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:

8 comments:

Anonymous said...
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Adamgv said...

I think a better plot for the story would be all the girls get rich like in the show "Roseanne". But instead of just wasting the money, they help people like the homeless. Then they would truly be a success .

katrina said...

elf--I have a few comments about this:
1. Publicists can make barrels of money if they represent successful clients, such as say, TV stars.
2. Charlotte's character is clearly the archtypical WASP, which means she had money before she was married, and she was married for most of the series, either to Trey or to stereotypical Jew guy.
3. I agree with you about the stereotypes, but I think people have been too hard on the movie folks regarding the African-American assistant. In real life, rich NYC white women do not hang out with black women who are not in their employ. If they wanted a black character (which they did), it would have been far LESS realistic if they had made Jennifer Hudson their pal. Rich people also have personal assistants, and these people do sometimes act like therapists to their bosses (as do personal trainers, manicurists, etc.).

That being said, what bothers me most about the film is the glorification of consumption. It's true that I have never been interested in labels since high school and The Gap, so maybe that's why I just don't get it. Why spend so much money, even if you do have it, on shoes and handbags? Plus, why is couture so comically ugly?

All in all, I liked the movie a lot despite its silliness. The actresses are INCREDIBLY skinny, though.

elf said...

I agree with you about the stereotypes, but I think people have been too hard on the movie folks regarding the African-American assistant.

I guess I wasn't the only one :-)

In real life, rich NYC white women do not hang out with black women who are not in their employ.

I think that's one of the reasons it bugged me. The movie's a fantasy about what it's like to be rich and have no misgivings about it. If the characters did things like helping the homeless (as adamgv suggested), it would remind us that there are homeless people and detract from our vicarious enjoyment of the shopping sprees. (By "us," I mean the target audience in general. Like you, katrina, I'm not interested in labels, so that part doesn't do much for me.) The black assistant was an unsettling dose of reality, reminding us of the social stratification that goes with the girls' lifestyle. And nobody seems to mind.

katrina said...

I can't see how merely reflecting reality can be offensive. NYC would be like that with or without a Sex and the City movie.

elf said...

First of all, I want to clarify that I wasn't very offended by the Jennifer Hudson character. On the whole, she's smart, sympathetic, and appealing (at least compared to Carrie), and she's attractive without being thin, which is refreshing. The reason that the character bothered me is that SATC isn't realistic on the whole; it's a fantasy. Granted, in order to be at all interesting, it has to have some relation to reality, and it does occasionally deal with realities that are unpleasant (e.g., infertility, moderate weight gain, and not being able to buy your apartment because you've spent all your money on shoes). In most cases, though, the unpleasantness is acknowledged. Here, it's ignored. That just kind of rubbed me the wrong way. The same goes for Miranda's pursuit of what Anthony Lane referred to as "Aryan real estate," although there at least there was some attempt at sarcasm (I think).

You once told me that someone you know justified not sending her child to a public school in a particular district on the grounds that "most of the kids there are eligible for free lunch." You found this statement shocking (as did I), but not, I gathered, because you were unsympathetic to her decision. For obvious reasons, schools that cater to lower-class students tend to be inferior, so those who can afford to avoid them generally do. (Vicious cycle, etc.) It's not offensive (to me) when someone expresses the desire to give her own child a better education than others can afford. What's offensive is absence of any sense of the injustice of the situation. That sense of injustice doesn't have to be expressed explicitly, but we expect it to be somewhere in the background.

Or maybe I just hang out with too many guilty liberal types. What do you think?

katrina said...

You make a lot of good points here, elf. I guess that they could have had someone make a joke/witty comment about how they don't have any black friends except their employees. I mean that seriously, not sarcastically. If they can do it with infertility and breast cancer, why not racial injustice?

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