More “We” Than “Me”: On Soccer, SATC2 & Songwriting

I’m on a new adventure which saw me arrive in Brooklyn, NYC, three weeks ago. If any city has too much personality, it’s this one. So I’m right at home with the life-enhancing art and people, though still coming to terms with the heartbreaking evidence of consumption and commerce. Helpfully, the city harbours an incredible range of urban superheroes doing their bit. (Even the city’s Health Commissioner is now biking to work!)

Though I’m not in New Zealand right now, I have plenty of it with me. I’m in the process of writing up an interview with Auckland artist Judy Millar, with whom I spent a day in the galleries on the last weekend of her New York artist residency. Our itinerary? Marina Abramovic, the Neue Galerie, and a spot of Patti Smith stalking. That’s coming to this blog soon!

For something else entirely, which I’m looking forward to blogging about when it’s appropriate, I went up to the United Nations the other day. I took lamingtons from Dub Pies, and came away with a soccer ball printed with the 8 Millennium Development Goals.

Goal 3: Gender Equality!

In what I now understand to be a typical New York City interaction, minutes after leaving the UN, as I was standing on the corner of 44th & 2nd contemplating which direction my subway stop might be, a young mum came storming up to me. “That’s my ball!” she claimed.

“Um, no? It’s my ball?” I politely replied, in perfect New Zealandish. “It’s my son’s ball! It’s my son’s ball! We lost it!” she yelled, frantic, pointing to her three year old, who sat bereft on his tricycle, no football to be seen. Somewhat pathetically, I replied “Well, no? I was just given this at the United Nations? Look, it’s got the Millennium Development Goals on it!”. I pointed to goal number four, child health. She didn’t care. Realising I was at risk of taking pity and giving her my precious ball, I scurried away.

Anyway, about those Millennium Development Goals… The soccer ball is part of a canny PR campaign by the UN Development Programme to draw attention to the goals, using the Soccer World Cup’s South African location as a hook. (Have you heard the song 8 Goals For Africa yet? It’s catchy!). In September there’s a huge summit in NYC to assess their progress, and, hopefully, boost global motivation, since there are only 5 years left in which to achieve the goals’ targets: the end of poverty and hunger, universal education, environmental sustainability, child & maternal health, global partnerships, improved HIV/AIDs services, and gender equality. No biggie, really.

After the storm comes the clean-up

Speaking of gender equality, being in the USA this past fortnight meant being able to see Sex And The City 2 with my darling sister, at a suburban cinema on opening night. We did this on purpose. On a quieter night, or at home with a DVD, we would have been able to utterly indulge our intellectual selves and jumped straight into the criticism. But in a sold-out theatre, surrounded by groups of friends in super-fly outfits, yelling “Cheat on Big! Cheat on Big!”, it was hard to ignore the movie’s effect on a wider demographic.

This meant taking note of the high points, the low points, and the warm points. Say what they like about the scene in which the highly privileged Charlotte and the high-earning Miranda, both of whom have nannies, commiserate about how hard it is to be mothers; there was a palpable warmth in the audience. Sighs were audible. “I hear you”, I heard. It was a moment of genuine female connection too rare in blockbuster films.

I’ve been enjoying the bitch-fest (or should I say cock-fest) of reviews that have been emerging since the film’s release. It’s fascinating, and useful, to have such widespread public discussion on feminist and cultural concerns come out of a badly-written blockbuster. Let’s face it, breezy dick-flicks like The Hangover and Get Him To The Greek will have their one-handed reviews and then disappear into DVD oblivion. But with SATC2, beyond the unsurprising news that everybody pretty much agrees the script is shit, and that SATC2 is a shadow of SATC1, which itself was a shadow of the TV series, there’s a lot to disagree on and the attention allows for some robust chat. Not to mention an increased box-office take.

As long as you’ve seen the film (or have no concern for spoilers), here are some of my favourite commentaries:

BUST Magazine’s Emily Rems goes head-to-head with Rafer Guzman on the importance of women’s friendships on The Takeaway. (NPR)

Bidisha, on why Hot Tub Time Machine gets away with it, when SATC2 doesn’t. (The Guardian)

I don’t agree with much of it, but Lindy West’s review is, as always, hilariously written and unapologetically offensive (making a rape joke in a review that criticises the film for debasing modern womanhood? Ouch). (The Stranger)

Manohla Dargis takes it all down a notch and reminds us of the role of fantasy in SATC. (New York Times)

And speaking of fantasy, Cyriaque Lamar makes a great case for why SATC2 is, in fact, a sci-fi movie! (io9.com)

I have two distinct thoughts to add to the milieu (and more besides, but I don’t feel at all equipped to even start on the Middle Eastern aspects). Firstly, a few reviewers despised Miranda’s decision (early on in the film) to quit her job. In the fantasy-world of SATC, they saw this as a dagger to the heart of recession victims everywhere, arguing that it’s yet another sign of the characters’ insane privilege; that it is okay to quit a high-paying job mid-recession. Guess what? It’s not okay to stay in a job in which your contribution is not recognised, your voice not heard, because of your gender. Recession or no recession. And sadly, many women do stay in these situations, because of the wider economic situation.

Yet I know quite a few – women and men – who took the plunge and quit their day-jobs on the basis that happiness and pride are, strangely, important to them. I quit a day-job mid-recession for different reasons (the job and the company were both fantastic). It was scary, but it was the right thing to do, and I’d argue that Miranda is an important role model on this. Plus, those idiots make out like she never returns to work, ever again. Spoiler: she does.

My second thought on SATC2 is that whilst painting a progressive professional picture of Miranda, it paints a depressingly pathetic, lame and unrealistic portrait of Samantha. It’s no surprise; she was given a shitty storyline in the first film, too. Reduced to comfort binge-eating because her boyfriend was too busy for sex? Gah. But I was hopeful, in Act One of SATC2, that the writer had seen the error of his ways. In a gorgeously rendered scene, Samantha accompanies the ex-boyfriend, Smith, to his first major premiere. They don’t get back together – that’s a clever red herring. But they do love and respect each other, enough for Smith to praise Samantha in front of a group of very rich Middle Eastern men as the woman who, quite simply, created him. Is this true? They ask. “Well….. yes” Samantha replies, with the full confidence of a woman who, throughout the series, has taken her job seriously and often put it ahead of her bedroom desires.

She’s made mistakes, sure (Lucy Liu’s handbag, anyone?). But they’ve been small-scale, comedic mistakes. What I despised about the SATC2 plotline was that Samantha accepts possibly the biggest PR contract of her career, and proceeds to completely fuck it up in a way that didn’t ring true, and reduced her to an even more pathetic caricature of her former character than SATC1 did. The painful thing was, it’s from this plotline that the rest of the film sprang, so it was necessary. I’m willing to accept that a large part of the subplot is that, actually, Samantha is not prepared to change herself for the sake of a job. I get that. But I just wish, in the process, that she’d gone into it with a little more elegance, a touch more open-mindedness, perhaps even a little of the education that Miranda armed herself with. The fall would have been greater, the effect of the amazing, jaw-dropping bazaar scene better, if Michael Patrick King even pretended to like Samantha a little more than he clearly doesn’t.

The Clouds Would Part and The Sun Would Shine

Ah well. The path to great art – and mediocre blockbusters – never did run smooth. This site is all about the discussion of art and how it gets made. Being in Brooklyn, I’m fed daily a diet of excellent local artists. The music, especially the music! I’m in The National’s country, and don’t I know it, so I was thrilled to read Stephen M. Deusner’s deep and fascinating interview with the band’s Aaron Dessner and Matt Berninger on the excellent Pitchfork.

They talk about the process of creating and collaborating on their new album High Violet, about how it feels to be on stage, and about how the political creeps into their music, even when they’re trying to avoid it. In response to the recession, SATC2 went to “Abu Dhabi”; The National became Afraid of Everyone.

Says Berninger:

We had this feeling that the clouds would part and the sun would shine and things in this country would get better faster, but the progress and changes have been very slow and hard to come by. There’s also the sense that this country is at some weird brink where the different sides of this social, cultural, and racial divides are digging in deeper and deeper, and that’s unsettling. It’s a little scary that people are so at odds. People are frustrated and angry and getting aggressive on both sides. I think this record addresses that anxiety.

The other aspect is there’s more of an engagement on an interpersonal level. This record is less about one person struggling with their personal demons and more about trying to take up the challenges within a family or in a larger community. I think the difference is that it’s more about “we” than “me.”

Uh-oh. Should I have given that woman my United Nations soccer ball after all?

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2 Responses to “More “We” Than “Me”: On Soccer, SATC2 & Songwriting”

  1. Marianne

    Yes! Not only do the writers betray Samantha’s intelligence and professionalism (which they do) but in the process they turn her into a caricature of how western women are perceived by many people in the Middle East (the ‘New Middle East’ as well as the old one).

    Colour me disappointed. Although I agree there were a few lovely moments – especially between Miranda and Charlotte. I loved when Miranda told Charlotte to go have a long nap, then she’d buy her a drink. Sounded like something all of my best friends would say.

    Reply
  2. Craig Ranapia

    (making a rape joke in a review that criticises the film for debasing modern womanhood? Ouch).

    I also had to note the irony of denouncing a film’s sexism and cultural tin-ear (if not outright racism) with a little drive by homophobia about “gay men playing with their Barbie dolls”. (That damn gay mafia holding Hollywood in it’s limp-wristed grip. Still, I’m sure Matthew Broderick is going to chuffed to know he’s been married to a drag queen all these years,) I’m sure fellow Stranger contributor Dan Savage would have something obscenely indignant to say about that, but I can’t be arsed beyond saying Michael Patrick King holds you in utter contempt regardless of gender, religion, class, ethnicity, nationality or sexual orientation. I don’t know if being an equal opportunity arsehole is really much of an advance, though.

    Reply

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