In defence of Sex and the City 2

Rahul Rao takes a slightly different position on Sex and the City 2

Unlike everyone else, I don't hate Sex and the City 2. This may be because unlike everyone else, I had seen nothing of the series or SATC1 before I went to see it. Forget about low or no expectations, I was blissfully unaware of what expectations it might have been appropriate to have. A New Yorker cartoon a few issues ago suggested that there were four possible ways of reviewing anything: good in a good way, bad in a bad way, good in a bad way, and bad in a good way. SATC2 falls into that last category, and it's revealing of professional critics' general cantankerousness, that none of them (or at least none of the ones I've read) have managed to extract anything of value from the film. Liza Minnelli's rendition of Beyoncé's Single Ladies - only slightly less shocking than, say, finding your grandmother singing karaoke to Lady GaGa - ALONE makes this film unmissable.

On a more serious note, the hyperdefensive postcolonials have pounced on the numerous orientalist stereotypes that the film trades on, failing to recognise the ways in which the film critiques some of those stereotypes in its own inimitably frothy style. Thus, even as the four girls are horrified at burqa-clad women having to lift their veils to eat French fries, Miranda is realising that her misogynistic boss who lifts his hand to stop her from speaking at meetings has trouble dealing with successful women. Carrie is literally told to shut up by a scathing (fictional) New Yorker review of her latest book, accompanied by a caricature of herself with her mouth taped shut.

In these silly and unsubtle ways, for the first time perhaps, American pop culture has internalised the critique that third world feminists and feminists of colour have long levelled against white western feminism: that in its eagerness to rescue brown women from brown men halfway across the world and its superior self-positioning with respect to those women whom it unremittingly sees as victims, it misses the universality of patriarchy and its distinct manifestations in their own cultures. Indeed, far from rescuing brown women, the SATC crew are themselves rescued by brown women from an ugly confrontation featuring Samantha, condoms and lots of angry brown men. Whisked away into the privacy of female space, C, S, C & M learn that upper-class brown women are not very different from them in the designer clothes that they wear or—in a moment parodying Reading Lolita in Tehran—the how-to-beat-menopause books that they read. In a sly move, perhaps betraying the extent to which poststructuralist feminist valorisations of ‘resistance’ have permeated the zeitgeist, the film ends up endorsing the burqa as a device of cunning, under cover of which the feisty foursome escape the angry mob incensed by Samantha's libido. If you are a socialist feminist, there is nothing in this movie for you—barring Miranda and Charlotte's one sentence incredulous admiration for women who succeed in juggling work and family without the aid of expensive childcare. But then, to expect more from a story set in the professional consumerist classes of Manhattan would be—how should I put this?—stupid. To understand the disappointment of critics and SATC fans alike, I am now working my way through the series, thanks to a box-set borrowed from friends. Now that's what I call research!

 

About the author

Rahul Rao studied law at the National Law School of India University (Bangalore), and international relations at the University of Oxford. He is currently a lecturer at the School of Oriental & African Studies (University of London), where he convene courses in security studies and diplomacy.

His forthcoming book, Third World Protest: between home and the world (Oxford University Press, 2010), explores the relationship between cosmopolitanism and nationalism in postcolonial protest.

Current research projects include: (i) Provincializing Westphalia, a volume on non-Western conceptions of order and justice co-edited with Andrew Hurrell; and (ii) Queering the International, a study of how queer politics might speak to some of the core questions of international relations and political theory.

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