June 3, 2008

Cheeseburgers, Beer, and…Sex and the City?

By: AFF Editors

The first movie based on the HBO series, Sex and the City, opened last week. I’ve been waiting for months to see it.

This admission has shocked some of my male friends. Actually, it has shocked all of my guy buddies as well as a fair number of women. The film is the very definition of Chick Flick. It not the type of thing that a beer-drinking, cheeseburger-eating guy such as myself is supposed to enjoy (I’m even drinking a Miller Lite as I write this). I mean, come on: Isn’t there also an Incredible Hulk movie coming out?

But I do like Sex and the City. Love it, in fact. I’ve seen every episode of the series. I just didn’t enjoy it in the way the filmmakers necessarily intended.

My intentions were a bit more mercenary. Like most guys, I find women utterly perplexing. As Norm from the Cheers once said: “Women. Can’t live with them. Pass the beernuts.”

So after years of hearing female friends and acquaintances rave about the series, I decided to rent a few episodes from my local video store. Maybe if I watched this show, which so many of them clearly identified with, I could understand them a little better.

What I found was utterly divorced from anything resembling my own world. Whenever I saw an episode, I might have been watching a documentary on a lost native tribe deep in the heart of Borneo. That’s how this strange, far away world of wealthy, single Manhattanites seemed to this guy from Alexandria, Virginia.

For that reason, I found it utterly fascinating. It had never occurred to me that getting a new pair of designer shoes could be a thing of transcendent importance to a person, as it was to the show’s heroine, Carrie Bradshaw. Or that an entire pop culture phenomenon could be built around such a character. One entire episode focused on Bradshaw’s attempt to get a friend to replace some designer shoes she lost during a visit. (And they said Seinfeld was a show about nothing.)

Because I follow neither high fashion nor Manhattan gossip and barely know the difference between Candace Bergen and Candace Bushnell, I had no idea what to expect. What I found was a series revolving around the adventures of four Manhattan women. There was Carrie, Charlotte, Samantha, and Miranda, and though each was given an archetypal personality — one was zany, one was sweet, one was slutty, one was cynical — they all had one thing in common: very active sex lives, which, when they weren’t living out, they were discussing with each other. Even Charlotte, the sweet, shy one, seemed to get as much action over the course of the series as your average porn starlet. As Moe Szyslak, the bartender on The Simpsons, once joked, “Wait a minute, you mean those are women and not gay men?”

Of the four, only Miranda, a lawyer, had a job that seemed to require her to actually earn a living (though she somehow still managed to show up for endless lunches and drinks). The rest appeared to pull down six-figure salaries for jobs that allowed them to spend their days sipping cosmopolitans in trendy uptown cafes while wearing the latest in absurdly overpriced fashion. The rest of the time they spent shopping, drinking more cocktails, and dating Hollywood-handsome men. Yes, theirs were blessed existences, seemingly fueled by credit card companies which had apparently decided to scrap limits and never require them to pay any bills.

Okay, maybe that’s a cheap shot. Of course the show isn’t realistic. Nothing on television is. In fact, the unreality of the show was part of its appeal. Its female fans not only identify with the show’s characters, but they get to live vicariously through them. That’s fair enough. Guys watch action movies for pretty much the same reason. Nobody thinks James Bond or Indiana Jones are models of realism, but we’d all love to live their lives.

That was why Kim Cattrall’s Samantha Jones was the show’s most popular character. More than any of the others she was the one that truly reveled in the show’s fantasy world. She enthusiastically and unapologetically slept her way through New York City — and had a blast while doing it. Who wouldn’t want to be free to indulge themselves without any serious repercussions?

Early on, the Samantha character was rather more pathetic. In the first episode, for example, she makes a play for Carrie’s longtime flame, Mr. Big, only to get coldly rebuffed. She later gets drunk and throws herself at a hotel bellboy. It must have become quickly clear to the series’ creators that making the character sad in that way wouldn’t fly with audiences. By the end of the first season she was brassy and self-confident, her flings meant to be seen as adventures — just the way fans liked to see her.

That was why my original mercenary hope for the series — that it could be a road map to understanding women — didn’t exactly pan out. You can’t learn everything from a person’s wish-fulfillment fantasies. But you can draw a few by seeing the world they’d like to live in.

And in fairness to the series, it’s not bad: sharply-written, well-acted and directed, genuinely funny, able to poke fun at itself too and thankfully post-feminist. The male characters were never ogres or otherwise made out to be villains. Hopefully the film version will meet the same standard.

So yeah; I’ll see it. Maybe I’ll even enjoy it. At the very least I’ll ponder it afterwards. Probably over a few beers at the Dubliner.

–Sean Higgins is Washington correspondent for Investor’s Business Daily and a contributing editor to Doublethink.

(Still from Sex and the City copyright HBO.)