I get it, HBO. You’ve got a good thing going in the whole TV series gig. People are flocking to watch your offerings, and I can’t blame them. You consistently produce some really fine television, filled with gripping plots, complex characters, intriguing settings,
Not porn porn, I’m sure you’ll explain. But when you have to start offering disclaimers that involve the word “penetration” anywhere in them, then I think we can all agree that you’re splitting hairs by that point. The fact is you show graphic sex so much in your shows that pop culture came up with a whole new word, just for you: sexposition. (For a funny, but somewhat tawdry, explanation of this, check out SNL’s spoof it.)
Looking over the history of HBO’s shows, it’s pretty easy to see how they arrived at the present state. Sure, they started with tennis, Fraggle Rock, and Encyclopedia Brown, but then they moved over to add some late night programming like Tales from the Crypt or just blatant adult fare like Real Sex. But where they started having success was with Sex and the City, followed up by the Sopranos. Follow along for The Wire, Deadwood, Rome, Big Love, True Blood, and end up with Game of Thrones. Bit by bit, the envelope was pushed. I’m not an expert on all of these shows, but the trajectory seems clear to me.
Netflix is using HBO as a jumping off point, going straight for the gratuitous nudity in Orange is the New Black, or House of Cards. (This whole complaint really crystallized in my head when Denisa and I wanted to check out a new show. I’d heard good things about Orange, but apparently hadn’t done enough home work. My bad. Or is it Netflix’s?)
The pattern seems clear these days: have compelling television, but make sure not to miss out on the sex and nudity and profanity–and if you can add in some extra gore, all the better.
I don’t think of myself as a prude. Yes, I’m conservative. Yes, I’m Mormon. But I’m pretty open minded when it comes to my media (a topic for another post, please). But as I see this trajectory, I can’t help but wonder why it has to be this way. There have been tons of awesome, incredible movies and TV shows made without a single f-bomb, nipple, or exploding chest cavity to be seen. I would argue that the addition of graphic sex, violence, and profanity generally makes a show or movie worse, not better.
Take a look over IMDB’s top 250 list. Yes, you have plenty of R-rated fare on this list. Violence, sex, and profanity are present. But you name any of those movies, and I can easily play the HBO game and tell you what HBO or Netflix would throw in to make the movie or show “more successful.” After all, how in the world could Shawshank Redemption manage to get by without actually showing the prison rape on screen? I’m sure Coppola can’t sleep at night, knowing how much better The Godfather would have been if most of the dialogue scenes were set in a strip club with writhing women all over.
But still, it’s hard to argue with success. Game of Thrones is doing wonders. House of Cards is talked about everywhere. Orange is the New Black is the buzz of the entertainment industry.
I just wish that producers wouldn’t be looking at these shows and deciding that what’s drawing everyone to the table must be the boobs. Granted, I suppose I should be happy they’re noticing the high production values, writing, acting, and the like. But where do we go from here? At what point do we just give up altogether and have the entire cast be naked for the whole series. (Oh wait . . .)
Yes, I realize there’s the ever present “If you don’t like it, don’t watch it” argument to be made, and that’s certainly valid. But in a society that’s decided to throw porn up all across the internet, for free, is it really necessary to throw it into everything else? Even the awesome Batttlestar Galactica couldn’t resist dipping its toes into as edgy territory as Syfy would let them.
I don’t have a solution here. Just a complaint. As long as the shows continue to be popular, I don’t think the equation is going to change at all. Such is life. But a guy can still yearn for the old days where a little propriety went a long way. Sooner or later, I have to assume some sort of line will be crossed where people just refuse to go further. After all, if movies had the same content HBO and Netflix television shows splash on the screen, there’s no way they’d pass by with a simple R rating.
Can’t we just decide as a society that R is about as edgy as anything focused simply on telling good stories needs to get? Why are more people not speaking out against this trend? Is it because they don’t care? Or they’re staying quiet because they don’t want to admit they’ve seen the shows? Or am I really just a prude and should keep my big trap shut? Feel free to sound off in the comments and let me know what you think.