Sunday, June 1, 2008
This isn’t the first time that a thirtysomething (or older), attractive, stylish, successful, single-and-looking, fictional female has terrified people with the notion that not every woman is mating and mothering according to social expectations. Some of you SATC fans might not remember the show Ally McBeal, which started airing in 1997, just a year before SATC. The show didn’t have the lasting impact of SATC, but for a while, it was notorious indeed, not just for miniskirted star Calista Flockhart’s increasingly twig-like physique but for reactions like Time Magazine’s 1998 cover story, which showed Flockhart’s face over the caption: “Is Feminism Dead?”
The very notion that a fictional character can somehow set the women’s movement back decades is sexist itself and condescending in the extreme. The attitude is, “We’re just concerned about YOU, dearies” with the implication that women can’t tell fact from fiction. Why does every modern, urban, single woman on TV or in film have to be a mistake-proof role model? The concept of the “model minority” character annoys me in other cases as well. A (black) friend recently told me that she thought Flava Flav set black people back decades. WTF? First of all, most of the world doesn’t know who he is. Secondly, it’s flat-out ridiculous that any individual can single-handedly roll back the progress of the last century; only already-prejudiced and uneducated people believe that an individual represents an entire race, nationality, religion or gender. No one in a free society should have to organize his or her life — or even TV show — around the insecurities of the bigoted. If you can make a good living wearing Viking helmets and big clocks, I fail to see how that hurts anyone else.
After all, white men can take credit for Adolf Hitler, Charles Manson and both George Bushes, but no one says those fellows set white men back centuries. As far as the entertainment world goes, white guys have played the wife-threatening Ralph Kramden and the idiotic Three Stooges. Groucho Marx created a lecherous but somehow adorable persona. In this decade, Hollywood exalts the undeserving and inept slob with the much more attractive female partner (it’s always best to write from your own experience, right, boys?). Everybody Loves Raymond and The King of Queens have thankfully ended their television runs, but According to Jim still sullies the airwaves (interestingly, the show’s own website calls the character an “Everyman” and points out his “boyish bravado” aka immaturity). In the movies, Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen have created an oeuvre devoted to the doofus who is either single-mindedly looking for sex or trying to get out of the consequences of having had sex. How are any of these characters less self-involved than the SATC ladies? Oh wait! It doesn’t matter. Only women have to be selfless mommies; men are allowed to be stubborn, macho AND charming.
Men are also allowed to be unattractive. They don’t even have to TRY to look decent with whatever is within their control. It’s okay to have a beer gut, a bad shave and a smelly t-shirt. But God forbid a woman combines a less-than-Barbie-like appearance with a less-than-Mother-Teresa-like personality and is still portrayed as desirable. (It’s okay to be uglified if you have a heart of gold and don’t have too much sex.) I’m truly tired of the abuse heaped on Sarah Jessica Parker for her face. She was born with that face! I think it’s great that she became successful without remaking her nose, shaving her chin down and getting cheek implants. Charisma, personal style, talent and (even if you disagree with talent) great taste in choosing projects go a long way towards making someone lovely.
Interestingly, Parker first came to TV viewers’ attention playing the nerd with a heart of gold on the 1982 show Square Pegs. That’s the Ugly Betty syndrome. The non-Barbie is acceptable as long as she knows her place. Just don’t let her become a big star with an amazing wardrobe. Now she’s stepped out of bounds! How dare she get above herself!
Incidentally, I did see SATC The Movie last night because MrB wanted to. There were plenty of other men in the audience, despite the many stories I read about how no man would be caught dead in an SATC theater. I didn’t think the movie compared to the TV series at all. In my opinion, the writing was labored, the product placement was terribly heavy-handed, there were many scenes that went nowhere and everyone seemed to be trying too hard to live up to what they had created. On the other hand, there were some genuinely emotional moments and the four women had the excellent on-screen chemistry they always had. I think it was that chemistry that made the show such a success in the first place and I totally enjoyed it in the movie.
On a totally different note, the guy who complains about his psychologist’s cleavage in this story about how SATC has turned women into fashion sluts obviously has mommy issues. I’m sorry you weren’t breastfed, dude. Now get over it!