Skip To Content
Film & TV

Nan Goldin Made Fun Of Herself On ‘The Deuce’

In “What Big Ideas,” Season 2, Episode 4 of HBO’s “The Deuce,” the Hi-Hat Bar got a new patron: Photographer Nan Goldin.

Proving once more that it’s not just TV, but HBO, a highbrow platform for educated art-loving types, series co-creator David Simon snuck the activist-artist Goldin into a scene in the seedy Time Square watering hole.

“What do you have to do to get the great Nan Goldin to do a big fat meta-cameo on your television drama? You have to study her photographs of 1970s Times Square and inject the raw DNA into your film sets, your wardrobe department, your hair and makeup trailer, your story & themes,” Simon tweeted.

In the scene, Goldin, credited as “Woman at the bar exhibit” critiques a photograph, “Buzz and Nan at the Afterhours, New York City” from her groundbreaking photo series “Ballad of Sexual Dependency,” which documented the heroin subculture in 1980s New York.

“They call that art? I coulda done that,” Goldin tells the bar owner, Vincent, played by James Franco.

In a mind-bending, meta turn the photo being studied by Goldin features a younger version of herself alongside another subject, Buzz, whom Vincent seems to know. Simon elaborated on this choice, also on Twitter, noting that Goldin tended bar at the real life dive the Hi-Hat was based on.

In the universe of the ”The Deuce” Goldin’s photos, part of an exhibit being hosted by the bar, were taken by “Viv.” Played by Adelind Horan, Viv is a clear stand-in for a younger Goldin complete with tawny, kinky hair and a connection to John Waters. Those superficial details aren’t the only thing the real artist and the character have in common.

“Viv’s got an eye for the marginalized,” Margarita Levieva’s Abby Parker tells Vincent.

This is especially true of Goldin in the present moment. After a struggle with addiction following an injury, Goldin started P.A.I.N. Sackler, a group committed to holding Purdue Pharma, the company behind OxyContin, responsible for their role in opioid addiction. P.A.I.N. Sackler is named for the Sackler family, Purdue’s owners, who have been the subject of protests outside art institutions they patronize.

In January, a member of the pharmaceutical dynasty, Elizabeth A. Sackler, heard Goldin’s outrage and published her support of Goldin’s group on Hyperallergic.

While the real Goldin’s activism is making headlines, the fictional Viv dismisses Abby’s suggestion that she’s a voice for the marginalized.

“Hey, all you gotta do is listen,” she says.

PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture intern. He can be reached at [email protected].

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.