Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Sex and Escapism

A while back, when asked about the unprecedented success of "Mamma Mia!", Meryl Streep stated: "I knew it would do well because it was aimed at an audience that has been neglected in recent years in film offerings: women".

What follows may contain a great many sweeping generalisations akin to Meryl the Peril's claim.

Let us think about the phrase "chick-flick" for a moment. It sounds like a derogatory term; conjuring images of sappy, romantic cliches and happily-ever-after platitudes. Chicks don't want complex, challenging, thought-provoking cinema, do they?

To suggest, as Streep did, that Mamma Mia gave women what they wanted from cinema is a huge insult to the female populace. Women want insipid romance, flat karaoke versions of songs they know and the overall ambiance and emotional resonance of a drunken hen night?

But, of course, Mamma Mia is just a bit of fluff. Escapist entertainment. Not to be taken seriously.

Currently on release, "Sex and the City 2" is attempting to reach the same crowd, ploughing a similar furrow of "female-oriented" escapist entertainment. This film mainly consists of over-privileged, middle-aged white women suffering from man-trouble and blithering on about clothes and shoes and such. It's the cinematic equivalent of an aspirational magazine. People can watch it and go "I wish I had those shoes! I wish I had that man on me! I wish that was my life!". There's no real drama, these characters drift through their lives (and the film) with their heads crammed firmly up their arses and pretty much nothing ever changes for them. It's like watching a shopping channel for 140 minutes.

But surely, there is a "male" equivalent to these aspirational flights of fancy? "Dick-flicks"? An industry of gun-fights, car-chases, super-heroes, giant robots and explosions? Isn't that the masculine parallel? Boys and their toys?

So what is it that I personally find so reprehensible about the state of "female-oriented" popular cinema, whilst I can easily be entertained by a superficial action film? A common argument against the male judgement of "SATC" is that we are "intimidated" by a group of strong women living their lives independently; doing things their way in a world where men will always be sidelined by the more important relationships between women themselves.

Now, I'm sure there are certain corners of this patriarchal society where blokes are going "What are those "Sex and the City" girls doing out of the kitchen!?", but I don't think my personal issue is really to do with the sex of the characters at all. It's more to do with the fact that these characters, regardless of their gender, are lionised to the status of icons simply for having lots of money, wearing nice clothes and getting a lot of sex.

It's interesting to attempt to draw parallels with "dick-flick" characters - or male characters in general - and the leads of "SATC". The honest-to-god nearest example of such a superficial male character is Patrick Bateman. Bateman lives in New York, is obsessed with designer labels and accessories, likes to drink in the hippest bars, is independently wealthy and successful and has a casual and cavalier attitude to sex.

He's also (probably) a serial killer and exists to satirise the emotional detachment and downright loss of humanity that goes hand in hand with his vacuous lifestyle. He is not a character to be admired.

The most admirable masculine answer to the "SATC" ladies is obviously James Bond. A man who enjoys the finer things in life, something of a snob when it comes to clothes, food and drink, sees any hole as a goal, he is precisely the kind of chauvinistic dinosaur that the "SATC" crew are attempting to reflect on. But the motherfucker saves the world on a regular basis. What's Carrie Bradshaw's excuse?

Bond may be a complete wanker, and the films often portray him as such, but he has a strong, wilful morality underneath it all, and is continually putting himself in harm's way for the greater good. Even when he does bad things, it's usually with good reason and to people who deserve it.

You look at James Bond and say, "That guy's an arrogant, superficial dickhead but, boy, can he save the world and kill bad guys and stuff!".

You look at Carrie Bradshaw and say "That girl's an arrogant, superficial dickhead but, boy, that's a nice handbag!".

"Dick-flicks", juvenile and simplistic though they often may be, usually concern some sort of variation on the good/evil conflict, with a central character who must do the right thing, not just to benefit himself; but others as well. According to hollywood; men get their escapism by vicariously saving the world or kicking arse in the name of righteousness, whilst women aspire to having a nice apartment and the latest shoes and some good friends to bitch about men with.

To quote a recent "dick-flick": "thousands of people wanna be Paris Hilton and nobody wants to be Spider man?".

And, I think, therein lies my issue with "chick-flicks" such as "SATC": I see nothing admirable to aspire to in them, beyond the superficial and often selfish pursuit of self-gratification. I mean, even "Transformers" managed to squeeze a selfless "no sacrifice, no victory" message in amongst the pretty special-effects.

Oh, and there is a male version of "Sex and the City". It's called "Swingers" and spends the majority of its runtime pointing out how flawed, insecure, deluded, arrogant and pathetic it's characters are.

P.S. Doesn't this look like the outfit that Ace Ventura wears when he's pretending to be insane in order to gain entrance to a mental institute:


  1. Ace blog I so agree with a lot of it. If anything it points to the culture we are in now and maybe thats the norm for most people that has a career and money, not for me mind you but then I'm as poor as a church mouse lol.

    Nice blog.

  2. I bet she's hiding summat in her pants like that scary Lt. Einhorn.... LACES OUT!

  3. You'll be surprised but I don't think you're wrong! I don't need to be marketed to. I generally enjoy 'dick flicks' more... because they're fun! There's nothing fun about either of the SATC films. I'm not ashamed to admit that I like a nice outfit but a few pretty dresses can't hide the fact that the films are terrible, and completly ruin the reputation of the series which I promise, really wasn't bad!

    I enjoyed Mamma Mia. I'm not going to lie, but I enjoyed it because it was funny. With all my critical faculties switched on, of course, I know it's shit.

    I think that there are a group of women who only go to the cinema to watch this type of film, but I don't think that they should be considered the 'average' woman. I think that is the offensive part. The thought that women don't want complex and challenging films is just not true, but while films like SATC keep making shed-loads of cash, they're here to stay.

    Read this review! It says exactly what I'd like to say about the film.

  4. Iron Man is a superhero
    Iron Woman is an order

  5. heh dick-flick. I hate it so much when actors/actresses/directors/what-have-you try to excuse their shit-fest of a film by claiming it was "for the ladies" fuck that. "The ladies" I know don't want a movie length Prada endorsement or watching Meryl Streep find herself fifty times over in the dumbest ways. WE WANT A DECENT FUCKING MOVIE. ok, sorry, lost myself a bit. I just get so irritated by stuff like this. Also I was brought up on James Bond so maybe I'm just not a very good lady :p

  6. That does look like ace ventura's outfit!

    As to your post, I quite enjoyed it and it's very true. However, when I think about chick-flicks I think The Notebook, PS I love you, Leap Year, etc.. all of which have pretty decent plots and morals. I think there is a lot more variation in the chick flick realm than you gave credit to.

    I did enjoy this though!

  7. Well said, sir. I resent my entire gender being lumped in with the superficial assholes of SatC. I mean, I'm seriously considering a female-fronted action movie not involving spandex just to shut both sides up.

    Who's with me!?!

    (in writing a script, because seriously, I have no fucking idea)

    Also, Patrick Bateman (in my fangirl nit-pickiness) isn't independently wealthy.

  8. About your review...

    You were far too kind. There is a line in the first SATC movie that epitomizes the depravity of its main characters. While looking for an affordable apartment in Manhattan -- where it is clearly their manifest destiny to live -- and griping about the number of Asian that live there; one of ladies shouts... "Oh look, there's a white person, let's see where they go"

    Can you imagine those ungrateful Asians? After we let them build our railroads -- as a step above slaves mind you -- and deny them broad access and acceptance within the mainstream culture; give them such a lovely Ghetto to live in... Here they are! Still here taking up prime real estate when Scarlet O'Hara needs needs an apartment in Manhattan.

  9. I wouldn't go to see this movie if someone held a gun to my head. Just the fucking commercials for it make my head hurt.

    Now, American Psycho? Yeah, I can get behind that one anyday.

  10. My friend, I've tried to figure out the guy equivalent to chick flicks, and you had it all along; dick flicks. Kudos for that alone. Great piece.

  11. Part of what makes those Sex & the City raisins so offensive to me is their stilted dialogue. How can they even PRETEND to be strong, independent women when every word coming out of their pruned mouths is awkward and stupid? Example:

    Miranda: After years of odd men, God is throwing me a bone.
    Carrie : And possibly a boner as well.

    Oh, hardy har har! A boner!!! Get it???


  12. Although I will attest to my dying day the "Colour Purple" is one of the greatest films of all time (along with Citizen Kane, Key Largo and Eraserhead) I will take a good (or bad) horror any day. Blood, guts, gore, twisted minds - THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! I may be twisted, too, as I often cheer for the "bad guy", but with the lingering Victorian era mindset outrage over the old, old silent animated "Gertie the Dinosaur" which ends with a brontosauras tossing a caveman through the air like an old shoe we may never see this. I don't go to movies but I BUY DVD's that I know I will watch over and over. That way the actors still make their millions for doing what we did as kids - playing make-believe.