05.31.10

Why We Despise Sex and the City

The backlash against SATC2 was evident in its overly vicious reviews last week—Choire Sicha says misplaced money rage has caused us wrongly to turn against Carrie and the gang.

There are 18,513,000 never-married working women in the United States. The number of women who work "outside the home," as they used to say, has nearly">nearly doubled since 1970. And, geographically speaking, an outlandish percentage of all these single ladies are among the 1.6 million residents of Manhattan.

In large part because of these women, Sex and the City, from its original incarnation in Candace Bushnell’s New York Observer column through its run as a beloved HBO series to the big-budget films of today, has sought to make sense of the ever-more-strange places we human animals find ourselves.

Luxury is tainted. Luxury is for evil and rich people and we hate them! Unless they’re on the cover of Us Weekly? Oh it’s so hard to keep our feelings straight!

If that sounds overstated, just think of your grandmothers and your mothers. It was an eyeblink ago that that divorcées were shunned, that contraception within marriage was often considered reprehensible. No one has ever lived the way that we do now.

Sex and the City 2 begins with a radical proposition: What if marriage, that most aged and constant of our institutions, could now be anything that two people agreed upon? In principle, this sounds fantastic. In practice, as many of us know, it can be a huge emotional and social mess.

And so even our four heroine-libertines are shocked when the gay spouses at the wedding that begins the film announce, with good humor, that institutionalized infidelity is part of their agreement of what marriage is.

Even the haters must admit this is a radical opening gambit for a pop-culture film.

Writer/director Michael Patrick King: Can a Straight Man Love SATC?And haters there were. The last week has been a bloodsport of who can most thoroughly trash the film. It really doesn't take too much to dismiss it—the film has huge weak points, a bloated middle section and there are even pronounced character inconsistencies. (When did Miranda start having trouble with men at work, where she couldn't break them? When did Charlotte start letting the help do everything for her? When did Carrie stop going out at night, for Pete's sake!)

But our current fervid post-boom angst and rage has fueled most of the bad reviews. It's of a similar strain to the anti-Wall Street emotion gripping the country: These are rich people and they are terrible.

It used to be that we loved rich people; then recently we came to find them distasteful, or at least wasteful. And now America burns with a weird, left- and right-wing resentment. It's been a long time since our country has been angry enough to come close to redistributing the wealth.

It is true, in my experience, that a surprising number of rich people are actually fairly terrible (and spoiled and short-sighted and ugly on the inside). But the four rich women of Sex and the City are of a different ilk. They love clothing, each other, homosexuals, intercourse, and their feelings, in that order. Have we forgotten that these are fantastic qualities? Apparently so, because that is what is now being used to trash them.

"They dress like total maniacs," wrote a columnist on io9, while making the semi-satirical case that Sex and the City 2 is a sci-fi movie.

Well, sure, if you've never been to or wanted to go to a fashion show. This weird anti-fashion line crops up again and again in the reviews—which actually is pretty mean-spirited. After all, the fashion world—that strange meetingplace of commerce and high art—is in a crisis. Just before the film opened, Bottega Veneta closed down their roomy Fifth Avenue store for a private customers’ sale—to offer discounted spring/summer items, even though it isn't summer yet. Disaster. Drowning couture creator Christian Lacroix is selling his ties on 57th Street, at a discount that makes them cheaper than some sad little neck-rag from Brooks Brothers.

One has to think about what one is really saying when one snidely dismisses women who are interested in fashion. To take that position right now means one is saying one wants to live in a barbaric, ugly world where every designer is done for.

There is, similar to the anger at the clothing the women dare to wear, an antipathy toward glamour.

"Anyone who was offended by the 'materialism' lives in Brooklyn," wrote my friend—and a Daily Beast contributor— Natasha Vargas-Cooper in an email. "I saw the movie on a Sunday in a packed theater full of women in Woodland Hills who swooned and sighed and it was lots of fun."

She continued, ”The unapologetic embrace of luxury has always been part of the franchise."

But, now luxury is tainted. Luxury is for evil and rich people and we hate them! Unless they're on the cover of Us Weekly? Oh it's so hard to keep our feelings straight!

It's also amazing that this dressed-up baby is getting thrown out with its bergamot-scented bathwater.

One thing both fans and the outraged can agree upon: The movie comes to a standstill in Abu Dhabi and there's a rapturous 20-minute tour of a hotel, followed by some wan karaoke. "I can't possibly hope to defend what happens when the ladies travel to Abu Dhabi," wrote my pal Sara Vilkomerson in an email; she's the culture editor of The New York Observer. She agrees that the film spins into "ludicrous lunacy" there.

But? There's so much else that's important in the film: Like, what is happiness? How should marriages exist now?

Sara wrote to me: “So here's Carrie, who we've watched pine for this guy season after season (after season), finally marry him and you know what? Things aren't perfect!”

And: “Relationships are HARD—isn't that what the whole series was trying to get at, anyway? Just because you 'get' this thing (for Charlotte it was motherhood, you could argue for Miranda it was success at her law firm, and for Samantha, I guess it was sexual freedom) that you've been craving your whole life doesn't mean that you will always be happy every single day with it or don't need to keep working on it."

What gets overlooked in the piling on of the movie are these arguments about how we conduct ourselves with each other; where our freedoms now begin and our responsibilities begin. These are questions that could not be more germane to the generation of college-educated 25-year-olds, so many of who are living at home with their parents, waiting for their adult lives to begin.

Even more important, the movie provides a first-wave feminism flashback the likes of which we haven't seen anywhere. Charlotte and Miranda, getting drunk, and telling the socially unutterable truth about how they sometimes hate their children? Hello, it's a much-needed refresher course straight from 1971.

I asked Andy Cohen—Bravo executive/host and Friend of Sarah Jessica Parker, and defender of Sarah Jessica Parker—what he thinks about all the spite. "Given the amount of actually stupid/ridiculous movies that come out every year, I was amazed by the degree of vitriol leveled at a good one (of very few) that celebrates women," he wrote to me through Facebook.

It is pretty amazing. But then, some topics—fashion and morals and rights and responsibilities and sex with strangers on the beach, that great American pastime—still make people pretty uncomfortable.

The Memorial Day opening weekend preliminary estimates had Sex and the City 2 making $75 million, two-thirds of that in the U.S.—already almost earning back its (rather outrageous) $80 million-to-$100 million budget. The movie made almost $15 million on Thursday alone. The first movie, exactly two years ago, cost $65 million and, despite its immense second-weekend dropoff, went on to make $415 million worldwide.

That's at least enough box office for now-rich actress and producer Sarah Jessica Parker to have made even more money, if you can live with that! And if you can't, she lives in the West Village when she's not in the Hamptons, and if you stand outside her house and yell, she'd probably give you your money back. Try that with AIG.

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Choire Sicha is co-proprietor of The Awl and is at work on a nonfiction book for HarperStudio.