I recall well seeing the first Sex and The City movie at the cinemas two years ago. It was a media screening, so there were free cosmopolitans, hors devours (including soft-shell crab - yum!), and a real atmosphere of excitement and conviviality. (The majority of the screenings I have attended have been far less well-fed, hence this one standing out in my mind.)
The best part of the evening though was the trip home, during which my friend Monica and I dissected everything we didn’t like about the film in rapid, enthusiastic detail. (I think we may have scared the other people in the taxi, who seemed to have quite enjoyed the film.)
My main complaint was the film’s representation of women as materialistic gold diggers, and the notion that the most important quality a man could possess was the ability and willingness to buy you a Manhattan penthouse beyond his means (yeah sure, I know Big’s rich, but the real estate agent at the beginning of the flick said the apartment was much fancier than the others they’d been looking at) and build you a walk-in closet for your many thousands of dollars worth of shoes. Then there was the bizarre obsession with Louis Vuitton (not just in plot, but in song), and the ineffable characterisation of Louise from St Louis.
Needless to say, I’ve never really been a Sex and The City kinda gal.
That’s not to say I never watched it. I was quite young when the show first started, and for the first couple of seasons especially, watching it seemed quite exciting, a little bit rebellious. But - like most of you, I imagine - I never modelled my life on it, and as I grew a little older and the show became the icon it is today, I rolled my eyes at the idea that it represented some kind of guide book for a glamorous, empowered modern life. As I wrote in an article in 2006:
Sex and the City-style liberation - all hot dresses, cocktails and casual sex - may be fun to play at, but when it comes to “isms” it is more consumer than femme.
Point is, this backlash we’ve seen in response to the new flick? None of the criticisms are new. And more to the point, some of them are quite … disturbing and violent. Take Lindy West. Apparently she found the film so terrible that it “[took] everything that [she holds] dear as a woman and as a human … and [raped] it to death with a stiletto that costs more than my car.” Right.
That’s not to say that the film shouldn’t be criticised. By all accounts, it’s not very good (and now with extra! racism!). The idea that female happiness can and should be found through buying crap you can’t afford is one that should be taken to task, I think. But it also strikes me that there’s a bit of a bandwagon-jumping in this backlash, and being the somewhat contrarian lass I am, I feel compelled to question that.
The most hopeful critique I’ve read to date is that by Laurie Penny in the New Statesman, who suggests that perhaps part of the reason no one in the commentariat seems all that into Sex and The City anymore is because it’s just passe. She writes:
For the young women of my generation, however, Sex and the City’s vision of individual female empowerment rings increasingly hollow, predicated as it is upon conspicuous consumption, the possession of a rail-thin Caucasian body type, and the type of oblivious largesse that employs faceless immigrant women as servants
What young women want and need today is secure gainful employment, the right to equal work, the right to make decisions about our bodies and sex lives without moral intimidation, and the right to be treated as full human beings even if we are not beautiful, skinny, white and wealthy..
Amen to that.
* I was originally going to republish a Livejournal rant I wrote (at the end of 2006) about my hatred of the show, but decided to spare you the swearing and relative lack of insight.
Tomorrow: Guest post: Sex & The City 2 reviews going a bit too far?