HBO has a long history of putting gritty, intense stories to the screen. What they don’t realize is that stories that come out of the pornography industry and prostitution are more than gritty and intense. Such stories are evidence of the devastating experiences to which the industry exposes prostituted persons. HBO uses pornography and prostitution to grab viewers’ attention, often trivializing a terribly traumatic part of our culture to get ratings.
Game of Thrones actor Jason Momoa recently came under fire for remarks he made during a convention in 2011. During the interview panel, he said his love for fantasy came from the ability to “rip someone’s tongue out of their throat and get away with it, and rape beautiful women.” In a video of the event, the audience laughs, and more than a few of his co-stars put their hands to their faces in droll embarrassment. Another star, Sophie Turner admitted that she recognized she was too “blasé” in approaching a rape scene involving her character after viewers responded negatively.
Only recently, when the video resurfaced before the premiere of Momoa’s latest film, did the actor make a formal apology. While his apology is certainly not nothing, Momoa’s flippant tone in the panel interview and Turner’s comments reflect the wider attitude prevalent on set at HBO.
This ‘all in a day’s work’ mindset that actors, writers, and producers have about rape demonstrates the network’s disregard towards actual victims. Those involved in production have become dull to the harm and pain caused by sexual assault, and their work is all the more distasteful because of it. Put simply, several shows at HBO normalize rape.
They do it by signing programs that hone in on the sex-industry in order to exploit that context to show more graphic sex scenes, nudity, and sexual exploitation. James Franco’s The Deuce is particularly vulgar. In one instance it portrays a pimp “who physically intimidates his stable of women but also has moments that betray a conflicted, underlying humanity.” This disturbing character insight is meant to draw viewers to sympathize with someone who subjugates and exploits women. Normalizing or justifying the behavior of a sexual predator does harm to actual victims of sexual assault. Shows like The Deuce are produced with a blatant lack of sensitivity for real women who have gone through similar experiences.
It is worth notingthat the latest season of Game of Thrones didn’t include a single scene involving a brothel or women being used in prostitution. It’s a small victory as the show remains rampant with other sexually explicit material, but it sends the signal that HBO’s writers and executives can be convinced to change their content.
While we have their attention, the executives should know that we have zero tolerance for shows that trivialize sexual violence. If we allow acts of incest and exploitation to become a normal part of television, we’ll be making more work for ourselves, as we strive to bring justice to real-life victims of such abuse.
HBO can’t control what people do. They can’t make people stop committing sex crimes. We know that. But they do control the kind of content they expose audiences to. They could certainly be more careful and significantly less gratuitous in the way they portray those dark parts of human experience. We’re calling for HBO to keep real victims of sex trafficking in mind and reflect on what they really want to accomplish on their network.