Sunday, November 29, 2009

#34 - Sex & The City/Desperate Housewives

It was the decade when...

Feminism officially died.

What's is so fucking great about Manolo Blahniks? Will someone explain this to me? I may be gay, but the shoe fetish gene was left off this particular homo's chromosome. For all six season of HBO's massive hit comedy Sex and the City its fashion obsessed heroines discussed, fantasized and worshiped the exclusive footwear label in terms so rapturous that short of inducing an orgasm upon slipping on a pair (The "thwunk" sound you hear is Michael Patrick King smacking his hand to his head saying, "Why didn't I think of that?") it was hard to fathom what the fuss was all about. Of course, one could ask the same question about Sex and the City? What was the fuss all about? A weekly chatterfest about four gay men single women, all in their thirties, gallivanting around the Big Apple on the hunt for cock, cosmos and couture, sustained by what could have only be Madoff size bank accounts, (How else are they to afford their Imelda Marcos sized closets to store their incessant parade of big-label apparel?) Sex and the City was, one can safely assume, difficult to relate to for most women. So why? Why did this often shallow and periodically vulgar cosmo-quiz of a show become a major cultural landmark in the Aughts? Why did women and the men who did thier hair keep watching and dissecting Sex with such fervent enthusiasm?

Sex and The City was first-class escapism of the most ingenious sort. Its women were liberated and modern, sexually open (Had a women ever discussed the taste of "spunk" before on television?) and libidinally ripe. Piggybacking off of the hard won battles for women's lib in decades past, the Sex and the City girls were a new archetype for the gender; neither wives nor whores, these were power-girls: self-sufficient, financially independent, sexually satisfied (or admittedly insatiable) and really, really HOT goddamn it! The kind of women other members of the sex might pretend or wish to be. But underneath the Donna Karan skirts and horseshoe necklaces were women so old fashioned as to make Mary Tyler Moore look like Gloria Steinem. Obsessed with men - dating them, screwing them, analyzing them and, above all, marrying them - these women, particularly the series' perpetually lovelorn narrator Carrie Bradshaw, were as concerned with finding a mate as any in a William Inge play. Hardly career obsessed, for the Sex and the City gang work exists only as a backdrop to explain (unconvincingly) the deep pockets in them Prada pants. Carrie, already clearly raking it in as a lifestyle columnist and freelance writer (first a suspension and then a total expulsion of disbelief), nonetheless selects for her on again off again paramour an even wealthier master of the universe called Mr. Big, reinforcing the dream of Cinderellas everywhere that a rich man will, in the end, be your prince charming, generic name included.

And so it was, by the time the series finale had the girls sipping what we had hoped would be their last $20 cosmopolitans, all four of our protagonists were either married or coupled; even the sexually voracious and commitment phobic Samantha has settled down with the (or at least a) man of her dreams. Even The Golden Girls had the good sense to keep Blanche single! Really girls? You all need a man to have a happy ending? Can't we have an finale a little less retrograde?

Speaking of retrograde, another program this decade focused on the trials and tribulations of four gay men attractive thirty (ok, forty) something women. Deeply silly and relentlessly un-PC Desperate Housewives was a trashy, sassy, all too silly Sex and the City meets Dynasty hybrid, a prime-time soap opera with a catty cast of just-this-side-of-young knockouts. Unlike City's single-but-looking characters, the women of desperate housewives are, as the title suggests, already defined by their men. Taking place in one of those nebulous could-be-anywhere-but-always-wealthy suburbs that overpopulate TV shows and movies (as if every Suburbanite lived in a gorgeous restored Georgian four bedroom), Wisteria Lane had little to do with real America or reality in general. Where Sex and the City maintained a gloss of verisimilitude, both in style and content, it's writers clearly attempting to care about the shows characters, in all their excess and predictability, Housewives shows no such compunction; when not veering toward the ludicrous the show's plots leaned toward the totally absurd. Housewives courts camp in every moment. Can something really be a guilty pleasure if it's openly sold as such?

Desperate Houswives was a massive hit when it first premiered in 2005, but its importance to pop culture has waned. Though the series won no points in its presentation of women as, well, desperate housewives, I can't help but think that the obvious silliness and debauchery made the audience less willing to take the characters as seriously as the ones on Sex and the City. For this reason it's Desperate Housewives that's the less culturally damaging entertainment. At least we know we aren't supposed to idolize these women. It's also really fun, but then again I'm biased. How gay is Desperate Housewives? Most episodes are named after Sondheim songs. 'Nuff said.

You AUGHT to remember...


  1. Hi guys very nice
    Sex & The City I can't fault Roiphe for not writing about women. The essay was specifically about male writers. It also seemed to me that her observations about the current generation were an afterthought and that her main focus was the old guard -- Roth, Updike, Bellow, et. al. -- and how they dealt with sex in the period post- public sex positions . And I think she's right: to these guys, sex was a Big Deal. She also might have said something about the way they wrote about women. How many admirable or sympathetic female characters are there in their collected works?

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