[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.]