No, HBO Isn’t Porn—and That’s Part of the Problem

Ramin Djawadi has done a superb job of composing the music for HBO’s hit series Game of Thrones. As one who hasn’t watched the show, I only recently binge-listened to the music from all seven seasons. I don’t think I’ve ever done that with any other TV series. From the iconic main titles sequence for each season, to the elegant “Light of the Seven,” to the epic “The Army of the Dead,” Djawadi has created an impressive musical tapestry.

The music from this series is just one example how Game of Thrones is no run-of-the-mill television series. The production values, quality of acting, and narrative complexities of GOT (not to mention its plethora of Emmy nominations) all point to the impressive artistry exemplified by the show’s participants.

Look, I get it. Game of Thrones, in addition to other HBO shows, isn’t just all hype. It is a genuinely intriguing drama, and it understandably has captured the interest of millions of viewers. If not for its graphic sexual and violent content, I would likely be watching it (and other HBO dramas) myself.
                                                                                                               
SEXMANTICS

Those familiar with my writings are aware that my criticism of Game of Thrones has been focused on its sexually explicit nature. Fellow critics and I have used the term “pornography” in describing some of the content of shows and films like it.

It is important, however, to address what some of our detractors have pointed out: Game of Thrones is not the same as porn. It has professional actors with a legitimate plot, genuine artistry, and mainstream appeal.

And you know what? These folks are correct. Game of Thrones, along with other prestigious cable fare, is not the same thing as a pornographic film you’d pick up in your local adult entertainment store.

Furthermore, during the summer of 2018, HBO completely and officially eliminated all of its late-night adult fare. And while HBO continues to produce material with graphic sexuality and nudity, it “will not be producing shows specifically centered on graphic nudity any longer.”

So we should stop using porn as a comparison, right? Well, not so fast. Let’s consider one factor I haven’t addressed before.

On occasion, it appears the producers of Game of Thrones have hired porn stars to participate in the show. Pop Culture contributor Stephen Andrew writes, “There's likely a lot less shyness present on set when it comes time to get down to the nitty gritty if the actor is already well-acquainted with the content being filmed.”

In fact, Game of Thrones isn’t the only show that has relied on porn stars for sexual scenes. True Detective employed porn actresses for an orgy scene because they would “already [be] comfortable filming sex scenes.” And another orgy scene in Westworld involved the contributions of at least four porn stars.

Does this mean that HBO intentionally relies on porn stars for really racy scenes? Not necessarily. Sometimes it might be intentional, and sometimes it might just be happenstance—like when an actor in the adult entertainment industry answers a casting call for an HBO shoot. (After all, hiring four porn stars for an orgy scene that involves dozens of actors means plenty of mainstream actors, or regular extras, still participated.)

Nevertheless, the involvement of porn stars in mainstream entertainment is still emblematic of a real and pervasive cultural trend—the merging of art and pornography: “As western society becomes increasingly liberal, art becomes more experimental and the distribution of porn, commonplace. As a result art and pornography continue to merge.” Or, as Beauty Redefined points out, “Scholars and media experts agree that the line between pop culture and pornography has shifted and blurred over the last decade.” And the more we see pornographic material show up in mainstream media, the more willing we are as a society to accept it.

I would condemn pornography outright as a societal and moral evil. I would not, however, condemn mainstream media in general as an outright evil. Many of you, I surmise, would agree with me on that distinction. And yet, desensitized as we’ve become by the merging of the two, we more readily accept the former when it shows up in the latter. It’s as if we view this situation as analogous to Jesus touching a leper and thus making him clean: in the realm of entertainment, the contact between high art and pornographic material somehow cleanses and justifies the sexual content.

GAMES OF PORNOGRAPHY

In Why HBO is entering the XXX business with ‘Westworld’, former porn star Alia Janine comments on the orgy scene from Westworld that required extras to be fully nude and be willing to participate in hand-to-genital and genital-to-genital touching:

To me, it’s the same concept [as being naked in porn]. Even if it’s simulated, you’re selling sexual content and doing sexual things, and this will and can have an effect on your professional and personal life. . . . I think that porn’s a lot more mainstream now with the Internet, and HBO may have to compete with that. So they try to make things sexier, or get more weird or creative, just to get people to watch it.”

So, according to a former porn star, mainstream entertainment is in a competition of sorts with pornography to keep peoples’ attention. In any case, the lines between mainstream entertainment and pornographic entertainment have blurred. Shows with adult content on HBO (or Netflix, or even prime time TV) are not equivalent to the hardcore porn now saturating the internet. Nevertheless, many of these shows are influenced, whether consciously or unconsciously, by the normalization of pornography. That is a problem.

There are plenty of people out there struggling with addition to pornography. They would never dream of publicly sharing the porn they watch in secret. And yet these same individuals would much more likely be comfortable watching—and promoting—mainstream media with pornographic elements. I will likely never see a post on my Facebook feed from a friend recommending that we check out Biker Bimbos from Belleview Go Bonkers. What I do see is plenty of folks posting on Facebook about this or that raunchy-but-artsy show with giddy excitement.

Now, don’t hear what I’m not saying. Do I mean that anyone and everyone who watches the latest HBO sensation is automatically a slimy pervert? No, I don’t. That would be uncharitable. This situation is serious enough without the need for such hyperbole.

No, my point is that we have grown accustomed to promoting pornographic material as long as it’s properly packaged. As Uproxx puts it, “The sex and violence can be gratuitous at times…and the motivations of the characters can veer into the perverse, but that’s all part of [the] Game of Thrones package.” We’re willing to ignore, or put up with, or excuse, or defend content that technically isn’t porn because it is packaged in the folds of Art and Acting and Themes and Whatnot.

PORNSPLAINING

“It isn’t porn” is a frail and faulty defense of any prestigious art medium. Yes, it may be populated with distinguished actors, but does that mean dignified actors are incapable of sexual acts? Yes, it may have high production values, but does that mean the quality of film stock neutralizes hypersexualized content? Yes, it may be distributed globally with cultural acceptance and applause, but does that mean large segments of the global population can’t ever be wrong? Yes, it may be so much more than mere gratuitous and perverse sex—but it’s no less than that either.

Films and plays and shows with porn-inspired content are not identical to bona fide porn. The two are not identical, but they are also far from dissimilar. If you’re fine with porn, then there’s nothing for you to worry about. Carry on, fellow citizen.

But if you are saddened by the infiltration of pornography into every aspect of our society, and if you are sickened by the myriad of ways in which porn has inspired real-life treatment of our fellow human beings (and women in particular), and if you are shocked by the ways in which the sacredness of human sexuality has been carelessly trampled upon by careless and wanton entertainers, then I suggest you take at least a brief pause and prayerfully consider your own choices and motives and actions.

Because you might just actually be a part of the problem. And the more you contribute to the problem, the more you work directly against what you say you believe.

photo credit: GOTsfile via flickr, CC

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