The Joy of Sexploitation: Sex Sells Narrative Exposition through ‘Sexposition’

Using sex to sell is not a new phenomenon, but it has recently become a prevalent distraction for the audience in the delivery of exposition and narrative plot points in an evening’s television viewing. A recent Guardianarticle (12/03/12) by Michael Hann addresses the now common television phenomenon of ‘sexposition’, which he defines as ‘the art of outlining all that tedious plot against a background of no-holds-barred sex.’ (Hann, 2012: 10) Hann credits television critic Myles McNutt with coining the term when discussing the excessive use of nudity and explicit sexual content as a star attraction and part of the appeal of a show like HBO’s Game of Thrones. Further to this Hann addresses how James Poniewozik, TV Critic for Time magazine, has extended that definition of ‘sexposition’ to be ‘something more than gratuitous or ample sex and nudity in a show – it’s using that sex to divert the audience, or give the characters something to do in scenes that involve a big download of information or monologue.’ (Poniewozik in Hann, 2012: 10)
Game of Thrones: Sex Sells and Why Women Rule the World

With the emotional drama of shows such as Sons of Anarchy played out against a backdrop of porn film production, strippers concealing the exposition at work in The Sopranos, the sexual skulduggery of Game of Thrones and the fetishised alternative sexualities of True Blood, it is possible to identify how sexploitation serves to titillate tired audiences and narrativise plot points through the use of emotive sexuality. As Maureen Coleman of the Belfast Telegraph states, ‘I just didn’t realise there’d be so much sex. Outdoor sex, girl-on-girl sex lessons, a vertically-challenged character (played brilliantly by Peter Dinklage) cavorting with prostitutes, and, most shockingly of all, incestuous sex.’ (Coleman, 2001)

Hann makes the argument that sexposition offers a means of product differentiation from mainstream television, as ‘premium TV’ product, there is an expectation that shows such as these will offer more than the standards of free-to-air tv permit and will offer a new experience that just happens to bare a little more than tits and ass.

Coleman, Maureen, 2011. Game of ThronesOutdoor Sex, Girl-on-Girl Sex, Dwarf Sex and Incestuous Sex. Belfast Telegraph. Available at:  20 April 2011. [Accessed on 15 March 2012]
Hann, Michael, 2012. Fleshing Out the Plot. The Guardian. G2 Section. 12 March 2012. 10-11.
McNutt, Myles, 2011. Game of Thrones – “You Win or You Die” Cultural Learnings. Available at: 29 May 2011. [Accessed on 15 March 2012]
Poniewozik, James, 2011. Game of Thrones Watch: Rising From the Ashes. Time Magazine. Available at: http://entertainment.time.com20 June 2011. [Accessed on 15 March 2012]

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