Monday, August 9

Season One, Episode Eleven: The Drought

... Or, Ah, the Fruitless Quest to Define "Normality," How It Plagues Us All

The Summary:

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 Analysis:

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.

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