Tuesday, April 04, 2006

alternatively, i could use my brain to derrida goethe, but this is so much more fun

Skimming through Gawker the other evening, feet up on the coffee table, glass (bottle) of vinho verde in hand, doing my nightly keep touch with new york trifecta of the Times, Gawker, and Curbed. Gawker has begun to grate on me of late, as Coen and co. become increasingly shrill in their defense of the site's ongoing commercialism - but I digress. It is still a convienent link summary of where and what has happened in the past few days to my beloved home.

Stumbled across this link out to a girl complaining about the inevitable character comparisons to Sex in the City, and of course, as the often called Miranda myself, was curious. She makes some salient points about the irritating vapidity of the show, and I passed it on to my fellow pseudo-pretentious lit-snob best friend who just happens to share with one of the characters on the series a love for writing, an air of perpetual personal déshabillé, and a petit blonde frame. As we debated the merits of the series, the clichéd ending, and the irritation of watching grown women whine, it occured to me that from our cultural perch two years on, perhaps the show wasn't as mortifying as it seems now.

To wit, as I wrote to my stylish litzeitgeist friend, the foil to my redheaded gravity:

"Yeah, now I feel a bit silly about emulating these vapid characters. But
the girl sort of misses the point -- they weren't meant to be entire
character studies, they were meant to be gross exaggerations of our many varied nuances.

She's right in condeming the absurdity of women aspiring to these flat
archetypes, and shes dead-on in mocking our self-imposed
comparmentalization into characters, but I think that to entirely write off
the series is a bit grand. It forgets that the images we had of women on
the screen previously rang false as well- A the wise and forgiving mother
(Mrs. Banks of Fresh Prince), the exasperated and smarter, yet curiously
patient wife (Ms. Allen, of Home Improvement), the bossy businesswoman (Murphy Brown), sexless workaholics (Law and Order, ER) a raving bitch (Brenda of 90210, all the women of Melrose Place) the neurotic guys gal (Ros of Fraiser and Elaine of Seinfeld), the vapid beauty (Wings, Cheers, etc.), the eternally single creative New Yorker (Will and Grace) or the relationship obsessed singletons (the girls of Friends). It's been said before, but it bears repeating. the interesting characters we see now on television - the Grey's Anatomy girls, the Housewives spring to mind - are all far more demanding of their lives, jobs, partners, etc. and far less likely to exist as foils to a single issue.

As cliched as the SITC girls now seem, their humanity didn't come from
their juxtasposition against men, it came from their need of each other.
Men were merely the context against which the personas could interact and challenge each other- a decision I feel was perhaps just the most expedient. It can almost be seen as a personality writ large - the directions of our nature which call us to do different things at different times, those four or more subegos that we alternatively let lead us along if we let the Samantha in us be stronger today, where will it put the Carrie tomorrow? Lord knows my Miranda and my Charlotte do epic battles nightly over here. Darren Star even began with this a bit, using Carrie's column as the cohesive element, writing about her friends as ways of exploring various different approaches to life. Unfortunately and fortunately, I think as the show progressed, the initial expository element was toned down. (Good in that it was so forced in the early episodes, bad in that we became used to thinking of each character as the embodiment of a real individual.)

And if nothing else, I laud the show for giving us a shorthand for contradictory impulses and desires, without being judgemental. Certianly, Samantha now seems 'tragic' and okay, her life was a bit cheap. Carrie is ridiculous, and Charlotte would be insufferable (yeah, Miranda would be tolerable, she was the most real.) But you and I can now express our needs to be these persons without thinking of them as tawdry impulses. While the characters were necessarily larger than life and excessive in their behavior, they also de-stigmatised certain behaviors by providing alternative labels, ones that provide additional room for accomplishments. Now a girl who sleeps around doesn't have to be strictly a 'slut', she can be Samantha, which allows a range of other personal characteristics that are not obliterated by the word most commonly used before - driven, successful, demanding - in all aspects of life. ;) It removes passivity because each of these characters (with the exception of maybe Carrie, who seemed driven like the snow - with the wind) were adamantly what they were. For the first time, a girl could want to be a mom on the Upper East Side, and be unabashed about it. She had purchase, grit, and a goal.

That I respect, even if the superficial aspects of the show - the brunches, the shoes, the apartments - detracted from the fundamental accomplishment of providing women with agency. And even that consumerist lifestyle was a bit over the top, lets face it, so was the decade it represents. It was a period where life was a bit absurd itself, where maybe we didn't have to worry about oil running out, or global warming sending a hurricane through our backyard. Even the tragedies of the day- 9/11, et. al - could be seen as heroic, ennobling, man as triumphant. Now it is as though we all live in a Dada painting - an absurdist horror of meaningless symbols imbued with our reflected fears.

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