Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Deconstructing Carrie

The first time I watched Sex and the City, it was at my parents' place with my sisters, who were already fans of the show. At the time, I didn't get the appeal, or how they could stand Sarah Jessica Parker's voice and the lame "musings" that were supposed to constitute Carrie Bradshaw's column. Years later, when the show was being rerun on TBS, I turned it on one Tuesday night and quickly became addicted. I think it was somewhere in the middle of season two, when the show had become wittier and the characters, who had begun as static stereotypes, had developed just enough to be somewhat sympathetic. I also discovered that Cynthia Nixon as Miranda was compelling enough to compensate for Sarah Jessica Parker as Carrie. And, like so many women, I fell in love with Steve, the gentle bartender who takes endless abuse from Miranda and keeps coming back for more.

(Warning: Minor movie spoilers ahead.)

I almost never watch movies in theaters, but when the Sex and the City movie came out, I decided to seek out some female friends to see it with, since I knew that DH would never watch it with me on Netflix. After reading this review (e-mailed to me by the very friend I was going to watch it with!), I started to worry that the movie would be two hours of everything I didn't like about Sex and the City and none of the things I did. Fortunately, I was wrong. It certainly was silly, and it had more than its share of cringe-worthy lines (particularly toward the end), but it was also funny -- occasionally hilarious -- and there were lots of great outfits, which is all that any one who's watched the show can reasonably expect.

Still, I'm a graduate student, and it's impossible for me to watch a movie like this without feeling the urge to take it apart. And what's the point of having a blog if not to indulge in this sort of thing? So here goes:

I'm sure I'm not the first to point out that Sex and the City is fundamentally a traditional romance with a veneer of sexual liberation. The "girls" (as they call themselves) are all ultimately looking for a man to settle down with (at least by the end of the series) -- preferably one who can support their shopping habits, which seem to run them several thousand dollars a spree. (It's not clear where all this money is supposed to be coming from at the outset. Miranda supposedly works eighty hours a week at a law firm, but it's hard to figure out when those hours could be to leave room for all the daytime outings and wild nights. The others are total mysteries: Charlotte runs an art gallery until she gets married, Samantha is an event planner-turned-publicist, and before her first book is published Carrie supports herself by writing a weekly sex column -- in Manhattan! It's also not clear how they manage to walk around in those shoes without ending up on crutches -- but I digress.)

The movie, like the series, is totally unapologetic in its promotion of stereotypes. These are mostly related to the women's relentless pursuit of "labels and love," but there are others: the bald lawyer Jew with the vaguely Yiddish accent; the latino womanizer; and of course, the flamboyantly gay men who always show up just long enough to offer fashion tips and comic relief. The movie also introduced a new stereotype in the person of Carrie's "assistant," an updated version of the kindly black maid. At the end of the movie she leaves the "big city" to marry a man of the appropriate race and class (and girth), and everyone lives happily ever.

Sorry if I ruined the surprise.

Anyway, like I said, I enjoyed the movie, and if you liked the series, you probably will, too. If you don't -- or if, like so many of us, you do but are a little bit embarrassed about it -- you may enjoy this:

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

And Now For Something Completely Different

The women of my family tend to be fairly well endowed. I guess that's why my mom sent us this article, from Slate. It begins with some familiar thoughts:
As a woman who loves sports, I've always found the concept of breasts bothersome. If all goes according to plan, they will fulfill their intended function for about three of the 70 years that I have them. The rest of the time, they alternate between getting in my way and embarrassing me.

I'm not a sports person, and I do appreciate breasts for their ornamental value, but I have to agree: they do tend to get in the way. I'm somewhat lacking in the inventive spirit, though, so it never occurred to me that breasts could be functional as well as ornamental (aside, of course, from the limited function that nature intended). Not so Adrienne So (no pun intended -- really), who not only hit on the idea of an energy-generating bra but actually ran it past "some scientists."
LaJean Lawson, a former professor of exercise science at Oregon State University, has studied breast motion since 1985 and now works as a consultant for companies like Nike to develop better sports bra designs. Lawson was enthusiastic about my idea but warned it would be tricky to pull off. You would need the right breast size and the right material, she explained, and the bra itself would have to be cleverly designed. "It's just a matter of finding the sweet spot, between reducing motion to the point where it's comfortable but still allowing enough motion to power your iPod," she said.

That was just to lighten up the mood around here. Speaking of lightening up, I recently tried making berry sorbet with agave nectar, a natural low-glycemic sweetener, in place of maple syrup. It came out well. In the process, I learned that the apple juice in the recipe is really unnecessary and that omitting it yields a better texture.

One final non-sequitur based on an e-mail from a family member. Littlest Sister sent me the following message this morning:
I was wondering if you knew of any gooey parve cake recipes (it's my friend Wendy's birthday on Sunday and her roommate needs one)Maybe you could make a blog post about it. Say it's a special request. You need to put something new up there anyway.

"Parve" and "gooey" are a tough combination, but a friend of mine did make a very delicious, rich parve chocolate cake for her birthday, and it turned out to be based on this recipe. She just substituted soy milk for the milk in both the cake and the frosting. It was totally undetectable.

If you want something really gooey, you can make a parve flourless chocolate cake simply by substituting margarine for the butter. This is a good recipe. The biggest challenge is finding high-quality parve chocolate. I like Scharffen Berger, but it's pretty expensive and mostly sold at specialty stores.

That's all for tonight. There are a few more posts in the works, but I may not get around to publishing them until, say, sometime around the battle of Gog and Magog. I'll try, though.