Friday, February 25, 2011

Sex and the City

I apologize for writing about another book by Candace Bushnell, but this one, which I read - more accurately, endured - a few months ago really deserves a mention, if only because it is, to my knowledge, unique.

Let's backtrack a moment.  Anyone who's ever had a favorite book adapted into a visual medium can attest that it's rarely an improvement.  About the best one can hope for is that the movie, TV show, or miniseries in question will be as enjoyable as the book; often the results are mediocre, and almost as often, disastrous*.  Sex and the City is the one true exception I've found to this rule.  I'm guessing that the world's die-hard fans of the Sex and the City TV show and/or movies aren't going to be reading this blog in great numbers, for demographic reasons it would be pointless to attempt to analyze.  I'm assuming, though, that most of my readers will have at least seen an episode or two of the show, if only because it's always on around one in the morning when the only other choices are infomercials.

So think about the show.  Think about its glib, glossy writing; its shallow, morally bankrupt characters; its meaningless (I think they were meant to be deep, or at least insightful) meditations on subjects ranging from the tragedy of being ten years older than women with perkier breasts to the best way to have casual oral sex in your office with the UPS delivery guy without being caught by someone who might, you know, expect you to be working.  Or doing something less completely gross, take your pick.

Got those charming images fixed in your mind?  Now the kicker: compared to the book, the TV show was appealing, thoughtful, tasteful, and intellectual.  Really.  Anyone who thinks that the TV show's attitude towards women is empowering in some way**, and that this translated from the book, should check out this short excerpt***:

Friday night.  Skipper Johnson drives out to Southampton, where he has arranged to meet friends at Basilico: four women, all in their late twenties, who work at Ralph Lauren, and who, to the naked eye, are indistinguishable from one another.  Skipper finds their bland prettiness comforting, as well as the fact that there's a small herd of them.  It means that he doesn't have the burden of trying to keep one of them entertained for the evening.


To get the most out of this brief excerpt, which is, I assure you, if anything less offensive than most of the book, I will turn to some of the close reading skills I honed in my high school and college poetry classes.  Let's all mentally travel back to some distant classroom, everyone, and see what the above really has to say for itself.

"friends": This usage accords well with the general meaning of this word in the book Sex and the City.  It does not imply respect, affection, or even a modicum of positive feeling that goes beyond the sexual or utilitarian.  (Can/will this person have casual sex with me in the next five minutes?  Can I somehow become more famous or make money because I know them?)

"four women, all in their late twenties": The show does carry this particular prevailing attitude through from the book quite well.  The characters, who are in their mid to late thirties, unmarried, and clearly feeling pretty insecure about it despite their posturing, leave no stone unturned in the quest to mock or belittle younger women.  The characters - in both the book and the show but more so in the book - are portrayed as believing that it's bizarre and inexplicable why men would prefer bouncier busts and better attitudes than theirs.  News flash: the average man, given a choice between a shallow, vapid, bitchy woman pushing 40 and a shallow, vapid, slightly less bitchy woman in her twenties will choose the almost equally unappealing but hotter version.  Every time.

"indistinguishable from one another": Same deal.  The possible argument that the (female) narrator is just trying to satirize the attitudes of the man in question falls down when you compare the tone of this section to the tone when the narrator is seeing the world from her own perspective alone.

"bland prettiness": Translation: they lack character and intellectual weight compared to women in their late thirties (like the narrator, natch), but they're pretty - which is enough reason to dislike them in and of itself for a woman who views all other women as rivals and enemies.

"a small herd": This one is too easy.  Young women = cattle, with all that implies.  Moving on.

"the burden": God, it's so much effort to actually engage a woman for a couple of hours.  Why can't they just put out without the trouble of conversation, like the women in their thirties do?  Also, note the repeated implication that it doesn't matter, to Skipper, to the women, or to any observer, which of them he has sex with at the end of the night.

In conclusion: the names of many of the characters, and their general milieu, were drawn from the book, along with several extremely unpleasant general attitudes.  But the show's creators added a storyline (the book's even more episodic than a TV series is by nature), the strong female friendships which are most touted by fans, and anything that anyone might find appealing about anyone in the show, ever.  Despite her persistent narcissism and lack of values, the TV show's Carrie does display some affection for her friends and some capacity for romantic love.  This is not drawn from the book.

As the observant reader will have already noted, the excerpt above is in the present tense, as are significant other portions of the book.  I would have given Sex and the City half a star for style and for its general lack of anything approaching content or meaning.  One quarter of a star is all that's left after adjusting for verb tenses.

* All three films in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, case in point.  Anyone who wants to argue this, you'd better have read the books at least two dozen times, and be prepared - not just willing, but prepared - to discuss every detail of every plot line and character, every casting choice, all major and minor themes, and the amount of grease someone strangely chose to put on Viggo Mortensen's hair.  Seriously, you could deep-fry a chicken on his head.

** Do I really need to say anything here?  Is there someone who truly thinks that a woman who gets down on her knees and gives, ahem, oral pleasure to random strangers in her place of work - or anywhere, for that matter - is an empowering female role model?  Anyone?  Bueller?

*** Warner Books, 2001, pages 97-98; this edition.

Further reading: another take on Sex and the City, which is at least as funny as anything ever published by The Onion, only British and even more tasteless.

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