The Deuce: Porn, Nostalgia and Late Capitalism

By Sullivan, Rebecca; Women's Studies Program Professor et al. | The Canadian Press, September 19, 2017 | Go to article overview

The Deuce: Porn, Nostalgia and Late Capitalism


Sullivan, Rebecca, Women's Studies Program Professor, English, Department of, University of Calgary and Laura Helen Marks, Fellow, Postdoctoral, University, Tulane, The Canadian Press


The Deuce: Porn, nostalgia and late capitalism

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This article was originally published on The Conversation, an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. Disclosure information is available on the original site.

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Authors: Rebecca Sullivan, Director, Women's Studies Program Professor, Department of English, University of Calgary and Laura Helen Marks, Postdoctoral Fellow, Tulane University

"Gritty" and "authentic" -- these words of praise are now commonplace when discussing the television dramas of David Simon. And no less so with The Deuce, his series about the rise of the pornography industry in the 1970s, which debuted Sept. 10 on HBO. But there's another term that helps explain the show's appeal: Nostalgia.

Simon's The Deuce is a searing critique of late capitalism, with the central thesis that pornography itself ushered in an era of libertarian market forces and with it, misogyny.

It was probably only a matter of time before high-quality television attempted to dig into the complex world of 1970s porn, a world that, once profoundly visible, is all but erased from the streets of 21st century New York City.

Today's porn, now primarily based in Los Angeles, bears little resemblance to the porn produced in the time known as the "Golden Age." Simon is riding a swell of renewed interest in this curious blip in porn history.

Companies such as Vinegar Syndrome and Distribpix lovingly restore and re-release HD copies of classic porno of the era, while artsy cinemas such as the New Beverly in Los Angeles and Anthology Archives in New York run XXX retrospectives. Showtime channel aired two seasons of Dave's Old Porn as well as two documentaries, X-Rated and X-Rated 2, that listed the greatest adult films and adult stars of all time.

Understanding sex workers

Marketing surrounding The Deuce has highlighted the authentic portrayal of the New York City that once was, including the players that lived the golden age.

Series co-star Maggie Gyllenhall has been particularly vocal about her commitment to understanding the women sex workers of the time, reading Tina Russell's autobiography Porno Star and speaking with show consultant, Annie Sprinkle, a former sex worker and sex educator.

Simon has repeatedly insisted pornography is central to problems of 21st century labour and gender relations. But if we accept pornography (and the sex industry in general) is to blame for everything that went wrong with postmodern America, what does that mean for the progressive politics of work and sex?

The show follows twin brothers, Vincent and Frankie Martino (played by James Franco), and street-based sex worker Eileen "Candy" Merrell (played by Maggie Gyllenhall). They're looking for ways out of poverty by getting in on the ground floor of the emerging pornographic film industry. For Candy, especially, pornography is a chance to exert more control over her work by moving indoors and selling sex as a performance instead of a trade.

Gender diversity

Simon and his co-creator, George Pelacanos, went to great lengths to consult with sex workers of the era, most notably Sprinkle. They also hired women such as crime novelist Megan Abbott and Breaking Bad's Michelle MacLaren into significant creative roles. Gyllenhall also serves as a series producer.

The conscious gender diversity adds considerably to the nuanced portraits of the women characters. Candy, an independent worker, is unique among the women strolling 42nd Street, who typically rely on pimps who simultaneously protect and abuse them.

Yet, Candy is not the only one who sees opportunity in pornography. Darlene (Dominique Fishback), a sweet-faced young worker, feels exploited when she realizes a client is making money from a film of their date, and turns to her pimp for fair remuneration. It dawns on her that there may be alternatives to the street. …

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