Wednesday, May 28, 2008

"Sex and the City" A Microcosm of Real Life?


Today on "Catholic Connection," Teresa Tomeo was discussing "Sex and the City," the new movie based on the hit television series starring Sarah-Jessica Parker and company.

Teresa mentioned a study that was conducted on young women (not yet married) about how "Sex and the City" influenced their own dating life. Perhaps predictably, the effect overall was a negative one ... and some felt that it glamorized the ultra-feminist perspective that "a gal should be free to 'have fun' and do everything [including bed-hop] a man can do."

The thing is (having watched the show a time or two myself), I can recall several story lines in the show that would suggest that this is not a case that even the author of the series has been able to pull off convincingly:

* Carrie (SJ Parker's character) gets her heart broken NUMEROUS times with her compulsion to secure the lasting affection of her favorite "Bad Boy" (Mr. Big). Although judging from the movie trailers she does manage to get her man in the end ... what lasting happiness can she expect to find with a serial philanderer whose previous marriage she was largely responsible for ending -- and who drove away the one man (Aiden) who was clearly far better suited to marriage and family? The Parker character is not a strong, confident, centered individual who wins Mr. Right after a careful evaluation of his suitability as a life partner; her heart is a tatter of scar tissue, held together by an obsessive fear of winding up alone.

* Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), a strong corporate lawyer whose career is derailed when she becomes impregnated by her on-again, off-again lover Steve (David Eigenberg), chooses life for her son Brady (yeah!) ... and (give or take a few bedhops as the child is passed back and forth like so much baggage) finally winds up with Steve and his crazy mother. In Brooklyn (which appears to be a Manhattan career gal's version of purgatory). The thing is, the live-in housekeeper, weekend brunching in the city with the girls, fabulous house, overly accommodating boyfriend/husband, etc etc. is so far removed from the life of most single mothers' experience, I find her storyline more than a little implausible. And irritating.

* Charlotte (Kristin Davis), obstensibly the most "traditional" character looking to secure a husband and family. And yet she, too, is a fragile soul. Her first marriage to a well-monied doctor dissolves when her baby obsession wears holes in her marriage big enough to drive a triple stroller through (a story line that provides food for though for those of us who yearn for a child). Weeks after her divorce, she converts to Judaism to snag Harry (who initially repulses her because of his back hair and eating habits), husband #2, and like everything else, she dives into the trappings of her new faith, braiding challah and making matzo balls with gusto ... but with little thought to the God behind it all. Finally, she and Harry adopt a little girl from China.

* Samantha (Kim Cattrall) is the uber-feminist with the most "manly" (from the feminist perspective) appetites. And yet, you don't have to watch more than an episode or two to see how guarded, broken, and desperately lonely her heart is. She keeps up with the "men" she beds ... by sacrificing everything that makes her most womanly. It takes a bout with breast cancer to wake her up and make her evaluate her life with her boy-toy "Smith." Sure, he shaves his head in solidarity when she loses her locks to chemo ... but will he still be around twenty years from now, when she's well into her sixties and Charlotte's daughter is back from college?

I'm not suggesting that we should all run out and see the movie ... frankly, I've already seen more than enough of these four women to realize how much the young women around us NEED the friendship of women like us (instead of talking amongst themselves). Women who have navigated the relational minefields and are working to build a stable, secure family despite our many mistakes.

On the other hand, these story lines do raise questions that young women do well to consider, if only in their own hearts: Are their own dating habits, acquired over decades of "no strings" encounters, going to mellow into, in the words of Sam's friend Carrie, "... ridiculous, inconvenient, consuming, can't live without it love"? Love that keeps the husband gazing warmly at his wife's photo on his desk instead of the perky new secretary's caboose? Love that trusts (with good reason) when an "old friend" blows into town for a week? Love that perseveres when one or both lose that six-figure income and they need to start paying for college and/or a triple bypass?

Now, the fact that I am a happily married woman with two children, in some circles, disqualifies me to ask these questions ... They are dismissed as the prejudicial rantings of a smug and sexually straight-laced religious fanatic. It doesn't matter that I was thirty-five, with my own share of heart scars and regrets, when I married (having moved across the country at least partly to escape the toxic tango with my own "Mr. Big"). It doesn't matter that I actually know enough about SATC from having WATCHED it that I can point out these tell-tale story lines that (let's just say it) were not of MY making. I just calls them as I sees them.

Some of you may be reading this and mentally (or even physically) be taking me off your blogroll because I am more in touch with the secular culture than any good Catholic should be ... or bringing up issues that are totally irrelevant to your lives since you would no more watch SATC than force-feed your family from the compost heap. I understand that ... and I freely admit that there are many of you who are much farther along the trail to perfection than I am (and who write primarily for others who are similarly advanced in the spiritual life).

And yet, it is my sincere hope, my earnest prayer, that someone will see themselves in this post and ... make a different choice. Because the scars are real, painful, and lasting. How much better to avoid the wound altogether! And how good to know that, even if we make the wrong choice and find ourselves bleeding, we have not necessarily consigned ourselves to a lifetime of damaged relationships.

We can choose again. Make different choices. Smarter choices. Choose to break the toxic relationship patterns. Choose to stop, just stop. Choose to stop dating until our own issues are resolved and we are in a healthy place to start looking for the husband God wants to give us. Choose to stop obsessing about pregnancy, and invest in our marriages as they are RIGHT NOW. Choose not to put a child's life in jeopardy with IVF experimentation. Choose adoption.

These are real-life choices you will never regret.

7 comments:

Julie D. said...

How right you are. I can only comment about your post, never having seen the series, but it seems to me that it shows the natural progression of the attitude toward relationships when I was young ... dare I say it ... the late 1970s and early 80s. Having been raised by parents with a wholly secular background whose motto was "as long as it doesn't hurt anybody" I know just what you are talking about. The fact is that until one has lived through a relationship that has turned toxic exactly because only secular standards have been applied, there often is no way to know that we should be seeking something else, something better, a high standard for ourselves and the men as well.

Journey of Truth said...

You're staying on my blogroll! Listen, who am I to judge? I have my past, too. WE all do. Sin is sin is sin - Catholics have confession and penance for a reason. To renew, to choose again. Live again.

God bless you!

Bernadette said...

Sistah, this post is timely, beautifully written and *brilliant*! Regarding potential naysayers, God calls us to "be IN the world but not OF the world"-- we are not to be OUT OF THIS WORLD! So, yeah, keep up the cultural commentary. We're listening!

Elena said...

I did see all of the Sex and the City episodes on TBS and I went to the movie. I think the moral of the entire series was that when you allow yourself to care about someone else, when you focus outside of yourself, then you will find happiness.

The movie was more about forgiveness.
You have some plot points wrong.
Mr. Big's first marriage broke up before he met Carrie. He married for the second time after breaking up with Carrie.

You have Miranda ALL wrong. In fact the last scene in the series with Miranda has her searching for her mother-in-law who is in the early stages of Alzheimer's, keeping her from eating out of the garbage and taking her home to bathe her. The motherly housekeeper tells her then that she has truly learned to love! The movie picks up with Miranda on working mommy overdrive - I think lots of women can relate to that.

Charlotte was not at fault for the end of her first marriage. Her husband Trey and his mom were just very odd. Trey even admits in the divorce papers that Charlotte was an excellent wife. I think you have her conversion to Judaism pegged a bit wrong too. I thought she seemed to take it very seriously, much like many new converts to Catholicism.

Smith, I think was the real deal, but Samantha dumps him in the movie.

I don't disagree with your conclusions, however I think much like Harry Potter ( which was also controversial to some) there is a lot of material in SITC for a good Christian Homilist or columnist!

Heidi Hess Saxton said...

Elena: Thank you for your comments, and for adding some details I had omitted. You are correct in saying that it was Big's SECOND marriage that Carrie destroyed, rather than his first (which he managed all by himself).

I disagree with your assessment of Charlotte. She would NEVER have converted, or even considered it, if there had been any other way to marry Harry. As a Catholic convert whose entry into the Church cost me dearly, I find the whole challah braiding, last-Christmas-tree ever thing superficial and overly sentimental. I'm glad the adoption worked out for them ... I appreciated that part of her story.

However, I will not concede on the Miranda character. Yes, she demonstrates compassion for Steve's mother in the ways you describe ... and yet, from beginning to end she was insulated from the consequences of her choices. The housekeeper. The gal pals. The accommodating boyfriend.

One scene that sticks in my mind is the one where Miranda's mother dies, and she has to face the whole thing without her entourage (who all turned up at the funeral), only her siblings. That was the one time I could relate to her character at all ... The sense of isolation that many single women feel at these milestones.

"When you care ... for someone outside yourself, you will find happiness." Actually, if these series shows anything, it's that the character of the OBJECT of that emotional investment is as important as the investment itself. Time and again, these women gave themselves to unworthy objects, in unworthy ways.

In the words of Big (slightly paraphrased), referring to Carrie: "The three of you are the loves of her life, and a guy is lucky to come in fourth."

This is a far cry from the indissoluble union of two that God intended marriage to be.

Thanks again for writing!

Elena said...

I think we'll have to agree to disagree on Charlotte. Sure, Harry was her impetus to become a Jew, but I really found her enthusiasm and dedication to be very inspiring and reminiscent of Catholics converting for the very same reason - marriage! Who is to say that love isn't one of God's ways of drawing us closer to Him!?

I don't get the sense that Miranda was insulated any more than the rest of us are. She had a baby - she had to raise him. She moved to Brooklyn, she had to live there. The housekeeper was a mother figure and rather than insulating Miranda I think she was in a very real way the symbolic for her conscience.

Yea, they made bad choices, continually. That's the point. It was only when they made the correct choice and ironically live a life that was more like the Christian model that they found true happiness. And THAT's the message I hope young women are smart enough to take away from the series and the movie.

Heidi Hess Saxton said...

Of course marriage is one reason people change churches. My husband became Catholic a few months before we married because he wanted to share that part of our lives with me. And (this is the important part) I've watched as his relationship with God has grown because of that choice.

That doesn't always happen. From what I've heard from various RCIA leaders, it often doesn't. Many who convert simply to please their intended find their enthusiasm wanes shortly after the ceremony. Human nature, I guess. (Jesus spoke of this tendency in His parable of the seeds.)

God designed marriage and family as the primary way that we help each other to heaven. But unless the little traditions (e.g. the challah braiding, or lighting Advent wreaths or getting "ashed" on the first day of Lent) are byproducts of something much deeper, more transcendent -- based on a personal relationship with God. Without this core relationship, all the little traditions won't help for long.

Miranda's experience is not typical of single and/or working mothers I've known. I know of very few women who can afford around-the-clock help, or have time to brunch with the girls in Manhattan every week. More typically, they look for ways to stretch the $20 we blow at the movies to the end of the week!

(As an unrelated aside, the "mother figure" comment caught my attention, too ... Notice how NONE of these women have positive relationships with their own parents? Of course, adult parent-child relationships can be complex.)

Bottom line, this series/movie is not supposed to be a documentary. It's fiction. It's supposed to be entertainment. And while it's possible to extract a few positive lessons (e.g., "The best way to be happy is to live by Christian moral principles"), you have to wade through a LOT of garbage to find them.

Personally, I'd rather spend my $20 (plus babysitting money) for Prince Caspian.

BTW, I notice on your blog that you've cross-posted to this. Thanks for the link! (Though the comment about people who write about the series without having seen it is a little confusing, since clearly I've seen an episode or two myself!). God bless.