Monday, August 30

Season Two, Episode One: Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Why, here we are at the start of a new season! All is before us, fresh and clean! (Well, except for the fact that we do have to take our baggage from Season One with us into Season Two. And quite heavy baggage, it is, too. But nonetheless... onwards we go!)

The Summary:

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!

The Analysis:

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...

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