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TALES OF TERROR: My Mild Dislike for Sex and the City 2

[Around here, we love Garland. There are a lot of reasons why we love Garland, but here is an exemplary parable: We have been talking, for weeks, about going to see the Sex and the City thing because someone HAS to write about it EVENTUALLY probably RIGHT? The Sex and the City: It has been kicked around like a sparkly pink football, around these parts. It went to me! Then it went to Silvana! Then it went back to me, sort of! Then C.L. and B. Michael were sort of suspiciously quiet throughout the whole process! And finally, one man — ONE BRAVE MAN, and also his friend Harold (hi, Harold!) (sorry, Harold) — volunteered to ride the dragon. Ride it ALL THE WAY TO HELL. You guys: Garland.]

I have a friend who has been in retail for a few years, working for several high-end fashion labels. (You know those stores in the mall that are essentially white boxes, lit like a Kubrick film, where one thin-lipped woman judges you from afar? Those.) When I met him, he was working for a company you’ve heard of. This company was enjoying a shock of popularity after having successfully made its signature handbag the must-have for the season all across the country. Even I, in my no-fashion cocoon of discount, prêt-à-porter, off-the-rack, irregular dishrags noticed the trend. I was subjected to lengthy discussions about how to tell if the bag were fake, all because I said I didn’t know what the fuss was about knock-offs. My friends set me right immediately — their bags were real, they had spent money on them. That made them special. The bags or the people, I never figured out which.

My friend told me that most of his day was spent waiting on wealthy people, but every once in a while a poor woman would walk in, harried by children, and the atmosphere of the room would change. Those rooms are designed to intimidate — I almost had a panic attack in a Chanel boutique in Houston, after having been left in a room with a man in a suit who was just staring at me — and they succeed. They make you feel very unwelcome, but can I tell you the service you get when people think you have money? Can I tell you, one night over drinks, the sort of Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman experiences I’ve had?

Anyway, back to the woman. She’d buy a modestly-sized bag, pay for it with ones and tens and fives, money still wrinkled from being in a jar next to her bed. Money she had saved for herself. What was she doing with it? She was buying a ludicrous bit of fashion iconography. Did you know the word icon has religious origins? Ikons are pictures of saints. An ikon stands for something larger than itself. But a bag doesn’t stand for anything larger than itself. It is just a fucking bag.

Say it with me, Beatdown: IT IS JUST A FUCKING BAG.

But it isn’t just a bag, is it? It is a stand-in for self-worth. This is why some women spend money they don’t have on clothes, and then walk around feeling like shit that their clothes aren’t nice enough. They watch shows like The Real Housewives of Bumblefuck, Idaho and What Not to Wear (Oh, Why Are You So Terribly, Tragically Ugly?) for years and may never see that each of these fantasy hours are coming at the expense of days of desperate longing for their lives to be more glamorous. They will take control! They will voice their sexual needs! They will shop!

That is what Sex and the City has done to us. It has made buying textiles designed for an unachievable shape (YOU ARE A MAMMAL. BODY FAT IS CHARACTERISTIC OF YOUR PHYLOGENETIC CLASS) with an insulting markup seem like a sign of empowerment. Sex and The City is a story about how rich the palette of women is in the world! There’s four rich white women, a black assistant, and two gay dudes (HONORARY CHICKS, am I right, LADIES?) and that encapsulates the entirety of the world. While fighting for the right of women to control their own lives, talk about sex, flirt wildly, and be themselves, it has conflated these struggles with the struggle to live under the crushing burden of being Rich and White in New York, the right to pay for anything, the right to be yourself! And who you are, at your core? A girly girl! You like shopping, you like brunch, you like dropping a few grand on Manolo Blahniks and Jimmy Choos! Spending money is a curative! Spending money takes your mind off things! Like the fact that you can’t decide which Rich, Handsome Dude you’re going to marry!

But I could have written all of that before seeing this film. That damage (and much more!) has already been levied by this franchise. Today I went to see Sex and the City 2, the sequel to the movie based on the wildly popular series, which is just a vapid, decadent Golden Girls with more cunnilingus jokes and less likeable characters. I saw it with my friend Harold, who I am forever dragging to this sort of nonsense. He thought he wanted to see Iron Man 2, but he was wrong.

Beatdown, the first thing this film taught me? I’m doing gay all wrong. I SWEAR I DIDN’T KNOW. I’m not filthy rich. I don’t quip nearly enough. I dress like one of those assholes you see in commercials for the Republican Party, standing in front of a wheat field talking about how Prop 4 is good for families and good for businesses, how the proposition is seeking to outlaw frivolous lawsuits against companies who throw Molotov cocktails at cute baskets of kittens, because THAT’S THE AMERICAN WAY. I drank my last mimosa OUT OF A MASON JAR.

The producers of Sex and the City have a message for boring, unfashionable queers like me: Stop being such a stick in the mud! The movie opens with a fairly cookie cutter introduction about how the women’s lives have changed in the two years since the last movie, complete with flashback shots of the girls they once were. Already I was fading in and out, wondering how much I would have to scream to make it all JUST. FUCKING. STOP. The girls are meeting up to do something at a wedding registry — I assume it was purchase gifts, but I’m still a little sketchy on how that all works. I know part of it is walking around, scanning the labels for Cheese Domes and Lazy Susans, and another part of it is people buying these things for you so they can fight about how much they like you and how much they are willing to spend on you. At any rate, they were there at Bergdorf for their two best gay friends. That’s right: The show’s two gay characters, whose loathing for each other is waved away by a line or two of flimsy dialogue, are going to be joined at the hip, forever. Then Carrie says “Just when you thought everyone you knew was too old to get married, here come the gays!”

Yes, Carrie, here we come! We were late to weddings, but we go ALL OUT. The only thing we’d think of scrimping on is rights — in 45 states and all of federal law, to be exact! We love fabrics, we love spectacle, we love place settings, we were BORN TO WED. Every single character laughs at how GAY the wedding is: There is a Gay Men’s Chorus, Swans, Liza Minelli. Beatdown, at this point I was taking notes. I didn’t want to miss anything. I wanted to learn the right way to be gay. My relationship to Liza Minelli is all wrong, I discovered! I’m not supposed to like her for playing Lucille Austero on Arrested Development, I’m supposed to worship her as a goddess. I’m supposed to want to hear her sing Beyoncé. I’m supposed to want it very much.

There is a wedding service, the men don’t kiss, Liza sings, and everyone talks amongst themselves. Then they all go back to their lives. Charlotte is jealous of a voluptuous nanny, Miranda is fighting a sexist boss played by Ron White, Samantha is taking a vitamin regimen to keep her libido, and Carrie is fighting to keep the sparkle in her marriage. This is the problem with most movies based on television shows — the writers generate enough plot for a single show, and stretch it out to two hours. By this time Harold was squirming at the terrible dialogue and the lack of substance to that dialogue, and was only laughing at how terrible the movie was. This was attracting the attention of the rest of theater, all of whom were listening to him cackle through all of the movie’s “tender moments.”

The Ladies go to the Middle East, that curiously oppressive region of the world! They stare at women wearing head scarves and make comments about how oppressed they must be. Of course, they are saying all this while staying at a resort that costs $22,000 a night. They go to a market, they have lunch in the desert, they lie by the pool and ogle a rugby team. Throughout, they spin out a running commentary on Middle Eastern culture, something that for most Americans represents a mystery so deep that they cannot look at it directly; they must, instead, bury their confusion in tangled layers of Islamophobia and Racism. People like this will go to Sex and the City 2 and feel progressive for supporting gay rights, without connecting this experience to their own racism, their failure to grasp even the basics of international politics, or the global wealth machine, which runs on the lives of poor people and all of the natural resources their countries can be bribed out of. Miranda, the only character who is remotely interested in learning about the culture they are entering, exhorts Samantha to restrain herself.

Can we spend a moment to thank the writers of Sex and the City, who have taken care of that terrible shortage of jokes about how much Samantha Jones likes to fuck? Because she likes to fuck! She wants to fuck this hot adventurer guy who is, may I confirm for all of you, totally fuckable? I love it! It is sex positive, which is literally my favorite thing for anything to be. But also, she can’t be restrained, Miranda soon discovers. She has all the stamina of a million Craiglist hookups, a SWF who is looking for NSA fun and is DTF! Who is DTF to the point that she will ignore the very real danger she faces from the Morality Police, angry mobs, and the fundamentalism of the world she is drunkenly staggering through.

I honestly thought I would be on her side before I watched this. Religion is never ever an excuse for policing a woman’s body. But at one point she angrily declares her STRONG SEXUALITY to a mob of men who are standing around her friends and shouting. Then she leaves the market, leaves the country, and bones the guy she wants to bone, back in America. Meanwhile, all the women who live under this regime are forgotten. Did this 48 hour outpouring of American self-righteousness do anything to help them? No. It is only making their lives more difficult by reenforcing the connection in the minds of those men between Americans, American women specifically, and what they view as craven, malicious licentiousness. There is a difference between activism on the part of women in other countries that is intelligent and effective, and lashing out in a way that helps no one. Her two day ordeal overshadows and obliterates the lives of women in the Middle East.

After that whole “you are endangering your life and the lives of others” kerfuffle, they steal into an enclave of Muslim women, who give them sanctuary and show them what they have on under their hijabs. Why, every single one of them is wearing designer clothing! From what I’ve heard, the process of getting a script from paper to film is nerve wracking. Dozens of people looked at this script, and they all had notes. But none one of them saw fit to to scribble “YOU ARE BEING RACIST AND UNBELIEVABLE” into the margins of this screenplay, which makes me want to lie in bed for days and cry.

I’d go into the rest of the plot, but then I might remember it later. Suffice to say loose ends are woven to other loose ends and shoved out of sight. Being white and rich continues to be just the BEST thing to be. One character’s problems are solved with a large diamond, another’s are solved with a pied-à-terre in Manhattan — because of course we all have that fucking money tree in our back yard.

This is a film about shallow people with insignificant problems and far too much time on their hands, which does little to upend the status quo, and even more to uphold it. It toys with issues of equality and social justice, filtering these concepts through a Rich, White sensibility meant to appeal to the fervent dreams of upward mobility of the poor while getting preachy every few minutes about issues it couldn’t possibly hope to understand. There is no reason for anyone to see it, ever.

[And yet, Garland did! Well: Garland and Harold. (Hi, Harold!) (Sorry, Harold.) Fortunately for them both, it is TIGER BEATDOWN PLEDGE DRIVING TIME. With fabulous prizes! And below, you will find a donate button (not visible on Google Reader and oh by the way HEY WHAT’S THAT I think we should all click on it to investigate), in which you can enter yourself for some FABULOUS PRIZE-WINNING, and also show support for the fine work of Garland and others. Look, here it is! Like a magical golden hug for Tiger Beatdown.]


  1. Courtney wrote:

    I saw the movie the first night it came out and was horrified. I was terribly surprised at how racist it was and how it basically hid behind the cloak of “You can’t criticize us because if you do then you just taking away the voice of women.”

    I was a big fan of the first movie despite it being too long. The second one was just a huge let down and extremely offensive.

    Thursday, June 17, 2010 at 1:50 pm | Permalink
  2. Heather wrote:

    Ya got me! I laughed so hard at this, read a couple lines out loud to my companion who was trying to concentrate on her own work, and then clicked the Donate button.

    Thanks for the awesome review and commentary; love this site in general.

    Thursday, June 17, 2010 at 2:03 pm | Permalink
  3. Heather wrote:

    I really, really love Garland’s contributions to TB thus far. I’ll be the first person to admit I watched the show (thanks to the library) and saw the first movie (thanks to bootleg internet copies) because the Sex & the City enterprise doesn’t need my money. It was fun for awhile, but then when everyone started getting married and carrying around their gay men like Gwen Stefani pimps out her Harajuku girls, I was all HELL NO. I have no plans on seeing the second one: that’s what I have the monstrosity of The Real Housewives of NYC for (pure comedic gold, really), so all of these fabulous reviews that tell me every fucked up thing they do in the film are much more worthy of my $12. Which, really, I don’t have $12, or else I’d pledge it to TB. Now, I’m off to search under couch cushions for some dolla dolla bills for y’all.

    Thursday, June 17, 2010 at 2:34 pm | Permalink
  4. snobographer wrote:

    I haven’t seen it and probably never will. I might pirate it just so I can ridicule it from a more informed position, but the whole franchise just bores the shit out of me.
    Somebody else on the ‘net somewhere said there was some acknowledgment that western sexism isn’t entirely different from eastern/Muslim sexism. I thought that was pretty cool and atypical. Is this not the case?

    Thursday, June 17, 2010 at 2:45 pm | Permalink
  5. CourtneyB wrote:

    I’m with Heather: it used to be fun, and then I noticed the oppression.

    I think western religion has been very thoroughly wrapped up in the idea of empire, conquest, and oppression of nonwhite, nonmale persons. So yeah, ikons stand for something, but they stand for some thing oppressive. The designer bags also stand for something oppressive: slave labor, slave wages, a culture based on consumption. The bag is part of buying into the culture, part of being “American” and having the “American Dream”. But we’re just as guilty when we buy shit food made by companies who use fertilizers that make their female employees infertile or give them cancer. Rich people aren’t the ones keeping Taco Bell a viable business and they have been being picketed for literally pennies more for the migrant workers they employ.

    So yeah, designer bags are just bags. But the pull of culture is at least as strong as that of religion, so if we want to compare them: religious ikons are just pieces of art.

    Thursday, June 17, 2010 at 2:55 pm | Permalink
  6. JfC wrote:

    Of course they didn’t kiss. Queerness is all chastity and camp, a play for the heterosexuals. For their next extravagant lark the girls are going to marry their poodles! Fabulous!

    Thursday, June 17, 2010 at 3:45 pm | Permalink
  7. number eight wrote:

    Please please don’t tear me to pieces – I have just one question that’s been bothering me for weeks now, although kept on reading and reading – and I haven’t seen the movie: Why is Muslim women wearing designer clothes under their hijabs racist? Because from all I know, there are Muslim women who are as much into fashion as (some) Western women, and, for a part, also into Western fashion – or does the racism lie in the framing of the scene?

    Thursday, June 17, 2010 at 4:03 pm | Permalink
  8. Sierra wrote:

    I love when you do movie reviews and I love Garland’s posts!

    Thursday, June 17, 2010 at 4:41 pm | Permalink
  9. GarlandGrey wrote:

    *Holding ragged chunks of @Number Eight over his head like a trophy*


    Kidding, of course. If it were up to me this place would be called Tiger Grouphugs.

    The hijab is treated throughout as a symbol of Middle Eastern gender oppression, allowing the SATC ladies to discuss the ways in which their own lives are like those of the women that wear them (“GIRLS, I got a hangnail once and it was totally like being beaten with a stick for showing my face in public!”) These women are consistently “othered” throughout the film, including a scene where to girls loll around the pool and talk about the women wearing Burqinis and how Samantha cannot possibly be expected to wear more than a post-it note and a bandanna. This is because of her hot flashes, which from what I’ve heard is just a fucking terrible thing to go through – but no mention is made that middle eastern women who are going through menopause are forced to dress from head to toe and not allowed hormone treatments.

    In scene you mentioned, the women they meet are all wearing designer clothing, in a bit of after-school special “Hey! We’re all the same!” palaver, followed by the SATC ladies dressing in Burqas and sneaking out like something out of The Three Stooges.

    Throughout the film, Middle Eastern women are discussed, scrutinized, held up of symbols of oppression, and when they FINALLY have a chance to speak, what do they say? “Clothes are great, right LADIES???”

    So, to answer your question, it is mostly the framing.

    Thursday, June 17, 2010 at 5:11 pm | Permalink
  10. number eight wrote:


    Thanks! I think I get that. The “You’d be so free and happy if you could just be like US”-thing?

    Thursday, June 17, 2010 at 5:30 pm | Permalink
  11. Nick wrote:

    Really well done! I was hoping Beatdown would deconstruct the film. Thanks!

    Thursday, June 17, 2010 at 6:00 pm | Permalink
  12. Gee wrote:

    THANK YOU. A friend and I went to see this a week ago, and while I wasn’t overly familiar with the SatC franchise (apparently it involves shoes???), I was under the impression that it was at least kind of progressive! And then the first TWENTY MINUTES consisted of a series of absurd gay jokes, and then there were all the “burkini” jokes, and of course the fact that we are actually supposed to listen to and care about these women’s problems when they are staying in a hotel that costs more per night than my mother makes in a YEAR, and…. I think the final straw for me was the “touching” scene where Charlotte and Miranda have a heartfelt discussion about how hard it is to be a mother. Which, yeah! I bet it is! And then they flippantly observe that it must be, like, totally even harder for women who can’t even afford nannies or expensive shoes or spur-of-the-moment trips to Abu Dhabi or anything! GEE, RICH WHITE LADIES, YA THINK SO?

    Thursday, June 17, 2010 at 9:51 pm | Permalink
  13. Sara wrote:

    I propose that Tiger Grouphugs become a spinoff blog.

    Thursday, June 17, 2010 at 10:26 pm | Permalink
  14. Sadie wrote:

    Ugh. So the protagonists we’re supposed to root for can’t be bothered to look at the women whose country they’re in as people unless said women are as obsessed with spending zillions of dollars on clothing and shoes as they are. I guess the poor and/or fashion unconscious women of the Middle East remain bizarre aliens to them. (The poor women of New York probably are, too, for that matter.)

    And I only saw a few episodes of the show, never saw either movie, but that’s still enough to let me know that the wedding is based entirely on “Hey, this character’s gay! And, whoa, so is this character! CLEARLY THEY BELONG TOGETHER!” Because they detested each other. And not even a little bit in an “I hate you because I want you” sort of way. (It was, however, in a catty way, of course. Because they’re gay, you know.)

    Friday, June 18, 2010 at 1:10 am | Permalink
  15. The Bard wrote:

    Having never actually seen any Sex in the City at all, I contribute this image.

    The whole “normal girls with normal problems” and “progressivism” (alleged) aspects of the franchise are kind of ruined by the fact that they’re all rich and white.


    Friday, June 18, 2010 at 3:00 am | Permalink
  16. Stephanie wrote:

    Thanks for this great post. I’ve never seen SATC – the show or the movies. Although I have several feminist friends who really like it, something about the premise has always made me really uncomfortable. People always said to me “Oh you have to watch it, you will love it” but I could never bring myself to do it. And this post, I think, summed up WHY I was so ambivalent. I could sense these things about it without having to watch it…if that makes sense…but couldn’t really articulate it. So thanks for this!

    Friday, June 18, 2010 at 8:09 am | Permalink
  17. I drank my last mimosa OUT OF A MASON JAR.

    Hipster. :p

    I will note that, in my (hazy) recollection of the TV series – which I watched, what, a decade ago? holy hell – , the fashion and decadence were a lot more subtle. It was always there, of course: the cosmotinis and the Blahniks and the dresses, etc. But there weren’t these sopping montages of dresses and diamonds and the like.

    I think (as you said) this is a function of trying to pad a 60-minute episode into a 2-hour movie. They can shovel more shitty dialogue in the boilers and make it go faster, or they can do lots of weird camera tricks.

    Also: it says something of the writers’ cultural outlook that they thought, “Hmm – let’s shake things up by sending Carrie and the girls some place where women are objectified, praised for adherence to male-imposed virtues and have nothing useful to contribute,” and then didn’t set the movie in America.

    Friday, June 18, 2010 at 9:30 am | Permalink
  18. When I saw the first SatC movie, I thought I might like to see the filmmakers involved torn apart by wild dingoes. I’ll be avoiding the second one like it’s unshielded plutonium.

    Thanks for throwing yourself on this particular hand grenade. Your sacrifice has not been in vain.

    Friday, June 18, 2010 at 10:18 am | Permalink
  19. wealhtheow wrote:

    This was hilarious and true. Plus, I will love forever this quote: “(YOU ARE A MAMMAL. BODY FAT IS CHARACTERISTIC OF YOUR PHYLOGENETIC CLASS)”

    I kinda want to get it tattooed on my forehead.

    Friday, June 18, 2010 at 10:18 am | Permalink
  20. procrastinatrix wrote:

    “People like this will go to Sex and the City 2 and feel progressive for supporting gay rights, without connecting this experience to their own racism, their failure to grasp even the basics of international politics, or the global wealth machine, which runs on the lives of poor people and all of the natural resources their countries can be bribed out of.”

    Wonderful sentence. What a concise definition of “the global wealth machine” as you call it. I will use it, often, with attribution! Thanks.

    Saturday, June 19, 2010 at 9:20 am | Permalink
  21. Brenda wrote:

    Your judgements of Sex and the City 2 are totally correct and should be shared by right-thinking people, but at a certain point, I feel like no one should have to deconstruct the politics of something so bad. The show – and even the first movie – had a really seductive charm that made talking about the gross underlying politics of it important, because it was actually enjoyable. I watched it because I thought I should have An Opinion about it, and by the end I was like “I can’t have an opinion about this, it’s too stupid and I think everyone would be better off just dismissing the whole thing outright.” But it is Significant Phenomenon, I guess.

    Sunday, June 20, 2010 at 4:29 pm | Permalink
  22. Sara wrote:

    I am not going to see SATC2, unless I’m really bored one day and it happens to be on HBO. Pretty much, for all the reasons you stated. I once saw SATC1 after seeing “Whip It” and the enpowerfulness of the SATC franchise was glaring.

    That said, I TOTALLY, 100% disagree with you about fashion. I think a lot of people wear it for labels and vanity and whatnot, and the industry troubles me with beauty standards. But I think a lot of people disregard fashion as an art form, which it absolutely is. And even more, it’s wearable art! Art you can take around with you and express yourself with!

    I would never pay $400 for a pair of shoes (so Jimmy Choos are out for me) or that much money for any kind of clothing, but I will scour the internet looking for heavily discounted Alexander McQueen, because I think he was a great artist.

    And so the problem with knock-offs is this – people are taking other people’s art, copying it, and selling it as if that artist made it. It would be like if I bought a reproduced Kahlo piece, signed by the artist, and passed it off as authentic. It’s not cool in any other industry to steal like that, so why should it be in fashion?

    And to be even more longwinded – I think fashion as an industry has an interesting push/pull. No one in the patriarchy takes it seriously as art because it’s primarily focused on women, in the only industry where women are often paid more than men. But then, feminists don’t take it seriously because of the body standard issue (which I take umbrage to as well!) and say it harms women. So it’s difficult to defend. But not liking fashion doesn’t make anyone cooler or non-feminist than someone who likes it.

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 7:03 pm | Permalink
  23. Sara wrote:

    Ok, not so erudite. I meant to say in conclusion that not liking fashion doesn’t make anyone cooler or more feminist than someone who likes it. Not that I think you implied that in your post.

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 7:06 pm | Permalink
  24. Yaz wrote:

    Interestingly for me, the part where the Muslim women turn out to be dressed elegantly under their hijabs is reminiscent of one chapter of “Not Without My Daughter”, where the American woman goes to a women-only religious event and is surprised to find everybody dressed in sophisticated European fashion. Maybe that’s where the writers got the idea.

    Tuesday, June 29, 2010 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

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