June 05, 2008

The question of whether or not to see “€œSex and the City”€ is easy to answer: if you are a man, no. There is nothing here for you. If you are a woman, still no. The sugary cocktail of glamour and sentimentality may prove addictive; those DVD box sets aren”€™t cheap, and watching them will make you dumber. For sensible people, the real question is not “€œShould I see this movie?”€ but “€œHow much of what kind of disdain should I feel for it?”€

The time to be offended at “€œSex and the City”€’s frank discussion of intimate matters was 1998, when the series premiered. At the present moment, American culture has so outpaced Carrie Bradshaw that even her single entendres seem tame. Nor does the movie push anything like a feminist agenda.  More progressive reviewers have picked up on the fact that, for all their scandalous chatter, the girls”€™ lives revolve around men as much as June Cleaver’s ever did.  Fernando Croce calls it “€œinfuriating stuff to anybody who remembers bra-burning as something more than a “€œShrek the Third”€ gag.”€ I can only imagine. 

But don”€™t let the liberal reaction to “€œSex and the City”€ fool you. The film isn”€™t reactionary, just harmless and clichéd. Never let the minutiae of the wedding overshadow your marriage. Your family is more important than your career. Forgiveness is a part of every real relationship. What’s the deal with airline food?

Schmaltz and a lack of imagination make “€œSex and the City”€ bad cinema, but if that were the only problem I would simply wait for the satisfaction of seeing it in the Blockbuster bargain bin next to “€œThe Butterfly Effect”€ and leave it at that. Unfortunately, there is a lot more wrong with this cotton candy fantasy than trite sentimentality and galloping materialism.

Watch Sarah Jessica Parker flounce around Manhattan and try asking a basic question: what’s her motivation? It’s hard to wring anything like a philosophy of life from what essentially amounts to an overgrown soap opera, but it seems to have a lot to do with Self: self-discovery, self-respect, self-esteem. Self-absorption.

Having decided that marriage is not the right lifestyle choice for her, Carrie ends the movie with a question: “€œWhy is it that we”€™re willing to write our own vows but not our own rules?”€ That’s right, girlfriend! Marriage is just a bunch of rules that other people made up, and buying into it will only obscure the Inner You. Never mind whether those other people might have been wiser than you are, or whether the transformation might be an improvement.

Or take Samantha, whose life philosophy is summed up in the line “€œI love you, but I love me more.”€ She abandons a man who loves her and whom she loves because she can”€™t stand not to be the center of her own universe. Even the ladies’ four-way friendship, supposedly the show’s moral center, involves so much confessional self-reflection that one is tempted to conclude that relationships with other people are only interesting insofar as they enable self-discovery. Strange”€”I always thought it was the other way around.

It would be one thing if “€œSex and the City”€ simply shouted from the rooftops things better discussed in private; such crassness would spoil our decorum, but not much else. It is something else again for Carrie’s voice-over platitudes to be so plainly immoral.  Most people don”€™t have the luxury of making their own rules”€”visit a crisis pregnancy center if you don”€™t believe me”€”and the ones who do soon find that the quickest way to make your life small and pathetic isn”€™t to make it revolve around a man, but to make it revolve around yourself.


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