Sex and the City:
(Warning: some spoilers in this review)
I liked the movie. It met my somewhat high expectations.
But Sex and the City is the nightmare of men and Marxist-feminists alike, and that’s quite a feat. To understand why it makes men and women shriek, the answer lies not so much in the movie itself – we’ll get to that – but in the audience’s reaction.
Let’s go through some key moments, observed from inside a Friday night showing on the Upper East Side:
-In the opening scenes, we see Carrie in her closet reaching for something. The audience sees her abs and instinctively they all gasp at how thin (i.e. “great”) she looks… They do the same when they see her in bed with Big. When there’s a joke about how “fat” Samantha has gotten, they all buy into the joke – no one screams, “hey, the woman is 50 years old and she’s barely fat!”
-Then there’s the oohing and ahhing over all the clothes. When Carrie gives Jennifer Hudson an expensive Louis Vuitton bag, the audience cooed. When Big unveils Carrie’s new closet, the audience gasped as if we’d seen the second coming. Real estate, bags, shoes: the audience loved it all!
-Everyone sighs with relief when Miranda takes Steve back (how dare she move out of her home and into her own apartment in Chinatown! Did she think she didn’t need a man!) When Big finally proposes to Carrie “the right way,” for a **second** time after leaving her at the altar the first, there’s no bemused silence – “why is she marrying him again? Why must marriage be the answer?” — there are , instead, “awwws.”
[By the way, the final marriage is my only really serious problem with the movie, but I understand why it was there. I, however, would’ve preferred the ending of Ira & Abby.]
Not to mention the incessant cooing over babies, toddlers, even dogs. The movie is all schmaltz, and, save a few murmurs I heard from a woman sitting behind me, cynicism is not allowed.
Of course, feminism is all about cynicism – or at least you can interpret it that way. But women today aren’t asking the same questions as the women in the 70s. It’s no longer “why do I need a man or this pair of pumps?,” it’s “how can I get a man and retain some sense of self? Or how can I buy this pair of shoes, be attractive to men, but not be seen as a slut?” There’s a lot of negotiation taking place. The women in Sex and the City ARE independent, I would argue: Carrie insists on owning a piece of her new apartment, Samantha thinks she’s sacrificing too much for her beefcake, Miranda (not Steve!) moves out of the house when their marriage dissolves over cheating, even Charlotte rarely utters her husband’s name. So, yes, they’re independent, but they also want Prince Charming, they want “the fantasy.” Many of the women I know, some ideologically feminist, feel the same way. Why are we so scared of that?
This is sticky territory. The women in Sex and the City, and their female followers, are too independent for men – the men in the movie are still accessories, Samantha ends the movie single and 50 – but too in love with capitalism, marriage and men for old-line feminists. This explains the bad reviews.
I don’t see anything wrong with it. I don’t fault the movie. SATC gives us excess: excessive glamour, excessive marketing, excessive schmaltz (how many times did they say “love”?), excessive materialism and, above all, fantasy. These are all important things – and all pretty camp, by the way. Women clearly like this stuff, so if anything we should be criticizing them, not the show or the movie.
I don’t care that it’s not representative of New York – it’s the fantasy of the New York that rings true (it’s the anti-Taxi Driver). It’s the New York many people want – glitzy, gentrified and whitewashed. Let’s acknowledge this is now the New York we will have, if not now, soon enough. If we all hate it, let’s change it, but let’s be honest: no one earnestly complained when Whole Foods opened on Houston. Or when Deitch opened a gallery in Long Island City.
Sex and the City is a culturally important phenomenon – to dismiss it as fluff is to skirt the surface of its meaning. It’s very much a movie of its time. It’s about the thoughts many women now have, whether we like it or not (the cooing, oohing, aahing, and gasping). It’s about the New York we now have. Above all, it’s about the power of fantasy, which is not something new. Men have their fantasies – the sports dramas, war movies, Iron Man, There Will Be Blood, Wall Street, Reprise, there are hundreds that are similarly divorced from reality but receive glowing reviews.
Give women (and gays) theirs.