Wednesday, January 5

Season Three, Episode Fifteen: Hot Child in the City

Welcome back, dear readers! How gravely I have missed you. During the long weeks in which we have been apart I have 1) graded a mountain of papers, 2) dealt with a mountain of snow (THIRTY INCHES of it, which arrived in one mad rush of a blizzard--"mad" being the operative word), 3) ate mountains of holiday-themed food, and 4) enjoyed mountainous clusters of holiday-themed festivity. I hope that your lives have been equally delightful... if rather less crammed with snow. (Seriously--THIRTY INCHES of the stuff. I really do not see the point of snow when I am already on vacation, and there is no chance of me getting to cancel class.)

And so, as we look forward to a new year (2011... has a nice ring to it, no?), let us pick up where we left off, hip-deep in Season Three. To recap: Carrie has just pulled herself out of a disastrous affair with the married, undelightful Big (an affair which ended her relationship with the unmarried, delightful Aidan--boo, hiss!), Charlotte is now deeply enmeshed in a marriage which, alas, has proved to be sexless, Sam continues to be deeply enmeshed in her campaign to not ever be involved in anything sexless, and Miranda is... deeply enmeshed in yet more severe and unflattering pantsuits. All right, then! Onward!

The Summary:

So Carrie is dating Wade, a profoundly laconic/deeply mellow comic book store owner. Turns out, Wade still lives with his parents, and that his primary interest in life (apart from comic books) is smoking "the pot." I see. What a fine prospect he seems to be for long-term romantic involvement! (Or... perhaps not?) In any case, Carrie is amply enjoying his company in the present--his parents have a gorgeous apartment, he has a festive scooter which he lets her ride around on (yes... seriously), and he is perpetually in possession of what I believe the kids nowadays call really high-grade "mary jane." I... suppose people have dated people for worse reasons?

So everything is rosy in the garden for Carrie and her pothead love--until one day, when Wade's parents come home earlier than the happy couple expect, catch Carrie and Wade getting high as kites, and consequently kick Carrie (whom they feel is a bad influence on their bonny boy) out of their apartment/Wade's life. All right, then! Buh-bye, Wade! Good luck with all of your future artistic endeavors/drug use!

Miranda, meanwhile, has found out that she has TMJ, and that one very effective means of treating this unpleasant disorder is to get braces. And so... get braces she does! Seems like a very sensible medical move... but of course, this being a Miranda plotline, it is also an embarrassing disaster. She gets food caught in her braces whilst on a date. She thinks her co-workers are laughing at her braces during a meeting. She feels madly self-conscious and unattractive in general. And so... she gets her braces removed. All right, then! Buh-bye, braces! And good luck, Ms. Hobbes, dealing with the chronic pain of untreated TMJ!

Meanwhile, in the Land of Samantha... Sam has a new client, the 12-year-old Jenny Brier (who will grow up to become Nora of Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist, notably--a film of which I am fond of primarily because of its stalwart Jersey-centricness) who wants Sam's P.R. firm to handle her bat mitzvah party. Hooray for a deeply meaningful ceremony, designed to honor a young woman's intellectual and spiritual coming of age! Or--wait, sorry, my mistake--Jenny is interested in her bat mitzvah purely and exclusively because of the excuse it provides to throw a decadent, star-studded, over-the-top party. (My Super Sweet... Religious Maturation Soiree?)

Sam is infuriated and appalled by the behavior of, and ideas expressed by, the extremely spoiled, hyper-privileged, deeply cynical, and potty-mouthed Jenny. She is also quite jealous of the gobs of money which the not-quite-13-year-old Ms. Brier has at her disposal, as opposed to the complete lack of cash and material goods which she had, when she herself was a lass on the eve of adolescence.

But in the end, Sam realizes that Jenny deserves, not to be envied, but rather pitied, since she has been catapulted into adulthood waaaay too fast. Jenny has never gotten to be a kid, but has instead embraced/been pressured into a shallow, hypersexual version of womanhood much too early in her life. Hooray for noting that the pressures placed on pre-adolescent and teenage girls in our society are deeply messed up! And... happy bat mitzvah, Jenny! Mazel tov!

Charlotte, in the meantime... is having rather a rough time of it. Are we shocked? She and Trey are still having rather dire problems in the bedroom--in that... nothing sexual is happening there. At all. Or so Charlotte thinks, anyway... one night, she awakens to find her husband (who had previously insisted to her that he just wasn't a sexual person, and that she just had to accept that), deeply engaged in what my friends in the nineteenth-century would have called "self-abuse." And using a magazine (which I hope is fictional, but I am not looking it up to check--there are limits to the research which I will do) called Jugs to do so. Lovely!

Charlotte is appalled by this "I'm not a sexual person, oh, wait, sorry, I guess I just meant that I'm not interested in being sexual with you" behavior. The marriage therapist whom she and Trey have started seeing, however, is encouraged by it, since it at least confirms that Trey isn't gay. (Shall you pour the champagne, or shall I?) Said therapist (whose methodology seems a mite questionable to me, but no matter--I didn't have the wit to study anything so practical as psychology when I was in school) suggests that a productive way forward would be to make Charlotte part of Trey's current sexual routine. (Lady being asked to integrate herself into her gentlemen's sexual routine, but not vice versa? Check! Lady being asked to adjust herself to her gentlemen's sexual needs, but not he to hers? Double check!) This involves Charlotte cutting up pictures of herself, and pasting images of her face over those of the ladies in Jugs. A proud day for any woman, to see herself in such a prestigious periodical, I am sure! It must be just like Dorothy Parker first seeing her byline in The New Yorker! [Head reintroduces itself to desk.]

The Analysis:

13 Year Old Girls Being Hypersexualized and Feeling Compelled to Grow Up Super Fast=Bad Watch:
So as you are likely already aware, one of the things that I like about this show is that it deals with the lives of actual adult women--yes, adult women on the younger side of things, in their 30s and 40s--but still, women who are older than your average TV Gossip Girl. I loved all the shows about teenagers which were on when I myself was a teenager (IN THE 1990S, THERE, I SAID IT)--but it's kind of nice to have a really popular show which revolves around women who are already adults (and not simply "I am the hot, smiling wife and mother in this 'Vehicle for a Failed Stand-Up Comic' sitcom" type adult women) and centers on their lives and experiences--their joys and frustrations.

That said--I like the fact that they tackle, and the way that they handle, teenagerhood here. Initially, the women of the show are a bit envious of Jenny, who is just sticking her very first toe in the pond of adulthood (the lake of adulthood? The ocean of adulthood? Whatever.), while they are already wading through its challenges and disappointments.

But then they realize that this seemingly blessed Child of the Gods actually has quite the tough row to hoe. Yes, she has seemingly boundless wealth--but with that seems to come a life which is centered purely on surface things--on throwing the hottest parties, wearing the hottest dresses, being the hottest girl in the room. And that kind of life, focused purely on looking good (according to very narrow standards of what "good" is, of course), and being the most famous and rich person around... ultimately doesn't seem that interesting, or fulfilling? (Cough, Paris Hilton, cough.)

And of course, there is the fact that Jenny is, at her oh-so-very-young age, already enmeshed in a very distasteful sexual milieu. She and her friends make several remarks in this episode about how giving blow jobs is the only way to get guys to like you, how they all started having sex when they were 12 purely by default, etc. Yeeeeesh. Hardly the beginnings of a joyful, autonomous, freely-chosen, self-directed sexual life, methinks.

I think the episode does a nice job of avoiding "you kids today, with your sex" type moralizing, making it clear that the problem here is that these lasses see sex as a commodity to be traded for popularity and affection (rather than as... I dunno, an expression of actual desire?). These girls (who are, let's face it, still bloody children) dress in a hypersexualized way, and are sexually active... but they're completely disconnected from their own bodies, and their own experiences. They see both their bodies and sex purely as ways of earning approval, securing popularity, gaining love... which would not seem to be the greatest beginning, for them to mature into adults who shape their sexuality around how they feel and what they want--rather than what sex will "get" them with other people.

Perhaps there is some hope, though (it's a New Year, after all, let us not be entirely gloomy!)--after all, SATC itself focuses on four grown-up women, who managed to make their way through a culture in which "authentic expressions of female sexuality" are all too often conflated with "make yourself into a sexual object (along the narrow and rigid lines which pop culture/the media/our nasty patriarchal society set out) for other people's consumption and pleasure--forget your own" to become women who are actively and delightedly in charge of their own sex lives.

Not that this is shown to be anything other than messy and imperfect, because it's surely both... do the women of SATC sometimes still experience their bodies as sites of anxiety, rather than pleasure, worrying more about how they look than how they feel? Sure. Do they sometimes have trouble articulating what they want sexually, not only to their lovers, but also to themselves? Absolutely. But still--when it comes to sex, these are women who know what they want, and pursue it, and know what they don't want, and don't accept it. Hopefully Jenny and her young friends will get there one day, too. (When they are older, though, for the love of Pete, they're only 12. Slow it down, kiddos! And by the way... get off my lawn! Kids today.)

Ladies, Please Accommodate Your Men, Part 9,345 (Will It Never End???) Watch:
Okay, so, I kinda hafta do a 180 degree spin here, because you know how I was just talking about how SATC provides such a nice vision of sexually empowered adult women? Yeah, about that... I still think that it does, overall, but the Charlotte plotline in this episode... maybe not entirely helpful, in supporting that point? So... just forget the essential contradictions between what I'm about to say, and what I've just said, 'kay? Good.

I mean, it's not all bad here. I give the episode some points, because despite the extreme discomfort and difficulty of the situation, Charlotte does keep bringing up the whole "soooo... we've never had sex!" thing with her new spouse--she wants him to talk about it, she wants them to go to therapy, she wants them to make their sex life work. Good, good, good--fighting for the not-unreasonable goal of wanting to consummate her marriage! I'm with you so far...

I guess my issue here (and you knew I would have one--you haven't forgotten about me and my issues already, I hope?) is with the advice that the therapist gives the MacDougals, which they obediently adopt. Clearly, if the situation is that a gent favors porn over his wife (refusing to even touch said wife), the solution is to... make her part of said porn? I dunno, does that really... get to the root of the problem? And remind me again while the whole goal here is to make Charlotte part of Trey's sexual habits and preferences? Should we also think about Charlotte's sexual habits and preferences here...? Shouldn't we also care, just a little bit, about what Charlotte needs and wants, too? I suppose not. My mistake!

Next Up...?: "Frenemies," which centers on... well... frenemies. (For once, the writers didn't get cute with their episode titles--what you see is what you get!) Though I suppose that the episode is really more about friendship troubles more generally (i.e., Charlotte: offended by the nature of Sam's sex talk. Sam: offended that Charlotte is offended by the nature of her sex talk. Carrie: troubled by Miranda's decision to date one of her creepy ex-boyfriends. Miranda: troubled by Carrie being troubled by her decision to date one of her creepy ex-boyfriends. And around and around we go, where we stop, only the writers know!)


  1. Have you seen this:

    So good - reminds me of poor Jenny.

  2. I love this, Lisa, thanks for sending it along... leave it to RH Reality Check to come up with the goods. I am particularly fond of "How many Americans understand the difference between being against the sexualization of women or girls and being anti-sexuality?" I think that's the key distinction - between trying to erase ALL representations of teenage girls' sexuality, and trying to represent that sexuality in a complex, respectful, non-stereotypical, and girl-centric way. Brilliant!