscription-only, cable television network owned by Home Box Office, Inc., a division of Time Warner. As estimated by Nielsen in July 2015, approximately 30.9% of the 116.4 million U.S. homes with televisions receive HBO. Through its HBO NOW streaming service, its content can be streamed to mobile devises via broadband connections. Additionally, a deal with Amazon grants Amazon Prime members unlimited streaming access to past seasons of HBO programs, as well as select current series.
Known for its production of original programming, HBO has a long history of using sexual exploitation and violence to entertain. With a well established reputation of pushing the boundaries of decency in its programming through heavy utilization of sexual content that descends into depictions of softcore pornography and routine portrayals of graphic sexual violence, HBO is a major contributor to the culture of sexual exploitation. Additionally, its channel HBO Zone airs movies and original programs aimed at young adults ages 18-34, and features pornographic movies. HBO Zone is also available via satellite to subscribers of the DISH Network.
Porn culture and pop culture have become synonymous partially as a result of HBO’s penchant for mixing interesting plots and characters with pornographic and/or sexually violent themes that are intentionally intermixed. The combination of interesting storylines with highly sexualized and violent content not only exposes viewers to softcore pornography, and but presents the mix of sex and violence as mainstream entertainment.
With its high emphasis on female nudity, sexual objectification of women for the pleasure of the viewing audience is an HBO mainstay. Many of HBO’s shows, most especially Game of Thrones, also depict gratuitous amounts of sexual violence and sexual degradation of female characters.
Further, for years HBO has normalized the sexual exploitation of prostitution through a “reality TV” series set in a legal brothel in Nevada. The show, Cathouse: The Series, is essentially an extended commercial promoting the real-life pimp Dennis Hof and his brothel. Women featured in the program are sexually objectified in the extreme, and are shown performing sex acts with a variety of sex buyers who visit the brothel.
A list of some of HBO’s most sexualized programming includes the following:
Cathouse: The Series is an HBO television series ostensibly about life at the Moonlight Bunny Ranch, a legal brothel in Nevada owned by pimp Dennis Hof. The first episodes were aired in 2005, following two HBO documentaries Cathouse (2002), and Cathouse 2: Back in the Saddle (2003). Additional episodes of the series were aired in 2007-2009, and as well as in 2011. The series not only shows negotiations between prostituted women and sex buyers, but also includes full female nudity and extended scenes of sex acts between prostituted women and sex buyers. The show also follows the relationships between Hof and several of the women he prostitutes, who for periods of time are also his “girlfriends.”
Tell Me You Love Me was a 2007 HBO series that revolved around the sex lives of three different couples. This series portrayed such realistic depictions of intercourse, oral sex, and masturbation that many viewers believed real sex acts were occurring on the screen rather than simulations. Eventually the director of the show had to publicly state that the show did not depict real sex. When asked about why the sex scenes were so graphic she stated:
“It was in the script. I got this script and there was a scene where [Carolyn] masturbates her husband and then examines the semen, kind of like a scientist. That was written and it was my decision to go along with that and shoot it in a matter-of-fact way. I can’t say there weren’t lots of giggles and laughter and nervousness on the set when we were shooting it; it was a very funny situation. At the end of it, I said, ‘I don’t know if we need to be applauded or spanked’… But it’s not real, it’s simulated.”
True Blood was a 2008-2014 HBO series that followed the story of a waitress, Sookie, and her encounters with vampires, werewolves, and various other supernatural forces. This show quickly became known for its amalgamation of graphic violence and graphic sex. True Blood features regular partial nudity, sexual thrusting and moaning, along with depictions of choking, biting, coercive sex, murder of a sexual partner during intercourse, incest, orgies, etc.
Hung was a 2009-2011 “comedy” series focused on the story of Ray Drecker, a high school basketball and baseball coach, whose life begins to spin out of control. Following a series of emotional and financial setbacks including a divorce from his high school sweetheart, a bad financial decision that leaves him heavily in debt, a fire which leaves his home badly damaged, and the departure of his teenage twins, who go to live with his ex-wife, Drecker is desperate and looking for money-making ideas. After a chance meet up with Tanya, a former fling, at an entrepreneurial course, the two team up to market him as a male prostitute through a business they call “Happiness Consultants.” Nudity and scenes depicting sex are standard fare.
Boardwalk Empire was a 2010-2014 HBO series focusing on bootleggers, gangsters, and politicians in the 1920s-1930s. This show was critically acclaimed, and regularly featured brutal violence, intense sexuality and graphic nudity. Sex and murder were combined in multiple episodes (like the season 4 premiere as an example,) asphyxiation is used during sex, incest between mother and son, full frontal female nudity, full frontal male nudity.
Game of Thrones, a current HBO series that began in 2011, is based on George R.R. Martin’s book series “A Song of Ice and Fire” which is a medieval fantasy revolving around two powerful families and their struggle for power. Replete with female nudity, other sexual content abounds. Scenes suggesting brutal, anal rapes of women, incest, child sexual abuse, prostitution, sex trafficking and sex slavery, sexual torture of men and women, as well as the sexualized killing of female characters are commonplace in Game of Thrones. With this series HBO has made themes of torture pornography the stuff of mass entertainment.
Vinyl is a new HBO series which premiered February 14, 2016. The drama follows the life of record label president, Richie Finestra, through the sex and drug riddled music scene of 1970s New York. Given this cultural backdrop, HBO’s predilection for themes of sex and violence are on full display. The premier episode featured a brief depiction oral sex, as well as nudity, sex, an orgy, and was replete with highly denigrating sexual references to women.
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