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Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

Sex and the Shallow Depiction of Women


Sex and the City is one of the great disappointments for me. I’m referring not to the TV show or the movie, but the franchise as a whole – taken as one complete story. Disappointment only comes when there is the promise of something greater and the first few seasons of Sex and the City promised something wonderful, incisive, hilarious and poignant. I am an unabashed fan and admirer of the show, especially since it helped me gains some insight into the female psyche through my formative years.

As I was becoming sexually active, here was a show that proudly featured women not as sex objects, but as people with sexual wants and needs. More than that, the four main characters were single women in their mid-thirties who were – more or less – happy and proud of that fact. It was a show that boldly stated that strong, independent women exist and that they don’t need a man to prove their worth; hell, they were worth more than most men. And yes, women could be perpetual bachelorettes and be content with their lives thank you very much.

That is, until the show completely forgot its original mission statement and paired off all the central characters with their dream men. I’ve seen every single episode of the show multiple times (and I won’t pretend like it was just because I was “forced” to by some girl, I actually watched them on my own repeated times), so this is an informed opinion I assure you. What started off as a narrative about the freeing power of being by yourself (with the help of your equally independent friends), became a show that ends with all four of our heroines in lasting, committed relationships. It seemed like the creators forgot that the real happy ending would not be to have all the characters leaning on their men, but leaning on one another.

This, of course, was the least of the problems with the end of the series. The bigger problem is that the characters became exaggerated versions of themselves. Watch the first season of the show and you’ll notice that, despite the outlandish situations, these women all seem real and complete. But then as the show goes on into its later seasons, each of the characters becomes an embodiment of a certain stereotype of women and plays to only one emotion or character trait. So, Carrie becomes obsessed solely with shoes (and clothes) and is playing the “materialist”, Samantha makes everything about sex and is therefore the “slut”, Charlotte is the “prude,” and Miranda is the cynical “careerist.” If you watch the later seasons of the show, it seems like the writers lost the voices of the characters; basically, they all sound exactly the same except if you were writing for Carrie, you’d insert the word “shoes” in there somewhere or if you’re writing for Samantha, then you throw the word “vibrator” or “anal” in there. And instead of sounding and acting like women, they act and sound more like wealthy, stylish gay men.

It may have started off as a more reality-based show, but it became a fantasy about not only being in love, but about being rich. Yes, rich. This was never a show about class issues, it was about how these are four successful women who get by on their own and the different varieties of men that they met. Yet, isn’t it funny how three of the four women wind up with men who are more wealthy than them, therefore in a greater position of power? Carrie winds up with Mr. Big, a Donald Trumpish business man (this is after she dates a novelist, a world-renowned artist and a well-to-do furniture maker), Samantha winds up with Smith (just an actor when they met, but he eventually becomes a movie star), and Charlotte winds up with Harry the powerful and wealthy attorney. Even Steve, Miranda’s husband, is not just a bartender by the end of the show, but a bar owner. Would it be that terrible for all four women to be in a financially more powerful position than the men they wind up with? Wouldn’t that speak more to the original intent of the show?

Still, despite everyone getting the traditional happy endings (the show having become like a really long romantic comedy), they decided to forge ahead with a movie. I had a lot of trepidation about the movie, wondering how the characters would translate to the screen, but more curious about how there would be a movie. They gave everybody a happy ending, so to make the movie, I knew they would have to create different crises to shake up that happy ending just so they could give all the characters a different happy ending.

And how did they shake things up? Well, they had Big leave Carrie at the altar, only to change his mind five minutes later, but by then she’s so upset and humiliated she leaves. Then they don’t talk for a while, which is pretty ridiculous since I think I’d want to have a conversation with a person who left me at the altar, but okay. Then they did one of the most unforgivable things: they had Steve cheat on Miranda. I’m sorry, but anyone who has ever watched the show would know that the character of Steve would never, ever do that. They had built Steve up throughout his seasons on the show as someone who just out and out worshipped Miranda. He loved her so fully and truly that I just don’t buy that he would cheat on her, it’s not in the character that they created. And that was one of my biggest fears realized: that they would forgot about the characters they created and worry about the contrivances of the plot. Also, Samantha and Smith inexplicably break up by the end of the movie.

The movie did such a swift job of ruining so much of what had come before. The characters didn’t talk like people, but instead like caricatures. Charlotte screams at the top of her lungs about fifty times too many; they have Samantha “returning” from LA every five minutes to the screams and gasps of her girlfriends who seem to see Samantha just as regularly as they did; and Carrie tries on wedding dresses for ten minutes with a voiceover instructing us which designers are responsible for the dress, like the most expensive commercial for wedding dresses. Miranda was always my favorite character, the one who is most consistently real from the beginning of the series to the end of the first movie (in large part thanks to Cynthia Nixon’s acting), but her forgiving Steve also didn’t strike me as something in her nature.

Look, real people have foibles and idiosyncrasies and sometimes they do things that are out of character. But when you’ve spent six seasons building characters, the audience eventually gets to the point where they understand them enough to know how they’re going to react. Or at least, that’s what it should be. That doesn’t make it predictable, it makes it comforting, it makes it feel like we know these people. Look at Lost, for example, it’s a show that is unbelievably unpredictable, but if you tell me a scenario and say that Kate is in that scenario, I have a pretty good idea of what she’ll do. And it should be the same for the characters of Sex and the City, but their voices are now hollow and they move where the writers want them to move instead of organically.

It also doesn’t help that over the course of the show, the main heroine becomes more and more unlikable. Carrie is not a nice person. She is one of the most self-involved and uncaring people in the history of television by the time the series ends. She cares solely about her issues despite whatever is going on in her friends’ lives. Watch the episode where Charlotte gets engaged and Carrie gets dumped by Jack Berger when he leaves a post-it note. Charlotte is happy that she’s engaged and she’s discussing it, but Carrie makes it about the fact that she’s broken up with the umpteenth boyfriend. I’m gonna go ahead and say that Charlotte’s got the more interesting story there.

All of this is my way of saying that Sex and the City 2 looks awful. Part of why it looks awful is the fact that removing the “city” from the narrative is a terrible idea. The fifth main character in the show was New York City and to take the girls and have them go to Abu Dhabi is just idiotic. Nobody wants to see the Sex and the City girls remake Ishtar, but more than that, it reeks of “I don’t know what to do with them.” The first movie was so successful that a sequel had to be made, despite the fact that the characters have reached a dead end.

There is nowhere to go with these ladies that we haven’t gone before. Just putting them in a different city or a different country and bringing back old problems (like Aidan for Carrie) doesn’t mean the characters are actually pushing forward and growing and changing. Nothing has changed with these women for a long time and nothing will. Now it’s just an event for people to go to the movie theater and see what Carrie is wearing. These great characters have been reduced to little more than mannequins, the narrative nothing more than an elaborate red carpet show.

I’ll always remember the show fondly, despite my issues with it. I think overall there was more good than bad contained in its episodes. But its original mission statement has long since been forgotten, it’s not longer a show about real independent women. Instead it’s a show that reinforces what romantic comedies have taught us for years: ladies, without a man in your life, you’ve got nothing and you’ll be unhappy.

I hope I’m proven wrong, but this story has been derailing for a while now. What upsets me most is that I know so many people are going to show up to cheer on the train wreck.

Noah Forrest
May 24, 2010

Noah Forrest is a 26-year-old aspiring writer/filmmaker in New York City.

The opinions expressed in these columns are the writer’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Movie City News or any of its editors or other contributors.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon