For about 18 years, David Simon worked as a journalist in Baltimore and met a lot of people that he describes “did a lot of different things that were subject to other people’s judgment.” The outcome spawned one of televisions most beloved shows The Wire, which included a cast of characters who were no beacon of moral standing.
When it came time to research the world of sex work for his new HBO series The Deuce, Simon wasn’t beside himself with shock or shame, but instead he was overcome with one prevalent thought.
“I think [sex workers] need a union,” Simon said. “They deserve a legality and I think they deserve collective bargaining rights and they deserve the protections of a regulated industry, not to pick their pockets but to protect the reality of their lives and to rationalize what is in fact a societal demand.”
Simon along with James Franco one of the show’s stars, were on hand at HBO’s New York offices this weekend to promote the series. Set in 1971 New York and named after the slang used to denote 42nd Street, Franco plays twin brothers Vincent Martino a likable bar manager with a penchant for turning even the worst situations around, and his degenerate brother Frankie who’s older by 28 minutes with a gambling debt that places them both in bed with the mob.
In the pilot episode, Frankie is seen walking along the deuce when he says hello to a sex worker performing oral sex on a John inside a phone booth. The moment, which lasts all of 10 seconds, was just one of many that takes away the titillating nature of sex in the series and makes it transactional. Yet despite how out in the open buying and selling of flesh and pleasure was in 1971, Franco knows that world wasn’t kind to anyone.
“I was born in ’78 and I didn’t come to New York until the 90s but my favorite movies coming up as an actor were the movies from New York in the 1970s. It wasn’t pretty but it was exciting, there’s something about it,” Franco, who also directed episodes of The Deuce said. “So for me, on a personal level being able to go into this world within the safety of making a television show is very exciting. That being said, I have no allusions that the world we’re depicting is…I don’t get the sense many people are actually happy or comfortable in this world.”
“We wanted that moment to say ‘this is how transactional’ the product can be,” Simon added. “This is how ordinary and quotidian and transactional sex is as a product in this world that you now entered.”
The Deuce begins it’s eight episode season Sunday (Sept. 10) with the remaining episodes airing every Sunday. Simon enlists a few Wire alums to bring to life pimps, cops and restaurant owners but maintains a lot of the show is to demonstrate the hypocrisy and misogyny of men.
“We’re so full of bullsh*t in this country about who we are, particularly men. We want to play the puritan but we want to entertain this demand which is fairly voracious for commodified flesh. Part of the job is to collectively rub our own noses in it and say ‘No more pretend.’ you can’t pretend to be above or beyond the reach of this and have a billion dollar pornography industry that’s at the fingertips of 10 year olds on a laptop,” Simon said. “The first job of the piece is to basically say who are you kidding? This is us, collectively this is the male gender, this is what we’ve been assembling for 50 years, so start with that and until you sort of do that job no one is ever going to get to the point of doing the right thing politically or economically on behalf of anybody.”
Despite the layers of each of the characters involved in The Deuce, Simon says no matter how much change, whether it be policy or conversation, there will always be some who view the service of sex work as an opportunity to strip the sex worker of their humanity.
“I will say there are plenty of people for whom part of the transactional nature of prostitution is the chance to look down on somebody else that’s built into the sexuality or the implied violence of the transaction, this act is deeming in my mind, as the John and you see a lot of that and I’m not that all the intellectualizing you might build up around it, like think about it for a moment this is another human being, all that work you might do, and this person is hell bent on something else. “
HBO’s The Deuce debuts Sunday (Sept. 10) at 9PMEST