Sex and the Real Nitty-Gritty : Is it Chic to Be Me?
A few weeks ago, armed with curiosity and a good dose of ennui, I picked up all of the episodes from the first season of Sex and the City at the video store. I don't own a broadcast television or cable, but I had heard endless snippets of conversation about the series and I was more than a little bit curious.
So, I watched them. I watched all of them over a two-day period, and thought I should probably hate them or think they were vapid, but I instead thought they were fabulous. I laughed a good deal. I recognized articles and ideas I'd written about myself. I spotted Dolce and Gabbana dresses form last year that I really liked, and Prada pieces I loathed. I recognized shades of lipstick I own. I got a bit catty about these things, and it's always nice to have an excuse to be catty about other people, especially when they're fictional and no one's feelings can get hurt. I got to watch a few hours of little spatterings of my life, take in some excellent screenwriting, acting and directing, and overall, it was a very girly good time.
However, the lingering feeling I was left with -- which disturbed me to no small end -- was this: is it now chic to be a sex writer? Is it really insanely cool to be... well, me? How could that have happened? And if that has happened, why aren't I on the side of a bus, and why the hell can't I walk in those cute little shoes?
Of course, it really isn't cool to be me, or most of the other sexuality writers and artists I know. Well, maybe it's cool, but very few people are going to let us into their homes without a metal detector. The main character in Sex and the City (based on Candace Bushnell's collection of her New York Observer columns which is FAR less nicey-nice and pretty), Carrie Bradshaw, does indeed write a column that is *basically* about sex. She likes mixed drinks and she smokes. She dresses in funky clothes, she likes designer shoes and she dons glittery makeup (though the artist on the set is a tad heavy-handed with the goo, if you ask me). Her bank balance is apparently not very pretty. She's my age, and she isn't hard on the eyes. She's a romantic. But the similarities end there.
Though Carrie does indeed write about sex, she has never seen nor used a vibrator until a few episodes in, and even then, she looks at it as if it had landed from another planet. I'm guessing that terms like "watersports," "fisting," and "paraphilias" would have her asking what other classes the gym was offering that week. She is glaringly heterosexual. Her bank balance may not be pretty, yet she appears to live on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and buy $500 shoes on a whim (then again, that may be why). The paper she writes for puts her picture on buses for what is only a weekly column. She has not done sex work. I don't know if she'd know what sex work is, as she has probably never met a hooker or a stripper. She is romantically and sexually naive to the point it is hard to fathom that she is as old as she is. She's almost TOO nice too look at, and is missing the inevitable extra five or ten pounds any professional writer ends up with from sitting down all day, no matter how much yoga we do. Plus, she's always nice. Always. The mainstream could not just like her, but they could actually love her like a sister. And they do.
And it is at that point it becomes clear, as it always does, that television is not real life. There are few general statements one can make about the whole of the world, but one I know to be true is that the world, my friends, does not embrace a tart, unless she isn't REALLY a tart, deep down inside.
Think about Shirley MacLaine. Shirley MacLaine (who, whatever you think of her spiritual beliefs aside, is one of the most talented performers of all time) launched her career by playing hookers. And the world ate it up with a super-sized spoon. Why, you ask? Because she always -- always -- played a freckle-faced hooker with a heart of gold. Because on one level or another, her being a hooker or a tart was accidental, or something from which she would undoubtedly escape when the right guy showed up, and he usually did (and the fact that he ran scared, and she was still smiling and salty in Sweet Charity, is what makes that the best of that genre). To carry that further, here's a thought (and a terrifying one at that): Pretty Woman made Julia Roberts a star. It surely was because the world LOVED the redeemed hooker ideal, because let me tell you, honey, it was not about writing, acting or how cute Richard Gere looks in a suit. The same goes with our heroine in Sex and the City. She knows enough to write what she's writing, but more times than not, she's living her subject matter vicariously rather than actually, and she doesn't know more about sex than anyone else, nor does she think it is any more okay than the next chick. She asks far more questions than she gives answers. In other words, she could still be rescued before it is too late. She's all heart and no hooker, and she couldn't scare the last living cockroach in a roach motel.
Here's the funny thing. There is a secondary character in the series, Samantha; a publicity agent who knows more about sex than all four of the main characters put together, including the sex writer. She is adventurous. She is lusty. She often flirts with the boundaries of good taste and tact, and more often leaps over them entirely with wild gusto. She is what my grandmother would call a "salty" woman, and I know because she has called me salty more than once, and she didn't mean it as a compliment, either. She's a sweetheart, but nobody's family is going to be happy to meet her, which is fine by her because she isn't interested in meeting anyone's family anyway. She can't be rescued, she's too far gone. She can't have a great awakening and discover her whole life has been about meaningless, shallow sexcapades because she likes who she is and has a great time. She's got a heart of gold, but it is most assuredly inside a lifelong mistress. A woman who says things like, "We're all alone, even when we're with men. My advice to you is to embrace that fact, slap on some armor, and go through life like I do, enjoying men!" is not up for the ingenue role in this lifetime or any other.
Samantha would look you dead in the eye no matter what freak of nature you were talking about. Carrie would blush, look lost and scrunch up her face a lot. Simply, Carrie, in a restaurant, would ask someone else what was good on the menu before ordering. Samantha would no doubt already be eating something before the waiter even got his sorry *** to the table, with no care whether what she was eating was dead yet or not.
Samantha should really be the sex writer. Better stated, Samantha, as prototype, IS the sex writer. Just not on television. I imagine a lot of people don't like her, or think she's tacky. I imagine that she scares the holy hell out of people with some regularity. I imagine that when your partner asks for anal sex and you're aghast, when you don't know if your vibrator is really waterproof or not, or when you find yourself having decidedly unheterosexual feelings out of the blue, you'd call this woman, not the other. There is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that she would agonize and angst over anything for no more than the millisecond it took her to pack a bag and move on. Samantha wouldn't be the sort of writer who makes editors insane by calling in every day to pitch yet another brilliant and half-formed idea, asking for input, but I've no doubt that Carrie would be, and as any of us in this line of work know that sort of writer has something in common with most writers: they're out of work.
But of course, Samantha couldn't be the sex writer or the main character. She knows what she is talking about. She isn't afraid of sex and all the trappings that come with it. She doesn't look like someone whose cheeks little old ladies would pinch and when it comes to sex, smart and saucy isn't sellable to the mainstream and the whole world can't love her. Watch her like a hawk and be fascinated, they will. Envy her, they might, but they'd never admit it. Embrace her and aspire to be her, they will not.
So, really, it isn't chic to be me. And that's not a bad thing. I don't like being the ingenue, and I look like a rabid Shar-Pei when I scrunch my face up. If Carrie wants to take my extra ten pounds, however, to lend some authenticity to the role, I'll gladly donate them. Sometimes -- and I often ignore this notion -- people really do need to have a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down. How can I complain about a lack of realism if the whole world is tuning in weekly to watch something that is about sex and women without being glib or destructive, and if that program can actually make people laugh about sex without feeling horrible about it? How could I complain about a show that is about women over 30, some of whom actually LOOK over 30, that doesn't insist they should all be married to some nice boy somewhere and live happily ever-after in Long Island? How could I rant about something being a little vapid and most assuredly light fare when I had such a great time watching it? And why on earth would I -- or anyone else for that matter -- want to watch me rattling a keyboard with my dog, ingesting coffee like the world was about to end while I tried to explain how to use a condom correctly for the five hundred and twenty-first time, even if I AM dressed well? How could anyone complain about that?
I know I can't. I think it is just divine (especially since I've just discovered last seasons shows were often directed by Allison Anders, who is easily my favorite female director around). I think for a change I owe television a great big thank you even though I don't like it enough to own one, and I'm allowed to say "Well, God feckin' bless America," for just once and mean it a little. If I'm lucky, my grandmother will hear me and stop calling me communist when she calls me "salty." But of course, I'd hate that, and I'd feel I'd lost something vital if she, or any other little old lady, suddenly felt more comfortable pinching my cheeks than she does with a few feet of distance between herself and my feather boa.
And I'm glad as hell that I don't own a television, because the truth of the matter is that I'd watch it religiously, and I'd enjoy myself while relishing the fact that it in fact ISN'T very chic to be me. If I had to choose a Sex and the City archetype to inhabit, I'd take Samantha any day, with one reservation.
I want to walk -- nay, sit -- in Carrie's cute little shoes.