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Monogamy & The City

So, I finally went to see Sex and The City 2 the other day. Which is a very rash thing to do. Particularly if you’re not a woman. Or a gay man with lots of gal pals to giggle with.

Almost everyone in the cinema auditorium was female. I was flanked on the left by a gran who tutted loudly at anything sexy – and on the right by a couple of bubbly 30-something women drinking chilled white wine out of plastic cups who laughed a bit too loudly at anything sexy. I didn’t know where to look and was having hot flushes. I don’t think I’ve been exposed to that much oestrogen since my amniotic fluid.

I blame my new American cyber-friend Caroline who suggested I should see it. I think she’s generously trying to educate me about women. To the fact that they exist. And the English film critic Mark Kermode absolutely insisted that I go along. OK, he pretended he was telling everyone not to see it – but his passionate rant against it of course had the opposite effect. And his loud complaint that “These aren’t women!! they’re men in drag!!” clinched it for me.

As a film it wasn’t quite as boring, pointless and silly as, say, Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood – a film which tries so hard to be taken seriously you just want to roll your eyes. Yes, SATC2 was a riot of bad taste – I mean, Liza and Abu Dhabi in one movie? And yes, the treatment of culture and class was equally tasteless: beneath every burqa is a New York princess just bursting to get out, and how does anyone cope without a nanny?? But like Liza and Abu Dhabi, so off the scale as to make it impossible to take seriously.

And unlike Robin Hood, I did care about the people in this film and was quite taken with their naked superficiality. Not a lot, but just enough to take my mind off how much my knees were hurting in my cramped cinema seat after two hours of tipsy heart-to-hearts.

However, Kermode’s first advertisement for the film – “these aren’t women! they’re men in drag!” is very wide of the mark indeed. As well as the worst critical cliche about SATC. What kind of drag queens, I wonder, has Mr Kermode been hanging out with? He really needs to find an edgier bunch. Ones not nearly so obsessed with marriage and husbands and kids and nannies.

And in fact, the movie, which begins with a (very) gay marriage, goes to great lengths to distinguish gay men and straight women’s attitudes towards relationships and marriage, in a way which almost daringly goes against the grain of current liberal platitudes that gay relationships are ‘just the same’ as straight ones.

The gay couple getting hitched are quite sanguine about the prospect of ‘infidelity’, to the evident shock of the hetero couples. One of them is something of a reluctant groom: “He gets his marriage and I get to cheat!” His more traditionalist partner doesn’t seem to mind the prospect: “He’s only allowed to cheat in the forty-five states where gay marriage isn’t recognised.” (Which would include, I think, New York.)

Now, I realise that some gays will object that the gay couple getting hitched are a ‘stereotype’. Certainly, their wedding is an all-singing all-dancing stereotype. And they themselves are a stereotype of hag faggery – plain-looking nellies who haven’t been invited to the circuit party: “The music stopped, and they were left with one another.”

But SATC deals in stereotypes. Stereotypes and aspiration (aspiration is almost impossible without stereotypes). Each of the female characters is clearly a stereotype. And whilst of course many gay male couples have open relationships, not even the most doctrinaire gay marriage zealot could deny that they are much more prevalent in long-term gay male relationships than hetero ones (about 50% of male-male couples have open relationships according to this survey).

If there is one thing that is definitely not up for grabs for the women in a movie asking for much of its two long hours ‘what makes a marriage?’, as they try and adapt wedlock and family to their needs (and whims), it’s sex outside marriage. This also applies to their husbands. “Marriage is marriage” says one of the straight people attending the gay wedding, offended by the laissez faire attitude of the gay newly-weds. Meaning of course: marriage is monogamy. Or, perhaps, if need be, celibacy.

This is even the case for the central relationship of Mr Big and Carrie, who take on the some of the stigma of a same sex couple since they have resolved not to have any kids – and are scorned for their selfishness by other married hetero couples. “So, it’s just going to be you two, alone, forever?” “Yep.” The disapproval and disgust of the ‘breeders’ is palpable.

They even try living separately for a few days a week, which is a strategy of some same sex couples – that can afford it. But the possibility of an open relationship is never even broached. And the big plot point of the whole movie (spoiler alert) revolves around Carrie just kissing another man – and regretting it, terribly.

Now, I doubt whether SATC 2 accurately depicts the sexual realities – and experimentations and frailties – of modern married male-female couples. It’s definitely not a cutting-edge movie, or terribly realistic – shouldn’t at least half of them be divorced by now? Or have just remained unmarried because they don’t want to get divorced? And (singly single) Samantha’s role here does seem to be to embody sluttiness, panties literally around her ankles, so that none of the other women have to.

But I think it’s fairly safe, even for someone as ignorant of women and relationships as me, to say that SATC 2 more or less accurately depicts the Saturday Night aspiration – or necessary illusion – of marriage.

That you have found The One. And Only. Forever.

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9 thoughts on “Monogamy & The City”

  1. Uroskin :from America, you’re totally right on. Mark S :Since I would feel vaquely like sniffing womens underwear going to that, I’ll have to trust your judgement.

  2. I haven’t seen the movie (and am not planning to) but it sounds like a metaphor of the American gay community waiting, searching, longing, aspiring to marriage, with a few sluts, who can’t be bothered, left standing.

  3. Ahem, to redeem myself: I said it’s pretty bad, but worth seeing so that we could write about it.
    –from the kind of woman who would definitely tote wine into theater and laugh too loudly next to frightened cultural commentator Simpson (but he would kind of like it in the end). Don’t worry, now you can cyber-giggle at the lady stuff along with me, your new cyber-lady friend.
    giggle giggle

  4. Any grown man who ranks ‘The Exorcist’ and ‘Shawshank Redemption’ as their favourite films is really still a twelve year old boy. (So am I, of course, but I have better taste.)

  5. Oh, please don’t get me wrong: the women need no defence whatsoever. I was being a tad tongue in cheek about being annoyed – if anything, I enjoyed the film more because of that sense of audience participation. It was an ‘event’ in a way most films aren’t these days. And I also suspect that Kermode’s real problem with the film isn’t its politics, sexual or otherwise, but the fact that it’s a woman’s film. Of course, it’s my problem too – but I’m working on it. I think.

  6. I certainly plan to become a prudish old prune after my menopause. I’ve got all the membership forms ready. What was it Oscar said? ‘A moralist is someone who lectures on the evils of vices of which he has grown tired.’

  7. Yes, the ‘these aren’t real women – these are drag queens!’ crie de coeur probably says more about his lack of knowledge of the fairer sex than of trannies. Or maybe it was just wishful thinking.

    You’re right as well that the producers of this show decided that because of the age of their female stars’ vaginas and because it was now ‘Saturday Night at the Movies’, we had to join in with the shmaltzy make-believe that everyone gets married and lives (sort of) happilly ever after. Except Samantha.

    Then again, by doing it this way they manage to leave the door open for SATC3: Divorce.

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