In her recent film review “Sex and the City 2: Materialistic, Misogynistic, Borderline Racist,” Hadley Freeman makes a pretty convincing argument re: the Sex & the City film franchise’s betrayal of the television series’ (marginally more) feminist roots.
Although I’d probably be a lot more measured in my praise of the series, I agree w/ many of her points.
Although set in a whitewashed capitalist fantasia, and though racist (I’d argue SATC’s racism is more than just “borderline” — anybody who remembers Samantha tangling with a “dragon lady” Asian housekeeper, or her black boyfriend’s shrew-like sister, knows the series’ racism was abt inclusion as well as omission, was overt as well as subtle), the original series was often built upon more complex characterizations and fueled by emotional realism.
Its frank depiction of sexuality also felt liberatory, and this is what the series’ seems to lose when viewed retrospectively. I think maybe this is because whatever sexual radicalism the show exhibited was too “of its time” to remain radical. But even moreso, I think the show fails to “hold up” for reasons related to this statement of Freeman’s, re: watching the old episodes: “I can hardly make out the smarts and emotions that I used to love because all I can see is the impending conventionalism.” The normalizing trajectories taken by the shows’ characters, and their flattened, one-dimensional film versions, narrates the show in reverse: watched in this context, most everything seems to feel like a load of patriarchal & heteronormative bullshit. Also, it’s a lot less funny.
…But I’m especially interested in raising some issues I’ve yet to see anyone address directly (and which I hope will make this post a bit more relevant to folks in Big Other’s readership who could give two shits about a shitty mainstream motion picture): the role of gay men as both creators and consumers of SATC. Throughout the series’ run, and perhaps even moreso during its later seasons and for the films, gay men like Darren Starr and Michael Patrick King have played a prominent role in shaping SATC. The show’s large gay fanbase has often joked that the shows characters are actually gay men disguised as women. Though reviewers frequently comment upon this gay fanbase, I’ve never seen any examine its relationship to the show’s gay male creators. This relationship interests me because:
~The meme that SATC’s characters are actually gay men disguised as women strips these women of the sexual agency and pleasure they enjoyed in the series’ early seasons. Of course only characters who are actually men could enjoy such freedom.
~Sex and the City’s gay male creators are culpable for the film franchise’s cheapening of these characters. To what extent is SATC part of a long history in film and culture of gay men using women’s bodies to enact their own desires, then destroying or humiliating those same bodies?
I remember sitting in a Manhattan gay bar, years ago, watching a 5th season SATC episode wherein Samantha gets a chemical peel. The display of her red, raw face drew cackles from the audience, and it became very clear to me: We were not laughing with these women, we were laughing at them.
Cultural products that rely upon the humiliation of women and women’s bodies are currently a much broader phenomenon than just SATC, and a gay men play a critical role in producing and popularizing many of these cultural products (see, for instance: America’s Next Top Model, Desperate Housewives). I think gay men need to be held accountable as both authors and consumers of women’s degradation.