Monday, December 12, 2011

Under the Boardwalk

If you’re a fan of the television show “Boardwalk Empire” and you haven’t watched the last two episodes of this season, you may want not want to click through to read the rest of this entry if you are trying to avoid spoilers. I will first look at reaction to the second-to-last episode, and then I’ll give another warning before doing the same for the season finale. It has been nearly impossible to miss spoilers and if you’re reading this blog, then you’ve probably put two and two together already. But here’s goes…

It was hinted at in previous episodes, but made explicit in the second-to-last episode: Gillian and Jimmy had sex when he was at Princeton. This is relevant to this blog because Gillian and Jimmy are mother and her adult son.

Sarene Leeds at wrote

The entire episode was Freud's Oedipus complex writ large: Jimmy slept with his mother and killed his father, promptly replacing Angela's brutal murder as the show's most disturbing development to date.

Murder is disturbing. (Angela and her female lover were murdered.)

One beatdown later, Jimmy has kissed his Princeton career goodbye and has accompanied his drunk mother back to her boarding house. From the moment the two enter the room, you can feel what's coming. Jimmy starts of the scene half-naked thanks to a bloody shirt. Toss in a vulnerable Gillian ("I'm the loneliest person on Earth”), and you have a recipe for one of the most sickening moments in television history.

Does it sometimes happen that way? Yes. But there’s also the reality that sober, attractive, intelligent, sane, good people engage in consanguinamory (you can read about some of them here), and do so without cheating, and it would be nice to see that presented sometime.

Gillian falls onto the bed and caresses her son's face. Jimmy weakly attempts to leave by moving his lips toward his mother's forehead, but her mouth obstructs his path. "There's nothing wrong with any of it!” she reassures Jimmy as their bodies intertwine, a train loudly rolling by outside.

Jimmy awakens the next morning to find his mother gone. Revolted by what he's done, he escapes into the Army, giving Angela's name as his only next of kin. Poor Angela. Even with this backstory, she remains the innocent victim of a drastically twisted family.

Back in 1921, a disconsolate Jimmy has been holing up in a hotel room, ignoring his mother's phone calls and getting drunk and high – the latter courtesy of Lucky Luciano's nascent heroin business.


Joe R. at

Word of Angela Darmody's Sapphic demise trickles out into Atlantic City, but Jimmy has yet to return home. In his absence, we get flashbacks to his days at Princeton, where his Michael Pitt Hair is able to flop around freely, and he's sneaking off for secret trysts with a weirdly dressed Angela. Enter Gillian, who comes to campus for the weekend, flirts with -- and later gets groped by -- Jimmy's professor, leading to a fight, and finally, when Jimmy drunkenly puts her to bed, they carry out the incestuous act we all really hoped we wouldn't end up seeing. The next morning, Jimmy signs up for the army to get away.

Brittany Ryan at

The truth is incest makes for damn good fiction. From 17th century Jacobean tragedies to 1990s Twin Peaks and modern day Game of Thrones, utilizing the dark seduction of incest is a sure fire way to thicken plotlines. Boardwalk Empire’s Oedipal scene will undoubtedly be highlighted as one of the small screen’s most affecting.
Later, she writes…

Oh Yes: Or maybe ‘Oh no’ this time around: Gillian assuring Jimmy, “It’s okay, baby. There’s nothing wrong with any of it.” Ewww!

Dave Itzkoff at sees a pattern at HBO

If it was not quite the “ick” heard ’round the world, there was a collective shudder that went up the spines of fans of serialized television at the moment it was revealed in the Dec. 4 episode of “Boardwalk Empire,” the Prohibition-era crime drama on HBO, that Jimmy Darmody, the aspiring young mobster played by Michael Pitt, had had an incestuous relationship with his mother (Gretchen Mol).

He goes on to cite “Game of Thrones and “Bored to Death.”

Given the galvanic revulsion that incest yields, it tends to be a taboo subject not widely taken up in contemporary cultural works outside, say, the plays of Tennessee Williams, the fiction of William Faulkner and John Irving, and Roman Polanski’s film noir “Chinatown.” That the theme had turned up in three current shows on a single network, produced independently of one another, was a coincidence, their creative teams said, though they added that these story lines were emblematic of larger ideas on their series.

Maybe we’ll get to see the other side of the issue, where it isn’t used for shock or to establish villainy but to show that there are still forms of consensual, adult love that bring persecution?

Mr. Winter said he did not decide in his own mind that the characters had committed incest until late in the first season of “Boardwalk Empire,” and he depicted it in the second season to show “how manipulative Gillian is behind the scenes and how much she was really the one pulling the strings in Jimmy’s life, how much damage she caused him as time went on.” has Jace Lacob examine “this troubling trend in scripted programming.”

In the 20-plus years since Twin Peaks first premiered, television’s approach to incest had changed little, with few shows daring to break that taboo. But, particularly in the last year, scripted television shows have reversed their disinclination to deal with incest. Premium cable is allowing creators to push boundaries with storylines that weren’t previously permissible. And with incest at the forefront of the national conversation—as classical-music troupe The 5 Browns come clean about the incest they suffered at the hands of their manager father—it is providing grist for the story engines of some of television’s most daring and controversial shows.

There’s a difference between abuse and sex.

Lindelof also believes that it was only a matter of time before taboo-driven love became “en vogue” once more. While some shows—including Lost—have flirted with the notion of sibling love, most have found ways to get around it, throwing together siblings or family members who aren’t related by blood, such as Brothers & Sisters’s Justin (Dave Annable) and Rebecca (Emily VanCamp)—who actually married after they discovered they were not related—Big Love’s Margene (Ginnifer Goodwin) and stepson Ben (Douglas Smith), and others. (FX’s provocative Nip/Tuck, meanwhile, went there in several storylines: Matt and Emme—played by John Hensley and Jeannine Kaspar—slept together, unaware that they were half-siblings; Famke Janssen’s transsexual character, Ava Moore, engaged in a sexual relationship with her adopted son; and the Season 3 Carver storyline had serial rapists Quentin Costa and Kit McGraw—played by Bruno Campos and Rhona Mitra—unmasked as siblings, the result of an incestuous union, and brother-sister lovers themselves as well. And Dexter’s adopted siblings Dexter and Deb—played by Michael C. Hall and Jennifer Carpenter—could be potentially heading there as well, if the Dec. 11 episode is any indication; even more awkwardly they are played by a formerly married couple.)

It is called acting.

Perhaps even more troubling are the fan-derived instances of imagined incest projected onto certain characters on television.

What is troubling about that? If there is something troubling about that, it is about the amount of time people spend writing fan fiction.

It is sick. In a world where victims of incest can’t come forward to accuse their abusers for fear of their safety or of not being believed or of being humiliated, it’s disconcerting that a group of fans would willingly choose to project incest fantasies on fictional characters.

By that logic, there should be no consensual sex in any fiction, or people who have been raped or assaulted by someone they’re not related to will have a tougher time reporting the crime. This was not lost on people leaving comments.

One comment on the article…

I find it pretty funny that the "hot twins" are a staple trope in mainstream male-targeted pornography, but people are horrified when the ramifications of incest are seriously explored in fiction. It's laughable that this article seems to suggest that the "incest fantasies" of a "group of fans" are somehow taking legitimacy away from real victims of sexual abuse. TV portrays rape, TV portrays murder, TV portrays violence on a massive scale—it seems like incest has been singled out by this article because "EW, IT'S GROSS." This is a silly article, Jace Lacob, and you should feel silly.

Thank you! Another comment…

If anything is "natural" at all it is incest. You're definitely born that way. That is surely a thing you have to learn not to do.

Therefore it should stand to reason (if you're the "morality is relative immoral majority") that, if it doesn't hurt anyone and you're consenting adults, you should be allowed to do it. But noooooooo - instead the "morality is relative immoral majority" is gonna be all up in arms about it without giving one shred of thought to the inconsistency of their moral outrage.

That's what's truly dangerous "disturbing".

And I’m pretty sure I know who wrote this one…

Human revultion for incest is not something we are born with. It is something we acquire in our childhood while being raised by among our siblings; an aversion we then project upon society. The mechanism of that aversion is familiarity gained with our siblings and parents while we are sexually immature. This familiarity is refered to the Westermarck effect, name for the 19th century anthropologist Edvard Westermarck who first hypothesised its existence in his book, "The History of Human Marriage" (1891).

When genetic siblings are raised apart in separate housholds (separated before the age of seven), as occurs in adoptions, sperm donations, fostering, and bitter divorces, there is a likelyhood....a 50% likelyhood... that when they meet as adults, they will become sexually attracted to one another. What attracts them are their genetic similarities. It is, afterall, our similarities, physical and/or mental, that attract us to our potential mates. The greater our similarities, the greater our attraction. And that attracting similarity is never greater than what we find between siblings and half-siblings. And when it comes to genetic siblings who were raised apart, there is no stronger sexual attraction than that which they experience for each other. There is a name for this attraction. It's called Genetic Sexual Attraction.

As for our curiousity and facination with the topic of incest, well that's just human nature. Our desire for knowledge drives our curiousity. We are curious about the uncommon and the unknown, and incest is both uncommon and unknown to most of us.

But I am surprised that the author neglected to mention the oldest story of this forbidden love; of incest between half siblings. It's the story of Abraham and his wife Sarah, who had the same father but different mothers. And God blessed their union with a son, Isaac.

I would add that not everyone raised together will experience the Westermarck effect, for whatever reason, or may not experience the effect strongly enough to overcome other feelings.

Another comment…

"Forced sex" is rape. Why doesn't this article call it that? Many of these plots seem to be about child abuse and rape, but the headline and overall tone of the article seem to emphasize a weird sexiness of romantic relationships between related people. There's a huge difference between child abuse and adult consensual sex. A parent abusing a child (even the almost-adult 17-year-old on Boardwalk Empire) is clearly more about power than anything sexual.

Okay, and now for the season finale spoiler for “Boardwalk Empire. Don’t read further if you don’t want to know what happened on the season finale…

Jimmy Darmody gets murdered, of course. In fiction, incest almost has to lead to being murdered, it seems.

Want to really create buzz? Give us a show in which admirable and attractive characters have a consanguinamorous relationship, are right for each other, and whose biggest problems are the prejudices of others, and give their relationship a happy ending, or a happy enduring presence.
— — —

1 comment:

  1. That's a good idea Keith!!!, however I may not be able to make movies....getting characters that are right for each other to be in a consanguineous relationship and emphasize society's prejudice towards them seems like a good story I could do LoL. :P But, I still haven't done it >.> I occasionally think about the story plot though :P.
    Have you ever thought of writing a story? o.o
    If I still haven't done a story by February, I should get a free study class for school around then and that would be a good time to write a story and NOT study......*sigh*


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