In Defense of Sex and the City, An Unpopular Opinion
Scene-Stealers sitegoer Vincent Scarpa, a creative writing major in Boston, is mad as hell that the critical consensus for “Sex in the City 2″ is so vehemently negative. I haven’t seen the movie, but his passionate defense intrigued me and you all know how much I hate ‘critical consensus.’ This article is worth checking out. Here’s Vincent:
Sometime last week, at the Loews in Harvard Square, I found myself saying “One for ‘Sex and the City 2,’ please.”
Before we even start, here is a major disclaimer: There’s no way in holy hell that I could hate this movie. The same way diehard sports fans stick by their home teams, so am I with the “Sex and the City” franchise. Not because I think it’s spectacularly written, expertly acted, or brilliantly directed either. My loving “Sex and the City” is not unlike eating Kraft Mac and Cheese in the wee hours of the morning: You know what you’re getting into, and the product delivers. It’s just that simple.
However, while I admit going into the film with this bias, I enjoyed the film outside of the knowledge that I knew I would anyhow. Honestly. I could still see its flaws (like the first film, SATC2 is about twenty-five minutes too long), but I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
But apparently I’m the only one. Since its release, SATC2 has been put through the proverbial ringer by everyone with a blog. Reviews from The Guardian, AfterElton, and one panties-in-a-twist Roger Ebert surfaced seemingly hours after the premiere. And boy were they angry. Hadley Freeman from The Guardian even went so far as to say the film made her “sick in [her] mouth”. Really?
Now, I’m all for voicing your opinion on a movie you feel robbed you of your eight to 10 bucks. (I’m still waiting for a refund, “Legion”). Go for it. But these reviewers weren’t discussing plot or character; instead they were ascribing an ungodly amount of cultural responsibility to a franchise that didn’t ask for it. Freeman’s review calls the film “materialistic, misogynistic, and borderline racist”. Tim Jones-Yelvington from Big Other calls it a “whitewashed capitalist fantasia”. You’d think they were reviewing a Pulitzer drama.
People, it’s “Sex and the City.” Such attention was never devoted to the show when it was doing good work for women, but the second the film flops (only for academia, mind you), there’s a line around the block of critics with something to say. And they have that right as much as I do. So here’s my take on all of this, in a game I like to call “Responding to Negativity, or, It’s Not ‘Birth of a Nation’”.
1) There is nothing good about “Sex and the City.”
Wrong. I enjoyed the hell out of this film. In fact, I was proud of it. Shit on the franchise if you must, but aspiring writers and filmmakers could learn a thing or two about consistency from Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte. Watch the pilot in 1998 and this film back to back and you’ll see that nothing’s changed. The writing is still as fresh as it is kitschy, the puns still as hilarious as they are terrible, and while the fantastic four have gone through a revolving door of bad boyfriends and bad hair, they’re the same, too. Consistency, especially for a franchise that’s lasted over a decade, is not done with ease. Kudos.
2) “Sex and the City” is materialistic.
Thank you Hadley Freeman for picking up on that. Yes, “Sex and the City” is materialistic. Of course it is. Just like “Home Improvement” dealt primarily with hardware, “Sex and the City” revolves around fashion. It always has. These girls want things—money, shoes, alcohol—but I can’t see why that’s a bad thing. Samantha potentially serving as the only exception, they want a lot more than all of that. Miranda wants to work for a law firm that values her work. Charlotte wants to be a good mother to her two children. Carrie wants a successful writing career and the space to create it. Who cares if they also want a pair of Manolos?
3) “Sex and the City” is demoralizing the gay male community.
Nearly every review of the film has been sure to point out the wedding between Stanford and Anthony, and the implications of depicting the ceremony as the gayest thing since Shakespeare. To that I say, so what? So what that there were swans and a performance by a broadway legend? (Spoiler alert: Best line in the film goes to Miranda as she addresses the surprise appearance by Ms. Minelli: “It’s a law of physics: any time there’s this much gay energy in a room, Liza manifests.”)
It was a particularly queer event for two particularly queer characters on a, you guessed it, particularly queer show. Had the wedding been toned down, would not the criticisms be that the producers of SATC2 were too ashamed to display homosexuality in such a big way on the screen? It seems to me they were damned either way. For me, it comes back to character consistency: That was the wedding Stanford wanted. But to criticize the movie for the implications of the wedding on the gay rights movement is to give far too much credit to the franchise and not nearly enough to people with brains.
4) Sex and the City is racist.
5) Sex and the City is misogynist.
I’m grouping these together because scathing reviews of the film have done so, and I’m trying to follow protocol. I can’t even articulate a response to calling “Sex and the City” misogynist, but I can offer this: that SATC is, in fact, feminism at its best is inherent in its very basic plot of four single women who make their own money and have their own sex unapologetically. Does it occasionally paint its four leads as something other than desirable? Often. But it’s not because they’re women—it’s because they’re human.
The same goes for critics (mostly male) who say the franchise has painted men as only chauvinists. You see what you want to see in “Sex and the City,” and if you believe Anais Nin when she says that we see things not as they are, but as we are, all these one-star ratings make a hell of a lot more sense. I’d even go so far as to say calling SATC misogynist is a bit misogynist itself. Why can’t four women have fun?
As it pertains to the race element, it’s important to note that absent from the better part of the second film is the familiar landscape of Manhattan, the Big Apple replaced by Abu Dhabi. The women struggle to assimilate into the Abu Dhabi culture in the very same way that women from Abu Dhabi wouldn’t know whether to dance or bite a cyanide pearl at Studio 54. I was actually grateful that the film allowed us to see the fantastic four in this setting, with all of the characters acting as you’d expect. Miranda is annoyingly PC, learning words in Arabic, Charlotte is paranoid about her iPhone service, and Carrie takes advantage of cheap shoes at the local market. The East meets West thing is only a problem for Samantha, who can’t censor her hormones regardless of time zone. I had trouble finding racism in any of this. If anything, the ladies behaved like Americans who take disposable cameras into the Anne Frank house. A mix of fascination and confusion racism does not make.
For me, the best argument to combat both of these accusations takes place at the every end of the film: As the four women have to escape the downtown market after Samantha has, as always, offended everyone, they take a back alley and stumble right into an underground book club of veiled Islamic women. There’s this thing that happens on the screen that I found quite lovely; women from two vastly different cultures finding a patch of common ground.