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!

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