Friday, June 18

Falling Off the Face of the Earth: A Hiatus

So, I shall not be posting for two solid weeks. Did I get sick of re-watching SATC after only one episode, you ask? Am I planning on dying/joining a Luddite community which permits neither DVD players nor computers, you inquire? None of the above. I shall simply be out of town, and away from Regular Internet Contact. But rest assured, when I return, there will be many festive episodes of Season One to explore... after all, how could one ever grow tired of re-watching a series in which a zygote-like Timothy Olyphant pops up, not as a cranky nineteenth century sherriff, but rather a late-twentieth century stoner? Answer - one could not.

Season One, Episode One: Sex and the City

... or "My GOD, Cell Phones Were Huge Twelve Years Ago."

So here we are, at the very beginning! (A very good place to start, from what I hear.) So... what have we here?

The Summary: The pilot episode introduces us to the four women central to the series, Carrie (narrator of the show, sex columnist, possessor of madly curly hair, presented as a kind of "Everywoman" for we lady viewers to relate to), Miranda (a cynical lawyer with an unfortunate haircut), Charlotte (a dewily romantic art gallery manager with a penchant for flowy ballgowns), and Samantha (a public relations guru who is the Voice of Sexual Voraciousness throughout the episode/the series.)

So, what are these womenfolk up to? For her column, Carrie is musing on whether or not it's possible for women to "have sex like men." Which means, of course, "without feeling." (Oh, how heartless the Y chromosome makes the gents!) She initially concludes that it is, after an "experiment" (is that what the kids are calling it these days?) with an ex-boyfriend, but in the end, has her doubts. (Those lady-feelings, they are persistent!) These doubts are exacerbated by a series of chance meetings with the dashing "Mr. Big" (tycoon and overall muckety-muck whom you may have last seen on Law and Order: Just Cancelled Unit) with whom she flirts and discusses the Nature of Sex and Love. Gosh, but Mr. Big is DEEP--also, he has a really, really nice car.

Meanwhile, Miranda has been set up by Carrie with Carrie's sweet young friend, Skipper, who is just so darned nice that he can never get the ladies to notice him. (The ladies expect their men to be heartless, Mr. S. Work with us.) Miranda is, indeed, just about to dismiss him as too nice, when he ends their date by cutting off her protests that she's "just not that into him" with a masterful kiss (very romance novel of him)--thus ensuring that he'll return for at least another episode. Charlotte goes on a date with Capote Duncan (do people have names like that in real life, by the way?), a "toxic bachelor" who is fiercely cynical about love and unerringly sexually opportunistic. (Sounds like a great match for Charlotte!) Their date seems to be going just grandly, until she gently turns down his sexual advances--at which point, he tells her that he likes her and all, but he "needs to have sex tonight"--which he later proceeds to do with Samantha (staying true to her "having sex like a man" creed.)

The Musings: The show begins with Carrie speaking the immortal words "Once upon a time..." and telling a seemingly fairy-tale like narrative about a young woman who moved to the city and fell in love with a seemingly-charming gent. This relationship, of course, falls apart spectacularly, a fact which Carrie uses to conclude that love is dead in New York (and, presumably, everywhere else--but who cares about everywhere else?) This beginning starts a kind of push-pull dynamic which permeates the entire series--on the one hand, raising fairy tales so as to rip them to shreds ("And her prince turned out to be a JERK. So THERE.") --and on the other, drawing upon and echoing them (at the end of the episode, after all, Big "rescues" a crestfallen Carrie from having to walk home from a party by offering her a ride in his pumpkin-shaped carriage. I'm sorry, I meant--limo.) It's a central question which permeates the entire show--are the kinds of love stories which we grew up with (I'm looking at you, Disney empire) dangerous fairy tales which distort what real relationships and real love are like? Or... do they actually come true with the right person, in the right place, at the right time? Huh. Carrie doesn't know... and neither do the writers. So keep that one in mind for the next five seasons!

Thing That Drives Me The Most Bats About This Episode: The whole "Skipper is so nice, let us therefore question his masculinity and desirability" angle. (Not to say that one need find Skipper desirable, of course--the actor is very talented, I'm sure, but those granny glasses... off-putting.) For instance, consider the moment when Skipper (pondering why he has had so little success with the ladies in recent years) declares to Carrie "I'm too nice. I'm a romantic. I just have so much feeling." To which Carrie responds--what, you ask? I'll bet you can guess! "Are you sure you're not gay?" Ah, of course, because only the gay gentlemen can feel, I had forgotten! Silly of me. It all just seems rather tiresome--the whole "all women only and exclusively want manly men who are dominant, take charge, and don't muck about with those icky, feminizing feelings.)

Thing That Drives Me Moderately Bats About This Episode: During one of the ladies' discussions, Samantha declares that this is the first time in the history of New York that "women have had as much money and power as men." Now, this is a small moment, I'll grant you, and perhaps you will find me petty for being bothered by it, but it plays into an overall idea that I've heard a lot (i.e., too much) from my students--namely, the "Equality Has Been Achieved, So Please Stop Your Bloody Whining, You Irritating Feminist Nutbag" idea. ("There are more women than men in law school now, and a few women are CEOs, and look, that one chick in the pantsuits ran for President, therefore women are already equal to men, so please stop with the feminist nitpicking, geez, you are harshing my buzz.") It's an idea which pops up throughout the series--this notion that we are living in a post-feminist age--that our society is, indeed, a level playing field--that women have already achieved equality to men. Forgive me, but... I doubt it.

One Specific Thing Which I Quite Like About This Episode: Surprisingly, it's actually Big who cuts through some of the "this is the way all men are, period, the end" malarkey. When Carrie tells him about her "having sex like a man = having sex without feeling" hypothesis, he instantly denounces it as rubbish, and declares that he, for one, isn't like that. (And him an alpha male, what with the cigars and the posh suits and the oodles of money and the limo and all... still comfortable saying that he feels things. Fancy!) It's quite a charming moment, I think--to have Big (who is stereotypically masculine in just about every way) insist on turning the conversation towards love, and denouncing the idea that all men are emotionally catatonic wretches, as pure balderdash. One point to you, Chris Noth. Give yourself a star.
Relatively Inconsequential Thing Which I Feel Compelled to Note About This Episode: In one scene, the ladies are out at a restaurant to celebrate Miranda's birthday, and her cake is brought to her by a group of drag queens. They don't have speaking parts or any meaningful role to play in the episode (in and of itself significant, perhaps...?), but since I want to be sure to note how gender non-conforming folks are represented in the series, please note that I am noting that they were there. Their dresses are pretty. They have amazing wigs. They don't have great singing voices, but then how many of us do? I reckon the primary interesting thing about their presence here is that they seem to be being used primarily as a means for the writers to position the show as "daring" and "cutting edge" in the pilot episode. "Do YOU have drag queens serving you YOUR birthday cake at Denny's, or wherever the heck it is that you eat, people watching this show in some boring state like Kansas? WE THOUGHT NOT. "

Immortal Lines, Memorable Words: When Carrie asks Big if he's ever been in love, he replies, "Absa-fucking-lutely." That little phrase keeps coming up in the series, and so I note it here. (Chris Noth delivers said little phrase very snappily, too--it's about 4:30 into this clip if you want to see him do so. [Insert obligatory note about how dashing Chris Noth looks in a suit here.])

Next Up?: An episode entitled "Models and Mortals," in which we contemplate the nature of female beauty, attend a fashion show, and reflect on whether or not it is morally acceptable to tape people's intimate moments without their consent. (I'm going to go with... no!.)

Wednesday, June 16

Introducing... Season One

... alternatively known as, Visits to Sex Shops, Infiltrating the Presbyterian Church, and The Mystery That is Skipper (12 episodes).

And so, here we are, at the very beginning of Season One--the, um, very first season of SATC. (Sigh, can you tell it's been a long week, even though it's only Wednesday?) Here we meet the four women into whose hearts, minds, bedrooms, and closets the show will peer and rummage for the next six seasons--Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha. In this season, the women are in many ways more representative of differing viewpoints than they are fully realized human beings. ("Let me guess, we're about to discuss the desirability of casual sex... I'm going to say, Charlotte is against, Samantha is for, Miranda is just generally cynical, and Carrie... has a giant bow perched on top of her head!") Getting these characters (whom, I know, I know, were deliberately created as archetypes, I am aware) to be realistic people, as opposed to simply "Charlotte=Conservative, Samantha=Slutty," will take a bit longer than the twelve episodes we have to consider here.

But my, there is much of interest for us to consider in these twelve episodes, nonetheless! The writers, I think, must have composed a checklist of things they wanted to do to Scandalize and Titillate their viewers, prior to even penning Season One. "Clearly, this show of ours will never get any news coverage unless we Push the Envelope. The letter of the day is 'S' and the word of the day... 'Shocking'! So we need to do the obligatory discussion of anal sex, bring up the whole threesome idea, have the ladies visit a sex shop, feature vibrators shaped like rabbits, the works. IF THAT DOESN'T GET US A REPUTATION AS BEING DARINGLY CUTTING-EDGE, I DON'T KNOW WHAT WILL."

In addition to crossing off these "I want us on the cover of Time as a bonafide cultural phenomenon, dammit!" milestones, though, the show also does start to take us into some territory rather deeper than the "well, do you find this shocking? What about this?" sexual hijinx. Carrie meets and falls in love with Mr. Big (which... good luck making that one work... for the next twelve frickin' years), the show starts to grapple with singlehood, motherhood, and marriage--and, from the very beginning, affirms female friendship as a vital part of women's lives. And in a pop culture which perpetually sets women up against each orher as enemies and rivals and assumes that women are inevitably bitchy and catty with and towards one another--seeing a show which just straightforwardly presents women who love, support, and stand by each other (the way, you know, lots and lots of real women actually bloody do)--is, I think, pretty darned neat.

Monday, June 14

Standard, Dull Disclaimers

So, before venturing into my episode guides/summaries/critiques/what-have-yous, a few standard, dull disclaimers:

Standard, Dull Disclaimer #1: The posts which follow will contain what might charitably be considered "spoilers." (Though can one really "spoil" a pop culture moment which occurred two presidencies ago?) In that... I summarize the entire danged thing, and then nitpick at it. No dark corner of the plot is safe from my prying eyes! But this isn't the Lost finale of 2010 (which I still haven't seen, by the way, but if it in any way features Sayid in a grubby tank top... then I approve) it's... an episode of a comedy-drama which aired about a decade ago. (Samantha does NOT turn out to the Smoke Monster, in case you were wondering.)

Standard, Dull Disclaimer #2: The posts which follow may or may not (but most likely may) contain unsavory language and content. Nature of the beast, I reckon! I shall follow their linguistic lead here, if they use the f-word, then it seems likely that I'll use the f-word. And if they use the c-word, then it seems likely that I'll use the c-word. (Though I'm still psyching myself up for that one--no matter how many times Eve Ensler asks me to chant it and Inga Muscio encourages me to embrace it, I hear that sucker and I think not, "My, what a lovely term of feminist empowerment!" but "Ah, what fond memories I have of drunken frat boys yelling that at me during Take Back the Night marches!")

Standard, Dull Disclaimer #3: The posts which follow are purely, entirely, and exclusively my opinion. No matter how much one's students might wish one to stand in for all feminists, everywhere ("Since you're not married, that means all feminists hate marriage and will never get married, clearly that is all the evidence I need to make my case on that one, NOW WHERE IS MY A?", etc.), this, I do not claim to do. The episode that I love, you may hate. That bit I think is lovely, you may detest. That moment I find empowering and inspiring may make you squirm. The quote which I claim is a charming moment of feminist self-realization, you may think is simply dopey. It's all good. I think the tutu in the opening is delightful, you think it's silly. Samantha's cruising of a priest made you giggle, it made me yawn. You thought the Russian was lovely, I wanted to slug him with a vodka bottle. Such diversity of thoughts and viewpoints... they enrich us all!

Friday, June 11

The Method to My Madness: A Guide to My Pending Episode Guides

So, I make no pretenses that this shall be a systematic, academic study. I bless and commend each and every single person who has applied feminist and queer theories to SATC (surely, you shall be richly rewarded in Academic Heaven for your efforts--Camille Paglia will save you a seat right to her, I am sure!)--but I shall not be doing that here. Instead, my thoroughly unscientific method shall be as follows: summarize, then analyze, with nary a bit of theory stirred into the pot for spice. Trust me, you don't want to watch me try to make an articulate point using the insights of Helene Cixous , since I don't know what the Sam Hill she's talking about 99.9 percent of the time. (I'll Laugh of the Medusa her one day, just you wait.) The following themes and elements shall emerge, I suspect, with some regularity in my posts:

THE SUMMARY: My chance to briefly summarize what has taken place (I was going to say "has gone down," but when your own bad pun makes you sigh in exasperation at how flatly unfunny and obvious it is, you know you ought to refrain. Are you listening, Michael Patrick King, as you even now scribble out the script for SATC 3: The Journey to Mars?) in the episode in question. The phrases, "Carrie clearly cannot afford the items which she purchased in this episode" and "Samantha sleeps with an anonymous, generically hot bloke whom we never see or hear from again, and whose name we never learn" seem likely to recur.

"AND JUST LIKE THAT, SHE WAS A WOMAN AGAIN": CREEPY GENDER POLITICS WATCH: Throughout the series, there are frequently Delphic-like pronouncements about "the way women are" and "the way men are" which are quite breath-taking in their simplicity... and their inaccuracy/retro assumptions about the Great Gendered Divide. It is my hope to reflect on these "ripped from the midterm of an Intro to Women's and Gender Studies student" style observations ("Men are purely guided by lust! Women are purely guided by emotion! Thank you... nineteenth-century health and hygiene guide, which also recommended cold baths as a cure for typhoid???)

"IT'S MY CLITORIS, NOT THE SPHINX": THE SEX OF SEX AND THE CITY: Not entirely shockingly, there is quite a bit of sex/discussion of sex in SATC. It's not TV, it's HBO, after all! (Though compared to True Blood, this here is a kindergarten picnic.) How, one cannot help but wonder, is sex represented in SATC? Let us see...

"YOU'RE PRETENDING WE LIVE IN A CLASSLESS SOCIETY... AND WE DON'T": MASSIVE, UNEXAMINED CLASS PRIVILEGE WATCH: One of the primary things that people who've never even seen SATC know about the show (apart from the fact that Kim Cattrall becomes unclothed... frequently) is that these ladies are living large--posh apartments, designer get-ups (when is someone coming to deliver the dress that Carrie wears to Miranda's wedding to me, by the way?), and, of course, those infamous $400 a pop shoes. How does the show grapple with the tremendous wealth and class privilege of its characters, you ask? Do we move beyond "wealth enhances a man's sexual allure!" and "I will now mourn my impoverished state, by which I mean, I might need to move to an apartment without a shoe closet!"? Hmmm. Only time and viewing will tell!

"I DIDN'T EAT BREAKFAST, AND I'M A SIZE TWO": SIZEISM WATCH: You may have noticed that Sarah Jessica Parker is about the circumference of your left pinky finger. This makes Carrie's insistence that she never exercises quite, quite exasperating--(because, clearly, one's stomach becomes concave and a veritable sea of muscle when one... drinks a considerable amount of alcohol and constantly eats in opulently grand restaurants? Yes, that's what I thought!) In the episode guides which follow, I shall explore how SATC grapples with issues of weight and body image. (I'll give you a hint, even though Lady Bunny appears in a couple of episodes, this ain't exactly the Fat Positivity Hour.)

"I THINK WE ALL KNOW WHAT'S NOT BEING SAID HERE": PERSON OF COLOR WATCH, OFTEN AS IN... LITERALLY TRYING TO FIND ANY: You guys, you might not know this, and I don't want to disappoint you by telling you... but New York is actually not as diverse as you may have heard. I know, I know, I was surprised, too! I mean, you have all those awesome ethnic restaurants, so you'd think there'd be at least one or two people of color around... but it turns out, not so much! Sure, there's the silent Asian man who sells you your cigarettes, the Pakistani bus boy who inexplicably tries to kiss you, the Sikh cabbie who drives you and your white girlfriends around while you chat about the perils and pleasures of anal sex... but that's about it, I think. Unless you're a very special Magical Black Person, who helps the white folks solve their problems and learn Very Important Life Lessons. (It is so nice of the black folks to do that for us, by the way - I am so relieved they're not still mad about the whole "slavery and Jim Crow, persistent racial violence and oppression" thing. Because that would have been a bummer.)

"YOU CAN'T EXPECT TO MOVE TO WONDER WOMAN'S ISLAND, AND NOT GO NATIVE": CRINGE-WORTHY REPRESENTATIONS OF LGBT FOLKS WATCH: So, as has already been discussed on this blog, SATC has a significant fan base in the LGBT community. Considering this fact, it is certainly worth noting that the show has, shall we say, a mixed record in its representations of LGBT folks? Join me, then, as we navigate the perilous line between camp and caricature, go in search of the Elusive Lesbian, scratch our heads at wacky depictions of bisexuality, and feel embarrassed on behalf of all the cisgender people of the world when trans issues come up!

"I JUST FAKED A SONOGRAM": REPRODUCTIVE POLITICS WATCH: So, over the course of the series, both Miranda and Charlotte become mothers, Charlotte struggles with infertility, Carrie has a pregnancy scare, the women talk about abortion (though not nearly enough by my reckoning - one Very Special Episode in six years, seriously?)... who knew that when you start talking about heterosex, discussions of reproductive politics follow right behind? It's almost like they're connected in some way... huh. Anywhoozle, discussions about pregnancy, birth, and motherhood abound in the series, and surely, we shall talk about them here!

"THERE'S MORE TO BEING A JEW THAN JEWELERY": RAMPANT JEWISH STEREOTYPES WATCH: I don't want to startle you, but as it turns out, New York City is home to a handful of Jews. Judaism, Jewish culture, and Jewish folks become central parts of Seasons Five and Six, and make a few guest appearances before then... so take a page out of Charlotte York Goldenblatt's book, slap on a Star of David necklace, prepare to learn some new Yiddish words, and engage in some questionable reflections about how comically bad Jewish food is (I mean, gefilte fish, can you imagine? Oy veh!)

"I COULDN'T HELP BUT WONDER...": RANDOM THOUGHTS AND MUSINGS: And surely, I shall also be reflecting about things which have no clear connections to gender politics, but are still, I feel, worth considering. Like... why does Carrie wear a green felt tiara that looks like it's itching to devour her face to go wedding dress shopping with Miranda in Season Four? Why does the actress who played a disgruntled homemaker in Season One inexplicably come back as a coolly incisive therapist in Season Two? Did she very rapidly change careers, or does the casting director simply think that we won't remember character actors? Oh, I remember, sir or madam. I remember.

NOTABLE QUOTABLES: Which immortal words ought to resound through the halls of SATC history? You be the judge! Or rather... let me be the judge, and pick out little snippets I find particularly charming/horrifying/noteworthy for you.

Wednesday, June 9

Suburban Girl vs. Urban Women: The Top Nine Things I Have In Common with the Women of SATC

(Your sharp-eyed selves will notice that I couldn't come up with ten.)

So before we delve into the episodes themselves, let's dispense with some introductory pleasantries, shall we?

The first pleasantry being the subject of this post--the very tenuous grounds on which I can claim any commonalities with the women (forgive me, in the show's chosen parlance--the problematicness of which we will discuss in more depth anon)--the girls of SATC. Just so you know, in no particular order, these are:

1) Like the ladies, I'm white, straight, and privileged by my class. (A veritable unholy trinity of privilege!) Though my class privilege is more of the middle-class, "my parents sent me to art classes as a kid, I got to go to college, 1) at all, and 2) without getting landed with crippling, life-long debt" variety, not of the stratospheric, Paris-Hilton-esque,-"whichever BMW shall I drive today?" kind on display in SATC. But still. When Peggy McIntosh sends out invitations to her annual White Privilege picnic, I am most certainly assured of receiving an invitation. (I always bring my famous Cobb salad--with a generous side-helping of GUILT.)

2) I like pretty shoes and clothes (though I buy almost all of mine at thrift stores, and if my stern Scottish forbearers heard me even contemplating paying more than $100 for any single item of clothing, they would rise up from their graves to strike their stern Scottish palms against my soft Americanized head--HARD. One cannot expect mercy from Scottish Presbyterians, after all.)

3) Like Carrie, I was an English major in college. (Okay, in all fairness, the show never actually says that's what Carrie studied in school, but you know she was an English major--do you honestly think she had her shit sufficiently together to be a journalism student--those dynamic, capable people, with their unyielding deadlines and their concrete career goals? No, I thought not.)

4) Like Miranda, I have red hair. (Except, mine is not dyed red, but grown red. And notably... not set off by Cynthia Nixon's beauty. Also, I did not go to Harvard Law School. Or Harvard Anything School, for that matter. But I have physically been on Harvard's campus, if that counts. My, but it is pretty!)

5) Like Charlotte, I... hmmm, this is a tough one. "Am a hyper-traditionalist who thinks that marriage and motherhood is the sole path to fulfillment for the womenfolk?" Hmmm, not so much. "An Episcopalian princess raised in the lap of luxury in some posh corner of Connecticut"? Nope, not that either. "Someone who thinks Tiffany jewelry is really sparkly and pretty"? Ahhh, ding ding ding, we have a winner! Though unlike Charlotte, if I ever get married (one) or sport an engagement ring (two), it shall not be coming from that particular establishment. (Maybe from some lady named Tiffani, who sells rings out of the trunk of her car...?)

6) Like Samantha, I... oh, jeepers, this one's even tougher, who has anything in common with Samantha? "Have dated high-powered business magnates"? Nope. "Have engaged in outlandish sexual escapades, while making sometimes amusing, sometimes embarrassing puns about the male anatomy"? Still no. Well, I... feel that women's sexual pleasure is important, and that women ought not to be shamed or demeaned for pursuing it? Ha HA. And here you thought I'd be stumped.

7) I have never lived in NYC, but I have always dwelt near its magnificence--growing up in the charming suburbs of New Jersey (if you say or think anything against New Jersey here, consider yourself permanently banned from reading this blog--sir or madam, I bid you good day!), and now live in a charming Pennsylvania town. (Those born and raised here sometimes call Philadelphia "the city," which... no. I love Philly as much as the next gal--vegan cheesesteaks, oh my goodness--but New York and only New York is "the city," mes amies.)

8) I have had a number of "painful at the time, amusing when recounted to one's friends, in retrospect" romantic misadventures. (Don't let me forget to tell you about the bloke who used to e-mail me in the persona of his pets--"Countess Van Fluffy loves that new shirt you wore yesterday, and hopes to see you, and it, again soon!", etc., or the gentleman who brought his grandmother's engagement ring to our third date, because "it's useful to know right off the bat if this fits." It didn't, by the way--thank you, unattractively prominent knuckles, you save me from peril yet again!)

9) I have reached the age (28 and three quarters, at last count) at which many of my dear friends are happily partnered (and mazel tov, seriously, y'all make wonderful couples, and I had fun shopping for posh kitchen implements for you--the use of which still baffles me--I really did) and my ongoing single state is beginning to be regarded with suspicion by society, generally and some people I have had the misfortune to encounter, specifically. Like the man who, when doing my taxes a few years ago, made me repeat numerous times that I was, in fact, 26, unmarried, and still in grad school (a troubling combination, indeed), shaking his head in consternation all the while. Or the occasional person I meet at a dinner party who wants to use me as a test case for their pet thesis, tentatively entitled "Why Feminism Has Ruined Women's Lives." ("I mean, if feminism means the freedom to, like, never find a man or experience abiding love, is that really FREEDOM? I don't think that's what the suffragettes were fighting for, you know.") Wise words!

10) (There isn't really a ten, it just feels tidier to include one.) So, as you can see, my connections to the show (and the city and lifestyle it represents) are all pretty tenuous--I will never have a closet as deliriously full or a makeup kit as expertly assembled as any of the women of SATC. But I cannot say that this troubles me, too much. I'll stick to living in my delightful little corner of PA, and wearing clothes which neither break the bank nor pinch the middle, thankyouverymuch. But watching urban fantasies from my cozy perch in suburbia? Oh, yes, please.

Friday, June 4

Seriously, MORE Feminist Analysis of SATC???: A Disclaimer

I am very well aware (lest you think that I am not--I know you and your skeptical ways) that the ground which I am about to tread has already been tread (trodden? re-treaded?) many times before me. Feminist analyses and deconstructions of SATC have abounded since the show first debuted in 1998. (At which time I myself was in high school--and to think, kids born in that year can now walk, talk, and drive their parents mad with their pre-adolescent angst. Jeepers.) Pop culture critics and academics alike have tackled SATC with aplomb and acumen over the years, musing on how the show grapples with sexual politics, notions of romantic love, and expectations of late twentieth and early twenty-first century womanhood. (Or at least, expectations of late twentieth and early twenty-first century rich, white womanhood. Which the show handily suggests is the same thing! "How does a woman struggle with the ennui she feels when wandering around her massive Park Avenue apartment all day, because she's so rich she doesn't need to pursue paid employment?" Golly, I don't know, my heart bleeds for her. [Prepares to sing "It's a Hard Knock Life."]

Why add one more voice to this discussion, then, you ask? Well... basically... because I want to. (As good of a reason as any for doing just about anything short of committing murder or acts of public lewdness, you must admit.)

When watching the show for my own amusement, I have done the obligatory, knee-jerk "Well, THAT'S problematic!" and "Ah, there's one in the eye for heteronormativity!" type analysis which all Women's and Gender Studies folks inevitably do with all of the things that they read, listen to, and see. (I defy you to say that it's not true, WGS folks. Admit it. You know that when you're at your kid sister's band recital, 90 percent of you is absorbed in her, ahem, novel take on "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star," but the other 10 percent is automatically noting that all of the flautists are girls and all of the drummers are boys, and reflecting on what that signifies about contemporary constructions of girlhood and boyhood. You know you are.)

Anywhoozle, I've done that kind of casual "Isn't it interesting that they're likening bisexuality to emotional immaturity and an inability to choose a flattering hair style?" and "Huh, I think they're suggesting that people only choose to transition to another gender because they've had bad dating experiences!" muttered commentary to myself/my plants/my friends ever since I started watching the show as a wet-behind-the-ears grad student, lo these many years ago. (These were the years during which I was being assigned armloads upon armloads of books to read which were, I kid thee not, quite literally about things like religious guilds founded by nineteenth-century carpenters. Swirly, flashy dresses and bright, fizzy cocktails never look so good as they do after a day spent reading about pious rural woodworkers, I assure you.)

But I'm looking forward to being a leetle more systematic than that here--to actually sitting down, and (in a more structured way) applying my years as a feminist and inhabitant of the Women's and Gender Studies Universe to this show that I love. Will I come up with any blazingly brilliant new insights? ("Oh my gosh! It's like some of the gay male writers are using these heterosexual female characters to tacitly comment on gay men's experiences in American society! Clearly no one has ever thought that before. I am a genius.") Doubtful.

But I reckon that it will amuse me, anyway--and give me a chance to spread my Pop Culture Analysis wings a bit. After all, in recent years, I've spent more time seeking to encourage my students to sharpen their pop-culture criticism teeth ("But is the fact that Lady Gaga refuses to wear pants an explicit attack on patriarchy? Or... is it just really annoying, and rather chilly looking?") than I have in keeping my own teeth sharp.

So let's see if I can still bite.

The Wisdom of Others: "Lesbians Like Sex and the City, Too!"

My brilliant friend Cynthia Rodriguez has a fantastic post over on Lesbiatopia about the fact that, contrary to popular opinion, SATC is not actually just beloved by the straight ladies and the gay gentlemen--and that the idea that there is actually such a thing as "straight-gay segregation in the world of entertainment" is quite, quite messed-up. It's quite lovely, going to read it would definitely enrich your day. I know that it has enriched mine, and this here day could definitely do with some enrichment.

My personal, very favorite parts?

"I was fascinated by Candace Bushnell's stories. The way she just put herself out there... I had never read anything like that before. The lion-hearted way to go out there and taste life, love, and everything in between. That's what I like about the lead character in the show/movies as well. Her emotional cojones, her confidence, her swagger."

"The other thing I love are the friendships. Like TRUE friendship. The kind, years go by, I haven't seen you in awhile but feel like I just talked to you yesterday type deal, the people get married, have kids, get divorced, get married again, have affairs, I fucked up, you fucked up but I love you anyway, and I know you love me, evolving, everlasting type of friendship that survives, and surpasses all obstacles."

Quite literally, I could not have put it better myself.

Thursday, June 3

Sex and the City, Revisited

So, like many of you (you may not like to admit it, but box office numbers... they do not lie), I went, of my own free will and volition, to see Sex and the City 2. In the theater. On opening night. Even though I knew, for a fact, that I would find it intensely, "having surgery without anesthestic" painful. Even though I had passionately hated the first film, and knew from my anxious, peering-through-my-fingers viewing of the previews that the second one promised to be even worse. (When a bit in which the leads make jokes about hot flashes when they are riding on camels through the desert (because, get it, THE DESERT IS HOT) in the bloody previews, you know you're in for quite the bumpy ride. [Insert obvious joke about how riding on camels through the desert is also quite the bumpy ride here.] Even though I knew, from having read all the unvaringly vitrolic reviews that this would quite possibly prove to be one of the worst films of the twenty-first century.

I knew it all, and yet still, I slapped on a little black dress, and sat myself down in an uncomfortable movie theater seat at darkest midnight, and prepared for two and a half hours of no-holds-barred mental torture. I was a lamb to the slaughter. A willing victim, leaning in towards the sacrificial knife, throat submissively bared. I shelled out fifteen of my hard earned dollars (not counting the candy I also needed to purchase to comfort myself through my terror and my tears) to see a film which I knew, with a certainty as sure as death and taxes, that I would whole-heartedly despise.

So... why did I go? Why did I reward Hollywood's crass desire to make buckets and buckets of shining cash rather than maintain any kind of creative integrity with, well, some of my very own shining cash?

Because I loved the show, you see. Loved it, I say. It made me laugh, made me cry, the whole racket. Living in a pop culture in which Bridget Jones and her clones were all too often the most positive representations of single womanhood out there (and I actually like the Bridget Jones books, as well, but that's a story for another blog), SATC felt like a tremendous breath of fresh air. Yes, the show was massively, hugely, vastly problematic. (Unquestioned race and class privilege up the ying-yang, unsettling portrayals of The Gays and transgendered folks, and yes, even troubling representations of the straight single ladies... I could go on... and rest assured, I certainly will do so.)

But still. It was one of the first TV shows to look the myth of Happily Ever After and Prince Charming dead in the eye and say, "Huh. I'm not so sure about that, actually. Could it be that maybe love isn't easy... or the answer to everything? That you don't actually automatically know when someone is 'The One'? Could it be that there actually is no such person as this perfect, flawless 'One' who is "holding the key to your heart and your dream house"?

The show took the dreary, lazy conventions about how romance narratives were supposed to go - about what romantic comedies were supposed to look like - and spun them like tops. In the movies, when a woman gets proposed to by a man she loves, she is all smiles, tears, and uncomplicated joy. In the series, when Carrie gets proposed to by a man she loves, she throws up, breaks out in a rash, and ends up trashing a wedding dress which eventually winds up in a dumpster.

I loved that darned show, I tell you.

Sometimes, it can be embarrassing to admit this. "You of ALL PEOPLE," one of my friends said to me, when I told her I had raced off to see the second movie. "You of ALL PEOPLE! Wasn't that show all about chasing men, and how every woman needs a rich husband and painfully pointy shoes to be happy? Why would YOU want to watch THAT? You of ALL PEOPLE, what with your thrift store shoes (which other people have worn, in case you'd forgotten, which is VILE) and your ringless ring finger and your Women's Studies books piled all over your house - I DO NOT GET IT."

"Oh, I get it," said another friend, when I made the same obligatory confession to her. "It's like a guilty pleasure thing, right? It's like me and Gossip Girl. I watch my crap because Blake Lively is super, super hot, and they're always putting her in short shorts--you watch your crap because you like to fantasize that freelance writers get paid enough to live on 73rd Street and buy designer clothes!"

Not to contradict my friends--lovely people, my friends--but I don't think that they have it quite right. Because the truth is, when it comes right down to it, I don't think of loving SATC as some kind of illicit anti-feminist act which I secretly engage in on the sly, like reading Sarah Palin memoirs or cutting out Ronald Reagan paper dolls. ("And now, you're properly dressed to erode women's reproductive rights and to smite the gays--and TO DANCE!") I don't think of loving the show as a guilty pleasure which I, as a happily single feminist, have to hang my head in shame for enjoying.

Feminist ideals have been central to my thinking and my life ever since I clutched those first, beloved Women's Studies textbooks to my tender young heart when I was a slip of a college girl. Feminism is not only the center of my work (I teach Women's and Gender Studies classes, lucky devil that I am) but also of my principles and my ideals (no offense, Presbyterianism, now that you've ditched pre-destination, you're a swell belief system, too!) And, surely, I was right to think that the show (while not being unambiguously, card-carryingly, "I read Feministing every day" feminist) actually did have many elements to warm the heart even of an ardently feminist spinster like myself.

So, over the days and weeks which are to come, I am firing up my DVD player, and sitting down to rewatch the entire series. All of it, from soup to nuts. Everything from Carrie sporting leopard print and dark roots in Season One, to her traipsing around Paris in approximately two tons of tulle in Season Six. I will not even spare myself the episode where she inadvertently becomes a sex worker for a night, or the one where they all go to the Playboy Mansion for a pool party (cue Hugh Hefner looking like a leather muppet in an ascot!), I swear. And won't you, dear reader, come along and take this journey with me? After all, it can't be anywhere near as painful as the movies. (You saw them, admit it, I know you did.)

Wednesday, June 2

Back on Carrie's Stoop: A Pilgrim's Tale

We were determined to find it. My intrepid friend (a real-live New Yorker, who could actually understand subway maps, and navigate the city with the cool, "I am clearly not reacting to the fact that there is a man wearing both a priest's collar AND a dress handing out lollipops on the corner, and clearly, you should not do so, either" aplomb necessary to any NYC adventure) had looked up the address online, HopStopped us a path over there... and in a few short moments... there we'd be.

"What if it's just not the same, seeing it in person?" I ask. "Like how everyone says that the Mona Lisa looks super small, and the Eiffel Tower looks extremely grubby, once you get close to it?"

"Well, it probably will be grubby," she says. "But good grubby--New York grubby."

I consider this. "Yes, New York grubby would be fine."


In the end, the address that we have so conscientiously texted to ourselves, to make sure that we don't forget it, proves to be unnecessary. We know it the instant we see it--of course we do. (We should have known that we would.) It's not disappointingly small or unnervingly dirty. It is Carrie's stoop, and it is perfect.

Perfect unless you count the little metal fence which the current owners have erected over it, to keep us from sitting on said stoop, that is. We stand and stare for a moment, cameras in hand, crestfallen. We had planned on taking it in turns to sit on the stoop, our chins thoughtfully cupped in our hands, pretending to puzzle over some romantic drama or other. (Neither of us had any specific romantic drama to puzzle over at the moment, but no matter.)

"We could always... go over it," I say.

"And get arrested?" my friend replies, her eyes darting from side to side nervously, as though my very words may have summoned vengeful members of the NYPD from out of the ether. "And even worse... have it be in our pictures? Carrie never does any of her wondering behind a chain link fence, now, does she? No, she does not."

We stand mutely regarding the wretched little fence, our reverie interrupted only when we hear a tentative "Excuse me?" coming from behind us.

We turn around to face (mercifully) not a truncheon-wielding member of New York's Finest, but rather a smiling, pleasant gentleman, who is clearly neither angered at my contemplated fence-jumping, nor armed.

The gentleman looks at our cameras, and then at us, and then back at our cameras again. "I'm sorry, do you mind my asking... it's just... there are always women coming here with cameras, and they always look like their dog died when they can't sit on that stoop. I'm sure I should know, but what is that stoop? Is it, like... a monument, or something?"

"Well, it's... Carrie Bradshaw's stoop," my friend says.

The gentleman looks blank.

"You know... Carrie Bradshaw... from the TV show Sex and the City?" I say.

The gentleman now looks not so much blank as he does unimpressed. "Oh, is that all? I thought it was the site of some famous assissination or wedding or something. But it's just about a TV show?" He smiles at the vagaries of womankind. "Well, I'm sorry that you girls don't get to sit on your stoop, but I hope you have a nice day, anyway!"

And people say that New Yorkers aren't nice. Turns out, they are.

Apart from the New Yorkers who own Carrie's stoop, that is.


We do have a nice day, as it turns out. We get some nice pictures in spite of the wretched little fence (while also managing not to violate the current proprietors' right to private property.) After our visit to the stoop, we round out our SATC pilgrimage by going to the Magnolia Bakery and having some very pretty, very sweet little cupcakes. The sun is shining. There is lots of sugar in my bloodstream. A very nice day, indeed.

And after I go back home, I do not forget. I do not forget the cupcakes, with their pretty pastel icing, I do not forget how long it took us to get pictures in which the wretched little fence was not visible, and how proud we were when we finally did so.

And I do not forget all of the other women who had been there before us, and who, doubtless, would be there after us. I may not have met them, I may not know them... but I do not forget them. I don't know what brought them to Carrie's stoop that day, but it seems important, somehow, that they were there in the first place. Waves upon waves of women, going to a place where one (fictional) woman had once lived, thought, dreamed, and ventured to tell the truth about her life.

It warmed me to the depths of my feminist heart, it did.