Smarmy Alligator

Politics, pop culture, and self-deprecation

Ah, Sex and the City

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A few weeks ago, amidst the deluge of really terrible reviews of Sex and the City 2, I decided it was time to go back and watch the original series, the early years, to remember why I loved it so much in my early 20s. I was late to the SATC show, and didn’t start watching it until the last season was airing. I caught myself up just in time to watch the finale with all my girlfriends. I genuinely enjoyed the show six years ago, and as a recent housewarming gift, a friend of mine bought me the first season on DVD. So clearly, it was time for an SATC marathon.

Wow. Now that I’m in my early 30s I’ve discovered that the show is actually kind of infuriating. (And yet, still oddly addictive, in the same way, I think, that fashion magazines can be addictive…perhaps related to some residual, deep-seated masochism?) And these ladies? These ladies I related to and laughed with and commiserated with? Now that I’m actually their age, I loathe them. I wanted to sit down at the table with them and say, “Get a grip! And also, stop being stupid!”

It’s not just their overwhelming and unanalyzed privilege. In the beginning, that wasn’t even such a big part of the show. Sure, they had money and expensive things, but it wasn’t as obsessively flaunted. It wasn’t THE focus of the show, the way it became. Carrie isn’t ridiculously wealthy, she’s just a writer of a column, in her small studio apartment. These ladies are upper-middle class, for sure, but they have good careers, and their lifestyles seem to match those careers. Considering that the excessive consumerism is what many people seem to hate about the movie, I must admit, it wasn’t what I found myself hating about the early seasons of the show.

A lot of people also seem to really hate Samantha’s caricatured sexuality. She’s over the top, her overactive (and old) vagina is freaking people out, she seems to have no other personality other than being a big ol’ slut. Well, you know what, I’m a 90s woman at heart, and that doesn’t bother me, either. Also, I don’t think it’s true. Yes, Samantha’s sexuality is a big part of her self-identity. There are other components to Samantha’s personality that are revealed throughout the series: She’s loyal, courageous, unflinching, and, under her tough exterior, humanly vulnerable. Yeah, they push her character into some caricatured moments, but, um, it’s television. All of these women are meant to appeal to different aspects of our own, individual personalities, so sometimes they are written a bit one-note. I accept that television characters aren’t meant to be realistic, well-rounded people, and that is not what is bugging me about this show.

It isn’t (entirely) Carrie’s neuroses, either, although my younger self wasn’t as aware of them as neuroses. Yes, it’s true, I’m one of those women who relates to Carrie’s freak outs and panics. Just ask my boyfriend. But I think the SATC version of this is just an exaggerated version of something a lot of women experience: insecurity and fear, romantically, personally, and professionally. I kind of appreciate Carrie’s over the top freak outs, because they put my freak out moments in perspective, and give me a sort of alternate view of my own fears. No, Carrie’s crazy is still in some ways appealing and interesting to watch.

No, what started bugging me as I embarked on my SATC The Early Years marathon was the way various relationship behaviors (both men’s and women’s) are framed within the narrative of each episode. The show is meant to mimic Carrie’s (or rather, Candace Bushnell’s) newspaper column on sex and relationships, so each episode has a theme. Each is meant to be an investigation of a particular aspect of relationships and human sexuality in the late 20th century. But the incidents that seem to prompt each column idea/episode theme are taken wildly out of context, weirdly misconstrued, over-analyzed and mis-analyzed, and often, just plain ridiculous. And the way all the characters in this show, not just the four mains, react to these incidents, well, geez, grow up, people.

Take “The Bay of Married Pigs,” an episode in which Carrie visits married friends at their beach house, where she inadvertently sees The Husband’s penis, in a totally non-sexual context. She tells The Wife, and is promptly sent packing back to the city, where the episode becomes all about the battle between the Singles and the Marrieds. Needless to say, Marrieds appears to refer only to married women, because clearly, men are largely unchanged by marriage. In fact, married men just want to have normal relationships with people equally, regardless of gender, but harpy wives jealously guard their husbands, refusing to allow them simple, friendly contact with any single person of the opposite sex. The moment those vows are spoken, apparently women become pit bulls of matrimony, and their friendships with single women are the sad casualties of the Battle of the Womenfolk. This just makes me sad, for so, so many reasons.

And “The Drought,” in which Carrie and Mr. Big, after dating for a significant period of time, are suddenly not having sex every single time they’re together, and Carrie freaks out because, god, that can’t be normal? I hate this episode! Rather than view it as a sign that the relationship has become about something more meaningful than sex, like companionship and emotional intimacy, Carrie thinks that the sudden slow down in banging is clearly happening because she’s no longer desirable. And her friends do not immediately disagree, and reassure her that frequency of sex in a relationship is cyclical and differs from person to person and relationship to relationship, as any real friend would and should do. What’s up with that?

And ugh, “Old Dogs, New Dicks.” This whole episode, about whether a woman can change a man, is prompted by Carrie’s discomfort when Mr. Big looks at beautiful women. Instead of becoming an interesting exploration of why people continue to check out other attractive people when they’re in a happy, healthy relationship (yes, women do it, too), it becomes a silly debate about whether women can change men’s “problems” (which apparently also include being uncircumcised?). They could have been talking about relationship insecurity, whether it’s a sign of disrespect to allow your wandering eye free reign, any number of interesting things. Instead, they’re talking about molding men to better meet their needs. Gross, dude.

Overall, I think there are a lot of potentially great things to talk about in this show, and sometimes, they get it really right. But often, they get it really wrong, and instead, show that vanity, superficiality, and insecurity don’t need to be explored or questioned. And there were some episodes in the first two seasons that really made me feel like the writer(s) flat out hate women. I don’t think this show was or is required to be a deep and truthful dive into women’s real emotional lives and the difficulties of living in a patriarchal society. In fact, it wasn’t necessarily written that way. However, it was often interpreted that way (well, maybe minus the patriarchal society bit). And it was, at least in my experience, often watched that way. Many women identified with the characters and the scenarios, and often with the conclusions that each episode reaches about what being a woman in the late 20th century really means. And that part is what really makes me cringe.

In some ways, the over-the-top travesty of consumerism, colonialism, and self-absorption that is Sex and the City 2 can be seen in the early episodes. So maybe it’s a good thing that this movie is being viewed as a ridiculous, unrealistic romp of summertime silliness. Because the early years of the show were not necessarily read as frivolous. And it’s just sad that these ridiculous attitudes toward relationships and womanhood were, and sometimes still are, taken seriously as some kind of glimpse into the lives of Real Women. (And don’t even get me started on what SATC says about men…)

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Written by laura k

June 18, 2010 at 12:07 pm

Posted in Lady Issues, television

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