Friday, October 15

In the Final Analysis: Taking Stock of Season Two

Welcome, gentle reader, to this, our summary of Season Two--its highs, its lows, its somewhere-in-the-middles.

People of Color Watch: All right, so, as you may recall, in Season One, we had precisely five characters of color floating about the world of SATC (NYC has whitened out a lot since I was last there, jeepers!), not one of whom was a character of any real significance. And what of Season Two, you ask? [Blogger silently mimes doing a drumroll, to the consternation of those around her.] We have ten characters of color total, five of whom I would say are actual characters of note (i.e, the unnamed African-American deliveryman who speaks one line when he delivers Miranda's couch to her apartment--not a character of note, because although physically present, he plays no meaningful role in the episode/is not given an individual identity of any kind, shape, or description--Eileen, the African-American woman who becomes one of Charlotte's temporary "as a straight girl, the idea of me being friends with a lesbian is laughable--LAUGHABLE, I tell you, watch me laugh at the very notion!" friends--is a character of note, as she is given something of a personality/has major role in the episode.)

So--improvement, yes, but pretty darned dismal improvement. Of the countless people with whom our lily-white leading ladies interact in one of the most diverse cities in the world, they only happen upon ten people of color? This is nearly as implausible as the kinds of clothes/shoes which Carrie is magically able to buy on her freelance writer's salary. (By the show's financial/mathematical logic, my salary as an adjunct should buy me a villa in Tuscany. Maybe two villas!)

I am particularly troubled that only one of the men whom the ladies dates this season is not white--and said man (the sleazy club owner William) turns out to be a womanizing jerk, along the stereotypical "faithless Latin lover" model. Given that we have four female characters, two of whom (Charlotte and Samantha) are pretty much dating a new bloke in every episode of the season, I find it a leetle problematic that they seem to be making their dating decisions as though Loving vs. Virginia had never been. Is it just possible that a man not white might be a desirable partner for one of our four ladies...? It seems not.

I am also particularly troubled by the fact that several of our "characters of color of note" are represented pretty darned negatively/stereotypically, with the most notable example being the egregious Madame Butterfly-like character of Sum. Just about every stereotype about Asian women gets thrown into the mix with Sum, which is kind of a bummer since (unless memory fails me... and I sincerely hope that does), she is the only Asian/Asian-American female character of note in the entire series. Drat.

In that vein, also unpleasant to me is the fact that when people of color do pop up in Season Two, they are often in a service industry of some kind/very definitely represented as not being the "peers" and "equals" of our leading ladies. There is Sum, of course, who is actually a servant, for the love of Pete, make it stop. There is the African-American mover. The African-American hostess. The Asian-American magazine vendor. The Pakistani bus boy. And so on, and so forth. When people of color are present, they are often there to serve our white heroines in some capacity. [Pulls out gum to try to take bad taste out of mouth. Gum is deliciously minty, but still... effort is unsuccessful.] Will Season Three be any better? Who can say? (I can say, actually, and... no! It won't!)

LGBT Folks Watch: So, you may recall (or actually, to be realistic, I'm quite certain you won't recall--I didn't even recall, and I'm the Grand Vizier/Woman Behind the Curtain here at BOCS), that in Season One, we had a paltry two queer characters. What of Season Two, you inquire? [Pauses dramatically, for, er, dramatic effect.] In Season Two we have... eight LGBT characters, five of whom I would say are characters of note, and three of whom I would say are marginal. (The guy who Miranda mistakenly thinks is cruising her, who says one nasty thing to her in the supermarket=marginal--the Davids, whom we actually get to see a bit together as a couple, and whom Samantha interacts with at length as they first explain why they do--and then why they don't--want to do a threesome with her=characters of note.)

Okay, so, some numerical improvement here, but in terms of actual content? I feel that we have progressed not one inch--we might have actually stepped back a few feet. So, Stanford is still here, and Stanford is still very charming (I always love his outfits--there is a man who loves him some festive ties, and is unafraid of wearing dapper hats)--but as in Season One, he is definitely a "B'" character, who only pops up to back Carrie up about something, or to provide The Gay Male Perspective for we, the viewing audience.

There are some other likable, actually interesting-seeming gay and lesbian characters here (the Davids are the first example of a gay couple who are happy and functional, and a few of the so-called "Power Lesbians" whom Charlotte temporarily befriends are represented as smart, funny, intriguing folks.) Butttt... I think that even this marginal good work is largely undone by the fact that the primary plot lines involving queer folks this season are 1) about how straight ladies and gay ladies can never be friends, like, EVER (which means that I still need to find a way to explain how, as the saying goes, some of my best friends are gay...), and 2) how the lines between straight and gay are rigid, uncompromising, and absolute. Will we fare any less drearily in Season Three? Who among us knows? (I do, of course, and I am going to say... doubtful!)

Thing They Also Did in Season One Which I Continue to Enjoy Watch:

1) PROVIDING A PRETTY DARNED THOUGHTFUL AND NUANCED PORTRAYAL OF SINGLE WOMANHOOD. Much as in Season One, I will pat Season Two on the back (if seasons have backs... or fronts?) for offering a pretty darned complicated and interesting representation of female singlehood. Only a narrow sliver of what Singlehood Looks Like for the Modern Lass, of course (Singlehood for the White, Straight, Rich, Urban, and Childless), but still... a vision of what it is to not be paired-off in a paired-off world which I think is pretty darned rich and thoughtful. Maybe being a single woman in one's thirties has some joys, as well as some sorrows. Maybe getting married provides one version of Happily-Ever-After... and not getting married provides another. Very nice, SATC. Thank you for your continued support.

Things They Also Did in Season One Which I Continue to Find Distasteful Watch:

(Come to think of it, I shouldn't have even numbered "things they keep doing in the series that I really like" because... there's really only that one thing! Well, that and the continued "female friends often love and support each other, and are central to one another's emotional lives" thing. Very much enjoy that sucker, as well, especially in a culture in which images of lady-on-lady cattiness are so prevalent, and the "oh, I don't trust other girls, because girls are such bitches" idea is pretty darned dominant. Gahhhhh, that one drives me crazy! If all ladies are wretched, back-stabbing, drama-generating irritants, and you, being a lady yourself, are saying this... do we not see some contradiction there? It seems not.)

Anywhoozle--to the negative!

1) GENDER ESSENTIALISM MADNESS, WHY DOES IT NEVER STOP? As in Season One, I am consistently irritated in Season Two by moments (and, indeed, long stretches) of "men and women are so difffferent, it is because our biooooology" type chit-chat. Isn't it interesting that these supposed rock-bottom, bred-in-the-bone differences are ones which consistently serve male interests/uphold male privilege? It is so wackily and inexplicably coincidental! I can make neither head nor tail of it! Men are naturally averse to commitment! Men are hard-wired to date lots and lots of different women at once! Men are innately sexually aggressive, and women are not! Men are incapable of doing domestic labor, or compromising their manly selves in any way! Men are natural cheaters! And so on, and so forth. This might just be my feminist paranoia coming to the fore, but... does anyone else see something of a distasteful pattern here? It's like one of those old, headache-making Magic Eye books... squint really hard, and Patriarchy and Inequality dressing up as Science and Fact will pop right out! (Or... that might be a kitten, I'm not sure.)

2) SLUT-SHAMING AND SEXUAL JUDGING APLENTY. Also as in Season One, I am made uneasy in Season Two by the writers pulling out their roll of red tape and putting a line right down the middle of the world, dividing it into "the sexually normal/acceptable" and "the sexually wacky/creepy." Sam gets mocked a goodish bit for being "too slutty" for my liking, for one thing--there's a bit too much of the "other three women--relatable and normal/Samantha--excessively sexual and loopy" stuff for my taste. And folks who express sexual interests beyond those outlined in marriage guides from the WWI-era are often represented as unsettling weirdos. The world is full of unsettling weirdos, to be sure, and some of them surely do have not-strictly-conventional sexual interests and proclivities. But I could wish that the series took on more of Samantha's "meh, as long as this is all between consenting adults who are damaging neither themselves nor others, who cares?" viewpoint, and a little less of the "gahhhhh, men with foot fetishes are vile--let us point and laugh at their vileness!" perspective. Ah, dreams--foolish, foolish dreams that I am dreaming here.

New Things They Are Doing Which I Have Begun to Find Distasteful Watch:

So glad that they've added some new things to their repertoire! Except--wait, no, I'm not, I'm really not!

1) CLASS POLITICS=PAIN. Of course, Season One was filled with implicit distasteful stuff about class--"Unless you are rich, please enjoy being invisible in the SATC universe! Let us often discuss how 'poor' Carrie is, even though she clearly has enough money to buy designer clothes, live in a nice apartment in one of the most expensive cities in the world, and go out every night!"--but I think that Season Two makes that unpleasantness explicit. The best/worst example of this, of course, being Charlotte's open "we live in a stratified society, that's just the way things are/will always be, just accept it and stop dating plebs" declaration. Yeeeeesh. If the writers' goal was to normalize and erase class inequities, and to suggest that our hierarchical culture will never change because of Forces Beyond Our Control, then I would give them full marks. Otherwise... boo, I say, and additionally--hiss.

2) LIGHT-HEARTEDLY TRIVIALIZING VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN. Another new one which creeps me out severely. Whether it is playing stalking for laughs, or suggesting that women who are emotionally abused deserve said abuse for being such bitches--I am not a fan. Please cease and desist immediately, SATC peeps. I will accept you dressing Carrie up as Heidi for no reason, and consistently rubbing in my face that NYC has lots and lots of cupcake shops, but this--no.

So... Better than Season One? Worse Than Season One? An Apple to Season One's Orange? What??? Watch:
Hmmmm. Let's turn this one over to Pro and Con, shall we?

Pro: I like that Season Two is longer than Season One. Means that they had more scope to develop long-standing story lines, delve into a variety of issues, explore a variety of scenarios, etc.

Con: Ummmm-hmmm. It also means that they had more time to do some severely annoying things. Have you not read the rest of this post? Lots of troubling stuff to be seen, no?

Pro: True, true, true. But you have to admit that, despite said troubling stuff--they have started to flesh out and complicate the characters a bit more, haven't they? Made them less "I Am the Conservative/Slutty/Bitter One!" and more "I'm An Actual Individual, With Some Internal Complexity!"?

Con: Okay, yes, they have. But only up to a point, mind you. Charlotte is still the Relentless Voice of Tradition, Samantha is still The One-Note Hypersexual One, etc.

Pro: Yes, yes, yes. Miles to go there, I will concede. We still have to flesh out the characters, delve more deeply into complex, emotional situations, confront that pesky little thing called reality in more depth and with more consistency. But... the clothes are still really fun, yes?

Con: Amen to that, sister.

Next Up...?: Monday, October 18, 2010, a day which I sincerely hope will not live in infamy. Tune back into BOCS on that very date, and lo and behold, I shall introduce you to Season Three. One of the ladies is getting married! One of the ladies is breaking up someone else's marriage! Carrie is slapping gigantic flower broaches on every single item of clothing she wears! Good. Times.

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