The world is volatile. The brain is sensitive. I think one of the fundamental differences between animals and humans, is that we learnt what gives our brain pleasure. Once we learnt that, we devised substances and subjected other fellow humans, who mind you, are as ambitious, as whole, as human as you, to our desires, kinks, fantasies. And there is one thing about pleasure: the brain can never have enough of it, if you keep feeding it.

Where are headed when: Someone who has a “rape-y” vibe, is what actually excites the other person; When the high point of an international popstar’s dance routine are the sweaty hip thrusts from background dancers; When a domineering man says to a woman, “You fit perfectly in my arms”; When the lead literally chokes herself while masturbating to reach an orgasm; When the plot of a high-budget tv show becomes a conveyer belt for pornographic terminology, references, imagery and misogyny, for viewers to feed from every Sunday.

This is an opinion piece. Sam Levinson probably won’t find this but he has found you and your brain and he is altering the pathways under the name of satire. The good thing about good satire is that you never forget you’re watching a satire. It keeps you aware through its characters, its scenes, its dialogues, of the jabs it is taking at the contemporary times. But when satire is used for indulgence into your own twisted corners of the mind, we’re in quick-sand.

Satire provokes thought, makes you look around and question your own unaware state toward things that matter. But when a show that marches under the garb of satire, becomes a space for makers and viewers to indulge in into their potential kinks and fantasies, to pleasure themselves while a charcter literally chokes herself while also pleasuring herself, it blurs the line where the satire lies.

Some makers wanna shock you. Creating empathy through their story, informing, educating are not their priorities but to sensationalize is. They are “boundary-pushers” with no regard for sensitivity because that is the very thing they wanna exploit. It gets eyeballs, tweets and scandals. And some shows just want to be scandals.

Sam Levinson, the dark-and-twisted mind (HBO’s words, not mine), took over the director’s role after Amy Seimetz left, having completed 80% of the job. Levinson stepped in, partly because Abel Tesfaye (The Weeknd) felt the show was showing “too much of a female’s perspective”. As per an exposé from Rolling Stone, with interviews from around a dozen people from the show, after Levinson the show had ventured into “torture porn”, with horrible on-set conditions, expensive re-shoots to reshape the show to Levinson and Tesfaye’s liking.

When Levinson’s wife read out the article to him, he said, “I think we are going to have the biggest show of the summer”. And that is extremely important and telling of a director’s response to a scathing report of serious critique about his show. It shows what matters to the director above all. The sexual scenes, the nudity were dialed up for a reason.

What started out as a satire of the dark fame and the fame model under Seimetz, turned into a “rape fantasy” that has the woman coming back for more because it seemingly helps her music, under Levinson.

In the beginning of the episode, as Jocelyn (Lily-Rose Depp) poses for a photo shoot at her mansion, surrounded by an entourage of her creative director, pr manager etc, the intimacy coordinator objects to Jocelyn exposing her breasts for the album cover. Cut to, he’s locked up in the bathroom and the shoot goes on.

It is important to question, if what we see from Jocelyn is an approach towards body autonomy or plain catering to the male gaze from the lens of Levinson. As Joc’s label manager (Jane Adams) comments during this, “Will you let people enjoy sex, drugs and hot girls? Stop trying to cock-block America”. That is precisely what the show does. It enjoys, doesn’t criticize unlike a satire should.

There is one scene that got me thinking of how things could be on-set. As Jocelyn practices a sultry, come-hither, Britney-esque dance routine for the tour, we are bombarded with a sudden, extreme-close up of Jocelyn spanking her near-bare buttocks. Don’t see how that adds to character development, plot development or anything substantial, but let’s go on to the point.

Imagine a camera man holding a lens close to Jocelyn’s buttocks and the director cuing the actor to spank it. No matter how safe a set is, monitored by an intimacy-coordinator (who is hopefully not locked up in a bathroom), I can’t see this act, which would have taken multiple takes for all we know, becomes a front for voyeurism for on-set folks and the viewers at home. Just to imagine everything focused on a woman’s buttocks, while a directors stares into a monitor, giving cues to get his vision of a spank, is utterly dehumanising to the actor and serves no creative vision.

Jocelyn is in two-minds about her new single and enters Tedros (The Weeknd), as a rat-tailed cult-leader, who notices Joc dancing in his club. He asks, no, he insists on a dance, they both get to grinding and the party for two moves to the stairwell. Later when Joc’s assistant calls his vibe “rape-y”, Joc admits that’s what she likes about him.

I’m still trying to see how this chalks up to a satire. As things go on, Tedros hands out advice about the kind of music she should be making. It’s barely been a whole night and he’s taking control. That’s alright for his character is supposed to be domineering but why does a woman’s artistic release, come only after complete submission to the man’s altar of fantasies.

Her singing doesn’t give him the “vibe” that “she knows how to fuck”, observes Tedros, and that is his first and only feedback after she plays a song for him to judge. When such a comment is synced to the visuals of a woman being turned on, who is scantily covered, as music plays in the background and the man moves into a dominant posture, it shapes a growing mind and plants the idea, that a good song from a woman should give you the vibe that she knows how to fuck and suddenly that’s how every kid on the block is judging music.

In one of the most disgusting scenes, after handing out such constructive criticism to Jocelyn, Tedros covers her head and face with a blood-red cloth, chokes her, and cuts a breathing hole into the cloth. As she gasps for air, Tedros says the final words to the episode, “Now you can sing”. That’s how Tedros opens up the creative pathways inside Jocelyn’s brain for making exceptional music.

The Idol was marketed as coming from “the dark and twisted mind of Levinson”. How dark and twisted does it have to get, before we have had enough of it? When darkness is combined with pleasure, and that is alright for getting turned-on by that is not unusual, but when there is an evident layer of patriarchy, misogyny and a woman is always on the receiving end, it becomes into a monster that affects what people who are growing up idolize.

So many will idolize The Idol. They will claim it’s bold, it’s dangerous, it’s thrilling, it’s wild. The brain will respond to these hits for it’s easy. It requires no thought, no careful questioning, it just involves pleasure. What act is, during one time, a mortal sin, is packaged as a progressive opening and exploration of boundaries in another time (present), and we buy it because the mansions, the clubs, the drinks, the blinding lights make it too difficult to keep clear of the boundaries.

What’s important is to look back. What do we learn when a club is called a church for all sinners and the “sinners” respond with hoorays; when a label manager shares casually how she was having sex in the Capitol Records building starewell and walking straight into meetings; when a cigarette needs to be lit up to get through a conversation; when a director delights his show is a scandal for all the wrong reasons, the reasons he wanted it to be for.


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