Monday, July 26

Season One, Episode Eight: Three's a Crowd

The Summary:

Learning from Charlotte that her new fella wants them to try a threesome (Miranda: “Of course he does, every guy does.” Really? Even the Pope?), Carrie decides to make threesomes the focus of her latest column. She goes around New York asking complete strangers about the topic (which I would think might be awkward, but no matter!), and then decides to go a bit closer to home, asking Big if he’s ever done one. Turns out he has… with his ex-wife. Huh. Carrie didn’t so much know that he’d ever been married! (Big, keeping secrets and being shady? SHOCKING.) Instead of asking Big about said ex-wife and marriage, she elects instead to stalk the lady in question. (Sigh. And just one short episode ago, I was so proud of you for being all direct and candid with Big, C.B.) Discovering that Big’s ex works in publishing, Carrie sets up a meeting to pitch a book proposal to her (ostensibly) and to gawp at her/find out as much as possible about her (actually). (What Carrie neglected to discover, however, is that The Ex works in children’s books, so she has to invent a children’s book plot on the spur of the moment—Little Cathy and Her Magic Cigarettes. Sounds like a bestseller to me!)

The Ex is accomplished, beautiful, charming, smart—Carrie ends up liking her a lot. Bummer. At their next meeting, Carrie (still not revealing her secret identity as Big’s current inamorata) learns from The Ex that she and Big had broken up because his wandering eye had (as The Ex puts it) “wandered right over to my best friend.” (Classy, sir, very classy.) Noticing that Carrie is acting loopy, Big calls her out on said loopiness and then, poof, the floodgates open. Turns out, Big and his ex-wife still talk, so he already knew that she’d met Carrie! Turns out, (according to Big, anyway), that he and The Ex had had a threesome/he had been unfaithful “because we were both looking for something, or someone else”! Carrie is appeased by this explanation. And why not, I don’t see any red flags there except… [struggles with the prospect of listing them all. Yikes.]

Elsewhere in Threesome Land: Samantha is involved with Ken, who is married. Sleeping with a married bloke is great, Sam tells the ladies, because it’s so no fuss, no muss—his commitments, his time, his attention is all safely dedicated elsewhere. Surely, that logic couldn’t possibly backfire… until it does, and Ken decides he wants to leave his wife for Sam. Whoops. She dumps him immediately, of course… perhaps, taking away a lesson about the Perils of Adultery? I hope?

Meanwhile, Charlotte muses over whether or not she actually wants to do a threesome with her new gentleman caller, Jack. She decides that she might. When an opportunity arises at a party, Charlotte decides that she’ll go for it… only to find out that by “have a threesome,” Jack meant “sleep with another woman and forget that you exist.” (Cue Charlotte’s Disappointed and Baffled Face.)

And speaking of disappointed and baffled… Miranda’s feeling a little of both because, when the four ladies had been discussing threesomes over brunch (pity the elderly ladies sitting at the next table…), she gets left out of the “who would you do one with?” chatter. (Charlotte says she’d feel safer doing one with a friend like Carrie, Carrie says she’d prefer to do one with an experienced lady like Sam, and Sam says she’d want to do one with a newbie like Charlotte… no room for Miranda, apparently!) Miranda talks to her therapist about it. She responds to an ad for a couple seeking a third party for a threesome, hoping that they, at least, will validate her as threesome-worthy. They do, and uninterested in actually threesome-ing, Miranda promptly dumps them. Problem… solved, I guess?

The Analysis:

Adultery As A Source of Comedy Watch: Maybe I was just forced to read Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina too many times in college, but the light-hearted way this episode treats adultery troubles me. (Not that I think all adultery plots should end in trains and arsenic, I want Edna Pontellier to still be with us, painting and daydreaming about grassy fields as much as the next person.) I quite intensely dislike the fact that Sam’s efforts to have a trouble-free fling with a married guy are almost exclusively played for laughs in this episode. Yes, the affair blows up in her face and gives her some uncomfortable moments, but the pain she caused her fling’s wife and the damage she did to said wife’s life/marriage—glossed over and made light of. Later in the series, the show takes issues of (in)fidelity and its human costs very, very seriously indeed, but clearly… we are not there yet. Until we get there, please, Samantha, stay away from the married gents not in open marriages/who are cheating scum? I promise, you’ll be glad you did!

Ladies Pursuing Their Own Inclinations, How Charming, Watch: Remember all that stuff I said a few posts ago about how any “alternative” sexual practice is almost always reacted to with distaste by our “normal” ladies but warmly embraced by Samantha? Well, when I said “almost,” I meant it—because darned if Charlotte doesn’t consider doing a threesome in this episode. The show makes it clear that she initially considers it just to make her new gent happy (thumbs down) but eventually considers it because she genuinely wants to do it, for herself (thumbs up.) And her friends are very charmingly supportive, urging her to do it if and only if she actually wants to, and not to do it if she actually doesn't. Good, good, good.

Threesomes=Sign of Immaturity? Watch: Of course, Charlotte never actually engages in any threesome-like activity, because it turns out that when her fella said that he wanted to have one, he more meant… that he wanted to cheat on her/have sex with any other lady who offered. (Delightful.) I’d take this as an isolated incident of “well, that guy’s a schmuck,” were it not for Carrie’s final words in the episode—that the appeal of a threesome is that it’s easy—that it’s being in a relationship like hers, with only one other person, which is “the bitch.” Now, I get the point here—that actually seeking to have an intimate relationship (rather than just a casual, numerically complicated encounter) with someone is hard. Point taken, duly noted. But if I was going to be picky (and you know that I am going to be picky), I think this could also be read as “My monogamous self is more interested in doing the hard emotional work of having an exclusive relationship, unlike those shallow folks who distract themselves with silly things like threesomes.”

My antennae always perk up (or whatever it is that antennae do) when I hear an “us vs. them” tone creeping into Carrie’s pronouncements—when her musings seem to lean in a “clearly, my choice to be in a monogamous, heterosexual relationship signals my emotional maturity, unlike those other people, who take the easy/shallow way out” direction. Because equating only monogamous, heterosexual relationships with validity/emotional maturity/legitimacy… doesn’t have the nicest history. Fly the Heterosexual Monogamy Flag high, by all means, I knock it not—it’s a fine flag. But… don’t be insulting other people’s flags, in the process. [Wonders to self if flag metaphor works, or is too suggestive of the Olympics/United Nations/games of Capture the Flag. Cannot decide, so leaves it in. Also, wonders what the Heterosexual Monogamy Flag might look like… hopes it has a dragon on it. All the best flags have dragons.]

Notable Quotables: Carrie, musing on how hard it is to not have Other People loom large in a relationship, as she tries (and fails) to sleep in Big’s bed one night: “Because even if you’re the only person in the bed, someone has always been there before you.”

Miranda, trying to explain to her therapist why being left out of the Threesome Discussion bothers her so much: “If your friends won’t go down on you, who will?”

Next Up…?: “The Turtle and the Hare”—otherwise known as “The Ladies Go to a Wedding.” Ooooh, I always love those episodes! (Excluding the wedding in the second movie, which prominently features both Liza Minelli and an interminable rendition of “Single Ladies.” HORROR.)

Friday, July 23

Season One, Episode Seven: The Monogamists

The Summary:

Ah, monogamy. Is it a biological impossibility for the gentlemen whom (as we all know) are hard-wired by that perverse minx Mother Nature to spread their seed as far and wide as possible? (After all, if they don’t spread their seed, however shall it be spread?) Is it something to be smugly condemned as inferior to polyamory by those sick of having polyamory smugly defined as inferior to monogamy? (Work with me, people, if you are sick being judged and denigrated for how you live your life, does judging and condemning others help matters? Answer, no, it does not.) What do the women of SATC make of The Monogamy Question? Such is the focus of this episode—can women expect monogamy from their menfolk? Is monogamy feasible, desirable, mandatory, optional? It will not shock you to learn that these four ladies come to four rather different conclusions.

Carrie is quite happily settling into a monogamous relationship with Big… or so she thinks, till she sees him out on the town with another woman. (Oh, Mr. Big, you never disappoint with your shady behavior!) True, Big and Carrie had never discussed whether or not they were “going steady”—but Carrie is nonetheless hurt and confused by Big’s blithe dating-of-other-women when she is so very happy dating just and only him. (As Carrie puts it, “I felt like a fool. I’d gone so far out on a limb with my feelings, that I didn’t realize I was standing out there alone.” Yeouch. Her pain, I suspect we have all felt it.) After stewing for a bit, Carrie finally tells Big what’s bothering her, and obliquely asks him to be exclusive. (“I’ve done the merry-go-round, I’ve been through the revolving door, I feel like I’ve met somebody I can stand still with for a minute and—don’t you want to stand still with me?”) Big obliquely consents to this, and so… those crazy kids seem happy. FOR THE MOMENT. (How much money do you want to put on that not lasting ten minutes into the next episode…?)

And what of our supporting players? Samantha’s plotline is pretty dull, really. She is looking for a new apartment. She is working with a real estate agent, who asks her not to work with any other brokers. She promises not to do so, but instead, of course, actually does do so—and the other broker finds Sam a nice new apartment. In the process of doing so, he also becomes her lover. So, business as usual in Jones Country!

Meanwhile, Miranda is ruining Skipper’s life yet again (you are giving redheads a bad name with all of this breaking of hearts and destroying of worlds, missy! Stop it!) Seeing Skipper out on the town with his new girlfriend, Miranda is, suddenly, interested in him again. (Headdesk.) She is moved to give Skipper a call, and he is subsequently moved to dump the aforementioned girlfriend in the hopes of once again becoming entangled in Miranda’s web of deceit and lies. (His break-up speech is delivered to his unfortunate girlfriend while they are actually having sex, mind you—let me just say 1) I expected better of you, Skipper, aren’t the writers trying to sell us on you as a decent bloke? Decent blokes don’t, unless I am very much mistaken, pull stunts like that, and 2) I hope this poor lass has her very own passel of female friends to talk about that one with. JEEPERS.) Anywhoozle, after they are reunited and any and all other girlfriends have been cruelly dumped, Miranda gets around to telling Skipper that she doesn’t want an exclusive relationship—surely, they can date both each other and other people? Skipper, of course, says that they can’t—that exclusivity is precisely what he wants and that he’s sick of Miranda seeming to promise said exclusivity and then retracting said promises. Good for you, Skipper, for sticking up for yourself for once. (But don’t think that this means that I’ve forgiven you for that whole “dumping a girl whilst in the midst of intimate acts” thing. Because… I haven’t.)

Charlotte, it seems, is dating the perfect guy, Bill. He’s not the perfect guy, of course. (It’s only Season One, lest we forget, there are oceans of imperfection yet to wade through!) What is Bill’s fatal flaw, you ask? Turns out, his favorite activity (after playing with his fetching golden retriever—and no, that’s not a euphemism for anything, he actually has a dog of that breed with whom we often see him playing fetch) is getting blow jobs from his lady companion. Liking oral sex, I hear you say, in and of itself doesn’t seem to be too terrible of a flaw. Ah, but you see, our Charlotte hates giving blow jobs. (A dislike which she seems to have entirely forgotten by Season Four, notably, when—in approved Alanis Morissette fashion—she goes down on her man in a theater. Consistency, writers, anyone…?) She expresses this dislike to Bill (which, honesty and clear communication, yay) and Bill cheerily tells her that one way or another, he’s planning on having quite a bit of oral sex in the future. He hopes that she’ll be involved in said oral sex but if not… clearly he will have to get his gentlemanly needs met elsewhere. Not entirely thrilled with this scenario, Charlotte dumps him. Good-bye, “Perfect Guy”!

The Analysis:

Saddest Thing About This Episode: It opens on a really long shot of the Twin Towers. It’s so sad to see them like that, tall and whole and beautiful—to know that when that episode was filmed, although they’d already weathered a terrible bombing, they weren’t yet the political symbol or the byword for national tragedy which they would become in three short years. They were just another part of the skyline. Geez. Another world, the New York of 1998.

Festive Alcoholic Drinks Watch: This is the first (but by no means the last) episode in which cosmopolitans play a starring role. The amount of pink-colored water SJP must have drunk over the years, I cannot imagine…

I Cannot Believe How Long Ago 1998 Was, I Was In High School Then, DEAR GOD Watch: These were the days when making a phone call meant finding a landline, as Carrie has to do when she is at a party, and wants to call Big. I remember those days, people.

Womenfolk Standing Up For Themselves, Hooray!—Insert Obligatory Woman’s Symbol With Fist Through It Sign Here—Watch: So, one thing I really like about this episode is that Carrie and Charlotte both stand up for what they want in their relationships, even when they are both pretty darned sure that doing so is going to Lose Them the Guy. Carrie wants to be monogamous with Big. She knows that monogamy is not his usual modus operandi, and that he might well dump her if she pushes for exclusivity. But in the end, she still tells him (albeit it indirectly and poetically—but perhaps that is just the writer’s prerogative?) what she wants, and how she feels. Quite the risky, scary thing to do, but do it she nonetheless does. And the writers show this direct line of attack working much better than her previous passive-aggressive “Of course I’m not mad about anything, honey, oh, I’m sorry, did I almost BREAK YOUR TOE there?” approach. Likewise, Charlotte candidly tells Bill that she is not a fan of his favorite-est ever sexual practice, and resists his pressures to engage it just to make him happy. I think it’s quite a pleasure to see Charlotte (the most conservative and traditional of the four women, after all) resisting the ever-popular “find your happiness in making your fella happy” model. In the end, of course, articulating what she does and does not want does, indeed, Lose Charlotte the Guy. But the show makes it clear that this guy is not someone she has to feel badly about losing, and that it’s better for her to walk away than be with a bloke who doesn’t respect her wants and needs. [Claps hands together gleefully.] Goody.

Imagine That, Female Friendship Is Actually Important to Women Watch: At the beginning of the episode, Carrie is anxious, not because of Big (though of course that anxiety comes down the pike later… sigh, Big, what a reliable source of anxiety thou art) but because in the intense rush of her new relationship, she’s committed what she calls “the cardinal sin—I’d forsaken my girlfriends for my new boyfriend.” By ditching her friends to spend all her time with her new fella, Carrie has been in danger of becoming (as Miranda puts it) “one of those women we hate,” who sheds her friends as soon as she is paired off. The show makes it clear that, ultimately, none of the women would ever do that, since their friendships with each other are far too important to them. Another “well… of course they are” style point, I’ll grant you, but still, I think that it’s a significant one. SATC was one of the first shows (especially one of the first romantic comedies-dramas) to place female friendship not at the margins but at the center of the story. Yes, SATC is in many ways a romantic quest plot, in which a lot of the action centers on Girl(s) (Often Troubled) Efforts to Meet and Live Happily Ever After with Boy(s). But throughout the show, the fact that these women’s relationships with one another are vitally important is also placed center stage. A little nicer than the “girl successfully defeats/competes with other, bitchy girls for the heart of her prince” narrative which dominates so many romantic comedies. (And no, throwing in a token, marginal lady or gay gentlemen best friend does not help, writers for stage and screen. I am not so easily distracted.)

Managing Not to Demonize Monogamy or Non-Monogamy Watch: I am a bit hard on Miranda in this episode/season for mucking about with Skipper as much as she does, just because sweet cracker sandwich, woman, leave the boy alone already. He is clearly in love with you. You know that. You are clearly not in love with him. You know that too. Given said realities, leave. Him. Alone. (Though of course, my pity for him is significantly lessened given his Illegal Dumping Practices. Bad Skipper, bad.)

That said, I think this episode actually does a pretty good job of managing to not wag its finger too much at either of the participants in the Miranda-Skipper mess. Skipper is clearly quite right to be hurt and confused by Miranda’s “I don’t want to date you… unless maybe I do” bipolarity. The show condemns Miranda for messing with Skipper’s feelings—but not for not wanting to be in a monogamous relationship. The episode suggests that there’s nothing wrong with Miranda not wanting exclusivity—the only thing wrong with what she’s up to is failing to communicate that to the bloke who is bloody in love with her. I think there’s a bit of a bullet dodged here, as the episode could easily have veered into a “reject a nice guy like Skipper in favor of whoring about town, and you will suffer, missy, and quite right too” style narrative. But it doesn’t. It comes down, not against open relationships, but rather about not being clear with folks that that is what you want. Again, the message here is "Communicate Clearly, Even If That’s Hard." It wouldn’t make a snappy bumpersticker, I’ll grant you, but still—I am in favor.

Next Up…?: An episode entitled “Three’s a Crowd” about this straight guy who wants to become the roommate of two single gals, but has to pretend to be gay in order to do so… wait, or is that Three’s Company? Huh. I think it might be. Soooo... I guess “Three’s a Crowd” must be the episode where Carrie is simultaneously researching an article about threesomes and (surprise, surprise) dealing with another bombshell from Big. [Headdesk again, except harder this time.]

Wednesday, July 21

Season One, Episode Six: Secret Sex

The Summary: Ah, sex which is secret, let us discuss it! All right, so, Carrie is off to her first official date with Big. For said date, she wears a sporty little number which Charlotte quickly dubs "the naked dress." Charlotte takes this racy-dress-donning as a sign that Carrie will sleep with Big on their first date, and, of course, disapproves. (Gentlemen never marry skanky ladies, after all.) Miranda advises against sleeping with a bloke on the first date, as well, and Samantha is, naturally, in favor. Carrie denies that she plans on sleeping with Big on their first date right up until, of course, she actually does so. She subsequently feels that this was a very bad call, and agonizes about it over the course of the entire episode, convinced that because of said sleeping-with, Big has transformed her into his "secret sex girl" whom he's ashamed to introduce to his friends and will never be seriously interested in. Turns out, that's not true, Big actually wants to date Carrie, even though she is so sluttttty.

And what of the other ladies, you ask? When Carrie asks them if they've ever slept with someone they were embarrassed about, Samantha, of course, says no. (And this includes a lad who was in high school at the time. How do you spell "statutory" again?) Charlotte, however, it transpires, did once have a secret fling with a Haisidic folk artist she met through her gallery. (Because I'm sure that devout Haisdic men sleep with shiksas all the time!) Miranda is too busy to talk about illicit shenanigans, because she is involved in a licit shenanigan with Ted, a nice gent she met at a kick-boxing class. Snooping through his apartment, she discovers some spanking-themed pornography. She is appalled. She brings it up with him (by... spanking him in public, how tactful!), and he promptly dumps her. Possible lesson here? Don't snoop! Or surprise-attack spank someone in public!

There is also a B plot featuring Carrie's friend Mike, who is dating a delightful woman named Libby. Mike thinks Libby is fantastic--but is also uncomfortable with the fact that she is not conventionally gorgeous or sufficiently sophisticated (his last girlfriend was a ballerina, you see--fannnnncy), and as such, refuses to introduce her to any of his friends or be seen with her in public. Said behavior eventually leads her to dump his creepy behind. Well done, Libby!

The Analysis:

Self-Slut-Shaming Watch
: How very, very hard Carrie beats herself up in this episode for having slept with Big. Very hard beating-up-of-the-self takes place throughout. (As she notes at one point, "The truth is, I blamed myself. I wore the naked dress on our first date. I slept with him too fast." Does Big need to be blamed for the snazzy, lady-killing suit which he wore, or for sleeping with Carrie too fast? No, of course not! Don't be silly!) To the show's credit, I think it (for the most part) actually shows Carrie's self-flagellation as in and of itself a problem. Because it turns out, after all of Carrie's anguishing, that their first-date activities have not made Big think any less of her, or made him any less interested in dating her. (Plenty of problems with Big, for Pete's sake, but thankfully slut-shaming is not one of them.) In the end, the show seems to go with Miranda's "you were both excited, you went for it, stop blaming yourself" perspective, which... heck, could have been a lot worse! I think the episode shines a nice spotlight on the fact that even though our culture claims to be quite sexually free and unjudge-y, judgment of the womenfolk (but notably, not the gentlemen) for their sexual decisions is still very much with us. Carrie's self-blame is very much rooted in the "woman as sexual gatekeeper" model--the notion that the ladies need to keep the gents' ravening desires in check (not having desires of their own, one supposes), and if they don't, then they deserve to be berated and shamed for their whoredom. (I'll bring the rotten apples to pelt at them if you bring the scarlet letter!)

Not Being Rail Thin = Undesirability Watch: I am just full of praise for this episode, how can it be that I am so positive? What is happening to me??? But I can't help it, I think they did a lot of things right here, bless them. First, they decide not to shame and punish Carrie for her sex-having, and second, they argue that for a man to be ashamed of a woman he's dating just because she's not conventionally beautiful is deeply messed up. Perhaps that's setting the bar pretty low, but still... I approve! The writers make it clear that Mike is a screw-up for not valuing Libby simply because she is, as he keeps insisting, "not beautiful" or "that gorgeous." (And of course, "not beautiful" or "that gorgeous" in this context translates into a woman who is "fat" by Hollywood standards.) She finally dumps him, and he is sad about said dumping. Thank you, SATC writers, for doling out just punishments, like the vengeful god of the Old Testament. Much appreciated!

Vaguely Kinky Pornography Watch: I also think this episode does a decent job of handling Miranda's locating of her swain's spanking-themed-films stash. First, it suggests that snooping is a bad idea. (Bad, snoopers, bad!) Second, Carrie counters Miranda's creeped-out-ness with a pretty matter-of-fact "maybe that's just his fantasy life" acceptance, thus helping to diffuse any "how freakish of him, egad, he should be caged, if not jailed, for his bizarre predilections, the vile wretch!" sentiments. (Dan Savage would be so pleased!) Third, Miranda doesn't decide to instantly dump him because of her location of said videos--suggesting, perhaps, that Carrie has managed to cram a bit of open-mindedness in there. (Well done, Bradshaw.) The fact that he dumps her at the end of it all doesn't negate some of the lessons learned here, I think. (I hope?)

Notable Quotables: Carrie, in the immediate aftermath of what she fears was her one-night stand with Big: "I will not be the first to speak. And if he never calls, I'll always think of him fondly... as an asshole."

Next Up...?: An episode entitled "The Monogamists" about how darned hard it is to be monogamous, especially in a city with as many pretty people in it as New York. Alas, this episode does not include one of my favorite SATC lines about monogamy from Samantha ("I've got monogamy! I must have caught it from you people!")--that sucker will have to wait till Season Four...

Monday, July 19

Single Blessedness vs. Tragic Spinsterhood: A Tangent

So, as I noted several posts ago, one of the things that I love about SATC is the way that it takes one of the very fundamental assumptions of our culture--that finding, having, and keeping a significant other are mandatory items to check off on all of our personal to-do lists--and picks at it. Pokes it, prods it, questions it. Does not let it lie easy, but instead keeps picking it up and shaking it--like a snow globe which has been left too long dusty and untouched on a shelf.

It does it problematically and imperfectly, I'll grant you, but still--SATC ultimately affirms singlehood as a legitimate, valuable, and even joyful state of being. And living in a culture which all too often presents being single as a tragic, pitiable thing for a woman over (what, now, 25?) to be, it warms my icy spinsterish heart to see a show which presents being single as something which women (yes, even women over 30) can actively choose, and deeply enjoy.

Because being single has been, and continues to be, quite a lovely thing, for me. I have not endured it, I have not tolerated it, I have not learned to live with it--I have loved it. And continue to love it, even though I have reached an age at which society indicates that I... shouldn't. Shouldn't still be single (one) or contented with said singlehood (two). Though I stand a mere stone's throw away from thirty, I am still quite happy in my single state. And it's nice to see something of that reflected in pop culture, for once--to not always be Bridget Jones, mopily waiting around for Mark Darcy to come and put her chaotic life into some kind of order--to give her her very own happily ever after. (I see the merit in waiting around for Colin Firth to show up on your doorstep in a reindeer sweater, I do, but still--that is not my life.)

Please note that I'm not saying here that there's anything wrong with being single and not loving it. I don't want to topple the "everyone is happier when they are married/partnered" orthodoxy just to replace it with an orthodoxy of my very own. ("Mandatory Single Contentment"?) I am deliriously happy being a teacher, but I don't expect that everyone else on the planet would be. I love living in my little failed steel town at the edge of Pennsylvania, but I don't expect that lots of folks would do so. I itch if I don't get on a plane at least once every few months, but that doesn't mean that there's anything wrong with wanting to stay put. We all want, need, and love different things. Given that, I don't want to say that other people should be happy single, just because I'm happy single. And, given that... why is it that our culture tells us that there is only one proper way to be, and that that way is coupled?

In a similar vein, please also note that I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with being married or partnered and loving that. I don't want to to do the reverse of our culture's "getting married is the mature, responsible choice, and will necessarily make you happier" thing, and pull a "being single is the only path to true contentment, and if you think otherwise, then you're duping yourself." I also don't want to suggest that, for the womenfolk, being married/partnered is somehow less of a feminist or independent state than being single is, because I don't think that that's true--I have too many amazing, fiercely independent female friends with boyfriends, girlfriends, fiances, partners, and husbands to ever make the mistake of thinking that that's the case.

It's kind of like that Kelly Clarkson song that drives me up a tree (okay, ONE of those Kelly Clarkson songs that drives me up a tree), "Miss Independent." You remember it, do you not? It's all about this girl (Miss Independent by name, as you may recall) who is all stand-offish and do-it-herselfish--and then she falls in love, and poof! Miss Independent is no more! Soooo... a couple of problems there: 1) why is "independent" presumed to be a dirty word for women--why is independence presented as a troubling condition which we need to rid ourselves of, and should, indeed, be proud and eager to shed?, and 2) why do we assume that once Miss I. finds true love that she is no longer, in fact, independent? Are the two mutually exclusive? I'm going to go with... no, they are not. I have a friend who met, and has been with, the same delightful bloke since she was fourteen years old, and a stronger, more independent-minded gal you rarely do see. So love and independence... perhaps not as antagonistic as Kelly Clarkson would have us believe?

I think of it kind of like going to college. I loved the school that I went to, and I simply could not have been happier there. It was lovely. But what if I had gone to a different, equally delightful school, somewhere else? I'm sure that I would have been happy there, too--that I still would have learned wonderful things and had grand adventures. It just would have been different, that's all. Different lessons learned, different adventures had.

I think of "partnered v. single" as being rather like that. If I had met the love of my life as a lass of twenty (as my mom did), it's not that I think that I would have been unhappy, or that my life would somehow have been less than it is now. It just would have been different. A different path with different pitfalls and different pleasures--different frustrations and different contentments.

The thing is, I am just so darned glad that I ended up on the path that I did. It's the college thing all over again. When I went to Smith to work in their archives a few years ago, did I fall in love with the place at first sight? Yes. Did I think about what an amazing thing it would be to be an undergrad there, generally, and what my life as an undergrad there might have been like, specifically? [Pauses to cackle at the very idea of actually being able to get into Smith as a lass of seventeen, or ever.] Absolutely. But remarkable as I'm sure that Other Life--as the many Other Lives which I might have had--might have been, in the end, I only want the one I have.

It's not that my icy spinster's heart is closed to the possibility of couplehood or of love. Said icy spinster's heart is quite open-minded, I think. (If hearts can have minds...?) Charlotte Bronte is my favorite author, for Pete's sake. I love me a "sarcastic, difficult lass meets a bloke who loves her not in spite of, but precisely because of, said sarcasm and difficulty" story. Maybe a version of that story will be my story, one day. Maybe it won't. But either way, I hope that I'll have an interesting story.

And so I'll never know what it's like to be married for more than half a century, the way my grandparents were. (Unless I meet the love of my life within the next five minutes or so, which--looking to both my left and my right--seems doubtful.) I'll never know what it's like to spend my entire young adulthood with a person I love, the way my parents did. But still, I wouldn't trade any of my pleasures for their pleasures--any of my experiences for their experiences--any of my lessons for their lessons. I want exactly the memories which I have behind me, and exactly the future which I have in front of me. And to have a TV show reflect that the idea that my life (as a single lass of nearly thirty) might actually be a life worth wanting, rather than pitying--well, THAT feels pretty darned revolutionary.

Wednesday, July 14

Season One, Episode Five: The Power of Female Sex

... or, in All of New York, They Couldn't Find One Actor Who Could Do a Decent French Accent?

The Summary: All right, so, let's take a break from all that Big Madness (enjoy it, because it's the last break you'll get till the end of the season!) and focus on whether or female sexuality should or should not be leveraged to gain material wealth and power. Let's see!

So, Carrie is quite, quite broke ("broke," in this context meaning, of course, "cannot afford to buy shoes from Dolce & Gabbana) and feeling quite bummed about said broke-ness. In the midst of her sorrow, she bumps into an old acquaintance, Amalita Amalfi, who is variously described as an "international party girl" and a "hooker with a passport." Whatever the case, Amalita is always on the arm of some wealthy gent or other, knows all kinds of festive, moneybags-type people, and invites Carrie to come and socialize with her glamorous friends. Amidst said friends, Carrie meets Gilles, a French architect with whom she spends one charming day, and yes, night. After said night comes a morning during which 1) he leaves, and 2) Carrie subsequently finds $1,000 on the bedside table. Hmmm. Has she been mistaken for a sex worker? Is Gilles just a really good tipper, and the money was meant for the hotel staff? Who can say? When Amalita calls again and seeks to introduce Carrie to more of her posh male friends, Carrie declines said invitation, deciding she does not want to end up on the Amalita Track--whatever that track is, exactly.

Meanwhile, Skipper is sexually obsessed with Miranda, to the point where said obsession is making her uncomfortable. She apparently dumps him over this, because we learn later--dumped he most certainly was! Samantha... doesn't have anything going on in this episode. I guess she's just going about her business as usual. At her gallery, Charlotte has met and been invited to see the new paintings of a reclusive painter, Neville Morgan. Turns out, all of these paintings are of ladies' lady areas--or as he puts it, "the cunt... the source of all life, and pleasure, and beauty." (Awwww, thanks, Neville, I'll be sure to pass that along!) He'd be delighted to show said paintings at Charlotte's gallery--provided that she pose for him first. And by pose, he means, you know, pose--with his benevolent, cookies-and-lemonade-wielding, age-appropriate wife in the background to de-ickify things, of course. So, Charlotte poses. The paintings of ladies' lady areas (which we see at the end of the episode) are very pretty, if you're into "Georgia O'Keefe, The Overtly Vaginal Years."

The Analysis:

Unambivalently Awful Thing in This Episode: The pseudo-French accent on that Gilles character. Pepe le Peu sounds more authentically French than you, sir. Put that away.

Line in This Episode Which Delights Me: After listening to Samantha spewing some crud about how Carrie should just take and enjoy Gilles' money, because "men give, women receive, it's biological destiny," Miranda warns Carrie not to listen to the "dimestore Camille Paglia." They made a Camille Paglia joke! Love it. The show doesn't really seem to take sides between Miranda and Samantha on this one, but I'm still glad to see Miranda call Sam out about the whole "men are naturally sexually predatory, aggressive, and exploitative, and women just need to learn to turn that to their material advantage" malarkey.

Sex Work = Immoral? Watch: At the end of this episode, when Carrie turns down a vacation in Venice with one of Amalita's fancy-pants male friends, she reflects that just because Venice is sinking, her "morals didn't have to go down with it." Hmmm. Something about that doesn't sit quite right with me. It's never spelled out if Amalita is a sex worker or not, but the general sense seems to be that she's most likely a courtesan/high-class escort. And I get not wanting to be a courtesan/high-class escort, I do. I don't blow-dry my hair, own possibly three lipsticks total, and have never gotten a pedicure in my life, so I'm clearly unqualified. But... do we need to be throwing rocks at women who are? Is Amalita immoral for living her life the way she does? Carrie/the show says yes. I would say no. Simply buckets of feminists and sex workers (with plenty of overlap between these categories, natch) have written about the complex politics of sex work, and it just seems a little too cheap and easy to say, "Unlike you, I am not immoral, O Ye Woman of the Night!" Judgey, judgey, judgey.

Next Up...?: "Secret Sex," which is all about... literal-minded episode titles, which leave nothing to the imagination. Ah yes, that, and illicit liaisons of various natures and descriptions!

Monday, July 12

Season One, Episode Four: Valley of the Twenty-Something Guys

... or Did They Seriously Just Imply that Smith Gals Are Sexually Repressed?

The Summary: As the title of this episode would suggest, much of said episode focuses on the implications of dating a twenty-something bloke as a woman in one's thirties. (Oh, the age gap, oh, the horror! Except... Big has quite a few years on Carrie, and this is not an issue...? Ah, but he is a man, I had forgotten! Five year age difference for an "older" lady? Problem. Ten to fifteen year age difference for an "older" gentleman? Who cares?)

Anywhoozle, Carrie has her first date (or rather, not her first date, since he insists on calling it a "thing") with Big. He quasi-stands her up. Miscommunications and ambiguities abound. Does he like her, or does he not? Does he want to go out with her, or does he not? Who knows? Big = Tricky. Baffled by said trickiness, Carrie falls into a flirtation with twenty-something Sam (notably played by Timothy Olyphant, who has gone on to play an impressive parade of sociopaths since then.) Sam is sweet. Sam is uncomplicated. Carrie sleeps with him. (A + B = C.) All is well until she awakes in his twenty-something flat and is appalled by its squalor, and the attendant immaturity which said squalor implies. She ditches Sam and bumps into Big, who promises to call her for an unambiguous, real, actual date. Hmmmm. We'll see about that.

Meanwhile, Miranda is still dating the twenty-something Skipper, even though she clearly doesn't like him that much/finds him extremely irritating. The fact that she calls their attachment a "fuck thing" might give you a sense of her potential motivations there. Samantha is also dating a twenty-something bloke, Jon, whom she dumps the instant he tells her she has the "cutest little wrinkles in your neck." (Reminders of age = unacceptable.) Charlotte is dating a bloke her own age, Brian (whom, Carrie notes, has Charlotte's "big three--looks, manners, money"--way to be shallow, York!), but of course, problems abound there as well. He asks her to have anal sex with him. She is appalled. She discusses it with the girls. They veer between supporting Charlotte and being amused by her bafflement. Charlotte eventually tells Brian she'd prefer not to engage in this particular act. Good for you, Charlotte, for being honest! Good for you, Brian, for being okay with said honesty! Gold stars for everyone!

The Analysis:

"Non-Normative" Sex Watch: One of the centerpieces of this episode is, of course, the discussion which the four women have about anal sex--should Charlotte partake, or not? What happens if Charlotte partakes, or does not? Interestingly, a lot of said discussion is not about pleasure, but about power. It's less "is this something you want/don't want to do, which you might/might not enjoy?" and more "whatever will he think of you if you engage in this 'deviant' act?" Miranda says that the central question at issue is "if he goes up your butt, will he respect you more or respect you less?", and describes it as a potential "shift in power" which is all about "control." Hmmm. Not so fond of that.

The idea that "alternative" sexual practices are more about perception and power than anything else comes up again when Charlotte talks about why she doesn't want to have anal sex with Brian himself. Charlotte tells him that she just can't, because "men don't marry the Up the Butt Girl, who ever heard of Mrs. Up the Butt? No, no, no, I can't--I want children, and nice bedding." Okay, so, just to make sure that I've got this straight:

1) Men don't marry women who have anal sex. Something about said practice is the antithesis of married respectability, it seems? So... this is a kind of extension of the ever-popular "girls you marry vs. girls you sleep with" dichotomy, and a lady instantly puts herself into the latter category if she engages in any such "deviant" sexual behavior?
2) Motherhood and nice sheets, too, are not compatible with anal sex. Do they make you fill out a questionnaire/application before they let you buy sheets above a certain thread count, or something? Is there a passage in What to Expect When You're Expecting which my friends who are mothers never mentioned???

I simply do not care for the "nice girls/potential wives and mothers don't" message here. Noting, of course, that there is nothing wrong with any lady not wanting to engage in this, or any other sexual practice or activity. But I'd rather that she didn't do it, you know, because she didn't want to do it, and not because she was afraid that engaging in said practice/activity would land her in the Slut/Unmarriageable/Bad Mother/Undeserving of Nice Sheets and Men's Respect category.

It's also worth noting here, I think, that Samantha is a cheerleader for anal sex, calling it "a physical expression the body was designed to experience." Two things to note here, I reckon--1) Charlotte's response to said observation, "What are you talking about, I went to Smith!" never fails to crack me up. Because as we all know, the sexual culture at Smith is renowned for its stuffiness and repression, and 2) it troubles me that this remark kicks off a trend which persists throughout the series--said trend being, that any "shocking" sexual practice is one which Samantha, and only Samantha, is seen to endorse/engage in. (Samantha is the one who has the drawer full of sex toys. Samantha is the one who is unfazed by BDSM. And so on, and so forth.) And since Samantha is always positioned as the "shocking" and "extreme" character, while the other three are the "relatable," "normal" ones, as an audience I reckon we're supposed to look to Carrie, Miranda, and Charlotte for a sense of what proper, normative (hetero)sexuality is supposed to look like. And when these three react with a mix of amusement, distaste, and horror when a topic like anal sex comes up, I don't think that this helps matters, but instead pushes us back into a place in which definitions of what "normal" sex is becomes very narrow, indeed.

Person of Color Watch: One of the twenty-something men whom Carrie talks to about why they date women in their thirties, Tim, is African-American. He has, like, two lines, neither of which is particularly offensive or interesting. But still, add him to the tally of People of Color Who Are Visible, and Who Speak!

Random Things of No Particular Interest:
1) I love that Carrie sleeps in an eye mask. Eye masks are pretty. They also seem totally unnecessary in an already dim apartment, but no matter.
2) Technology, my but it does move fast. The computers on display here appear to have been constructed circa 1890.

Notable Quotables: Salesguy, to Carrie and Sam when he catches them making out in a Banana Republic changing room: "Please. This isn't the Gap." (Fascinating, is Gap known as an assignation site???)

Carrie, musing on the likeness of men to addictive substances, as she walks away from Big at the end of the episode: "Maybe all men are a drug. Sometimes they bring you down. But sometimes (like now) they get you so high."

Next Up...?: An episode entitled "The Power of Female Sex" which is, um, about female sexuality and power. Did you see that one coming? I'll bet that you did!

Friday, July 9

Season One, Episode Three: Bay of Married Pigs

... or, Charlotte Seriously Broke Up With a Bloke About Differing Taste in China Patterns, What the Heck?

The Summary: I will begin with a disclaimer that I just love this darned episode, and that said love might blunt my critical teeth a little. But then... I think I love it for perfectly good, legitimate reasons! (Ah, self-justification, what an art-form and a pleasure thou art.)

So, this episode is the first to focus explicitly on The State of Being Single. What does it MEAN to be single, anyway? What is it LIKE? [Mutters under breath: "... for straight, wealthy, urban women in their 30s."] How does society perceive you, if you are one of the unwed? Is there some kind of simmering hostility, um, simmering between The Unmarrieds and The Marrieds? Well, let's find out!

The episode begins with Carrie staying at the beach house of her married friends, Patience and Peter. (I am guessing they live on Alliteration Beach?) They're having a lovely time until one morning Carrie bumps into Peter in the hallway, sans his pants. (Because... it's very common to wander around one's home underpantless when one has guests?) She mentions this pantless-bumping-into to Patience, who promptly ejects Carrie from her hearth and home, declaring all the while that Carrie cannot understand her wrath because, of course, Carrie isn't married.

Returning to the city in the wake of this incident, it's Musings Over Singlehood Aplenty! Carrie talks to married and single people about what they think about their respective states, and about each other. In the process, she also muses about whether or not she herself is the marrying kind (her tendency is to doubt it) and gets set up with Sean, whom she describes as "the Marrying Guy... that elusive and rare Manhattan man whose sights were set on marriage." He's nice enough, but Carrie breaks up with him--she says, because she knows that he wants marriage and she doesn't know what she wants--though I think the fact that he's represented as being "waiting-at-the-DMV-without-a-book" boring might also have something to do with it.

Meanwhile, it's rankling with Miranda that she's the only single lawyer at her law firm, and that her married colleagues seem to be getting preferential treatment on account of their married status. (Invites to parties and informal social get-togethers by boss for married colleagues? Yes. Similar invites for Single Miranda? No.) She consequently allows herself to get set up by a colleague at a firm event... only it turns out, the set up is a lady, Syd. (Whoopsies!) When the head of her law firm mistakenly thinks the two are actually a couple, he's suddenly interested in adding Miranda (plus ostensible girlfriend) to his social circle. Miranda would love to be a part of said social circle, but she eventually concedes that she can't pretend to be a lesbian purely in order to advance her career. (Also, it would seem rather unfair to ask Syd--who is a total bloody stranger, after all--to pretend to be her girlfriend on a long-term basis, one would think... but no matter!)

The Charlotte and Samantha plotlines are pretty minimal in this episode. After Carrie dumps Sean, she sets him up with Charlotte (who, of course, is also of the Eager to Marry stripe.) Charlotte also dumps Sean quite rapidly, however, when she learns more about his (she feels, dubious) taste in china patterns. (Again, I suspect the "dull ditchwater looks radiantly interesting by comparison" thing might also be playing a role here.) At a party which the ladies attend, Samantha gets quite, quite drunk (after having been patronized and looked askance at for her singlehood), during which drunken state she seduces a beautiful Irish doorman who wears sock suspenders. Ah, that every drunken evening concluded thus!

The Analysis:

Lesbian Ladies with Speaking Roles Tally
: It begins! I'll grant you, Syd doesn't actually say too much--but still, number of lesbian characters whose names we learn and whose personalities are at least faintly sketched out for us... one! Also, this is totally giving the show credit for something which should just be a default, but it's still nice to see Syd presented in a positive, non-stereotypical way here, and to see that the writers chose not to have Miranda react with distaste when assumed to be a lesbian by her colleague. (She's more annoyed at having wasted Syd's time than she is anxious at having her Sacred Heterosexuality questioned.) The episode also shows that Miranda and Syd get along well, have a nice day together... unremarkable in and of itself, but since the show will later suggest that straight and queer women can't be friends, I value this moment. (Additionally, if tangentially, Cynthia Nixon looks very dashing in the suit and tie which she slaps on to go her faux-date with Syd. Yes, dressing her like a 1920s movie gangster when she is pretending to be one of The Lesbians is totally cliche, but also... snazzy!)

Thing About This Episode Which Has Me Scratching My Head: Okay, so, while we're talking about Syd, riddle me this. Say that you yourself are Syd. You get set up with a nice gal, who informs you that she's straight. Bummer, but whatever, you still have a nice time hanging out with her. Said nice gal then asks you to go to a dinner party with her as her faux-date, at her boss' house. You don't really know the person who has invited you to this dinner party. You don't know any of the other people who will be at this dinner party. Are you just doing a favor to this nice gal you hardly know...? Have you formed a hopeless crush on this (unavailable) nice gal...? (The show doesn't indicate that this is the case.) Is it that the Lesbian Ladies have so much free time that they're free to escort straight women to dinner parties as their reverse-beards at will...? Why...? What...? How...?

And How Could I Have Not Mentioned Stanford Already?: Call me a bad person, if you like, because this is the first time I'm mentioning the character of Carrie's dear friend and "gay husband" (as she dubs him), Stanford Blatch, even though he has appeared in every episode of the show so far. It's not like I have some kind of personal vendetta against the actor who portrays Stanford, Willie Garson. (Garson is adorable, and very charming in interviews.) It's just that the show hasn't really given Stanford very much of interest to do, yet. (Suggestive in and of itself, perhaps?) He is clearly a staunch and loving friend to Carrie. He has a crush on the beautiful but dim underwear model whom he represents as his agent. And... that is all.

Until this episode, at least. This episode gives us an interesting Stanford moment, I think--as well as a little "These Past Few Decades in Gay Marriage" history lesson. (Yay! I love history lessons!) So, in this episode, when Stanford and Carrie are talking about the whole "married vs. single" thing, Stanford laments that all the gay couples he knows are going to Hawaii get married, "putting on a caftan, and feeling superior to me." Now, for the historical background! So, in 1993, a Hawaii court ruled that denying marriage to same-sex couples constituted discrimination. (Well done!) Alas, this ruling later resulted in a state-wide ban on gay marriage. (Badly done!) As of this particular moment in 2010, Hawaii courts have struck down efforts at both civil unions and gay marriages. (Extremely bad done!)

So at this interesting historical moment, in 1998, when gay marriage/civil unions are starting to seem possible, we have Stanford questioning whether or not gay marriage/civil unions are actually the best thing for the LGBT community. Now I'll grant you, he's clearly not doing this from a political, "why should we embrace a heterosexual model historically rooted in inequality and oppression?" perspective, but more from a personal "how irritating for me that now even some of my gay friends are Smug Marrieds" perspective, but still. Interesting.

Thing Which Makes Me Clap My Hands With Glee About This Episode: I am particularly fond of this episode specifically because of the discussions which the girls (darn it, so hard not to use said infantilizing language...) have about being single women in their 30s, and what that means in terms of the ways in which they are perceived and treated. Like when Carrie notes that she actually does like being single most of the time--except for those times "like family functions, when you're the only one who's not married, and they sit you at the kids' table." Like when the ladies commiserate over being the only single person at a party/wedding/assorted other social function and being treated to a wealth of " 'poor single you' looks." I like the fact that the show brings forward that these women (apart from Charlotte, yes, always apart from Charlotte) are pretty happy with their single lives--and that part of what makes them unhappy about said lives comes from the negative ways in which singlehood is perceived/single people are treated. Re-watching this episode has actually sparked so much singlehood-themed ranting in me that I'll be devoting another post to it anon. So stay tuned for anon!

Random Fact About This Episode I Am Quite Confident You Will Not Care About: The actress who plays Syd reads my favorite audiobook version of The Awakening. She does an amazing job. I just love The Awakening. That is all.

Immortal Words, Memorable Lines: Unidentified married woman whom Carrie talks to about marriage for her column: "Some people, like me, choose to grow up, face reality, and get married. And others choose to, what, live an empty, haunted life of stunted adolescence?" (This sucker just cracks me up every darned time I hear it--yes, it's an exaggeration of how our society looks at The Single Folks... but alas, not that big of an exaggeration.)

Carrie, musing on The Single State: "Sure, it'd be great to have that one special person to walk home with. But sometimes, there's nothing better than meeting your single girlfriends for a night at the movies." (Awwww.)

Next Up...?: An episode entitled "Valley of the 20-Something Guys" in which three of the ladies date younger men and muse on the perils and pleasures thereof, and one of the first "Lengthy Discussions About Anal Sex To Take Place in a Cab" scenes ever to air on cable TV occurs!

Wednesday, July 7

Season One, Episode Two: Models and Mortals

... or Beauty and Intellect, Can They Co-Exist?

The Summary: The episode begins with Miranda learning that she has inadvertently gone out on a date with a "modelizer"--a bloke who refuses to date "ordinary" women (Miranda is his "intellectual beard for the evening"), choosing instead to bestow his romantic attentions exclusively on models. (Is this a real thing in fancy-pants cities like New York? Ask me not, I dwell in the suburbs!) Taking this incident as a jumping-off place, the episode proceeds to muse about beauty--what, exactly, is beauty? Why, precisely, is our culture's idea of what constitutes "beauty" so prodigiously messed-up? How, specifically, do ideals of beauty shape women's lives? How, I ask you, how??? Here's how the episode delves into the beauty morass:

1) Charlotte hates her thighs. Because goodness knows, Kristin Davis falls well short of our culture's expectations of beauty in that regard! Except... maybe not?
2) Samantha insists that she is uncomplicatedly happy and confident about the way that she looks. Except... she feels the need to sleep with Carrie's creepy, modelizer friend Barkley primarily in order to validate said looks. So perhaps.... not so happy and confident, after all?
3) Miranda chooses to resume dating Skipper (whom we learn she has steadfastly ignored since their first, ill-starred date in the pilot), after he tells her he thinks she's "luminous." Validate a lady's appearance, and suddenly, she's not ignoring your calls, but inviting you home! Who knew it was so easy?
4) Carrie continues her flirtation with Big, and is made a leetle nervous and insecure by the fact that he has often had a model on his arm in the past. (Oh, and in the present as well, actually.) In the end, though, he tells her that when it comes right down to brass tacks, men most enjoy the company of women who can make them laugh (because Carrie can make him laugh, get it?)

The Analysis:
Person of Color Who Actually Has a Speaking Role--The Tally Begins
: And two episodes in, we're officially up to two! First, we have Deanne, an African-American woman who is a guest at a dinner party which Miranda attends with her modelizer date. It's not a big part, but it is an actual speaking role, so... duly noted! And second, we have Misha, an African-American model who appears at a party with Big. I don't know if we can properly call this a speaking role since all she says is "thank you," when Carrie compliments her on her modeling abilities. But words are words, I guess?

Thing Which Severely Creeps Me Out About This Episode: So, one of the chief plot points of this episode is that Carrie's friend Barkley (but... where is Gnarls?), an artist/modelizer, has made sleeping with women who are models not only into his hobby, but also into his "art." He shows Carrie an "art installation" he's made, which is essentially a collection of various different videos of him having sex with various different models. When Carrie asks him if they know about these videos, he says (with a little frat-boyish smirk), "Probably." But his tone of voice makes it clear that "Probably" means "Of course not! Aren't I a lovable scamp, with my rascally illicit taping escapades?" Um, nope, sorry, you're not, sir. Your loveability, I feel it not. Carrie shrugs off the possible non-consent of the women whom she sits down to (quite avidly) watch, implying that it's perfectly okay to adopt Barkley's attitude that these women are "beautiful things" to be watched and enjoyed as little more than lovely objects. But... repeat after me, SATC writers, women are not objects. And videotaping a woman without her knowledge of consent... not mildly naughty hijinx, but intensely creepy, quite illegal, and also a little thing I like to call "distinctly immoral." So--Barkley plotline--boo, hiss.

Thing Which I Find A Leetle Troubling About This Episode: In that same vein, this episode does seem to slip a bit into the trap of "beautiful people may be beautiful, but clearly beauty of face and loveliness of form is inevitably accompanied by blankness of brain." Derek, a model whom Carrie spends considerable time chatting with in this episode, is clearly very sweet, but equally clearly also quite dim. Ditto the female models whom Carrie talks to throughout the episode. One solemnly informs her, for example, that while most people think that models are dumb, she's actually "very literary" and will sit down sometimes and read "an entire magazine, cover to cover." Because, get it, magazines are silly and shallow, just like the pretty ladies who read them (and pose for them)! I'm not sure that it helps to complicate our ideas about beauty, so much, to suggest that beautiful people are not particularly intelligent or interesting. Isn't that already kind of a nasty, pernicious stereotype about beautiful women?

Thing Which I Quite Enjoy About This Episode: I'll stop being a sourpuss just long enough (feminists are so negative, jeez) to note that, overall, I actually quite like the way that this episode grapples with beauty culture and the ways in which said culture messes with the womenfolk's heads. Of course, there's a lot left unsaid here. (See, I swung right back to the negative, I cannot be stopped.) Such as, the fact that all four women are white, thin, able-bodied, and conventionally attractive and feminine, which puts them on a very different footing within American beauty culture than lots and lots of other women. But still, I think the episode nonetheless does a nice job of pointing out that ideals of feminine beauty in our culture are insane, unattainable, and ridiculous, and of thinking about the ways in which these ideas nonetheless manage to get under women's skin and into their heads in truly damaging, destructive, and pernicious ways. All four women are clearly struggling with insecurities about the way they look (which, yes, is a little problematic given the fact that these women are portrayed by actresses, part of whose job it is to be "beautiful" and to rigorously uphold "beauty" in terms of the thinness of their bodies, the meticulousness of their makeup and grooming, etc.), openly lamenting the "shortcomings" of their noses, chins, and thighs, and sleeping with men primarily because said men validate them as beautiful.

Beauty culture has clearly taken a toll on the ways in which these characters think about themselves and interact with others--but to its credit, the show actively presents this reality as unfortunate--questions these ideas about beauty, rather than just straightforwardly accepting them. It also draws a pretty clear line in the sand between Men Who Value Only Beauty in Women (who are represented as creeps and dimwits) and Men Who Actually Value Women for Other Things (who are represented as charming and desirable.) So, even though in many ways the show upholds normative standards of beauty, at least they also directly address the fact that said normative standards are messed. Up.

Immortal Lines, Memorable Words:
Carrie, on the wisdom of matchmaking: "I believe there is a curse put on the head of anybody who tries to set up their friends." (Are you listening to this, Emma Woodhouse?)

Carrie, on beauty: "The truth was, I thought I had come to terms with my looks the year I turned 30, when I realized I no longer had the energy to be totally superficial." (As a statement of "the wisdom that comes with age," I quite enjoy this.)

Next Up?: An episode entitled "Bay of Married Pigs," which, contrary to your expectations, is not about ill-advised Kennedy-era military actions, but rather about the "cold war" between married folks and single folks. Does it exist? If so, what is it? We shall find out...

Return from the Land of Oz

Jet-lagged, sleep-deprived, but deeply contented, I have officially returned from the land of Oz. I already know that I am going to profoundly miss their amazing chocolate, their chilly weather, and the way that people actually do call each other "mate" over there. Boo.

Whilst overseas, I ended up having some interesting conversations with real live Australians about SATC. (The fact that I'm an American who is completely and radically uninterested in sports--and as such, not fit to have conversations about "footy" with--and the fact that I was reading a magazine with SJP on the cover during one of my endless series of flights probably sparked/facilitated some of these conversations.)

The film was still out in force over there, and most of the responses I heard were, shall we say... negative? When someone from the land which gave us Rupert Murdoch tells you that the SATC franchise "makes me deeply and profoundly ashamed to be part of a capitalist society," you know you're in trouble.

But as for us, we are still light years away from talking about SATC 2: The Curse of the Bad Lighting. We are, in fact, still in Season One. Coming soon... Episode 2 of Season One. We have officially moved beyond the pilot! Wooooo!