SATC: Of men and money and self…

Spoiler alert:

Last night I saw Sex and the City: The Movie, because after the longest job interview of my life, and because I’ve been anticipating this movie for a year or more, I couldn’t bear to wait any longer, even with those qualms I hinted at here. All in all, it was pretty much what I expected from a 2 1/2 hour big screen rendition of that predictable but charming little series — everything I liked and hated about the series but with the hated stuff magnified and more drawn out.

With this mixture of emotions, I found myself wondering: “Is all –” hahaha no, no, I kid. I won’t write this post like a Carrie Bradshaw column…

Dana Stevens at Slate wrote a review I agree with almost entirely. Here’s a highlight:

No real-life relationship, Carrie and her cohorts reluctantly concede, can live up to the impossible expectations our culture places on romantic love. But luxury commodities? Those are more than capable of fulfilling every fantasy. The right Louis Vuitton bag—hell, any Louis Vuitton bag—can change your life.

Now, there is a plot thread in the movie naysayers will point to as an exception to this part of Stevens’ argument. Carrie’s desire for a big and fabulous wedding at least contributes to ruining her first attempt at marrying Big. This could be read as a tsk tsk against pomp and circumstance and materialism. But it’s a little ironic if big spending Big is the character who is put off by money. It’s more like he can’t handle cliched romantic settings and commitment, rather than anything he has against a little glam.

And when a romantic partner fails them (like Big fails Carrie in epic fashion), the girls can take solace in the one constant in their lives: No, that’s not in their own selves or even necessarily in each other (Samantha, for example, is going it alone in California for a large portion of the movie). It’s in things. Fancy things. Really, really fancy things.

Getting Samantha a $60,000 ring is the only kind thing Smith does for Samantha in the entire movie. One of two romantic gestures Big makes during the movie is agreeing to buy Carrie an apartment she thought was outside their price range. Fashion Week makes Carrie feel like herself again. (What is this “self” she speaks of then? A gaggle of labels and lights?) Buying a Louis Vuitton bag for Louise is her final grand gesture to her servant/savior. Why is all the stuff about stuff so problematic?

While the ensemble is praised (and rightfully so) for normalizing discussion of female sexuality and highlighting the beauty that can be female camaraderie, and these are feminist aspects of the series, I maintain that these characters are some of the weakest women on television. They rise and fall with men, and while Carrie had the chance to prove she could be strong and happy with or without Big in this movie, but that she simply prefers having such a companion, all she proved is that she can fill the void left by a man by spending money and surrounding herself in some glamor, i.e. decorating her apartment, hiring a Personal Assistant/Rent-a-Friend, going to Fashion Week.

I won’t deny that her close group of girlfriends is a huge part of her life and helps to determine her happiness, but where, in all this mash-up of men, money, and mates, is Carrie’s independence or self-reliance? Where’s the actual person beneath the designer clothes and apart from all these friends and lovers?

And I shudder to ask: In this fictional world where money is the vehicle for the vast majority of women’s happiness outside of upper-class marital bliss, how do less privileged women keep themselves from slitting their wrists? — I guess they just have to keep their spirits up with rental designer bags and hope they get lucky enough to be a P.A. to someone like Carrie Bradshaw some day…

A round-up of good SATC reviews and reflections:

Dana Stevens at Slate

Stephanie Zacharek at Salon

Sex writers reflect on the impact of SATC

Manohla Dargis at NYTimes

Karina Longworth at Spout, gives the top 5 reasons to explain why you might “semi-rationally” hate the movie:

And Ed Gonzales at Slant Magazine on the racism of the relationship between Jennifer Hudson’s character and Sarah Jessica Parker’s, and the materialism of the film:

Retro Recap: Millionaire Matchmaker

While I recognize that last winter’s reality tv doesn’t sound terribly retro, it is the material of a season already ended, which in show biz, is pretty out of fashion. And as there is a bit of a lull between reality tv’s spring cycle and the summer cycle (and therefore, I’m bored), I thought I’d take us back with a series on some of yesterday’s best and worst creations:

While trying to catch episodes of my Bravo-network favorite, Project Runway, last winter, I frequently stumbled upon something called The Millionaire Matchmaker, which follows entrepreneur Patti Stanger’s Millionaire’s Club, a dating service for – you guessed it – millionaires. Sounds simple enough and right on par with TV execs’ obsession with showing us the privileged but dramatic lives of rich people, right? But the show quickly reminds us there is no materialism like gendered materialism!

I was surprised to find that this Millionaire’s Club, is not, it turns out, simply a service for rich and powerful men and women to meet and search for the sparks of romance. Should I really have expected any gender neutrality when it came to a show about dating and money? What Stanger means by “millionaires,” is “millionaire men,” and when she says it’s her job to find them “love,” what she means is to find them hot women who are neither wealthy nor particularly successful. In fact, as I learned watching her interview potential matches for her millionaire clients, the opposite is desired. Stanger told one woman who introduced herself as a doctor to lose the doctor bit because “men don’t want to compete in the bedroom.” Wait, what does being a doctor have to do with competition or the bedroom? Kinky, Patti. Very kinky.

In addition to telling us what it is men want and don’t want, Stanger breaks down what women want, informing one client that no woman will want to date him because he lives in a modest home rather than a flashy apartment.

Are men really so put off by dating intelligent women? Are women really so vain? Why is the expected counterpart to a wealthy man a beautiful woman, rather than a wealthy woman? These stereotypes could be obliterated if people like Stanger didn’t insist on policing the gendered standards of success like it’s her job – even though, I guess technically it is.