movies matter | criticism by maryann johanson
Sun Jan 03 2010, 05:42pm | 13 comments
…the meaning of Brittany Murphy; why Sex and the City is a poor icon for women…
Yup, it’s The Week in Women, my regular column over at the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, returning from its holiday break. Enjoy.
That was excellent. Sorry I have nothing more specific to say.
Naomi Wolf does an excellent job explaining why the character would be appealing to a person like Naomi Wolf, but what about the women who cannot hope to live such a decadent life? Isn’t the show just another soap opera fantasy for many of its fans? And she actually suggests that a bunch of women eating out everyday and talking about nothing but clothes and the men in their lives is some kind of revolutionary leap in feminist storytelling? Has she ever seen Cukor’s The Women released oh about…seven decades ago?
It’s especially disappointing that she seems to think that SatC is the female version of men’s “adventure tales,” as if women are unable to imagine any adventure more spectacular than buying every pair of shoes in sight and gossiping about their sex lives. The way that Wolf closes the article by mentioning that she happened to run into SJP is also kind of sickening, not only because it suggests that she operates within the very narrow slice of society that can afford to take Carrie as a role model, but also because the anecdote feels like a last desperate attempt to force a universality that just isn’t there.
Because we had all heard Carrie’s stories from our own girlfriends, and recognised in her something of our best selves.
Best selves? She can’t possibly believe that. Can she? What woman in their right mind points to Carrie Bradshaw and thinks, “that’s what I’m like when I’m at my best.” I’m not talking about feminists either – I’m talking about actual fans of the show. No one’s self-image and hopes for the future could possibly be so depressingly materialistic.
But really, can you name a TV show or film prior to this that centred around a woman reflecting about her life and the world? Carrie, for better or worse, was our first pop-culture philosopher.
Wonderfalls? My So-Called Life? Butterflies? Ally McBeal? (I hesitate to mention the last for obvious reasons, but still…)
For a famous writer, Ms. Wolf apparently doesn’t get out much.
A minor nitpick: Wonderfalls does not predate SatC.
My So-Called Life! I loved that programme so much – I was about 16 when it came out and it was just fantastic. Ghost episodes aside (and the fact that Jordan Catalano ever noticed Angela) it was so much more true to life than Dawson’s Creek or any of the things that came after. With Angela’s Mum being the main earner and Angela being pretty strong herself (Catalano obession aside, but then who isn’t obsessed with a boy in high school?) it’s a much more feminist take on life than SatC. I’d never thought of that.
“Sex in the City” liberated women? No, it is TV finally catching up to reality of third wave feminism. TV producers wouldn’t have put the show on if there wasn’t already a market for it. Wolf even mentions two feminist writers that preceded the TV show; Doris Lessing and Erica Jong had a lot more to do with liberating women than any TV show (but somehow writing about Lessing in the same paragraph as SitC seems sacriligous, since Lessing is one of those really boundless writers), if for no other reason that TV is always playing catch up, be it for mysteries, SF, romance, comedies, when it comes to ideas. Books have almost always covered the basic ground first, while TV riffs off them (or rips them off, which is the less creative version of the same idea).
But it makes sense that Wolf wouldn’t get out much. Writers often don’t, which calls into question the whole idea of writers as a commentary on life’s condition. We spend a lot of time reading and writing, if we’re serious about the craft anyway, thus limiting our exposure to that freaky, chaotic, dangerous, shallow, pain in the ass world we keep trying to impose meaning upon. Which is probably why I’ve met some really wonderful writers who turned out to have some really whacked out opinions.
But it makes sense that Wolf wouldn’t get out much.
True enough. But then there’s no law that can’t say she can’t do research. And doing research is something most professional writers do as a matter of course, anyway. Or am I being way too idealistic?
Given that one of the most successful writers of the past few years, a Ms. Stephenie Meyer, admits she did absolutely no research for her books and does so with some small measure of pride, I’d say you may be a tad too idealistic. Either that or standards for writing have dropped. You know, I think I prefer the latter to the former.
I recall Murphy Brown as filling those shoes waaaaaaay before Carrie Bradshaw.
Oh, fer fuck’s sake! Hell, she can’t even remember Maude? What is this…more pop-culture-is-only-stuff-in-the-short-term-memory-banks?!?!
I keep being told that Naomi Wolf is a feminist, but, from where I stand, she only is one because it is written in her bio and on the back flaps of her books.
She can call herself one if she wants, but she isn’t doing feminism any favors.
And Sonia Friedman seems to be playing the common game in male dominated environments: Men are frightened by feminism; I need at least some of these men to be my friends; if I don’t call myself a feminist, they won’t be frightened of me; ergo, I’m not a feminist…I am just working here…gender issues aren’t part of my picture!
I’ve seen it before and I’m sure I’ve even played that on occasion. Of course, I wouldn’t play it with someone who is going to put it into print. It just looks ridiculous.
Perhaps Ms. Friedman (the non-“feminist” feminist) is cannily avoiding a term that carries a potent political and cultural charge, and plenty of undeserved negative baggage. She’s walking the walk very effectively, but maybe she figures that talking the talk would not be worth the headaches caused by the knee-jerk hostility with which the ignorant respond to “feminist.”
Is that right or wrong? I don’t know, but I can see how someone working in a business that relies heavily on image and reputation might make that choice.
Or in other words . . . “What LaSargenta said.” :-)
The crazy thing about what Naomi Wolf says about Sex and the City is that if she ever watched the series at all she would know that Carrie was living beyond her means. One of the things the show did that I’ve always liked was give Carrie a huge reality check when her building went co-op and she either needed to buy her apartment or move out. The writers made it clear that if Carrie had actually saved her money, instead of blowing on designer shoes, she could’ve bought her apartment easily without resorting to practically begging her friends for the money(which was what she did.)
So yeah, even Carrie couldn’t afford her own lifestyle until she married Big. Great message: Don’t worry ladies if you have money troubles. Just find a rich man and marry him!
As for Sonia Friedman it’s sad she felt like she has to say she’s not a feminist to not frighten the Hollywood menfolk. We’re in the second decade of the 21st century and it’s so depressing that we still have to deal with this bullshit.
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