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Outnumbered, Outgunned and Displaced

"Sex and the City" Through a Man’s Eyes

by WAJAHAT ALI

Driving to the “Sex and the City: The Movie” premiere, I felt like Morgan Spurlock, the director of “Super Size Me” who foolishly consumed fast food for 30 days; a man voluntarily condemning himself to masochistic pain for sake of a cultural experiment. Even before entering, the publicity coordinator, who knows me and the other frequent movie critics, said, “Dude, you’re like one of 6 guys in the entire movie theatre.”

“Fantastic,” I replied sarcastically. Upon entering the theatre and surveying the audience, I realized he was incorrect. I was one of the 21 men out of the 250 highly giddy and anxious women. The air brimmed with suffocating excitable estrogen. As a heterosexual dude, I felt outnumbered, outgunned, and  – like a midget on a NBA basketball court – displaced.

I was flabbergasted by what I witnessed: an entire audience of women representing every age, color, ethnicity and financial status behaving like 12 year old girls before a NSYNC concert. Some women dressed up like they were attending the opening of a San Francisco club – dressed to the nines and sporting “do me” heels. I overheard the following comments:  “I am prepared for awesomeness!” “I feel exquisite right now!” “Oh, my god! I can’t wait for my girls!”

It finally occurred to me that this was not any ordinary summer movie, nay; it was a cultural “E-vent” of epic proportions for many American women. When I expressed my amusement out loud at this spectacle and asked women why this was such a big deal, a woman besides me remarked, “Ok, remember when like that Stars Wars re-release or whatever happened a couple of years ago?”

“Uh, of course,” I replied.

“Well, this is like that for us…. but like times 1,000!”

“Easy, easy there. Times 1,000? I find that hard to believe.”

“Times 1,000!!”

When the HBO logo appeared and the movie started, the entire female audience burst into loud and approving applause. I wrote down this note: “The women literally shrieked during the opening!”

Unlike the loyalists, I had only a tangential acquaintance with these “girls.” Almost ten years ago, my freshman roommate and I decided to watch an episode to comprehend the appeal. While watching the show, my roomie’s eyes squinted in disbelief and his face contorted in disgust. He just didn’t understand. His exact words after seeing the show, if I recall correctly, were the following: “Who the hell wants to see old, horny women having sex with everyone like prostitutes?” Well, apparently millions and millions of people. Years later, I tried watching a season of the show on Netflix as a cultural experiment to identify its mass appeal with women worldwide.

One of my homies who was going through a rough separation independently decided to do the same to “understand modern day women” in light of his sudden break up. We both realized that the “Sex and the City” ladies are apparently beloved by the entire gamut of the female species: conservative women, religious Muslim women, progressive women, professional women, college women, high school women, single women, married women, divorced women, soon to be women, and every other women in between. My friend said he only lasted 4 episodes and shook his head in some way blaming “Sex and the City” for his spurned woman’s apparently newfound desire to “find her own voice” after he allegedly “suffocated her independence.”  The fictional depiction of professional, independent, sexually adventurous, materialistic, opinionated, and at times narcissistic and selfish women convinced him all 21st century ladies were transforming into doppelgangers of their respective “Sex and the City” avatars.

To be honest, my major question after seeing a season was how none of these women developed a litany of venereal diseases and unwanted pregnancies stemming from their endless series of sexual escapades. Upon reflection, I realize I was perhaps viewing the series from a literalist and “male-centric” point of view. After all, James Bond beds beautiful women in every movie and unless Q equipped Bond’s pants with some magic condom gadget, the 007 agent didn’t use any protection. Similarly, the men from HBO’s “Entourage,” the male equivalent of “Sex and the City,” sleep with the entire population of good looking women in L.A., yet they never bear the brunt of “real’ consequences. I never questioned their sexual health or responsibility perhaps because I knew these male figures were so rooted in fiction and fantasy.

However, the “Sex and the City” girls confound us men precisely due to the vehement love and loyalty their legions of female fans have for these purely fictional characters. Women become possessive and refer to them as “my girls.” It’s as if the line between reality and fiction is partially blurred precisely due to the female population’s collective empathy and recognition for their fictional “counterparts.” For example, I received an IM recently from a female friend who said the following:

“OMG! OMG! Guess what?”

“What?” I asked naturally anticipating some catastrophic and/or shockingly happy news.

“I’m CARRIE! Yay!”

“Um, no. You’re Ann. What the hell are you talking about?”

“No, no. Carrie from “Sex and the City.” I took the online Facebook quiz! And I’m her! OMG I knew I was her. It’s so true. We are so alike!”

[Imagine me staring at my computer screen thinking, “What the hell are you smoking, woman?”].

Even at the theatre, the lady next to me proudly exclaimed, “I’m Carrie! I mean I really am. Because I’m kind of quirky but also intelligent, you know?”

I think this is the female equivalent of men’s “Star Wars” game, which goes something like this:

“Dude, I’m like Han Solo!”

“Nah, man. You’re more of a Luke Skywalker.”

“Hey, screw you! I’m Han! Or at the very least Lando!”

“Nah, Lando is cool and he’s Black – and he’s Billy Dee “Colt 45” Williams. You’re kinda lame…like Luke Skywalker.”

“Whatever, your mother is Chewbacca.”

However, the male version of “ Who is my pop culture avatar?” is rooted with a conscious realization that we will never in any shape, way or form be our fictional counterparts. We wish we were James Bond, but we know we won’t bed beautiful Russian women, instead we’re grateful to get a woman who can tolerate having sex with us once in a while. We aspire to be Han knowing full well we’re more like Jar Jar and Chewie, largely irrelevant and excessively hairy. Thus, the “Sex and the City” phenomenon transcends the confines of “bubble gum” cotton candy fantasy and taps into some popular, universal female “recognition.” I hypothesize the show, although largely superficial and unrealistic according to this reviewer, depicted women in a raw and uncensored fashion; the way women are behind closed doors after shedding their societal demeanor of being “prim, proper and chaste.” It’s the female equivalent of “men just being men.”

It’s with this mentality, observation and [mis?]understanding, all of which could be completely incorrect due to my “patriarchal,” “misogynist-y,” cave man sensibilities, that I approached “Sex and City: The Movie.”

In fact, I have no idea how to even review this movie. No matter if I eviscerate it or critically analyze it, the show’s rabid fans will line up just like those “Star Wars” fan boys did nearly 10 years ago. For men, the movie is like being forced to watch the bastard child produced from the unholy threesome of The Lifetime Channel, Oxygen Channel, and The We Channel. The baby is then injected with a Steel Magnolias Red Bull Booster shot. The baby, by the way, walks in Manlo Blahnik high heel shoes [See, women, I did pay attention during the movie. Men, these are designer shoes that women would consider selling one of their family members into indentured servitude just so they could wear a pair for a day.] 

Also, the movie is two and half-hours – I repeat – two and half hours of nearly every single female stereotype and melodramatic device amped up to the extreme strung together with a flimsy, almost non existent plot. Again, the women in my audience loved every minute of it and perhaps would’ve lasted another hour.

The movie opens with a three-minute montage giving all of us “Sex and the City Virgins” a summary of each major character. Carrie, played by Sarah Jessica Parker, is the movie’s narrator who has finally settled down with her on again, off again boyfriend of 10 years, Mr Big. Samantha [Kim Cattrall] is the nearly 50, sexual cougar, who has moved to L.A. to manage her boy toy, TV star lover. Miranda [Cynthia Nixon] is the ambitious, intelligent, professional attorney who moved to lower class Brooklyn to raise a family. Charlotte [Kristen Davis] is happily married and adopted an adorable Asian American baby because she was unable to bear children of her own.

Carrie’s voice-over tells us that women move to New York for “Labels and Love,” expressing the convenient, modern day American marriage of materialism and emotional fulfillment. In fact, the entire movie revolves around the ladies’ near obsession with corporate merchandise, most notably shoes and purses, and their amusing, and at times nauseating, tribulations with “men.” The movie opens with Mr. Big casually proposing marriage to Carrie, who as you guessed it, readily agrees.

The first third of the movie moves with that snazzy, frivolous and superficial flair that made the pacing tolerable for a male viewer like myself. The planned marriage between Carrie and Mr. Big becomes Page 6 news and the entire town of New York buzzes about the union. During the wedding proceedings, Vogue magazine approaches Carrie as their focus for a  “Marriage at 40” piece thereby ushering a gratuitous 4 minute sequence where Carrie tries on designer wedding dresses. For several minutes, Carrie simply tries on different wedding gowns while naming their designers ultimately culminating with “Vivian Westwood,” which I assumed from the audience reaction is “kind of a big deal.” I sat there trying to figure out what the hell was happening and why I was watching Sarah Jessica Parker’s dress rehearsal, but judging from the women gasping and clapping at the various dresses I chalked it up to gender relativism. I simply tried to “empathize” by imaging how us guys view the Daily 10 highlights on Sportscenter or Rambo inventively, and single handedly I meant mention, decimating the entire Burmese Military at the end of his latest movie for 5 straight minutes.

For about six seconds the screen went black at our screening due to a small reel malfunction. I swear the women in the audience reacted as if their child had been kidnapped. The audio was fine, but I’m positive if the screen remained black for a few more seconds there would’ve been a near riot. I wrote this down in my notes: “The women erupted with gasps and fear.”

So, there’s a fancy wedding which is about to take place in the first half hour of a 2.5-hour movie. Do you think there’s going to be complications? I’ll let you figure it out. The other tales revolve around Samantha’s growing frustration with a sexless and passionless life in LA, Miranda’s faltering relationship with her man due to adultery, and Charlotte coping with a nice surprise.

Along the way, the ladies travel to Mexico to cheer up one of their depressed friends. They also drink lots of product placement Starbucks and intoxicating beverages, wear several high-end shoes, buy ridiculously expensive clothing, and check out fashion week in New York City. They also acquire some model minorities in the form of Jennifer Hudson, who represents the only color and middle class component of a very White and affluent narrative. Admirably, she brings charm to a secretarial “Bagger Vance” character whose job is to “organize” Carrie’s post breakup, faltering life. Thankfully, after fixing Carrie’s life, Hudson’s character also gets a reward in the form of a designer purse and romantic fulfillment. It’s amusing to me how a show that celebrates materialism, selfishness, class-ism, and Whiteness can have such a broad following. When looking for an apartment in a “low income” district, Miranda and her White nanny remark disapprovingly about the all-Asian neighbors. In fact, Miranda says, “Oh, look! One white person! Follow him” and, much to her relief, finds one White person living amongst the minorities. But, I digress.

Much of the movie’s run time unfortunately has the four charismatic ladies weeping and lamenting in traditional, melodramatic fashion about lost loves and romantic missteps. Sadly, the element of fun and freshness of the first half hour nearly disappears for an hour and a half only to return for the conclusion. Like I said, it was a parade of female stereotypes and clichés stitched together in episodic fashion but ably played by all the female leads. There’s no reason why a whimsical, comedy show, albeit with serious and romantic underpinnings, should be two and a half hours long. This was like Gone with the Wind of female movies in terms of length.

However, that being said, the audience couldn’t care less. All of the four leads have happy, fulfilling endings, which I won’t dare reveal in this review fearing the wrath of the XX populace. Furthermore, I appreciated how the end acknowledged that some of the characters have to actually grow up, face reality, and swallow their ego and selfishness in order to find love in a “relationship.” If indeed “Sex and the City” is a representation of post feminist feminists, then this male reviewer observed how similar their foibles are to the patriarchy they allegedly rebel against. Despite their professed independence, pride, ego-centricism and hedonism, the women were still unhappy and discontent without the acknowledgment of some form of a fulfilling male relationship. By playing to age-old stereotypes about female materialism and emotional hysteria, the film affirms the more things change, the more they seem to stay the same.

And, of course, the audience couldn’t care less. After crying nearly four or five times throughout the movie, the mostly female audience burst into rapturous applause during the credits. This male reviewer exhaled and survived, but left acknowledging and in some ways appreciating the sheer awesome cultural power of “Sex and the City.” Also, I learned that Oscar de la Renta is a fashion designer completely unrelated to boxer Oscar de la Hoya, and that Vera Wang is not a popular, Bay Area socialite [Every woman in the Bay has said that name countless times over the years], but is in fact an influential fashion designer. Also, I learned that women love shoes. They really love shoes – especially Manolo Blahnik. And, finally, I went to the movie with an open mind, sat throughout till the end, and learned a few things. This, ladies, should merit some props.

WAJAHAT ALI is Pakistani Muslim American who is neither a terrorist nor a saint. He is a playwright, essayist, humorist, and Attorney at Law, whose work, “The Domestic Crusaders” is the first major play about Muslim Americans living in a post 9-11 America. His blog is at http://goatmilk.wordpress.com/. He can be reached at wajahatmali@gmail.com 

                                                                        

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