Broadspot weighs in on...The Sex and The City Movie....
Okay, okay, so the controversy has been around for a while now, but since there's apparently going to be a sequel, it's worth us weighing in here. It's become cool to hate Sex and The City. Perhaps people don't remember a time before the incredibly commericial film that reminded us just how many fans SATC has, and how it isn't just a cool little cult Cable show, but a mainstream thing?
Now, instead of focusing on the movie (I concede the movie was bad, because, well, most big screen adaptations of tv shows are. I defy you to name a good one. They don't work.) I want to go back to the show, which is currently getting lots of negative retrospective reviews but critics like the Globe's Liam Lacey who claim the movie has made them realize the show was never really that good, and is now as forgettable as last-season's couture. I take offence to that. I want to defend the show and its legacy. The show was always flawed, but it does stand the test of time, to me, anyway.
First off, was SATC feminist? Explicitly, no. I can't remember a single event where feminism was even mentioned (though I'm sure it must have been at least a couple of times). Feminism just didn't seem to be a big burning issue to the generation of women portrayed on the show, who, ironically, would have been the generation to reap the rewards of Second Wave struggles for birth control and more equal pay. Sex and the City couldn't have been a show twenty years before, because birth control wasn't as good, abortion wasn't available and you weren't considered single and glamourous if you were unmarried at 35, because you were barely making a living wage, let alone buying $800 shoes and sleeping with any man you wanted. Feminism was actually the inciting force that facilitated the show and lurked in the historical shadows.
The show is a definite product of feminism, but not a directly feminist text; however, it deals with a world where women are central and men are peripheral sex objects, which is a nice subversion of the traditional portrayal of women as the sex objects and men as the central characters present in different and varying degrees from Leave it To Beaver, to Miami Vice and even The West Wing, where Josh was always making eyes at his assistant Donna, instead of giving her the promotions she deserved. Men were defaced and objectified, and rarely even called by their names (case in point, we didn't even know Mr. Big had one until the very last episode!). While I don't know if the solution to the objectification of women is to make a habit of objectifying men, the show allowed us respite from watching women exist on tv primarily to please men, and gave its many male viewers a taste of their own medicine.
Another thing I liked about the show was yes, all the women were attractive, but they weren't as attractive as most TV stars. They were attractive in the way a really pretty lawyer or publicisit is attractive - a flawed beauty who doesn't have a model's figure or Scarlett Johannson's skin, but can clean up really nicely when going out with her friends. You know girls just like that, and so you can relate to them, and therefore, you can relate to a show that features them. So, while it did a terrible job of displaying any real ethnic diversity, and pretty much only parodied lesbian sexuality instead of really exploring it, the cast was, in my opinion, at least mildly subversive to "The Beauty Myth."
The show was certainly largely about conspicuous consumption. The level of materialism was both wildly unrealistic and almost sickening. After all, no one wears a new pair of Jimmy Choos each day, especially when they are a struggling journalist; however, an upside to all this wasteful spending was how it highlighted that these women thought they were worth spending money on and never compromised their spending habits, even in relationships. After getting married, Charlotte continues to dress and shop the way she did before, as does Miranda. These women control their own money and are not willing to shift their financial priorities for a man. The thought of doing so is so unheard of it is never even mentioned. I can at least dig THAT.
So, yes, the movie was poorly edited, long, drawn-out, and at parts, poorly acted. That's all true, but before making it cool to hate on SATC, remember the show. The show was not a feminist masterpiece, but, as I hope I've shown here, there are a lot of things a feminist can like about it. Last but not least, the fact that its four female characters help and don't hinder each other, the fact that they even seem to love each other MORE than the men in their lives, who come and go (lesbian continuum, anyone?), well that's feminist to me. Yes, SATC is flawed, but so is feminism....