NOTE: When I watch SATC, I’m not trying to focus on the whiteness, thinness, richness, heterosexualness. That is all a given. So if you’re looking for that in a post, look elsewhere – there’s plenty on that. Or talk to me. Just don’t critique me for my hypocrisy. thanks 🙂
Last evening, I went to see Sex and the City 2 with my mom in Baltimore. Mom and I have shared Sex and the City as one of our girly guilty pleasure shows since I was in high school. Like Grey’s Anatomy, SATC always exists for me when I’m in the mood for semi-self reflection/semi-escapism from a television. Naturally, the story lines within are familiar, and Mom and I were both interested to see where the lives of Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha would go next. In that respect, I was pleasantly surprised (with one major exception). The characters’s modern-day and materialistic existences are clearly not fulfilling them, and it takes a week away with the girls – of course – to remind them of their individual voices and needs.
The film begins – where else? – in Manhattan, with the girls reuniting at Bergdorf Goodman to shop the registry for Stanford and Anthony’s GAY wedding. Some critics said these first few scenes were the best in the film, but I’ve never been a big Liza Minnelli fan (nor of overtly gay generalizations), so I’ll leave it to y’all to see the extravagance for yourselves. What I did enjoy about the first half of the film was the peek inside the lives of these women.
Charlotte is still with Harry and her adorable daughters Rose and Lily are proving quite taxing on the couple. Obviously, they’ve hired a gorgeous Irish nanny, Erin, who helps Charlotte out but also raises fears that Harry might cheat with the nanny. DRAMA. Samantha is 52, single, and going through menopause. Fortunately, she has the help of 44 hormones and supplements to maintain her notorious libido. Carrie is entering her third year of marriage with Big, and she worries that they are settling into a “normal” couple routine of nights in with TV and carry out. She also worries that any semblance of asserting herself would render her a “bitch wife who nags,” so she usually acquiesces to Big.
That brings us to Miranda. Miranda has always been my favorite character – probably because she leads the most realistic romantic life, contributes snarky remarks to conversations, and boasts a successful (if tiring) balance between her position as a partner in a law firm and a mother. Miranda’s home life is going well – Brady’s in second grade! – but she is being literally silenced at work by the new senior partner. One boardroom scene reveals the dynamics – all board members are white males, except for one black man and Miranda, a white female. The senior partner, also a white male, consistently puts his hand up to Miranda’s face when she speaks. I was really interested to see where this story line went, and really hoped it wouldn’t turn out that Miranda would quit and become a stay at home mom to avoid losing her voice at work.
Enter Abu Dhabi. I’ll take a few lines from Andrew O’ Hehir’s brilliant (if cynical) review of SATC2 to explain the transition:
“Do you really want me to reconstruct how this movie gets from a gay wedding in Connecticut through the lugubrious scenes of Carrie and Big’s vampire-like existence and onward somehow to a girls-only, all-expenses-paid luxury getaway to Abu Dhabi? Because I can’t.”
So the girls end up in the United Arab Emirates. Suspend your doubts, stifle your cringes with Carrie’s Alaadin analogies, and just roll with it. To keep this post from being too long, I’ll give you my take on the relatively plotless movie: it took a trip to the Middle East to help the women rediscover themselves – the women that I came to know inside and out throughout the series. I think this film would have taken a different turn had the women escaped to, say, Dubai. In a parallel world of excess, it is unlikely that the opportunity for cinematic self-reflection would have manifested. However inaccurate the cultural portrayals were (and they were pretty egregious – more on that in a minute), the comparison between the niqabi women of the UAE and the silenced SATC women was too hard to ignore. Observing one veiled woman being sheltered by her husband in the presence of Samantha’s antics, the girls remark that these women symbolically lack voices, and it is in this revelatory moment that Miranda and Charlotte rediscover themselves.
Miranda quits the big firm and joins what appears to be a public interest firm with an incredibly diverse group of attorneys. Yay! Charlotte takes time to herself and frees herself from the daily mommy routine. Erin, the nanny, is a lesbian – phew, no threat to the marriage there! And Samantha remains fabulously sexually active. Woo! Carrie, on the other hand…ugh. Throughout the series and this movie, she had been the proponent “making your own rules” and disregarding dating scripts. Yet she ends up in the most oppressive relationship of the film. I can only chalk it up to mediocre writing on Michael Patrick King’s part. That, or, you know, hegemonic monogamy or something, but I told myself I’d stay away from that in this blog post…
Much more disturbing than Carrie’s story line was the portrayal of “the other” in this film. Sadly, this includes the women and men of Abu Dhabi. I do not claim to be an expert on orientalism, but even a cursory analysis of the film unveils obvious mischaracterizations. Just as the film portrays the SATC women in a overly materialistic, immature, and shallow light, so MPK paints Muslim women as universally silenced by aggressive men and their religions. This type of cultural misunderstanding is painfully accurate of Western perspectives on Islam of late (see: Sarkozy.) Muslim culture is exploited by the film in order to liberate the oppressed women of SATC. As Salon’s Wajahat Ali notes, this only results in further isolation of Muslim women – they are cast as intriguing, mysterious, and…silent. Our girls could have engaged with local women – at one point, I thought they were going to lead a feminist uprising of sorts! But, alas, the only cultural immersion consists of Carrie purchasing shoes for all of the ladies from a local vendor. In this way, our Manhattan visitors repeat the time-honored tradition of exploiting the natives in order to liberate themselves. (Ali also notes that the SATC women never exchange a word with any veiled women. I propose the creation of a new cultural Bechdel test.)
A greater message could certainly have included an anti-materialistic spin. For certain, “the ugly smell of unexamined privilege hangs over this film like the smoke from cheap incense.” It would seem that a materialistic existence in NYC hasn’t proven to be everything to everyone, but let’s not go too far, America. Could it be that MPK perhaps put feminism first, and in the next installment the girls will kick capitalism to the curb (with thrift store Louboutins!)? Nahh, probably not. Because, let’s be real, the clothes were fabulous. With the exception of this film’s Ms. Exception, Carrie Bradshaw. Seriously, that skirt in the market? wtf.
No, what we’re left with is exactly what we expected: an escape into a world of material excess and personal strife. And, like all good “chick flicks,” this one made me pretty damn happy to be where I am.