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Flesh And Bone (2015)

The intro sequence of >i> Flesh and Bone .
The intro sequence of Flesh and Bone.

Flesh and Bone is on Starz, and predictably over the top, and you know it will be from the moment the credits start. A tiny ballerina dances amidst red dust that’s maybe blood, maybe drugs, who even knows, accompanied by a cover of that Animotion song “Obsession.”

Flesh and Bone is a dance story, and as such, it needs a wide-eyed young woman in a new and anxiety-provoking dance environment: sadistic and deeply unhappy gay impresario Paul’s (Ben Daniels) company. The show adds some seriously Black Swan elements of grotesquerie and personal torment, and then its own unique take on compromise.

And that’s what made it interesting to me. Not the dancing, although I like it. And not the relatively few strip club scenes, which is how I got sold on it. I’m interested in the way it works with compromise, or what some would call prostitution. Not just actual whoring—although yes, also that—but the other dictionary definition, the exchange of personal values for some other kind of gain. What do we do for money, the show asks, in between shots of beautiful bodies stretched to improbable limits and monstrous shots of pain and suffering. What’s the price for a chance at success, and what does that cost?

Men Love It When You Really Glob It On: Sex Work via Futurama

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Futurama: definite contender for “greatest show of all time.” You already know it’s hilarious, but do you also know that it’s actually about sex work? Allow me to demonstrate with a series of GIFs, clips and humorous macros that I am convinced we can all relate to.
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 Few television characters embody the Douche Client more perfectly than Zapp Brannigan. You know the type: massive yet fragile ego that requires constant stroking, weird obsession with own perceived attractiveness, and a stable of skin-crawlingly irritating “seduction” techniques.

Bonding (2019)

“It’s your life story!” a friend texted me on April 24th along with a screenshot of Netflix’s new show Bonding. It was one of five or six texts I received that day from friends and clients making sure I’d heard about this new program that follows a dominatrix/grad student in and out of the dungeon. As a dominatrix/grad student myself, friends were sure I’d be interested in the show. I’d already heard about it on social media, where opinions were pretty starkly divided between sex workers and non-sex workers. I wasn’t exactly interested in this show so much as I was morbidly curious, because I could tell from these reviews and from the show’s own promos that Bonding was not made for someone like me.

Hell, Bonding isn’t really even about someone like me; it’s really about the dominatrix’s best friend, Pete (Brendan Scannell). An audience surrogate, Pete starts the series as a vanilla naïf knocking on a dungeon door, summoned there to be Mistress May (aka Tiff)’s (Zoe Levin) bodyguard, or, as I shrieked while watching the promo, “a FUCKING body guard!” No domme I know can afford to pay twenty percent (later in the series, forty percent) of her income to a bodyguard, as Mistress May inexplicably decides to do. We don’t really need to, either; we often work in incall spaces with receptionists and other dommes. But a story about two women sex workers working together for safety wouldn’t allow us an audience surrogate, and if there’s one thing a non-sex working show runner like Bonding’s Rightor Doyle wouldn’t abide, it would be throwing the audience in head-first into a world populated mostly by sex workers.

Satisfaction (2007-2010)

Image via SocialistJazz
Image via SocialistJazz

When I heard about the Showtime Australia drama Satisfaction, set in a swanky Melbourne brothel, I think I elbowed an old lady out of the way to check it out of the library. Yep, library: they take sex work much less negatively in Australia than they do in the United States. It’s legal, although to varying degrees of decriminalization, normalization, and support depending on what state you’re in. West Australia, where I worked, had a variety of irritating laws designed to prevent women from working outside of brothels: they weren’t allowed to hire support staff, like drivers or security, and often had to file taxes in a totally ridiculous way. In Melbourne, across the country in Victoria, sex work is legally licensed and regulated by the state: workers have licenses, regular mandated medical check-ups, and can work independently or through brothels.

Satisfaction is a super swanky TV show about a super swanky brothel, and I absolutely loved it. I’ve never been to a Melbourne brothel, but I have to assume that the glittery hanging curtains, ornate gilt decor, and licensed bar of 232, the Satisfaction home base, are probably not par for the course. They smell more of “movie set designed to make you impressed” rather than “actual working brothel.” The script, though…the script treats sex workers as real human beings, with dignity and respect, facing a variety of issues unrelated to their jobs. Sometimes they hang out together after work; sometimes they have problems unique to sex work; but for large chunks of every episode, the show discusses human dynamics among a group of women who are working for themselves and doing it by choice. There is no coercion here, and the all-too-frequent stereotype we see on US TV (“Debbie couldn’t pay her rent, and now she’s giving blow jobs for crack in some dude’s Pinto!”) is notably, refreshingly absent.

Something Beautiful You Can Truly Bone: Prostitution For Partnership on Mad Men

TOTAL SPOILER ALERT. If you watch Mad Men but haven’t seen Sunday’s episode yet, you’ve been warned. But the whole wide internet has been talking about this episode all week, so we don’t really know how you don’t know. Despite this being Friday, Charlotte and I couldn’t possible expect you all to get along without hearing what Tits and Sass had to say about “The Other Woman.”

Bubbles: Along with the smoking, racism, Beatles references, and plastic raincoats, the subordinate place of women in the workplace and the home is one of the ways Mad Men reminds viewers it’s set in the Sixties. Last Sunday’s episode, “The Other Woman,” gave each female lead gender-related obstacles: Peggy Olson was thwarted in her efforts to be recognized professionally, Megan Draper had to assert her independence within marriage, and Joan Harris confronted her treatment as an asset to be used to win an account.

Joan turned/was turned out for one very expensive trick in this episode when she agreed to sleep with a sleazy Jaguar dealer—thought to have a crucial say in whether the agency would land the account, and willing to booty call- blackmail the firm —in exchange for a partnership stake in Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (Harris? Holloway?). The act was revealed in an effective, emotionally manipulative bit of story structure. First we think she didn’t go, as Don Draper stops by her apartment to tell her that 1) he wasn’t in on the partners’ decision to extend the offer to her and 2) it wasn’t worth it (I hoped she’d just look at him and say “I’m not your damn mother, Don,” instead of giving him that maternal “good boy!” pat on the cheek). But then in cutaways, we see he came by after the deal was done. My first reaction was mild panic as I thought “Oh, no, I hope this doesn’t mean she misses out on the payday!” It would be like getting ripped off by a customer/client. And then I thought “Boy, when Sal wouldn’t bang the closet case from Lucky Strike, they didn’t offer him shit, and then they just canned his ass.”

But Joan went through with it and grabbed the brass ring of partnership, which in my opinion is as much of a happy ending as we’re likely to see on this show. Opinions in the weird world of television recapping varied widely, though, and give us a great opportunity to look at some of the tropes that get trotted out whenever people talk about prostitution. Woman’s bodies don’t just belong to their inhabitants, after all. They’re for everyone to have an opinion about! Starting with their value.