Wednesday, September 29

The Wisdom of Others: Carrie on Carrie

So, the brilliant Carrie Polansky, who founded the faboo blog Gender Across Borders (do go read them/find out how to like/follow them on Facebook and Twitter here, if you haven't already--I promise, you'll be glad you did!), has started a new blog about the gender politics of Sex and the City, Carrie on Carrie. [Claps hands together in anticipatory glee.] I, and all of us over here at BOCS (which... oh, right, it is actually just me over here at BOCS), are pretty darned psyched. Go revel in her wisdom immediately, won't you? Once again, you shall certainly be glad that you did!

Season Two, Episode Twelve: La Douleur Exquise!

[Blogger's note: I feel compelled to take a moment before we begin to say proudly that my bloody seven years worth of French classes means that I could actually translate this episode title all by myself, sans French-English dictionary. Merci, French teachers who fruitlessly tried to din that lovely language into my unreceptive brain all those years ago! Clearly, all is not lost! I mean, um, all is not perdu!)

The Summary: So, Carrie and Big break up in this episode. Yayyyyy! Unless, of course, you are Carrie, in which case--boooooo. (But I am not Carrie, so--yayyyy!) What causes said break-up, you ask, after Big treating Carrie like rubbish for so very long, and Carrie so very patiently putting up with said rubbishy-ness? Big telling Carrie that he's almost certainly moving to Paris for six months to a year for work, that's what. Carrie, predictably, is furious that he drops this fun fact on her out of the blue, and clearly without pausing for so much as a minute (or rather, pour une minute--see what I did there???) to factor her into this decision.

She temporarily talks herself out of said furiousness and tries (as we know, to our unending exhaustion, is her wont) to make tasty lemonade out of the rancid lemons which Big is handing her. Maybe having a long distance relationship wouldn't be that bad! Maybe visiting Big in Paris could actually be fun! Maybe she could even move to Paris herself, for a bit! It's Big's response to this last proposal ("I don't want you to uproot your life and expect anything"--ah, so warm and loving, sir!) which finally causes to Carrie to flip/snap/do other such dramatic things. ("Why do I keep doing this to myself? I must be a masochist, or something." Ding ding ding, I believe we have a winner!)

She's finally at the end of her (clearly very long) tether, and simply can't deal with Big's "please enjoy lurking on the periphery of my life for the next five to ten years, being fobbed off by my ambiguous allusions to a vaguely defined, far from certain future together" malarkey any longer. And so, she breaks up with him. He half-heartedly tries to get her back, but she holds out, self-protectively resisting the siren song of his "just because I don't consider you an important part of my life doesn't mean I don't love you" hooey. Buh-bye, Big! [All together now: "... again/temporarily."]

Phew. I don't know about you, but I am exhausted. But there are three other ladies to discuss, and so--onwards! Samantha's easy (I swear to goodness, I wasn't going for a cheap pun there, Scouts' honor--it was only after I read this over that I realized I'd gone all double-entendre on you), because she doesn't really have anything going on this episode. Her P.R. firm is handling the opening of an S&M themed restaurant. (May I recommend against ordering their whipped cream?) The other three women are a little squeamish about the sights on display at said eatery, but Sam blithely says that she thinks "it's healthy and fabulous." (Well done, Sam, I'm sure somewhere out there, Pat Califia is proud of you!)

Charlotte finds herself entangled with a foot fetishist (as all ladies do, at one point or other), when she walks into her friendly neighborhood shoe store--the salesman, Buster, offers to give her $500 shoes for free, if she lets him rub her feet. Charlotte does so, but then feels pretty icky about it, and tries to return the shoes. He won't let her. She can't pay for the shoes, and so he offers her a trade--model some shoes for him, and she can consider the "obtained through illicit rubbing" shoes paid for. Model she does, which makes Buster happy. Very, very happy, if you catch where it is that I am drifting. All right, then!

Miranda, meanwhile, is dating Jack, who is played by the delightful Will Arnett. Whom she first meets when they are both prowling for historical biographies at a used book stall, no less. Oh, Miranda, what a fortunate woman thou art! Except, nope, wait, sorry, spoke too soon--transpires that Jack is fixated on having sex in public places where there is a high probability that he'll get caught. Alleyways, taxi cabs, elevators (the logistics of which escape me, but perhaps that's because I've never worked in a building with more than four stories?), restaurant bathrooms, you name it, they've done it. (Charlotte, on hearing about said escapades: "This is supposed to be a relationship, not Outward Bound!") Miranda is a little uncomfortable with this whole "let's go on a field trip!" angle of her relationship with Jack, but rolls with it until Jack engineers a tryst at his home where there is a high probability that they will be caught by his visiting parents--and, in the end, in fact, are. Oh, how I would love to get our friend Dr. Freud's take on that one! Yeeeeeesh.

Oh, and there is actually a Stanford plotline in this episode--had you forgotten that Stanford existed? (If so, you wouldn't be the only one--I suspect that the writers had, as well.) So, it transpires that Stanford has been chatting online with a bloke (under the name "Rick9Plus"--did you hit your head and lose your subtlety somewhere along the line, Mr. Blatch?), who is now eager to meet him in person for a rendezvous. Stanford is scared to do so, since he's not exactly the Men's Health-cover-esque demigod he's marketed himself as being--what if his new friend is repulsed by/rejects him?

Carrie talks him into it, however ("I say, go. Have a naughty little adventure. Be safe, have fun"), and off Stanford goes, to meet his chat buddy at an "underwear-only" club. (Geez, those are just springing up everywhere now, they're what Starbucks was five years ago!) There he meets a beautiful blond man who doesn't seem to be the gent Stanford had initially gone to meet, but who is pleasingly attentive to and interested in Stanford, nonetheless. A story with a happy ending, for once!

The Analysis:

Are We Being Derogatory Towards Folks with Sexual Fetishes or Are We Not? Watch:

Pro: In many ways, the episode does seem to accept Sam's shrugging "people's sexual tastes are varied and diverse, as long as people are taking care of themselves and others, who cares what they do?" attitude. Good, right?

Con: Okay, but you have to admit, we once again have a scenario in which Sam is accepting and affirming of something (BDSM, in this case), which the other three women are amused by (at best) and severely creeped out by (at worst.) And since (as we have already discussed) Sam is represented as the "extreme" character when it comes to sexual matters... isn't this a leetle bit troubling? No? What is it, Pro? Cat got your tongue?

Pro: [cannily changing the subject]: Okay, okay, fine, I'll give you that one, but what about Buster, the shoe salesman who really loves his work? He seems pretty comfortable and happy with his predelictions--he knows what he wants, and goes after it without shame. Not too bad, right?

Con: [triumphantly]: Sure, if you overlook the facts that 1) they cast a not-conventionally-attractive, rather sinister-looking actor in the part, to underline his failure to conform to desirable, normative masculinity/his essential creepiness, in case there was any chance you'd miss it, and 2) they represent his sexual response to all things foot-related as distastefully and ickily as they possibly can, and show our wholesome Charlotte looking appalled and horrified by having to witness his transports. And also, Buster, seriously? Why not just name him "Payless" and have done with it? Methinks that Stanford isn't the only one who's lost his subtlety, here...

Pro: [realizing when it is beaten, and moving on]: But what about Will Arnett? He is dreamy, married to an awesome feminist, and his character has a fetish! So there!

Con: [thinking that this is getting almost too easy, and pitying poor, hapless Pro]: True, but even as Vice-President of the Amy Poehler Fan Club, I can't give you this one. Charming as he is, Arnett, you must concede, almost always plays sexually suspect, slimy jerks. And his character is represented as a loonball who immaturely, selfishly, and downright crazily embroils poor Miranda in increasingly embarrassing, distressing situations. So, folks who step outside of the Land of Vanilla--don't fare too well here, now, do they?

Pro: [Hangs head, wondering why it even bothers to get out of bed in the morning.]

Women in Unrelentingly Bad Relationships Finally Taking Care of Themselves, Thank God Watch: I feel like I have said this before, but I am really glad to see Carrie bloody standing up for herself and giving Big the old heave-ho after him treating her so relentlessly nastily for so long. Throughout Season Two (and throughout Season One, too, for that matter, as we know to our eternal "I need to retire to my fainting couch with a cold compress on my head" frustration/fatigue), Big treats Carrie quite shabbily, indeed. Only grudgingly having an admission of affection dragged out of him virtually at gunpoint. Steadfastly refusing to make any kind of meaningful commitment to Carrie. Persistently dodging her questions about what she means to him/if they have any kind of future together.

More than halfway through the season/well over a year into their relationship, Carrie has finally had enough. [Mutters disconsolately to self: "... for now, anyway."] Once again, it's clearly dreadfully painful for her to break up with him, but she does it, nonetheless, because she realizes that it's her responsibility to take care of herself, rather than fruitlessly subjecting herself to yet more torture at the hands of a man incapable of caring for or about her the way she needs to be cared for and about. Nicely done, Carrie. Just watch your step in Season Three, couldya?

Notable Quotables: Carrie, as Big leaves her after she has kicked his sorry tuckus to the curb (all together now: "... again/temporarily."): "Did I ever really love Big, or was I addicted to the pain? The exquisite pain of wanting someone so unobtainable?" I am going to say, yes, and also, for good measure... yes!

Next Up...?:
I am so darned happy that Carrie and Big are broken up (all together now: "...again/temporarily"), I can't even tell you. Carrie, of course, is radically unhappy, and decides to express said unhappiness by throwing herself into a fling with Jon Bon Jovi. Of course, I believe this is a common cure for a broken heart in many cultures. Or if it isn't... heck, it should be!

Monday, September 27

Season Two, Episode Eleven: Evolution

The Summary:

All right, so let's take the bull by the horns/eat our broccoli before we eat our dessert, and get the inevitably unpleasant and frustrating "This Week in Carrie and Big" report out of the way right off the bat, shall we? So, Carrie and Big are, as we know, now officially in luvvvv. (Or "in fucking love, I GUESS" as Big would likely put it.) Carrie is spending a ton of time at Big's apartment, which means that she has to carry around a purse as big as Texas all the bloody time, because he won't let her have so much as a drawer/shelf at his place. (She tries to leave stuff there--he thoughtfully brings it right back to her, in a Barney's bag. Awwwww, for me? My own hair dryer and some Q-tips? You shouldn't have. No, really... you shouldn't have.) Carrie is frustrated. Carrie tells Big that she is frustrated (YES. For once in her life!), and eventually wins from him the concession that she can leave underwear at his house. Ummm... good? If by "good," we mean that the broader issue of "maybe you could let me, and not just my unmentionables, into your home/heart/life in any real and meaningful way" remains unresolved. I've said it before and I'll say it again--boo, hiss.

Onto the other, non-Big-dating ladies, then! [Wipes brow in relief.] Sam has reconnected with Dominic, the one and only man she's ever truly loved. (Dominic, notably, gives us a little preview of the kind of bloke capable of winning Samantha's heart--powerful, rich, sexually predatory, and with an ego as big as all outdoors. Keep that in mind for Season Four!) So Dominic had long ago broken Sam's heart by dumping her for a supermodel. Sam decides that she'd like to pay him back in kind, enticing him back into her web of deceit and lies, and then heartlessly dumping him, the way that he'd once heartlessly dumped her. Good, because of course, revenge plots--they never fail! Except... this one does. Turns out, she actually still has feelings for Dominic, and is dreamily falling back in love with him, when he once again heartlessly dumps her... for the same bloody supermodel. Drat. Sam is sad, but also kind of relieved to know that she is not, in fact, cut from the same ruthless, heartless cloth as Dominic. So--yay for still having feelings, even if they are feelings which are hurt!

Learning that she has a lazy ovary ("My right ovary has given up hope that I will ever get married or have kids!"), the 33-year-old Miranda begins to contemplate her reproductive future. Does she want to contemplate maybe freezing her eggs? Should she start dating creeps who bore her, just to increase her chances of getting wed and having The Babies? She considers the former and tries the latter, and eventually rejects both. She reckons she still has some time left on her biological clock, and decides that settling for a jerk just because he has half of the necessary baby-making equipment is a bad call. Agreed! (On the jerk-dating score, that is, a lady should do whatever she likes with her eggs, whenever she likes to do it.)

Charlotte, meanwhile, has been spending a lot of time with Stefan, who is handsome, charming, sweet, and funny. So what's wrong with him, you ask? Oh, clever reader, you know the SATC writers too well by now, and you are quite right to suspect that there is, indeed, something wrong with this lovely gent--said wrong thing being that Charlotte is not 100 percent sure that he's straight. Because he... has previously dated men? Has expressed romantic and sexual interest in men? Nope, because he is a pastry chef, lives in Chelsea, likes to cook, knows his fashion, and actually notices women's hairstyles. A straight man who admires the work of Martha Stewart? PLEASE. Next you're going to tell me that some straight men don't watch sports or like beer. Cease such crazy talk immediately.

Even though Stefan clearly dotes on Charlotte and is eager to date her and sleep with her, Charlotte remains unsure about his sexual orientation. She even brings Carrie and Stanford in for a consult on the matter. (Stanford: "I find him very attractive which means, of course, that he's straight.") Charlotte eventually asks Stefan about it directly, and Stefan very sensibly says that if he was gay, 1) he'd already comfortably be out and proud, and 2) he wouldn't have asked Charlotte out and pursued her if he wasn't interested in ladies generally, and her specifically. All without a hint of homophobia or "how dare you challenge my sacred straightness?" panic. Yay. Stefan, I like.

But of course, it's only Season Two, so we can't have Charlotte happily settled with a fetching gent who dotes on her and makes her homemade scones. Charlotte eventually decides that "her masculine side wasn't evolved enough for a man whose feminine side was as highly evolved as Stefan's," and dumps him. Oh my goodness, Miss York, of all the dopey things you've done/will do in the series, I'd put this one near the top. Because, seriously, in what world does sweetness of spirit and a dab hand with baked goods rank below the ability to successfully and consistently perform normative masculinity? Not mine, I tell you that! If you ever get tired of being a fictional character, Stefan--call me!

The Analysis:

Yet More Gender Essentialism, Why Can't I Go Even One Episode Without Talking About This??? Watch:
Listening to Sam talk about her temporary reunion with Dominic (boasting that she's added so many sexual tricks to her arsenal since they broke up that she's actually more sexually accomplished than he is, now), Carrie muses "In order to survive two decades of dating in New York, Samantha had evolved into a powerful hybrid--the ego of a man trapped in the body of a woman." Okay, so just to be clear--being sexually confident/arrogant/openly discussing one's sexual expertise/experience is an essentially "male" quality? To be a woman who possesses such qualities/makes such comments makes one not a sexually confident/arrogant woman, but rather a gender "hybrid" who somewhat freakishly possesses an inherently "male" quality? Yup, that's what I thought! Fantastic.

Manliness=Mandatory? Watch: You may have already gathered that I find the fact that Charlotte pointlessly breaks up with the charming Stefan rather distressing. (Did I mention that he MAKES HIS OWN SCONES FROM SCRATCH???) Unlike 99 percent--actually, 100 percent, now that I come to think of it--of the men whom Charlotte has dated in the series to date, Stefan is actually a good guy. He treats her well. He is focused on her, actually interested in her as a person, makes her laugh. But clearly, he is an unaccpetable partner for her because he is too "feminine." (I.e., he refuses to kill a mouse he discovers in his apartment, recognizes that a dress that Charlotte wears is Cynthia Rowley, enjoys musical theater, and so on and so forth.)

This, I disapprove of. Said disapproval stemming, in large part, from the fact that I think her decision to dump him has everything to do with what people might say about him/how they might judge her for dating him, and nothing to do with how she herself actually feels about him. Despite the fact that she clearly relishes his company and has tremendous sexual chemistry with him, clearly she can't be with him, because he's just not "manly" enough. And the writers don't present this as "Charlotte must be high on crack to let this guy go, what is her bloody problem?" but rather as "well, what could else she do? The man screamed when he saw a mouse, for pity's sake. Girliness. Shame." Um, shame on you, writers, and as for you, Ms. C--all I can say is, good luck with all of the hypermasculine jerks you'll be dating for the rest of the season! Bet they won't be making you any homemade scones any time soon!

Feminine Beauty is Constructed, and We Are Actually Acknowledging That For Once, Yay, Watch: When Carrie is trying to explain to the (typically unresponsive) Big why she'd actually like to have a drawer or a shelf of her own at his apartment, she (fully made-up and coiffed) tells him, "I don't wake up looking like this. I actually need stuff to look like this." Well halle-bloody-lujah, I do believe that our Ms. Bradshaw just admitted that conventional female beauty is an artful construction! Well done, Carrie B., give yourself a star--or go buy yourself some festive new beauty product at Sephora, whichever you'd prefer.

Much as I appreciate this open discussion of the fact that beauty is a performance, a construction, a creation, I do feel compelled to note here that the show as a whole (like, I will admit, almost all the bloody TV shows ever aired on American tee-vee--okay, except for Lost, which deserves our eternal thanks not only for consistently slapping Naveen Andrews in a wet tank-top, but also for realistically stripping their female characters of visible makeup) quite relentlessly undermines Carrie's "let's take a good long look at the man behind the curtain" words about the artificial nature of beauty. Because throughout the series, women do, indeed, wake up looking "like this"--makeup perfectly done, hair perfectly coiffed, etc., thus perpetuating 1) the pernicious idea that women need to be "done" and "on" all the time (the whole "I put on my makeup before my husband gets up, heaven forfend that he sees me without my 'face on'!" malarkey), and 2) reinforcing the idea that if you don't look like SJP after two hours in the makeup chair when you are restored to consciousness at 6 a.m. each morning, well, by golly, there must be something wrong with you. Sigh.

Notable Quotables: Samantha, on why going to a male gynecologist has never worked for her: "I tried to go to a man, but it was just too strange. Having a guy spend all that time down there, and then you leave, without an orgasm, and a bill."

Charlotte, musing about Stefan's potential sexual confusion to Stanford: "What if he's gay, and doesn't know it yet?"

Stanford: "Honey, we are aware."

Next Up...?:
"La Douleur Exquise!" which features not only a superfluous exclamation point (!) in its title, but also a whole boatload of musing about the connection between pleasure and pain when it comes to affairs of the heart/affairs in general. Oh, which also features the always oilily brilliant Will Arnett as a man who loves to read historical biographies in his spare time. Be still, my historical heart...

Friday, September 24

Season Two, Episode Ten: The Caste System

The Summary:

I sincerely apologize for what I am about to do, but it is my solemn responsibility to begin this post with the following words: "In this episode, Carrie is having some major problems with Mr. Big, which are dealt with only to the extent that putting a Band-Aid over a gunshot wound is 'dealing with' something." Now, if you'd prefer to skip the next two paragraphs and not have to listen to any more specifics, I totally understand. (I don't even want to listen to any more specifics, and I'm writing this darned thing!) But for those of you who have the stomach for continued wallowing in the Carrie-Big mess--dive right in!

Thanks for coming back, you are a brave soul, indeed. All right, so, Carrie realizes that she is in love with Mr. Big. She tells him so, even though she really, really didn't intend or want to. Now she's terrified because she's "laid down the gauntlet"--either he tells her he loves her, too, or it's Break-Up Time. Oh dear. So, true to Big form, he doesn't say that he loves her, and true to Carrie form, she doesn't directly confront him about how hurt and angry this lack of love-talk makes her--but instead acts out in all other kinds of ways, to passive-aggressively punish him. Healthy!

One of said passive-aggressive ploys involves flirting outrageously with Jeremiah (a performance artist/waiter) at a party, getting massively drunk with him, and taking him home. Not to sleep with (at least, Carrie doesn't think so--that's what two pitchers of margaritas will get you!), but still... tricky. At the end of the episode, Big calls Carrie (with Jeremiah still sleeping off the margaritas in Carrie's bed--awk-ward) to tell her "Well, I fucking love you" (awwwww--if I ever get married, I want to see those honeyed words on every darned anniversary card that I receive from my beloved), and Carrie is happy. FOR NOW.

Meanwhile, in the Land of Other Leading Ladies... sigh, offensive and troubling plotlines abound, I'm afraid. Charlotte's plotline isn't too wretched, so let's start there: the big deal movie star, Wiley Ford, swans into her art gallery one day, and, swooning at his fame, Charlotte temporarily becomes his lady friend, even though 1) he insists on calling her "Charlene," and 2) he is a witless, tedious boor/bore. Charlotte is willing to put up with being called the wrong name, treated like a groupie, and forced to smoke pot against her will, but finally bids Wiley adieu when he asks her one night at dinner to repair the ladies' room, "stick your finger in your pussy, come back, and let me smell it." The straw that breaks Ms. York's back, that one. Buh-bye, Wiley!

Next up in the line of plot threads that bother me: that of one Miss Miranda Hobbes, Attorney at Law. So Miranda is still dating Steve, and is idyllically happy with him. It's so nice to see one of our female leads with a bloke who is sweet, thoughtful, and treats her with respect, for a change! Clearly, of course, this cannot last. The big problem (because you knew there would be one) is that Miranda the Lawyer makes a lot more money than Steve the Bartender. As in--a LOT more. This doesn't faze Miranda one bit, but it does faze Steve--he's clearly, visibly uncomfortable that the conventional gendered order is off, when it comes to their respective finances. (He always insists on paying for everything when they go out, never allows Miranda to pay for anything at all even though she wants to, etc.) So fazed is Steve that he eventually breaks up with Miranda, because, as he tells her, he thinks she needs to be with "a guy who's more on your level." Miranda is sad, and cries to express said sadness. I am sad, and throw soft, non-damaging things at my TV screen to express my sadness. Sadness--it abounds everywhere. (Happily, no TV screens were harmed in the expression of said sadness.)

And finally, the worst of the worst, the piece de resistance of the episode--the Samantha plotline. So, Sam is dating Harvey, who has a full-time, live-in servant, Sum. (Who is Asian, and wrapped in kimonos all the time, as the Asian ladies tend to be.) Harvey insists that Sum just loves her job, and will be delighted to wait on Sam hand and foot the way that she always waits on him. (Please take note: Asian women--take tremendous pleasure in serving white folks, especially male white folks.) Turns out, of course, that Sum has romantic designs on her boss and consequently detests Samantha, and takes every opportunity to make her life hell. (Please take note: Asian women--are all secretly vixenish dragon ladies under their seemingly submissive facade, and are inevitably, hopelessly, painfully in love with white men who treat them like servants.) Sum eventually persuades Harvey that Samantha has hit her, leading Harvey to angrily break up with Sam, and cradle his gentle lotus flower in his white, manly arms. OH MY GOODNESS PLEASE MAKE IT STOP.

The Analysis:

Person of Color Watch:
On the plus side, we have one more character (who is indeed a real character, who plays a significant role in the action of the episode) to add to our tally of "People of Color Who Somehow Manage to Infiltrate the Whites-Only Club That is SATC." On the minus side, said character is such a painful mishmash of Asian stereotypes that I kept having painful Breakfast at Tiffany's flashbacks. Have we learned nothing since 1961, people???

The depiction of Sum here is so over-the-top offensive and stereotypical, it almost feels like a parody... but sadly, is clearly not meant to be so. Whenever we see her, Sum is dressed in "traditional," "Asian" dress. ("Traditional" and "Asian" here meaning that she's wearing the equivalent of the decor at a low-rent, greasy Chinese restaurant in rural Pennsylvania all the bloody time. Raise that red lantern, Sum!) Whenever we see her, Sum is simperingly submissive to Harvey (literally bowing to him every time she addresses him, etc.), and vengefully nasty to Samantha. Because clearly, the only thing an Asian woman living in New York City in 1999 might desire would be to win the heart of her white employer, by whatever unpleasant, dragon lady means might be necessary. Sum is also the source of some uncomfortable, ethnically-themed jokes (i.e., when Samantha realizes that Sum is, in fact, an impressive Machiavellian schemer despite her "I am a simple, submissive Woman of Mystery from the East" act, she muses, "She wasn't so dim, that Sum." Are you bloody kidding me?)

So to summarize, the two Asian/Asian-American female characters we've seen in the series so far: either embody all the laziest, most reductive stereotypes about Asian/Asian-American women out there, or are mean-spirited vixens who don't want to be friends with straight girls. Perfect.

Men Being Allowed to Look Like Mere Mortals Whereas Women Clearly Are Not Watch: This is a slight point compared with the madness associated with Sum, but the fact that Harvey is balding, paunchy, and altogether looks like an extra playing a middle manager from The Office--the British version, even, his teeth don't seem too great--also does not sit so well with me. Because, naturally, stunningly beautiful women like Sum are just dying to live to serve ordinary, all-American Joes like Harvey. And naturally, stunningly beautiful women like Sam are just dying to date such "I work in a basement office all day" gents like Harvey. Remind me again why, both in the SATC universe and beyond it, ordinary-looking blokes being romantically involved with remarkably attractive women is treated as business as usual, but not the other way around...?

Class Politics Resulting in Massive Headaches on the Part of Your Humble Blogger Watch: So, this episode, I suppose, deserves some points for trying to offer a complex, nuanced discussion of the gender politics of money through our hapless friends Miranda and Steve. It's a pretty painful discussion, but perhaps... some interesting ideas make their way through said pain?

Because Steve is clearly a good guy, and clearly adores Miranda. And he's proud of her for being successful at her high-powered, money-drenched job. But despite all that, he can't manage to shake off the pernicious "If your woman makes more money than you, you are not a 'real' man" messages he's gotten pretty much since birth. An interesting (if sad) example of how our friendly neighborhood nemesis, The Patriarchy, has messed with the head (and subsequently blighted the life) of a good man. That whole "patriarchy damages men, too" argument? Seems like there might just be something to that!

I will also give the writers some points here for Miranda refusing to feel badly about the fact that she has been professionally and financially successful. The writers do not turn this sad Miranda and Steve story into a "clearly, I will feel much better and be much happier in my life once I have turned my back on my financially lucrative, but potentially emasculating job" type narrative. Miranda loves her job. She is proud that she has worked her way up the corporate ladder, and she doesn't want to try to downplay or erase her accomplishments. Her attitude towards the whole mess consistently remains pretty darned healthy--she's doing the job she wants to do and is happy, Steve's doing the job he wants to do and is happy, so who the heck cares which job results in more filthy lucre? Sadly for our Mistress Hobbes, the answer to that one is... Steve. [Slumps backward in her chair, deflated and defeated.]

Having navigated the minefield that is the Miranda-Steve break-up with quite a bit of thoughtfulness and aplomb, the writers, of course, manage to stub their collective toes quite heavily against the issue of class politics more generally in this episode. When Miranda shrugs off the income difference between her and Steve as irrelevant, Charlotte berates her for "trying to pretend that we live in a classless society... and we don't." Good point, Ms. York, the illusion that America has moved beyond class distinctions is, indeed, just an illusion, and needs to be recognized as such! Except... what Charlotte means here is not "maybe we need to think about the very real ways in which class shapes people's lives and experiences in American society" but "you can't date that guy because he's just a bar-tender, and as such is not a fit partner for your 'professional' self."

But Holly, I hear you say, isn't it rather foolish of you to expect hard-hitting class analysis from a frothy TV show? Yes, gentle reader, perhaps it is. But I nonetheless find it distasteful that the show takes a split second to acknowledge the massive class privilege enjoyed by our four leading ladies, and then shrugs it off with a "well, that's just the way things are, and if you try to shake up or disrupt this 'natural' order, then be prepared for trouble." And trouble, of course, is exactly what Miranda finds. Sigh.

Notable Quotables:
Carrie, on whether or not she needs to tell Big about her late-night "sleepover" with Jeremiah: "I figured, everything before I love you just doesn't count." Nice, some of Big's moral shadiness must be rubbing off on you, Ms. Bradshaw!

Miranda, musing on the fact that her financial success is actually considered a liability when it comes to the Dating World: "When a single woman has money, it's a problem... I want to enjoy my success, not apologize for it."

Next Up...?:
"Evolution," which tackles the complex politics which have long surrounded Charles Darwin's theories about the ever-changing nature of life-forms on this earth... oh, no, wait, sorry, it's actually about whether or not women have "evolved" past wanting to do things like get married and have babies. If they have, I know who we can blame for it--those dratted feminists!

Monday, September 20

Back on Carrie's Stoop Gets Twitter-fied

Not that I need to distinguish myself from the whipper-snappers of today any more than I already have/inevitably am (I actually remember the 1980s, for one thing, and the first election I voted in was Bush v. Gore, for another--a whipper-snapper I most certainly am not), I will confess to you that I actually enjoy The Twitter. (It gives me the delusional sense that I actually know Gloria Steinem for one thing, and provides me with yet another means through which to fruitlessly fritter away my precious hours on this earth, for another...)

Consequently, I have decided to create a Twitter account for Back on Carrie's Stoop--do follow me, if you are into that kind of thing, here. I have to admit, the idea of seeing if I can summarize my posts in any kind of meaningful way in fewer than 140 characters feels rather like a charming challenge given to me by one of the many charming English teachers whom I had when I was in high school. ("Now, rewrite the ending of Jane Eyre... from the perspective of an inanimate object. IN IAMBIC PENTAMETER.") Oooh, can I, really?

Season Two, Episode Nine: Old Dogs, New Dicks

The Summary:

So the question before the court (you, dear readers, being the court--you can also be judge, jury, and executioner, if you like) today is--can you change a man? Given SATC's usual un-lovely leanings towards gender essentialism (i.e., "Men are just hard-wired not to like domestic labor, it is part of who they are." Then fry me a donut, because ipso facto, I too must be a man!), I'm going to say... no. And--spoiler alert!--I am absolutely right. Or at least--pretty close to absolutely right, anyway.

So, Carrie and Big are having problems. (I could pretty much add that sentence to all of my posts from here on out, now, couldn't I? Methinks that I could.) Big is driving Carrie up a tree. (Ditto that sentence.) Turns out, he can often be quite arrogant, and has a raging sense of entitlement! (And we are only noticing this now...?) Turns out, he is just as cagey about properly letting Carrie into his life and heart as he was the first time that they dated! (And we are surprised by this how...?) Carrie is furious at him, but, true to form, can't bring herself to say anything to him about how she's feeling. So when he inadvertently pushes her out of bed whilst they are sleeping one night, she responds by punching him. Ah, how healthy it is to repress one's anger, clearly!

The Punch forces her to finally articulate just how angry and upset it makes her that he never stays over at her place, she doesn't have a key to his place, and how she overall feels like he just isn't making a real place for her in his life [notes to self that self has used the word "place" far too many times in this sentence, but is too lazy to change it for another word.] In response to this painful, heart-felt admission, he... agrees to stay over at her apartment sometimes. Okayyyyy... and all those other, broader issues and concerns? No need to address those now, I guess! Fan-frickin'-tastic.

Meanwhile, Miranda has commenced dating Steve, who, mercifully, is entirely unburdened by any Big-like tendencies towards obfuscation and nastiness. Yay, well done, Steve! But... (and you knew there would be a "but") since he is a bartender, he keeps loopy hours, showing up at Miranda's apartment at 3 a.m., and eager to have sex in the early morning, right when the lawyer-ly Miranda needs to get up and go to work. He also wants to laze around on the weekends, whereas the high-powered Miranda wants to leap about all over the city, a whirlwind of activity, instead. Ah. Tricky. Miranda is frustrated that she's expected to change her schedule and her life to suit Steve, while he isn't correspondingly expected to change his life or schedule to suit her. But... she nonetheless does change said life and schedule, in the end--slowing her workaholic pace down a bit, to stop and smell the roses with Steve. Hmmmm. Tricky.

Meanwhile, on the Charlotte front: Charlotte is dating Mike who, she discovers, has not been circumcised. She is physically repulsed by said lack of snippage (come now, Miss York, work with us), and seeing said repulsion, Mike tells her that he's planning on going under the knife to "correct" the "problem." All ready to swoon over this as a romantic gesture (as romantic as a procedure of that nature can ever be, that is) Charlotte is stopped mid-swoon when she learns that Mike isn't getting the surgery for her, specifically, but rather because he wants to share his new masculine beauty with the ladies of New York, generally. Charming!

And meanwhile, on the Samantha front: Sam runs into an ex-boyfriend, Brad, who is now a drag queen... calling himself Samantha. He started doing drag, naturally, right after he and Sam broke up. Of course he did, I am told that that happens all the time.

The Analysis:

"Why Is It That Women Are Always Supposed to Change, and Never the Guy?": Ladies Needing to Adjust to The Needs of Their Men Watch
: I am a little ambivalent about the Miranda-Steve plotline here--said ambivalence taking the following, ever-popular, pro vs. con form:

Pro: This plotline does at least raise the whole "ladies are still expected to be the ones to make adjustments and compromises for their fellas--kinds of adjustments and compromises which fellas are not expected to, in turn, make for their ladies."

Con: Of course, we have Charlotte piping up and saying that this is just the natural order of things, since women are just innately more flexible than men. Sigh. Predictability, thy name is York. Forgive me for being struck by the fact that this "natural" inclination is one which also seems to line up quite neatly with women's long history as a less powerful group, who have needed to learn to be more "adaptable" as a survival mechanism.

Pro: At least the writers frame this not as "Miranda needs to learn to follow Steve's inclinations because she is Steve's woman now, dammit!" but rather as "Maybe it would actually be nice for the workaholic Miranda to be with a guy who's more mellow, and encourages her to slow down, relax, and enjoy her life a bit more, rather than just rushing through it."

Con: On the other hand... that does play rather neatly into the ever-popular, ever-irritating "career woman learns to mellow out and find happiness by not being so work-obsessed" plotline of which our friends in Hollywood never seem to tire. Those career gals! They do stand in dire need of a good man to mellow their brittle, unfeminine-ly ambitious selves out, now, don't they?

In this particular pro vs. con arm-wrestling match... hmmm. I'll give it to the "pro"s for now, but that's primarily a pity vote, because I happen to know that the "con" side is headed for a big win soon, in Miranda-and-Steve-Land. Oh, "con," you always have your wicked way with me, in the end!

Yet More Gender Essentialism Watch--When Will It End???: You are already aware that Charlotte's "gents need to be accommodated by their women, because they are hard-wired not to change, the lovable scamps!" remark does not sit well with me. Cats cannot be persuaded to change, I will grant you. Pieces of furniture cannot be persuaded to change, I will concede to you. Rivers cannot be persuaded to run backwards, I will admit to you. But men... who (do correct me if I am wrong) are rational human beings, are consequently also capable of compromising and adjusting in grown-up, un-cat-like, un-armchair-like, un-river-like ways.

I am also annoyed by Sam's reply to Carrie when Carrie laments that Big relentlessly checks out other women when he's with her (and presumably, when he is without her, as well--even less subtly, if that's possible, since his eyes are practically on stalks when gawping at other ladies when with Carrie)--that such unceasing lady-scoping-out-ing is "part of men's genetic code." Grrrrr. No, it's not, Madame Jones, it is tacky and rude, and part of Big's whole "I am the King of the Universe, let me survey my domain" shtick--a shtick which comes, I would contend, not from biology, but rather from the fact that as a rich, white man he has come to see the world as a parade which has been assembled purely for his amusement. (See also "Trump, Donald.") But just because he thinks that he is entitled to coolly assess each woman who passes before his eyes with his girlfriend right by his side (or at any other time, for that matter) does not mean that he actually is.

Bad Break-Ups Cause Men to Become Drag Queens, Seriously? Watch: So, this episode kind of shoves Brad into the action, and then quickly abandons him, leaving his whole plotline rather incomplete and unsatisfactory. For the few minutes he is on screen, however, the implication is quite strongly made that it was dating (and ultimately breaking up with) Samantha which made Brad become a drag queen. Of course it was. Because clearly, it is only negative romantic experiences with women which could lead a bloke to desire to become a drag queen. [Slaps palm smartly against forehead.] If Sam had not mucked about with his heart, clearly he would have remained an ardent standard-bearer for normative masculinity! (The man used to be a star football player, for Pete's sake. Way to pile it on, writers. Did he also work part time as a lumberjack, by any chance?)

Troubling as this "ladies cause 'abnormality' in the gentlemen" plot line is, I will say one positive thing about the Brad story, in that Sam does ask Brad at one point about his kids, at which point he burbles away happily about their various doings. So I will give at least one (small) gold star to the writers here, for emphasizing that yes, Virginia, drag queens can be loving fathers, too. But otherwise--gold stars, I withhold them.

Notable Quotables: Carrie, on how the arrogance and sense of entitlement which once drew her to Big is now making her nuts: "Maybe we were at that inevitable point in the relationship when all those little things you loved about the person have become huge liabilities."

Steve, to Miranda, in response to her desire to have a regimented, carefully-timed, flawlessly planned Saturday: "You want a time frame for cuddling?"

Next Up...?:
"The Caste System," in which we tackle the issue of hierarchies in relationships--specifically, how class politics impact one's romantic life. As always when SATC tackles class issues, I'd encourage you to buckle your seatbelt, assume the crash position, and perhaps consider purchasing some cotton wool to protect your tender ears/brain. Because it is one bumpy ride that we have ahead of us...

Thursday, September 16

Season Two, Episode Eight: The Man, The Myth, The Viagra

The Summary: Poor Miranda. Once again, the writers are beating up on her, rather. She just went out on a date with a gent who proclaimed himself to be divorced, who turned out to be, in fact, married. (The kind of mistake which anyone could make, really!) Fuming about said wretched behavior, Miranda finds herself faced with the unflaggingly sunny optimism of one Miss Charlotte York. In her classic Pollyanna-ish fashion, Charlotte affirms that sometimes married men do leave their wives for other ladies whom they fall in love with, so Miranda can't just assume that her date was a wretch who was deliberately deceiving her/seeking to entrap her unknowing self into an adulterous liaision. Maybe he really liiiiiked her. Maybe one day he would have lovvvvved her. [Reaches into the TV to slap Miss York upside the head.]

A discussion among the four women then results about what Miranda dubs "urban relationship myths... unbelievable fairy tales concocted by women to make their love lives seem less hopeless." The "married men sometimes honorably leave their wives" story gets placed into this category, as do other tales, many of which feature women chased to other states/countries/principalities by previously commitment-phobic boyfriends wielding large engagement rings, who subsequently propose to them in the midst of romantic rainstorms. Charlotte: believes such things do indeed happen. The other women: doubt it.

Carrie seems to be living in such a magical fairy tale herself, however, as Big is suddenly... being nice to her. Imagine that! He starts calling her his girlfriend (AFTER MORE THAN A YEAR, I feel compelled to note.) He even agrees to finally sit down and have a nice dinner with her friends. Except... then he flakes out at the last minute, and refuses to go. Sadness. Except... then, in dramatic fashion, he actually comes through and meets Carrie and her pals for dinner, just as if he was, in fact, Carrie's boyfriend. (Which, of course... he is.) Happiness!

Charlotte doesn't really have anything going on in this episode except Believing in True Love and Fairy Tales. So, business as usual on The York Front! Sam, meanwhile, contemplates becoming the apple of a very rich 72-year-old man's eye. Said man wants to date her because... of her sparkling wit? Her shrewd mind? Her loyal, loving nature? Nope! More because she is significantly younger than him, and very beautiful (nice and shallow, sir!). At first, she enjoys all of the lavish gifts which his wealthy self keeps raining down upon her. But in the end, she decides that becoming his beloved is impossible, because in an Intimate Moment, she catches sight of his 72-year-old posterior and finds it revolting (nice and shallow, madam!)

Miranda, meanwhile, has a one night stand with bartender Steve Brady. Or... so she thinks. Because it turns out, Steve really likes her, thinks their time together was special, and would like her to actually consider going on a proper date with him. Burned from her experience with the "I'm-Divorced-By-Which-I-Mean-Of-Course-That-I-Am-Still-Married" guy, she keeps refusing him, getting nastier and nastier with each refusal--until she has a change of heart, and chases Steve down (in the midst of a romantic rainstorm, of course), to tell him that maybe they can give dating a shot, after all. (At which point, David Eigenberg's accountant let out a whoop of joy, and went out to buy herself a new boat.)

The Analysis:

Old People Are Clearly Physically Repulsive Watch: Now, I am not a big fan of Ed, the older gentleman whom Samantha briefly (very briefly) dates in this episode. He seems like quite the creep to me--he's clearly a dedicated subscriber to the "Men Who Gain Status By Having a Beautiful, Significantly Younger Woman on Their Arm, and Who Believe that Female Beauty is a Commodity Which Can Be Bought and Sold, Willy-Nilly" newsletter. But it's not the fact that Ed is a shallow gent who is interested in her only because she is prettttty which prompts Sam to dump his rear end. It is, in fact, his rear end itself, which Samantha reacts to as if it was the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Because, turns out, Ed's body actually bears the marks of aging! His posterior does not look like that of a 20-year-old lacrosse player's! This means, of course, that is therefore totally vile. Coming from a show which often touts a "growing older as a woman is totally fine, embrace it... provided said aging is in no way visible on your face or body" line, I find this rather distasteful. The whole "a visibly not perfect and taut body is a sign that you are physically repulsive and sexually repugnant"... maybe a bit ageist?
Hugh Hefner, Why Are You Here, Shouldn't You Be Off Making Another Ghastly Reality TV Show? Watch: Okay, so Hefner isn't actually here--that has to wait until Season Three. (Sigh.) But this is the first episode (I believe) in which Carrie is sporting a Playboy necklace, which... sigh, again. How uptight my (doubtless puritanical) feminist self is, disliking seeing this little visual reminder of an empire based on the idea of turning women into passive, interchangeable, surgically enhanced objects of the male gaze being worn by a woman who has dedicated her career to telling the truth about her own self-directed, autonomous, individual experiences of sexuality. Blurrrrg.

Urban Relationship Myth vs. Fairy Tale?: Romantic Myths and Realities Watch: Oh, SATC writers. How very much you want to have your cake, and eat it too. And I understand that impulse, I do. Especially when the cake in question looks like this. Goodness, but I am craving sugar today.

Anyway. One of the centerpieces of this episode is working to complicate and question the romantic myths which permeate our culture. Maybe it's not so much plausible (or healthy) to believe that a married man might just love you enough to leave his wife for you. Maybe it's not so much plausible (or healthy) to believe that the man who's been treating you like dirt for your entire relationship will one day wake up a perfect, warm-hearted prince. Maybe a married man who wants to date a single woman... is a potentially adulterous creep! Maybe the boyfriend who acts like a jerk all the time... is in fact a jerk! I'm with you so far...

Of course, the episode gets us this far, then quasi pulls the rug out from under us. Big is pulling his usual evasive "I am in your life... oh, wait, no I'm not--poof! I HAVE VANISHED" act--until, suddenly, he's not. He comes to a dinner which he knows is very important to Carrie, and actually gets to know her friends a bit. Clearly, all those stories about reformed rakes are real! Or... are they? The episode kind of wants to have it both ways, suggesting in the same breath that a man like Big will never really change... unless maybe he will. Sigh. Writers, you are not helping.

I think the episode strikes the nicest balance with its depiction of the initial encounter between Miranda and Steve. Miranda is suspicious that Steve actually wants to get to know her and genuinely likes her--because maybe expecting every casual hook-up to blossom into a deep and abiding relationship is, in fact, indeed a smidge unrealistic? But by the end of the episode, she has let her "Because the last guy I dated was a creepy liar, I am going to assume that all guys are creepy liars" thing go a little, and decided to give Steve (whom she herself genuinely likes) a chance. Good, because Steve, I also like. (Until the first movie, that is. Then, all bets are off, Mr. Brady.)

So in sum: I give you points, writers, for questioning simplistic and potentially damaging romantic myths, and points for making the Miranda-Steve storyline a reasonably complicated one--but deduct points for the ongoing "clearly Big is toxically bad for Carrie... unless he is really her knight in shining armor, because he could be, you know, look at how nice he can be every ten years" jerking us around. Bad writers, bad.

Notable Quotables:
Miranda, on the current dating pool in NYC: "If they're not married, they're gay, or burned from a divorce, or aliens from the planet Don't Date Me."

Next Up...?:
"Old Dogs, New Dicks," which I wish could tell you was about either adorable Dogs of a Certain Age, or gentlemen named Richard who had a taste for a certain abbreviation of their name... but alas, I fear that neither of these things is true. And so... brace yourself.

Wednesday, September 15

Season Two, Episode Seven: The Chicken Dance

Yay! Another episode which centers on a wedding! My favorite!

The Summary: So, Miranda’s friend Jeremy (who lives in London, but is sadly not actually British—what a wasted opportunity to feature a gent with an awesome accent!) is coming to visit her. They’ve been exchanging some kinda flirty e-mails, so she is hoping that perhaps their friendship might blossom into something deeper—richer—grander. (Even though, as noted above, he is not, in fact, British. Alas.) To make her home that much more charming for Jeremy’s pending stay, Miranda has hired a friend of Charlotte’s, Interior Decorator Madeline, to spruce up the place. (I will pause here to note that the actress who plays Madeline, Carrie Preston, is married to the charming Michael Emerson/the terrifying Ben Linus in real life. Sleep with one eye open, Ms. Preston, this is my advice to you. Because he seems so nice… UNTIL HE’S TOTALLY EVIL.) Anywhoozle, Jeremy and Madeline meet, fall in love at first sight, and become engaged. A week after they meet. Wowzer.

This whirlwind courtship/engagement/wedding throws all of our four ladies into something of a tizzy. Miranda, naturally, is totally bummed because… wasn’t Jeremy supposed to be her potential love interest? She feels totally invisible, overlooked, ill-fated. She shrugs it off by the end of the episode, however. Good! Charlotte, as per usual, sees the bright side of things (“I think this is encouraging. This means that even if you’re not dating anybody, you could be engaged in a couple of weeks”), and is delighted to be chosen as a bridesmaid in Madeline and Jeremy’s wedding. She has a whirlwind affair with Martin, one of Jeremy’s groomsmen, at the wedding itself (logistically tricky, but she manages to pull it off), but, of course, said whirlwind affair ends, not in an engagement, but rather in Martin’s dumping her. Charlotte is temporarily bummed by said dumping. (Charlotte, to Martin: “Did the last four and a half hours mean nothing to you?!?”) She shrugs it off by the end of the episode, however. Good! Sam, meanwhile, is worried that she might have run out of new gentlemen in New York to dally with, after having a “déjà fuck” (i.e., inadvertently sleeping with a man she’d already slept with, but had since totally forgotten about) with a bloke she met (re-met?) at Madeline and Jeremy’s engagement party. She gets drunk at Madeline and Jeremy’s wedding, and laments the fact that her Well of New Sexual Experiences with New Gentlemen may have run dry. She shrugs it off by the end of the episode, however. Good!

Carrie, meanwhile, is having Big problems. (SHOCKER.) She’s worried that he’ll never be able to make the kind of commitment to her which Jeremy is making to Madeline (after knowing her for approx. an hour… what could possibly go wrong there?) Red flags, once again they abound in The Land of Big. Big is displeased that he and Carrie get invited to Madeline and Jeremy’s wedding as a couple. (Even though… they are a couple.) Big refuses to sign the card which Carrie has gotten to accompany her and Big’s (she assumed) mutual gift to the happy pair. Big TAKES A CELL PHONE CALL as Carrie is reading a poem which she’d written about love at Madeline and Jeremy’s actual nuptials. Yeeeesh. True to form, Carrie obliquely tells Big that she needs more from him than he’s giving her. (Carrie to Big, as he is pressing her to leave the wedding early, because he’s bored: “I want someone who’s going to be with me to the end… of a wedding.” Way to cop out, Bradshaw!) Big once again shiftily gives in on the small point (sure he’ll stay with her till the end… of someone else’s wedding), while avoiding the main issue at hand. Sigh. Anyone else feel like they’re still trapped in Season One?

The Analysis:

I love this darned episode. As I have noted before, whenever the show tackles a wedding, it gives me a joy. They just always seem to give the conventional “how weddings are handled in romantic comedies” a festive little twist, and I bless them for that.

People of Color Watch: Even though Madeline and Jeremy’s nuptials are seemingly attended by half of Manhattan, the only person of color in the whole episode is an African-American man who plays a mover who brings Miranda’s new couch into her apartment. Fantastic.

Love At First Sight: Reality, or Torture Device?: So, the central question which Carrie (and all of the women) are grappling with in this episode is—is love at first sight real? (I will go on record myself as saying, yes, I think that it is. Happened to my grandparents, as it, well, happens. My grandfather saw my grandmother at a church choir practice (I KNOW, paging Norman Rockwell), nudged the friend he was with, and said, “I’m going to marry that girl.” Which he, in fact, did. Awwww. Myself, I’ve only fallen in love at first sight with 1) select vintage purses, 2) the college and university where I got all of my higher learnin’ done—I seriously did, I could even tell you what I was wearing when I saw them first, and 3) Guinness-flavored ice cream. But still—love at first sight involving actual people—I can believe it.)

I think the episode does a nice job of poking and prodding at the idea of love at first sight, without discounting it altogether. Because the subplot with Madeline and Jeremy is actually quite sweet and romantic--those two crazy kids do seem genuinely smitten with, and committed to, each other. (Though I’ll grant you, if a friend of mine told me she was engaged to a bloke she’d met the proceeding Tuesday, I’d probably stage an intervention. Even if it did mean that she would get to move to London.) Of course, in any other romantic comedy, the Madeline/Jeremy story would be the primary A plot, while the “comic misadventures of her single lady friends” would be the secondary B plot. I like that the episode turns this hierarchy on its head—making the center of our attention not Madeline’s fairy-tale-like romance, but the other women’s rather less picture-perfect grapplings with love, commitment, and the notion of romantic destiny.

My Favoritest Moment in the Whole Darned Episode: So at the end of the episode, the four women are standing around chatting when Madeline does her bouquet toss. Said bouquet heads straight for our quartet, naturally—and they watch it hit the ground at their feet with no other emotion save calm detachment. No screaming, no leaping, no diving—not a flicker of the stereotypical single women becoming hysterical at the prospect of catching the bouquet, and ruthlessly knocking her friends over to do so moments so beloved by most romantic comedy makers. Despite all of the anxieties which Madeline’s wedding has unleashed, in the end, these four unmarried women are actually quite content with being the unmarried women that they are—they’re clearly just as happy leaving the wedding with one another as Madeline is leaving it with Jeremy. I find that rather touching.

“I Don’t Think We’re in Single Digits Anymore”: Slut-Shaming Sam Watch?: I often feel a little uncomfortable when the question of Samantha’s sexual history comes up, because discussion of her significant number of past partners is often an uneasy blend of affirming that her sexual choices (freely and gleefully made) ought not to be judged or condemned, and an unpleasant tendency to play her “sluttiness” for laughs. When Sam muses to the ladies that she’d totally forgotten about the man she’d previously slept with, they seem to close ranks against her, in a very “you vs. us” kind of way. They are amused by Samantha’s plight (correction—Carrie and Miranda are amused, Charlotte is horrified and disapproving), implicitly drawing a line in the sand with said amusement, of a “We can feel free to find this funny, because this sort of thing would never happen to us, because we are not like you” variety. I dunno. Something about it doesn’t quite sit right with me. This is a very mild case of slut-shaming, I’ll grant you—but like so many mild cases—it seems poised to turn more serious at any minute.

Notable Quotables: Carrie and Big: discussing Madeline and Jeremy’s pending wedding:

Carrie: “These people actually think they’re soulmates.”

Big: “Did they actually use the term ‘soulmates’?”

Carrie: “Yes, several times.”

Big: “Then I give them three months.”

Next Up…?: “The Man, The Myth, The Viagra.” Ah, to be in the days when Viagra jokes were still shiny and new! So, in this episode, we shall discuss not only the little blue pills, but also modern day myths and legends about relationships, love, and such like. Should we believe in happily ever after, or not? Gold stars for all those who can guess where Miranda and Charlotte, respectively, come down on that sucker!

Monday, September 13

Season Two, Episode Six: The Cheating Curve

The Summary:

Carrie, as we know, has started up with Big again. Sigh. But the thing is, her friends don't know--she's deliberately not telling them, likely because she knows they'd tell her that he's a wretch whom she should stay far, far away from. The truth comes out eventually, however, and her friends are appalled. Is diving back into some ostensibly casual thing with a man whom you loved, who is as resolutely unavailable as Big is, really that good of an idea? Perhaps not! Stung by her friends' doubts, Carrie asks Big if he's up for really being with her, as part of a real, non-furtive, non-secret, legitimate, actual couple. Admitting that he missed her, and that he's glad she's back in his life, is about as far as he'll go. Perfect.

Meanwhile, Miranda is dating Ethan, who insists on watching porn while they have sex, even though it makes Miranda uncomfortable. And even though he clearly regards Miranda as a pleasant enhancement to his porn, rather than his porn as a pleasant enhancement to Miranda. Miranda finally gives him an ultimatum: either the porn goes from their sex life, or she goes from his life, full stop. I'll give you three guesses who's going, in this scenario... hint: it ain't porn. Buh-bye, Ethan!

Samantha begins sleeping with her trainer at the gym, Thor (seriously?), who shapes her public hair into the shape of a lightning bolt during one of their encounters. (Because, get it, Thor.) This is 1999, after all, so we are still in an era in which the expectation is that, as an adult woman, Samantha might actually still have some public hair to shave! Amazing. Turns out that Thor has, ahem, shaved lots of his other female clients, as well. Ah well.

Charlotte, fed up with the unpleasant men she's been dating, starts spending all of her time with a group of lesbian women she met through her gallery. Carrie dubs said group "Power Lesbians," claiming that they can be spotted because of their possession of "great shoes, killer eyewear, and the secrets to invisible makeup." Charlotte has a lovely time hanging out with these women--they're smart, fun, interesting. But of course, when she "comes out" to them as straight, she gets ejected from the pack. Lesbian women, friends with a straight girl? Clearly, this is impossible. [Goes to lie down.]

The Analysis:

People of Color Watch
: One of the so-called "Power Lesbians," Eileen, is African-American. She has good taste in art. She's not one of the women who ejects Charlotte from their social circle. Nothing bad to say about her, happily, but she's definitely a slight presence in the episode. The so-called "Queen Bee" of the group of friends, Patty, is Asian-American. She's the one who tells Charlotte to get lost, because of her pesky heterosexuality. Thanks a bunch, Patty! There goes Charlotte's last chance in the series to be friends with anyone not white/a woman not straight...

LGBT Folks Watch: We have two women who are real characters here, who self-identify as lesbians--the aforementioned Eileen (Patty basically just shows up, tells Charlotte to scram, and leaves, so I'm not counting her), and her ex-girlfriend/current friend, Lydia. (Who is white, so points for casually alluding to an erstwhile interracial relationship--especially given the headache-making way which the show deals with interracial relationships later in the series.) They're both represented as smart, interesting, attractive, accomplished. And of course, are both conventionally beautiful and feminine. The farthest we stray into not-conventionally-feminine territory is that they're both wearing pants whenever we see them. Pants which are cut in a feminine style and paired with heels, of course. SO subversive!

The Politics of Pubic Hair Watch: In many ways, SATC feels so current and contemporary that I'm often lulled into forgetting that these episodes were filmed more than a decade ago. But then, of course, I'm violently snapped back to attention by something like Samantha discussing the abundance of pubic hair which she has on hand, to be shaped into various festive shapes by her latest gentleman caller. The idea that girls should start to remove all of their pubic hair as soon as they, in fact, have any has gone so mainstream that I find it quite touching that Samantha (all glamour and sophistication, after all) is clearly not waxed into oblivion. Ah, the late twentieth century, it was a more innocent time!

The episode even dips its toe into the politics of pubic hair. When Sam wonders why it is that so many of her beaus have been interested in removing her Hair Down There, Miranda replies "It's obvious, they want a little girl." Wow, look at that there analysis! I have a dear friend who wrote her undergraduate thesis on contemporary perceptions of pubic hair (look for it in book form anon!), and I myself had the great pleasure and privilege of performing the "Hair" monologue in The Vagina Monologues once... so it touches my heart here to see them note that the personal (in this case... the very personal) is political, and that the state of women's pubic hair actually does tell us something abut how women are perceived/what women's bodies are "supposed" to look like. Which is, of course... pre-pubescent, and held to a high and painful standard of rigid personal maintenance. Excellent!

"You're Nothing But a Big Clit Tease": Friendships Between Straight and Queer Women As Impossible? Watch: Clearly, the most ridiculous/exasperating element of this episode is the whole "lesbian women and straight women can't be just friends" angle. The episode indicates that 1) if Charlotte remains friends with this group of lesbian women, she will in fact herself also become a lesbian (and the lesbian ladies will earn themselves a pacel of toasters, one assumes), and 2) the only reason these women were interested in being friends with Charlotte in the first place was that they wanted to sleep with her. [Shakes first towards the heavens in a frustrated, lamenting fashion.]

I find this insulting and ludicrous in ways which I'm sure are obvious to you, but allow me to enumerate them, nonetheless:

1) Suggesting that being queer is a kind of "infection" which one might catch through prolonged exposure... plays into homophobic fears and panic which are as old as the hills just a smidge, does it not? Run away from the gays, away, I say! Heterosexual women of America, save yourselves! Live in a reinforced concrete bunker alone, subsisting off of beans in cans if this is what it takes to avoid The Gay Ladies and their contagion!

2) Suggesting that the only interest lesbian women might have in straight women is sexual... ever so slightly simplistic and reductive, no? Are lesbian women sometimes attracted to straight women? Sure. But then, I, as a straight lady, have been known to be attracted to gay gentlemen, from time to time. [Naming no names... okay, okay, if you must know...STEPHEN FRY. Have you seen him as Jeeves? Holy slicked back hair, insane intelligence, considerable height, and British hauteur. Hellooooo.] And heck, sometimes straight women are attracted to queer women, and queer women to straight men, and so on and so forth, into infinity... turns out, life is complicated, and we can't always predict who we'll be attracted to, or will fall in love with. But does that mean that lesbian women are always on the prowl , hoping to entrap clueless straight women into their web of deceit and lies? You will forgive me if I feel that it does not.

3) The notion that straight women and lesbian women can't be friends without sex entering into the equation I also find troubling, as it seems very much akin to the ever-popular "straight women and straight men can' t be friends without sex entering into the equation, and if you think otherwise, than I pity your poor, deluded, naive self." And I think both of these notions are rubbish. Boo on you, SATC writers, for trading in such rubbish.

Ah, Nasty Gender Essentialism, We Meet Again! Watch: So when the ladies are discussing cheating and its nature/its potential inevitability/the flexibility of its definitions, Sam declares that women just need to suck it up and accept that the men are going to cheat on them because (all together now) THAT IS JUST WHAT MEN DO. (Sam: "Men cheat for the same reason that dogs lick their balls--because they can. It's part of their biology.") Oh, biological excuses for bad behavior, it's always a pleasure to see you!

Here's the thing. We are all capable of cheating, regardless of our gender. And we are all capable of choosing not to do so, whether we are female, male, or anything in between. To give men a free pass on the cheating question because they are ostensibly "hard-wired" to do so--I disapprove of it. Because any time ostensibly unchangeable, inevitable biological "facts" are brought in to support a dominant group's dominance ("Hey, I would LOVE to join you out in the fields, but as a white person, I'm just not as well suited to hard labor as you are. What can I say, it's biology! Have fun, slaves!"), I think we are right to be suspicious. I would like to pass Sam a note here which says, "Is it just possible that, historically, women have been encouraged to 'look the other way' when it comes to their gent's infidelity/men have been given more of a cultural carte blanche to cheat, is because they have had (and continue to have) more social, economic, political, and financial power than women? Just a thought!"

Oh, and P.S., at the end of this discussion, Charlotte declares that the main difference between women and men is that women are driven by their emotions, whereas men are driven by testosterone. [Retires to fainting couch with a violent headache.]

Next Up...?:
"The Chicken Dance," which, yay, is another episode which centers around a wedding. Those always warm the cockles of my heart, whatever/wherever the heck cockles are, exactly.