Monday, August 30
The action of Season Two opens one month after the SATC ladies left us behind in Season One. Carrie's break-up from Big is thus still very recent, and her pain about said break-up still very raw. Carrie's inclination to spend all of her days curled up in her apartment mourning sparks a debate among her friends--what, in the end, is the best way to recover from a failed relationship? To go through a long, painful grieving process? To shrug it all off and throw yourself back into the dating fray? They don't know! Carrie doesn't know! It's all very confusing.
Carrie does, indeed, try to throw herself back into Dating Life (with the new player for the Yankees, naturally, as one does), but after bumping into Big while on a date with said Yankee, Carrie has a meltdown and realizes that she needs more time to recover before she can move on, and re-enter the Dating Pool.
And what of the other women? Samantha is unhappily obsessing about James, who continues to be a lovely boyfriend in all aspects save one. (Samantha, when her friends gush about how wonderful James is to her, voice awash in sarcasm: "Me, James, and his tiny penis, we're one big happy family.") She tries to find a way to make their sex life work, but fails miserably. (For starters, James is anti-vibrator. What did they ever do to him, one wonders? Was he attacked by a vibrator as a child?) So... Sam is left to soak in the Slough of Despond, unhappy about the idea of losing James, and unhappy about the idea of staying with him. Bummer.
Meanwhile, Charlotte is unhappily obsessing about her new fella, Paul, who is a lovely boyfriend in all aspects save one. Said aspect being that he grabs/readjusts/generally checks in with his Gentlemanly Area frequently. While in public. Classy! Charlotte buys him corrective undergarments in the hopes of, well, correcting said problem, and Paul promptly dumps her. Buh-bye, Paul! Buh-bye, corrective undergarments!
Miranda is not unhappily obsessing about any gent, at the moment, but she is totally annoyed that all of her friends are doing so--totally annoyed that all they ever seem to talk about is men. (Miranda: "How does it happen that four such smart women have nothing to talk about but boyfriends? It's like seventh-grade with bank accounts! What about us? What we think, we feel, we know? Christ, does it always have to be about them?") However, Miranda puts her "I am sick of listening to you people unhappily obsessing about men, all the time" sentiments aside after Carrie's post-Big meltdown, and resumes her role as a sympathetic listening ear. No more complaints from The Red-Headed Contingent in this episode!
Uninteresting, Trivial Detail: In this episode, Carrie is sporting her gold Carrie necklace for (I believe) the first time in the series. As this necklace comes to symbolize her Selfhood and her Identity throughout the rest of the show, I feel compelled to note its presence here--the fact that it appears right after her break-up suggests, perhaps, the importance of her valuing herself and affirming her individuality in these trying, post-break-up times? SYMBOLISM.
Lazy, Tasteless Stereotyping Watch: When the women are all at a Yankees game, Samantha walks by the player's changing room, eagerly watching the men undress/swan around sans clothes/with only tiny towels serving the same basic purpose which clothes/strategically placed fig leaves usually do in these situations. The camera focuses on one scantily clad black player, capturing Samantha's stunned and delighted reaction when she (in time) witnesses him shed the towel which had previously covered his lower half. Now, keep in mind that Sam has just been complaining to the girls about the smallness of James' penis. To have her immediately thereafter leering at a naked black man... well, that doesn't play into any stereotypes which I can think of! White Objectification of the Black Body 101... I think we've found us a teacher, one Professor Jones by name.
Mocking Someone's Physicality/Really, Really Trying to Create the Sex Life One Wants Watch: So I'm still not entirely sure how to feel about the whole plotline surrounding James. On the one hand: I do feel a little shiver of distaste that the size of James' penis is made such a relentless source of humor. It's like a gherkin! It's like the discarded end of an unwanted hot dog! And so on, and so forth. I know it's far from a perfect parallel, but I can't help but wonder (see what I did there?) how I would feel about said comments being made by male characters about a woman's breasts. ("They're like mosquito bites! They're like Skittles!" And so on, and so forth.) The mocking of other's bodies, especially ones which fail to be "masculine" or "feminine" enough--I like it not.
But on the other hand, re: James, I do rather like the fact that Sam does not immediately dump him because of his "freakish" body, but rather really, really, really tries to make their sex life work. She's eager to experiment, to try new things (well, being Samantha, to try anything), and the failure of said sex life comes about in large part because of James' refusal to follow her down the path of "Something Beyond Insert Slot A in Tab B" type practices. So that, at least, seems like a step in the right direction? Because ultimately, it's more what James does/refuses to do than how his body is formed which causes the problem? So in conclusion--I will take points off for relentless small penis jokes, and give some points back for Sam's open-mindedness and persistence. There. I feel better now.
Constant Discussion of Men--Brief Acknowledgment That This is Indeed Happening Throughout the Show, and That It Is In Some Ways Problematic Watch: Miranda's rant in this episode about how dreary it is that all that her smart, interesting friends ever seem to talk about is boys, boys, boys is, I think, an interesting moment in this episode. Because, of course, shockingly, heterosexual women do actually talk about other things occasionally. Heterosexual women do actually tend to have things like jobs, hobbies, family, and friends--worries, concerns, interests, and pleasures which are not related to their romantic and sexual lives.
But we don't hear too much about such things, in the show. And when we do hear about the women's professional lives in the series, it is usually bound up in romance and sex in some way (Miranda gets set up with a guy at her firm, Charlotte is smitten with an artist she works with at her gallery, Samantha has an affair with one of her clients, and so on, and so forth.) Ditto for the women's (non-sexual) hobbies and interests. (Charlotte spends her yoga class telling Carrie about her foray into vibrator use, Miranda's interest in running gets linked to her dating of fellow runners, and so on, and so forth.)
And in some ways, this does troublingly play into the whole "the majority of things in straight women's lives are just pleasant window dressing for/unimportant distractions from their central focus in life--men" idea. And goodness knows popular/mainstream culture feeds us plenty of said material, as it is.
However, perhaps things are not quite as bleak as they might initially appear. (I think I can just spot some sunshine, peeping in through the clouds...) For one thing, SATC undercuts this "men are the center/primary focus/virtually exclusive preoccupation of heterosexual women's lives" idea quite frequently, simply by continuously underlining the fact that these women's friendships with one another are vitally important to them, and in many ways the center of their emotional lives.
And for another, I remember the fabulous Cynthia Nixon talking about Miranda's speech in this episode in an interview once--the interviewer told her how much she loved that speech, how important she thought it was, etc. Nixon kind of shrugged, and said something to the effect of "Well, but this is a show about sex and relationships--so of course that's what these women are talking about all the time. If it was a show about dry wall, or football, or clog-dancing, then the women would be talking about dry wall, or football, or clog-dancing all the time (as appropriate.) But it's not, so... sex and relationships it is!" This seems to me quite a rational response: that the show "Sex and the City" is not intended to (nor does it pretend to) represent the full complexity of women's lives, but rather zeroes in on one aspect of them.
Though of course... I am compelled to swing back once again on my endless teeter-totter of "this is bad... this is good... this is bad" back to the bad (darn it, the bad always seems to have the last word!) to note that maybe it's still a bit problematic that this is the facet of women's lives which gets an entire show dedicated to it? We don't get "Women's Trials and Triumphs in Their Professional Lives... and the City," after all. By pretty much only telling stories about women's romantic and sexual lives, the show in some ways plays into the "... then these must be the only kinds of stories about women which are really worth telling" idea. Hmmm. So in conclusion... I have ambivalent feelings about Miranda's speech. (Could you tell?)
Notable Quotables: Carrie, in seeking to define the rules for successfully negotiating a break-up: "And finally the most important break-up rule--no matter who broke your heart, or how long it takes to heal, you'll never get through it without your friends."
Next Up...?: "The Awful Truth," in which Carrie contemplates whether or not honesty is really the best policy when it comes to relationships. Since the title of the episode features the words "awful" and "truth" right next to each other, this may give you a sense of where they're going with that one...
Friday, August 27
… otherwise known as "More Debates about Single-Shaming, More Broken Hearts, and More Truly Loopy Outfits" (18 episodes)
So we have made it all the way to Season Two! Good for us! [Refrains from noting that Season One was only twelve episodes long, and that there are four more seasons to go…] And what a festive season Season Two is! There is more Drama with Big (what, you want Chris Noth to have subsisted off of lettuce? The man needed a job, for Pete’s sake! Would he have had a job if Carrie had sensibly told Big where to take his erratic behavior and fancy-suited self? No, no, he would not.), more catastrophically bad dates for Charlotte (the writers must have had a punching bag labeled “Charlotte York,” in their office, I kid thee not), a Truly Serious Relationship for Miranda, and, naturally, extensive hijinx for Samantha. We also get to go to the Hamptons, a wedding, a funeral, an S&M club, a Yankees game, and a horse farm. (Not all in the same episode, but wouldn’t it have been entertaining to see them try to cram all of that in in one go?)
For Season Two, I'm also upping the ante on my "count of LGBT characters and/or characters of color." No longer will it be enough for you to appear in the background and say, "Excuse me" or "I think that was my sandwich" or "Remind me again why you're wearing a tutu?" to one of the ladies to appear on my tally. Nope, for Season Two, you need to be an actual character of substance--someone with a name, an at least functionally-sketched personality, and some relevance to the story at hand. Sigh. Spoiler alert--this means that our list for Season Two is going to be SHORT.
Wednesday, August 25
So in the end, what are we to make of Season One? What does Season One mean? What is Season One about? If Season One were to fall in the woods and there was no one there to hear it, would it make a sound? Deep. Questions.
So, to assess! First, to turn to our tallies of how many people of color/LGBT folks with actual speaking parts there are in these episodes. On the People of Color front, we have... five. And not one of them a major character of any significance: they are all acquaintances, deliverers of one line, insignificant parts of the episodes' main dramas. On the LGBT Folks front, we have... two. Only one of whom, Stanford, is a real character who is developed in any depth/given any genuine emotional complexity. And even Stanford (charming as he is), is there primarily to react to Carrie--to offer her support, to be a listening ear, to be a "you may think your dating life is bad, but mine is worse" consoling word. (In other words, he is the archetypal Sassy Gay Friend.) So, when it comes to any true or meaningful diversity in Season One, along the lines of race/sexual orientation... I feel we have to give them a big thumbs down. Boo, hiss.
Other Overall Distasteful Things About This Season:
1) The creation of an alternate New York universe in which almost everyone on display (and certainly everyone we're expected to care about/be emotionally invested in) is white, well-off, and straight. Because maybe... the real New York is not like this?
2) The complete silence about: abortion. Sure, abortion gets an entire episode in Season Four (which, good, excellent), but I think they really dropped the baton/ball/other things which ought not to be dropped here by letting Carrie's pregnancy scare go by without so much as a peep about abortion. Because in real life, that would have been on the table as an option, and it's disingenuous and cowardly to pretend that it wouldn't have been. ("If I am unexpectedly pregnant, I, as a financially privileged woman living in a city with relatively good access to abortion services, will have no choice but to carry this pregnancy to term, la la la, I can't hear you, people saying I would have multiple alternatives in this scenario!")
3) The dubious representations of: adultery (as a light-hearted romp... even when some are deeply hurt by it?) and sex work (as something only freely chosen by women already privileged by their class, and as something which said class-privileged women deserve to be shamed for engaging in?)
4) The uneasy undertones which pop up here and there throughout the season about the essential, universal, complete, and total differences between men and women. Women and men are just different, people, it is in their genes! Their blood! Their... um, other physical, supposedly scientifically provable things! There's enough of this kind of "well, that's just how all men are/that's just how women are" talk on display this season to make me uncomfortable. Because as we know, such gender essentialism... usually not so great for the ladies!
Overall Pleasant Things About This Season:
1) Tackling singlehood in a complex and interesting way. In a popular culture in which being over 30 and single is represented as a tragic state of affairs which leads to rampant desperation on the part of the ladies, Season One actually manages to look at singlehood in a nuanced way. Sometimes being single is lovely! Sometimes being single is wretched! Kind of like... being a human being in general! Delightful to see the show breaking away from the "I was miserable when single and now I have found my true love everything is perfect [cue twittering bluebirds here]" narrative which predominates in the World of Romantic Comedy.
2) Focusing on women's friendships with one another. As we know from our friend, the amazing Bechdel Test, popular entertainment which features women who interact with one another and find something to talk about besides men... not so common! Granted, a lot of what the ladies talk about is men--but then, a good bit of it isn't, too. And when they do talk about men, many of their discussions are about questioning expectations of what relationships are "supposed" to look like, and offering support to one another to stand up for themselves/to do what is right for them/to condemn bad behavior on the point of a boyfriend. Sooo... yay!
3) Tackling motherhood in some problematic but also interesting ways. Again, since our pop culture is saturated with a "my life was incomplete until I had a baby, but now--uncomplicated bliss!" narratives--nice this season to see female characters in their 30s thinking about motherhood in a more complex ways, rather than just being uniformly baby crazy/walking biological clocks. Maybe some women don't actually want to become mothers! Maybe some women are ambivalent about whether or not they want to become mothers! Maybe some women are mothers, and actually have complex feelings about motherhood which cannot be summarized on a sappy Hallmark card! Amazing!
And now... it's onto Season Two! Will they do better? Worse? The one thing we can say for sure... Carrie will wear some entertainingly cracked-out clothes. And hopefully, will have some feminist things to think and say while wearing them...?
Monday, August 23
Esthetician: "Do you have any children?"
Me: "Nope, no kids."
Esthetician: "Are you married?"
Me: "Nope, not married."
Esthetician: "But you have a boyfriend?"
Me: [feeling like I should be hooked up to a polygraph by this point, and wondering if delivering a lecture on heteronormativity to someone wielding what looks like a scalpel is entirely wise]: "Nope, I'm totally, completely, utterly single!"
Esthetician: [poking at my skin critically]: "Well, when we fix this, that will change."
Me: [silent, thinking to self that self does not want a husband or boyfriend who would want me only on the condition that I successfully banished all of the imperfect "thises" from my person.]
Esthetician: [poking at a different patch of my skin even more critically]: "You can tell that you are a single lady from your skin. Hormones, girl, hormones! That is what makes your skin like this."
Me: [wondering why, if it is so obvious from my skin that I am unmarried, I was even asked whether or not I was married in the first place]: "But... wouldn't I still have hormones, even if I was married, or had a boyfriend?"
Esthetician: [jabs at part of my skin with a sharp metal implement, thus effectively silencing me for the duration.]
So, in case the lessons to be gleaned from this exchange are not clear to you:
1) I have troubled skin because I do not have a boyfriend or husband to keep my hormones in check.
2) My troubled skin is making it tricky for me to attract a boyfriend or husband who will keep my hormones in check. (The world of the Catch-22... I live in it.)
3) Basically, keeping my hormones in check is key here.
4) Also, all women are straight.
Got that? Now if you'll excuse me, now that my skin is freshly facialed, I need to betake myself out there to find me my very own Hormone Check-er! They are not going to check themselves, people!
Saturday, August 14
Friday, August 13
Carrie Cuts Her Hair to Get Over Her Lost Fiancé, I Cut Mine to Celebrate My Completed Dissertation: A Tangent
In Season Four, Carrie chops off her hair when she is ready to start a new chapter in her life—lost love, new job, fresh start—and I’ve just chopped off mine, in something of the same spirit. True, unlike Carrie, my hair-cutting was not preceded by tragedy and heartbreak. (I’m going to put that one in the plus column.) And true, unlike Carrie, mine will not be followed by a glamorous, lucrative new job as a writer for Vogue. (I’m going to put that one in the minus column.)
But I think our friend Ms. Bradshaw is onto something, with this whole “marking of important life milestones by cathartic shedding of hair/transformation of personal appearance” thing. Carrie had been with the gent she breaks up with in Season Four for years. She loved him deeply. Their lives were profoundly intertwined. And when that relationship came to an end, she wanted to mark it in some way--to make the shifts in her heart and the upheavals in her life visible, on her body. After all, she was a different person, after being through what she had been through, and she wanted to make those differences overt--tangible--physical.
I have been a grad student for seven years, people… pretty much my entire adult life. I started grad school as a lass of twenty-two, and am now within inches of my twenty-ninth birthday. For me, grad school has been a home, a haven, a hell—a source of both tears and of laughter (sometimes happy tears and quasi-hysterical/embittered laughter—such is the “Alice falling down the rabbit hole,” everything-is-upside-down-and-backwards-but-apparently-it-would-be-impolite-of-me-to-mention-this nature of the grad school experience)—the reasons for long bookish days and late writing nights. And this very day, my dissertation will be signed, sealed, and delivered—and I will be a grad student no more. Huh. Whaddya know.
And I am not the same person I was, B.G. S. (Before Grad School)—and I wanted to mark that in some way. To make this tremendous shift in my life and the pending upheavals in my world visible, on my person. (And to donate my discarded locks in the process, of course.)
Because as Carrie teaches us, cutting off your hair is a leap of faith. A public assertion that you are not afraid of change, but that you embrace it. That you are not afraid of making yourself vulnerable (after all, when The Hair is Cut, The Neck is Exposed and The Face has Nowhere to Hide), but that you recognize that being vulnerable is an essential part of being brave. That you are not afraid to face your future without the man who was once the center of your world, or the role which was once the core of your identity.
That sometimes we have to let go of a much-loved past in order to embrace an exhilaratingly, terrifyingly unknown future.
So… onwards for me, as I throw myself into My Life After Grad School… and onward for the women of SATC as they throw themselves into their next madcap adventures.
(Oh and P.S.—the charming blog Cupcakes Taste Nice had a lovely story a couple of years ago about the evolution of Carrie’s hair if you want to see it all unfold—and you can still even vote on which look you like best. Come onnnn, short bob, I am very Pro-Short Bob!)
Wednesday, August 11
In the Land of Carrie and Big: one day, Carrie spies Big squiring his mom (who turns out to be Marian Seldes! Cool!) to church. Carrie decides that she would like to go with Big and his mom to church/meet Big's mom/have Big give her a definite sign that she's a real part of his life and future, seeing as how they've been together for a frickin' year. Carrie forces a meeting with Big's mum, and he introduces her as a "friend." (Big: "My mother doesn't need to meet another girlfriend." Awww, the cockles of my heart, I know they are warmed!) Big insists that he needs to do things "on his own time frame" (whatever that might be...?) and that she can't push that. Carrie asks him to tell her--not the world, not his mother, just her--that she's "the one." He won't. Finally convinced that Big just won't be able to give her what she needs/truly let her into his life, Carrie breaks up with him. Sad. (For her, I mean, I was delighted.)
Meanwhile, Miranda is dating a playwright named Thomas. Turns out, Thomas is Catholic. And because of said Catholicism, feels that sex is dirty, shameful, the works, and showers immediately afterwords--every time, without fail. (Carrie: "Have you tried joining him in the shower?" Miranda: "No, I'm afraid he'll bring out garlic and a cross!") Miranda tries to talk to him about it, and a Massive Hissy Fit on his part results, followed by his dumping of her. Miranda subsequently decides to get back with Skipper. ($%^&%$#.)
Charlotte is losing her faith that she will meet and marry the man of her dreams. (Wait, didn't we just have this conversation in Episode Ten?) So she goes to see various, dubious psychics, hoping they will reassure her that True Love is right around the corner. They don't. (Hmmm, maybe they're not that dubious, after all, because... turns out, they're right!) Eventually, she includes that she just needs to have faith, independently of crackpot psychic's pronouncements.
Samantha meets James, whom she believes to be her true love and "a man I could actually marry." Surely, no disasters lurk on the horizon there! Except when they sleep together, it transpires that certain things are not exactly as Sam might have wished or anticipated. What specific things, you ask? (Samantha, to the other ladies: "His dick is like a gherkin!") Ah. This seems poised to cause some conflict in Season Two! (Additionally, I wonder how the actor who plays James's agent sold him this part. "Well, you'll play this charming, intelligent, delightful guy...")
Random, Uninteresting Fact: The church which Big and his mom go to turns out to be a Presbyterian one. Yay, Marian Seldes is one of my people! On the other hand, boo, Big is one of my people!
Person of Color Watch: Add two more folks to our "people of color who have speaking parts" tally! The charlatan psychic whom Charlotte consults to learn whether or not she will ever be married is African-American. (Greeeeeat.) Also, Stanford has a fetching new boyfriend (who disappears hereafter... again, poor Stanford) who is Hispanic. He seems like a nice guy. He has good taste in hats. Better than being a crook!
"The One" Language: I think it's interesting that there's a lot of talk in this episode about people being "the one." (Sam thinks James is "the one"--very temporarily, Charlotte wants to know if she'll ever find "the one," Carrie wants Big to reassure her that she's "the one," etc.) Later in the series, there's actually a whole episode centered around this idea--that there is, as Charlotte puts it, "that one perfect person who's out there to complete you." Is this true? Or is it a damaging myth, which is responsible for untold emotional anguish and unrealistic expectations? It's one of the big push-pull aspects of the series... on the one hand, questioning the idea that we each have one ideal soulmate out there who will make our life perfect, and on the other hand... telling stories which suggest that "the one" is, indeed, more reality than myth.
In terms of this episode--Charlotte's still very clearly in the "If I am patient, some day my prince will come" camp, Sam's notion that she has met the one perfect man for her is pretty rapidly exploded, and I think that Carrie uses "the one" language in a relatively complex way. When she says that she wants someone to know that she's "the one," she seems to be saying that she wants someone who (unlike Big) will really see her, appreciate her, and truly want to be with her. This... does not seem unreasonable!
Catholics=Not Necessarily Deeply Messed Up About Sex Watch : Those who are Catholic can speak to this better than I, but I feel that it does at least deserve a mention that there are certainly many delightful, radical Catholic individuals and organizations who/which are way more sex positive than our friend Thomas the Playwright here is. Does the Catholic Church have a really nasty history (and, in many respects, present) when it comes to sexuality? (Way to ban birth control and abortion, define masturbation as an abomination, condemn pre-marital sex, and deem homosexuality a sin, celibate Catholic hierarchy! Well done!) Absolutely. But since Thomas is one of the few explicitly Catholic characters on the show, and he's a total loon-ball, it feels only fair to give a (as the kids say) shout out to non-loon-ball Catholics who are working to change Catholicism's nasty sexual culture for the better. Keep up the good work, y'all!
Breaking Up with Blokes Who Are Damaging and Destructive Watch : The main event of this episode, of course, is Carrie breaking up with Big. Over pretty much the entire season, we've watched her ask him for some kind of commitment, and him slimily dodge said requests for some kind of commitment. It seemed like a pattern which could have spun out forever--Carrie asking, and Big denying. But it doesn't. (Well--doesn't this season, anyway.) I'm glad that the writers had Carrie break up with him, rather than the other way around--to use that beloved feminist word, giving her some agency in the process. She's clearly in love with him, it clearly hurts her dreadfully--but she does it, because she knows that she deserves more than what he has to give her--because she'd rather risk venturing back out in the world alone than be with a man who is as closed-off and slippery as Big is. She's definitely the one who's in control of the process, she's clearly acting to protect and care for herself--excellent. (Let's just forget what awaits us in Seasons Two-Six, and the first movie, for one blessed moment...)
Notable Quotables : Carrie, after breaking up with Big and fearing that she's lost her faith in herself/love/the world: "Then I realized that I do have faith. Faith in myself. Faith that I would one day meet someone who would be sure that I was the one."
Next Up...? SEASON TWO. Goody, Season Two has all kinds of festive treats in store for us...
Monday, August 9
This episode finds Carrie in quite a tizzy (shocker) over the state of her relationship with Big (double shocker.) Turns out she farted in his presence (horrors), and since then their sex life seems to be slowing down a bit. Clearly, she is doomed! Clearly, all is over between them! Carrie has a massive meltdown in front of Big, and is subsequently terrified that he'll dump her because she has flaws/is not perfect/is, in fact, a messy human being. Turns out, in the end, Big actually likes Carrie despite the fact that she's not perfect! So, all seems well... for the moment. [Insert ominous music here.]
Meanwhile, Samantha tries to seduce her beautiful yoga teacher, in spite of the fact that he tells her right off the bat that he practices tantric celibacy. Surely, spiritual commitment is no match for Samantha's wiles! Except... turns out that it is, the teacher resists said wiles quite handily, and Sam eventually decides to swear off men who've sworn off sex. (Until she gets a crush on a priest in Season Four, of course. What could possibly go wrong there?)
Charlotte is dating Kevin, a former flame of Carrie's whom Carrie warns is a "sex maniac." That was in the days before Kevin started taking Prozac, however, which has effectively stripped him of all sexual desire. (Goodness, but the Prozac peeps must have lovvvved this episode.) Charlotte thus has to decide whether or not she wants to date a man with no sexual interest in her whatsoever. Hmmm, it's a puzzler! Buh-bye, Kevin! Good luck with the lawsuit which the pharmaceutical company who owns Prozac will doubtless be bringing against you for maligning their product!
Like Sam and Charlotte, Miranda, too, is not entirely happy with the state of her sexual life at the moment. (They did seem to call this episode "The Drought" for a reason, now, didn't they? Literalism.) It's been three months, to be precise, which displeases Miranda a goodish deal. She watches a lot of movies. She counter-harasses construction workers who are heckling her ("You got what I want? You got what I need? Well, what I want is to get laid, what I need is to get laid--I need to get laid.") That seems to shut them up!
The Norm, What the Heck Is It? Watch: One of the things I really like about this episode is its grappling with the ever-popular, ever-vexing "When it comes to sex and relationships, what is 'normal'?" question. The show's characters are, on the one hand, keenly aware that defining "normal" is a very tricky enterprise ("normal" according to and for whom, exactly, after all?), and on the other still persistently uneasy that they themselves might not be "normal." So while they know that "experts'" definitions of what "normal" is are suspect, but they are also uncomfortable when they themselves deviate from said definitions. Ah, the human condition, what a headache thou sometimes art.
I know that I've encountered this a goodly bit in my teaching--I recently taught Jessica Valenti's delightful book The Purity Myth, and it unleashed all kinds of discussions in class about how we think and talk about what female sexuality is "supposed" to look like/what "normal" female sexuality is. On the one hand, the students totally got the whole "ideas about female sexuality are socially constructed, and our ideas of what is 'appropriate' for women to do (and not do) sexually is rooted in our society's patriarchal ideas." (Lovely students, when they use the "p" word of their own free will, my heart, it skips a beat.)
On the other hand, they were also very eager to draw lines in the sand between what was and was not "normal," when it came to female sexuality. Choosing to remain a virgin? Not normal, they decided (for Pete's sake, loosen up, ladies! Is this 1890? If you are still a virgin by age 18, get on the move, there, missy!) Having had several sexual partners, they concluded, was normal, but not too many. (A debate actually took place about how many partners it was, and was not, "normal" for a college lass to have had--it will shock you to learn that no definitive number was settled upon.)
This episode delves into these kinds of discussions quite nicely, I think--ably tackles the reality that we want to know what's "normal" because of our (quite comprehensible) anxieties about where we ourselves fall on the Normal/Not Normal scale. Even when we know that how what "normal" is gets defined in intensely problematic ways (often weighed down with very nasty sexist, homophobic, racist, classist, and you-name-ist ideas), we still worry about whether or not we're normal. (Like my clever students in the same breath saying with absolute certainty that "normality" was a tricky, political social construction, but that being a 21 year old virgin or a 21 year old lass with 100 notches on her bedpost was most emphatically not normal. Sigh.) I appreciate that the episode gets into all that, and shows that all this fretting about what's "normal" ultimately gets one precisely nowhere. Good.
Women Expected to Be Inhumanly Perfect Watch: Another thing I'd very definitely put in the plus column for this episode is the spotlight which it shines on our society's pressure on women to be perfect--perfect looking, perfect professionals, perfect wives, mothers, the lot. When Carrie tells Miranda that she farted in front of Big, Miranda asks her how she could help doing so since, after all, she is human. Carrie's response? "I don't want him to know that!" Carrie's sense that she has to be "on" all the time in her relationship with Big (she talks about deliberately posing when she's around him, and creating various personas to please him) is an interesting example of the ways in which our culture expects female flawlessness--and how women themselves internalize these expectations. The episode ends, of course, with Big affirming that he actually does like Carrie the way she is--even if that's unposed and unperfect. Which--yay!
The series itself, alas, increasingly undercuts this idea as it progresses--it always allows its female characters to be emotionally messy and imperfect (good) but increasingly refuses to allow them to be aesthetically imperfect (bad). It's really only in the first couple seasons that we see the women not perfectly made up and togged up all the time, thus setting up a pretty steep "you need to look put together and polished constantly" standard of its own. Darn it!
Notable Quotables: Carrie, after Big puts a whoopee cushion under her chair during what seemed poised to be a romantic dinner: "There is a moment in every relationship when romance gives way to reality."
Samantha to Carrie, on men's expectations of female perfection: "Men don't like women to be human. We aren't supposed to fart, douche, or have hair in places we shouldn't."
Next Up...?: "O Come All Ye Faithful," a charming Christmas carol often sung by apple-cheeked children in Dickens' novels - oh, and also a tale about relationships and faith. Should Carrie have faith that Big can snap out of his wayward, er, ways? We'll find out, and enjoy some high quality church hats in transit! EXCELLENT.
Friday, August 6
[Blogger's disclaimer: In the interests of full disclosure, I should tell you that this is one of my favorite episodes. Riddled with problems, to be sure, but still--I do love it so. Somehow, whenever they tackle Sacred Events in the Life of a Woman: weddings, honeymoons, baby showers, etc., I am always made happy--even when said tackling is distinctly problematic, as it sure as sugar is here.]
So 0ne of the ladies' friends from yore and yesteryear, Lainey, is having a baby shower thrown in her honor, to which the women are all invited. Turns out Lainey used to be a wild and crazy party girl, but has since married, moved with her investment banker husband to Connecticut, and is now poised to Bring Forth Life. The baby shower (to which Samantha and Miranda bring a bottle of Scotch and condoms, respectively, as gifts--how thoughtful!) stirs up all kinds of feelings in the four women.
Carrie's period is late and she is (understandably) rather rattled by the prospect of (potentially, unexpectedly) becoming a Bringer Forth of Life herself. Miranda (whose mantra, Carrie informs us, is "Marriage + Babies = Death") is generally discontented about being dragooned into attending this event, and says so on every possible occasion. Sam loves her life just as it is, and resents being made to feel inferior because she is not (and never will be) a Bringer Forth of Life. Charlotte, on the other hand, is itching to be a mother, and is made to feel quite sad by the shower--her sadness getting headily mixed up with anger when she learns that Lainey plans on using the secret baby name which Charlotte had long ago invented, Shayla (blech, seriously? Isn't that one of Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel's kids' names?) for her pending daughter. Oooh. That's low.
In the end, things resolve themselves more or less tidily (as tidily as can be done given the inherent untidiness of the feelings under discussion, that is.) Lainey visits the city nine months pregnant, and tries to reclaim her pre-marriage, pre-pregnancy life and self by resuming her wild antics--but she can't. And she's miserable. Soooo... envying her wasn't necessary, then? Charlotte, who temporarily lost faith that her dream of one day becoming a wife and mother would come true, gets said faith back. (After meeting a cute boy at a party. Isn't that always the way?) Sam throws an "I Don't Have A Baby" shower to take the bad taste of Lainey's soiree out of her mouth ("I don't have a baby, everybody drink!") Miranda... pretty much remains where she is, convinced that motherhood is a "cult," while also seeming quite sure that she herself will join said cult one day. (Ding ding ding, we have a winner!) Carrie muses a great deal about what motherhood means for women--does becoming a mother mean resigning part of one's self? How does becoming a mother transform a woman's life? How would becoming a mother transform her life, specifically? At the very end of the episode, she gets her period, and has very ambivalent feelings about it--she is relieved, sad, wistful, the lot. Complexity.
Persistent Refusal to So Much as Acknowledge That Such a Thing as Abortion Exists Watch:
Carrie: So, if it turns out that I am actually pregnant, what kind of mother will I be?
Miranda: Because clearly, if you are in fact facing an unplanned pregnancy, your only alternative is to continue that pregnancy.
Miranda: Because it's not like that in this ostensibly shockingly candid, "we'll take on anything daring and controversial" HBO series, which theoretically provides a hard-hitting, realistic look at how women think and talk about sex and their bodies, abortion could even be mentioned.
Carrie: Clearly not.
Miranda: Even though at least one third of American women will have an abortion by age 45.
Miranda: And even though, as we learn in Season Four (spoiler alert!), you have in fact already had an abortion. So... are consequently aware that abortion exists as an alternative.
Carrie: Exactly. My only realistic response here is to assume that if the little stick turns blue, or pink, or whatever the heck color it's supposed to turn after I pee on it, I'm still not clear on that, Motherhood Is Inevitable. There are no other choices. Women should think about "choice" primarily in terms of which pair of cute shoes to wear on their next date with their duplicitous, emotionally stunted boyfriend, am I right?
Miranda: You are.
Carrie: Good, glad we cleared that up. And now, onto the pregnancy test aisle, where we can make punning jokes about our ovaries, and perpetuate the silence and invisibility surrounding a decision faced by millions of American women each year!
Miranda: Hooray for ovary puns, and cowardly, disingenuous shrinking away from the realities of women's real, complex reproductive lives, experiences, and decisions!
Mothers=Boring? Watch?: In an episode which spends so much time trying to deconstruct our culture's stereotypes about motherhood, I am a little troubled by how mothers themselves are represented here. When Miranda describes motherhood as a cult ("They all think the same, dress the same, and sacrifice themselves to the same cause--babies"), the episode in some ways suggests that she's not that far wrong. The mothers at Lainey's baby shower are all clothed in dowdy pastels and frumpy florals (it's like Laura Ashley exploded in there, I kid thee not), unlike our glamorous, black-clad heroines. The mothers are all baby talk, all the time, unlike our sophisticated, intellectually engaged protagonists. (Miranda: "I spoke to a woman who has a master's in finance, and all she could talk about was her Diaper Genie.") Hmmm. By suggesting that the mothers are all rather dull and dowdy, isn't the episode working against its own ostensible goal of moving discussions of mothers and motherhood beyond flat, one-dimensional stereotypes? I answer my own question by saying... yes. It is. Thumbs down.
Motherhood=Resigning One's Independent Life? Watch:
1) This episode creates a pretty clear "single, childless women in the exciting city"/"married women who are mothers in the dull suburbs" dichotomy.
Caveat to 1) Okay, there is one mother in the episode who lives in the city.
Caveat to Caveat to 1) But she appears for approximately two seconds, and is wearing dirty overalls during said two seconds, which, in the SATC universe, is a fate almost worse than living in the dull suburbs.
2) The episode suggests that it might just be impossible to become a mother and remain oneself--the mothers Carrie meets at Lainey's shower seem to have given up a lot of things which they actively mourn and deeply regret to become mothers--their city lives, their lives in the paid workforce/their professional identities, their ability to dress marginally fashionably, etc.
Caveat to 2) But... maybe this is a kind of commentary on the fact that our society still expects motherhood and sacrifice/selflessness to go hand in hand--maybe it's not saying that motherhood is a sacrifice of all that one has and is, maybe it's saying "isn't it messed up that our society expects motherhood to be a sacrifice, expects mothers to be paragons of selflessness, makes it really hard for women to easily combine motherhood and careers in the paid workforce, and so on, and so forth"?
Caveat to the Caveat to 2) Hmmm. I wish it was that, but I don't think that it is, actually. The episode seems to be saying, "You can be a glamorous single lady with a career outside the home, who lives in the city, or a respectable matron who lives quietly in the country as a full-time homemaker (which is clearly a fate worse than death), it's either/or, make your choice and stick with it/make your bed and lie in it. [Insert "provided that you have the class privilege to make these kinds of decisions about motherhood in the first place, which the overwhelming majority of American women do not" here.]
Motherhood=Complicated Watch: With all of my numerous reservations about the troubling representations of mothers/motherhood, and my intense displeasure about the dead frickin' silence about abortion noted, I am now free to also note that I think this episode actually does do some really interesting things in its discussions about motherhood--what we as a culture expect of it, versus what it's really like. For one thing, it makes the point that mothers are actually people, independent of their motherhood. Not that radical of a point, you say, but still--one which does seem to constantly need making. Turns out, mothers are not just mothers, but women with desires, hopes, and aspirations of their own, independent of their children. SHOCKING.
At one point, Carrie goes around asking the mothers at Lainey's shower what their secrets are, and we hear their answers (frustrations about having left the paid workforce! Longing for an abandoned lady lover! A continued desire to smoke pot from time to time!), which helps to undercut the "mothers are all dull Laura Ashley fiends, rather than interesting people with complex inner lives" subtext of the episode--if not quite enough for my liking.
The episode also makes it clear that the picture-perfect, white picket fence, wealthy husband, beautiful home, baby-on-the-way life isn't actually so perfect, after all. Because it turns out that Lainey is miserable in her new life, and feels robbed, cheated, and baffled by how different it is from what she'd expected. (Who knew, a fairy-tale life on paper might not actually be a fairy tale in reality!)
In this regard, I think that the episode (narrowly) avoids falling into the "marriage and motherhood are either the solution to, or the source of, all of your problems and unhappiness" binary by suggesting that Lainey has always been unhappy--that her problem isn't "Marriage + Babies = Death," but that she expected marriage and motherhood to bind up all of her old wounds and magically make her life painless and perfect... and they didn't... and they can't. And here I heard from every romantic comedy produced by Hollywood in the past ten million years that they would, and could!
Childlessness=Not Necessarily a Sad, Hopeless Pit of Sadness and Hopelessness Watch: I kind of love that Sam throws herself an "I Don't Have a Baby" shower in this episode. One of my other very favorite episodes of the series (coming down the pike in Season Six) makes the point that there aren't really any holidays or celebrations explicitly for single, childless folks in American culture. (Carrie: "Hallmark doesn't make a 'Congratulations you didn't marry the wrong guy' card.") Now, I've had a considerable amount of fun buying wedding gifts and baby gifts for friends over the years. (I didn't know there was such a wide variety of ice cream makers, and who doesn't love the prospect of buying defenseless youngsters extremely goofy little hats which their parents can compel them to wear?)
But... did anyone buy me anything to celebrate my moving into my very first apartment as a single lady? Nope. Did I get a shower thrown for me when I booked my very first trip overseas? Not so much. (And hot dang, I could have used one... oh, the luggage I would have registered for...) It's kind of nice to see Sam being unambivalently happy with her childless/child-free/whatever terminology one wishes to use life, and deciding that she deserves to actively celebrate, rather than apologize for, it. I would have happily brought a bottle of champagne to that party!
Notable Quotables: Carrie, after receiving the invitation to Lainey's shower: "Let's be honest. Sometimes, there is nothing harder in life than being happy for somebody else. Like lottery winners, or extremely successful people who are twenty-seven."
Miranda to Carrie, on children: "I just realized... maybe it's maturity, or the wisdom that comes with age, but the witch in 'Hansel and Gretel'? She's very misunderstood! I mean, the woman builds her dream house, and these brats come along, and start eating it!"
Next Up...?: "The Drought," all about the terrible problems faced by farmers during seasons with little rain... oh, wait, sorry, it's actually about Carrie's panic at her and Big's sex life slowing down into a, well... drought. A matter of equal concern and severity, to be sure.
One such nifty thing which the feminist blogosphere has recently yielded? The Queer Carrie Project, "an experiment in political video remixing and transmedia activism," which takes the six seasons of SATC and quite literally queers their narratives, transforming SATC plots into ones in which the ladies "question their desire, will, and strength to continue following the expectations of conventional heterosexuality." Given that SATC is, in many ways, Heteronormativity in the City ("The thrust of all women's lives is the search for the perfect man... okay, the perfect shoes and the perfect man"), it's pretty neat to see the show tipped on its head in such a way.
Check it out!
Wednesday, August 4
The Summary: This is the very first episode in the series where the ladies attend a wedding. The wedding episodes are always entertaining, I think, unlike the bloody awful weddings in the bloody awful movies, which--yikes (see: Carrie wearing a blue bird on her head in one, and Stanford baffledly marrying a guy he doesn’t even like in two.) Said wedding is the wedding of a lass named Brooke, to some nebbishy bloke it quickly becomes apparent she does not love. (Brooke, on why she is settling into a loveless marriage—after losing the illusion of Great Love, she says, you “just want a man who can throw around a Frisbee.” Sweet cracker sandwich, I hope she didn’t say that in their wedding vows!)
This wedding, as weddings are wont to do, stirs up some interesting events and conversations. Carrie, in talking to Big about marriage/why people get married/what marriage means, learns from him that he plans on never getting married again. As in… ever. So, can a lass date a man who’ll never get married? Carrie eventually decides that she can’t, that doing so is pointless, because she thinks she actually does want to get married someday—realizations which she proceeds to share with Big. Upon hearing said realizations, he fobs her off by making vague pronouncements about how “it’s all about the timing” and he “thought we were having fun.” Ah, I can’t see any trouble ahead there at all, what with an evasive gent dodging a lady’s questions about his potential incapacity to make a long-term commitment to her which she clearly desires! What could possibly go wrong?
Meanwhile, Stanford, rejected by yet another bloke (awwww… poor Stanford!) tries to talk Carrie into entering into a marriage of convenience with him, so that he can at least get his hands on the family inheritance he will receive only after getting hitched. (Stanford’s proposal to Carrie: “Who else would keep you in expensive shoes, and encourage you to cheat?”—the words every girl dreams of hearing!) Carrie declines this offer, shockingly, since she is quite capable of keeping herself in expensive shoes and (as we shall see anon) of cheating, even without Stanford’s help!
And what of The Ladies? Miranda is obsessed with a new vibrator she has purchased, the Rabbit. She talks Charlotte into buying one for herself (Charlotte, in the sex toy shop, fingering the Rabbit: “I thought it would be scary and weird, but it’s pink… for girls!”), which quickly turns Charlotte into a recluse who refuses human company. Of course, this clearly happens all the time. They keep putting that on the warning labels (“Caution: May Cause the User to Eschew Human Contact for Long Periods”) but will the silly womenfolk listen? Nooooo. In the end, Carrie and Miranda have to stage a “vibrator intervention” and take the Rabbit away from Charlotte just to get her out of the house. Because if she kept it, you see, she’d never date again! Of course, that seems perfectly logical. A + B = Huh???
Samantha ends up dating an undesirable gentleman she meets at Brooke’s wedding, whose nickname is the Turtle (for no other reason but that the writers wanted to call this episode “The Turtle and the Hare,” one suspects)—she doesn’t even like the Turtle, but he paid attention to her and complimented her when she was down in the dumps about being discarded by another bloke, and so—date him she does! She tries to “fix” the Turtle, who is unstylish, has wretched breath, and is as boring as the dickens—she gets him nice clothes, fresh breath—but eventually dumps him, because it turns out that even wearing a nice suit and armed with breath mints, he is still as boring as the dickens! Unlike Brooke, it seems, Sam wants more from a guy than knowing which end is up on a Frisbee.
Charmless Sizeism and Ageism Watch: The “undesirable” singles table which the women end up sitting at Brooke’s wedding is marked as undesirable, of course, by virtue of the fact that it is populated by the elderly and a fat lady. For who would ever wish to sit next to such people, I ask you???
Maybe Entering Into a Loveless Marriage Isn’t Such a Good Idea, After All Watch: One of the thrusts of this episode, I think, is to consider whether or not Brooke is right when she says that it’s better to marry someone “who loves you more than you love them,” to get married purely for the sake of companionship, and so on, and so forth. And happily, the episode comes down against settling in such a sad and distasteful way. (Well done, episode!) Samantha is not going to settle for the boring Turtle just because she wants male attention. Charlotte is not going to settle for the Rabbit when what she wants is a relationship with an actual person. [At this juncture, stifles the desire to type “THOUGH SHE COULD ACTUALLY HAVE BOTH, YOU KNOW, SATC WRITERS” in all capitals. Or rather… tries to stifle said desire.] Carrie is not going to settle either for chastely marrying her gay best friend or silently accepting her lover’s pronouncements about never getting married again, when she herself may want to get married, one day. No settling aplenty! Excellent.
Vibrators as Pathetic Man Substitutes Watch:
Pro: This episode vividly brings forward the fact that sex toys are ridiculously overpriced.
Con: This episode makes it painfully clear that sex toys are even more ridiculously overpriced now than they were in 1998. Yeouch.
Pro: This episode duly notes that some ladies enjoy vibrators. (In Charlotte’s case… a LOT.)
Con: This episode hints that so enjoyable are vibrators, that they may ruin the ladies for sex with the gentlemen. (Does one’s liking of Paris ruin one for London? Does one’s enjoyment of cupcakes ruin one for ice cream? I think not. But to continue.)
Pro: But… Miranda seems okay using a vibrator! It hasn’t turned her into a hermit or a freak! Ha HA! Take THAT, cons!
Con: But… Miranda at this point in the series is represented as rather bitter, jaded, and skeptical about the viability of relationships with men. The result of excessive vibrator use? I THINK IT MIGHT BE.
Pro: Kind of nice to see conservative Charlotte gleefully embracing the Land of Sex Toys, though, isn’t it?
Con: But… (lest we forget) the episode does end with her forever forswearing said Land and said Sex Toys, so that she can go and find herself a fella instead. Huh. Point to the cons, I think!
Notable Quotables: Carrie, on her decision to keep seeing Big despite the semaphore-like red flags being waved frantically about in all directions: “My Zen teacher said the only way to true happiness is to live in the moment and not worry about the future. Of course, he died penniless and single.”
Charlotte, on why, in the end, she is picking men over The Rabbit: “A vibrator does not call you on your birthday, a vibrator does not send you flowers the next day, and you can’t take a vibrator home to meet your mother.”
Next Up…?: “The Baby Shower,” in which the ladies attend… what do you think now?
Sunday, August 1
So I spent this weekend at my family reunion, which was 1) very charming, and 2) featured (as life so often seems to do) a convergence of many Important Events—four new babies (either already present and wearing fetching floral rompers or Coming Very Soon to A Family Near You—or more accurately, Near Me), two wedding anniversaries, and one shiny new engagement.
One of the activities at said family reunions (apart from the eating, my goodness—the eating) is taking tubes, canoes, kayaks, or whatever one’s watercraft of choice might be down the (very mild) rapids which a river in Pennsylvania can boast. As I floated in a tube (my watercraft of choice – for me, kayaks = high probability of drowning and canoes = too hard for my spaghetti-like arms to wield successfully) on the aforementioned Pennsylvania river, through the aforementioned (very mild) rapids, I was having a “ 'I love my life exactly the way it is, but my, aren’t babies cute and engagement rings pretty?' [insert slightly wistful sigh here]” moment, when two blokes in a canoe pulled up alongside me and asked (I kid thee not, I wish I’d had a waterproof tape recorder with me so I could prove it to you), “Do you need rescuing, little lady?”
Leaving aside the facts that these blokes were 1) smoking as they canoed, 2) had a dog in the canoe with them (and a big dog, at that), and 3) actually did apply the label “little lady” to me (even though I am demonstrably not little, and arguably not a lady), the thing that struck me the most about this incident was how darned unreal it felt. It felt like something that was happening, not to me, but rather something that had happened to an SATC character at some point during the show’s run, in an episode which I now only dimly remembered.
These gents seemed way too much like they’d been placed on the river by central casting, and given their lines by an SATC scriptwriter. (“Get it, when they ask her if she needs to be rescued, they’re partly talking about her incompetent self trying to pretend she knows what she’s doing tubing, but they’re also asking if she needs to be rescued in the Deep, Philosophical Sense, as a childless, single lass drifting she knows not where on the River of Life. You see? SYMBOLISM. POETRY.”)
Thrown into such an SATC-like situation, how does one respond? If playing the role of Samantha, one would, of course, rapidly seduce (and equally rapidly abandon) one (or both?) of the canoers. If playing the role of Miranda, one would instantly develop a neurosis about this challenge to one’s athletic prowess/overall competence, which would subsequently need to be addressed through extensive therapy. If playing the role of Charlotte, one would convince oneself that one had fallen in love with one of the canoers at first sight, and proceed to daydream about a future spent living in a charming tree-ringed cabin with him, and, presumably, the dog as well.
If playing the role of Carrie, one would probably do what I did, which was to say, “No, thanks, I think I can make it on my own,” continue on my way, and then go home and write about it all.
Which, even though I got a bit scraped up and bruised in transit, is exactly what I did.