Archive for the ‘Sex and the City’ Category

Sex and the Critic

June 4, 2010

Well, the word on the street* seems to be that the latest Sex and the City film is atrocious. This makes me sad. The first film was disappointing enough. I’m sad that the next one is reportedly even worse.** And apparently, there isn’t even much of beautiful Manhattan to perve at.

The good thing about a sequel is that it helps keep my thesis research topical. Thanks Carrie! Unfortunately, the films are such a reversal of the first season of the television series***, that the argument I made about the way SatC reflects (some) feminist themes is made kinda redundant. Well, not completely redundant. It’s just that now, whenever I mention that part of my PhD research was about Sex and the City, I’m going to get people rolling their eyes and telling me how awful it became.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Sex and the City, but I grew to like it after researching it. The first season was relatively progressive television. And it was funny. It first screened in the late-1990s. Television with four strong, assertive, wise-cracking female characters had not been seen before. They talked about sex. They discussed topics that had previously been absolutely taboo on the small screen (vibrators, bisexuality, anal sex, female friendship? Whoah, watch out America). Hell, the title even had the word “sex” in it. That in itself was somehow a bit of a breakthrough.

And while I don’t particularly want to see the sequel, as someone who spent a ridiculous amount of time thinking and writing about the TV series, I feel somewhat obliged to check it out. I wonder if I can sneak in to a cinema and watch it for free? I don’t really want to pay money because I don’t want to encourage a tre-quel.

I don’t really know where I stand on SatC 2. I think I’m strangely caught somewhere in between these two fantastic Australian commentaries:

* Sex and the City 2: A Letter to Feminism’s Snuff Film (Helen Razer at badhostess)

* Hating on Sex and the City is soooo 2006 (Rachel Hills at musings of an inappropriate woman)

On the one hand I’m furious that the new film is a racist, misogynistic, ageist piece of crap with un-ironic product placement. And on the other, having not seen it yet myself, I’m tempted to wonder how audiences will receive and interpret the flick. Most of the women I spoke to during my fieldwork, whether they were fans or not, were critical of aspects of the TV series. Interestingly, they tended to make the same kinds of criticisms that film reviewers and feminist bloggers are making about the current film!

I’d love to do a quick exit-poll outside cinemas to gauge audiences reactions. Part of me suspects that fandom might still win out here. These four characters – as flawed as they are – have been in some people’s lives for about twelve years now. Twelve years! Even if the film versions have “jumped the shark“, Carrie Bradshaw and Co. will have a place in the hearts of many.

disclaimery things:

* The street, in this case, being twitter, facebook and various blogs that I read. 🙂
** No, I have not seen it yet. But I probably will. Soon. Dendy, want to shout me a ticket? I’ll pay for my own cosmo.
*** For my thesis, I analysed only the first season (of SatC and Desperate Housewives) rather than the every episode ever made, because alongside my interviews and focus groups I’d have had way too much data to work with.


The Power of Female Sex

February 12, 2010

The four main characters in Sex and the City represent different kinds of women.

“No, they don’t! They’re all white rich bitches”, I hear you cry.

Well, obviously they’re not particularly diverse in terms of things like race, class or sexuality. This is a limitation of the series raised by many researchers. Interestingly, a number of the young women I interviewed also made similar criticisms about the “white upper class-ness” of these ladies. However, they also praised Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte because they are strong, powerful women who offer a range of attitudes to life, love and sex.

The divergent opinions expressed by the lead characters in Sex and the City, are demonstrated in their response to Carrie’s experience in the episode, “The Power of Female Sex” (Series 1: Episode 5). This episode explores issues of female power and sexuality from a number of different angles.

Revealed in this episode (in case we didn’t know already) is the frightening extent of Carrie’s shoe addiction, when her excessive consumption results in her credit card being destroyed by the sales assistant. Carrie’s acquaintance, Amalita, steps in to help. Amalita is an Italian woman who uses her sexuality to fund an extravagant global lifestyle. Or, as Carrie puts it, Amalita does not work for a living but has “a dizzying sexual power that she exploit[s] to her full advantage”. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Amalita buys the shoes for Carrie as a gift. Carrie is then unexpectedly drawn into a world of sex, money and power when Amalita sets her up on a date with a handsome French fellow called Gilles.*

* Not to be confused with the actor Gilles Marini, who played a different character (Dante, aka The Naked Guy) in Sex and the City: The Movie.

(image source)

Sorry, couldn’t resist. 🙂

Right, where was I? Oh yes, some thesis material (with minor alterations)…

We see Carrie on her date, which involves a romantic walk in the park accompanied by an accordion soundtrack. Carrie is sufficiently swept off her feet with the romance of it all because we are then told that she spends the night with him. Carrie wakes the next morning to discover that not only has Gilles left the hotel, he has left one-thousand dollars on the bedside table with a ‘thank you’ note. Carrie is so confused by this occurrence that she invites her girlfriends to the hotel to help her make sense of it – and to share a room service brunch. Carrie does not know whether to be flattered or insulted that Gilles paid her money for their night together. As Susan Zieger (2004: 105) puts it, Carrie, Miranda and Samantha “debate whether keeping it makes her a whore”.

Each of the friends offers a different opinion, as they characteristically dissect the experience and share their wisdom. Miranda and Samantha disagree about the trading of money for sex:

Miranda: The room service is one thing, but the money – uh-uh.
Samantha: What’re you getting so uptight about? I mean, money is power. Sex is power. Therefore, getting money for sex is simply an exchange of power.
Miranda: Don’t listen to the dime store Camille Paglia.

This brief interchange highlights that the women in Sex and the City bring “disparate perspectives” (Lotz 2001) to their frank discussions of sexuality. They do not all react in the same way to this unusual situation, suggesting it is a complex issue that they interpret differently.

[Amanda Lotz wrote a paper outlining a way to identify what she called “postfeminist attributes” within television series. I drew on her work in my thesis to help show how SatC and Desperate Housewives can be considered postfeminist.]

Lotz’s first postfeminist attribute stresses the importance of diversity among women, making clear that women “experience their subjectivity differently and dependent on context” (2001: 115). Sex and the City is a programme not afraid to portray diverse perspectives on the complexities of power and sex. While Samantha sees no problem in Carrie spending the money that the Frenchman leaves after a fun evening together, Miranda argues that Samantha’s attitude is harmful to women. Miranda contends that that kind of logic has been used to exploit women throughout the ages.

Clearly, Sex and the City, with its exploration of the contradictions surrounding women, sex and power, can be considered postfeminist. It shows characters working through the tensions and challenges of this era. The characters in Sex and the City represent women with distinct and varied outlooks. Furthermore, the characters are not only familiar with feminist discourses, as evidenced by Miranda’s reference to Camille Paglia, but they have debates about these issues while discussing their own sex lives. This demonstrates the extent to which feminism is entwined in popular culture, a key feature in my understanding of postfeminism.

Lotz, Amanda D. 2001. “Postfeminist Television Criticism: Rehabilitating Critical Terms and Identifying Postfeminist Attributes”. Feminist Media Studies 1 (1): 105-121.

Seidelman, Susan. 1998. [director] “The Power of Female Sex”, Sex and the City, Series One, Episode 5, HBO.

Zieger, Susan. 2004. “Sex and the Citizen in Sex and the City‘s New York”. In Reading Sex and the City, edited by K. Akass and J. McCabe. London and New York: I. B. Tauris.