A Matrix of the Sex Trade: An analysis of labour relations in prostitution and pornography in HBO’s The Deuce

University essay from Lunds universitet/Medie- och kommunikationsvetenskap

Abstract: The feminist and sociological debate of prostitution and pornography is an often polarized one. That seeps into the way media represent these practices and the ways these representations are studied. This thesis moves beyond that divisive debate by looking into labour relations and structures of exploitation through a case study of the first season of HBO’s The Deuce, which is a show about the 1970’s sex trade. This thesis also adds to the growing body of literature of television style, using a combination of Butler’s style analysis and Mittell’s concept of narrative complexity for a dual method approach into the television text. This thesis argues for the importance of style when it comes to analysing television as well as overcoming the dualities of the feminist debate that make complexities of the sex industry invisible, with the aim not only to contribute to the literature of style but assist in the understandings of the sex trade. The analysis presented here shows the details of the different labour relations that are represented in The Deuce and how those relate to issues of abuse, freedom, safety, and drug use in the programme. It also makes clear the exploitation of labour and distribution of surplus in systems that interlock patriarchy, racism and capitalism, with the involvement of the Mafia and the Police for a growth in profits. The representation of pornography in the show also illuminates the differences in commodification and the transition period in the beginning of the Golden Age of pornography. The show also represents pornography as a safe work environment, where the only form of abuse comes from the labour relation between pimps and prostitutes. The use of style complements the narrative by providing a realistic storyworld for the viewer who peeps into the lives of these characters and show an interconnectedness between people and systems which extrapolate the micro understanding and theorization of prostitution as simply female choice and agency.

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