Archive | December, 2010

A Farewell to Old Friends, or Marriage and the Countryside

29 Dec

I finally gave in and watched Sex and the City 2. Wow… I found myself cringing at the first film. Miranda’s storyline of “how dare you not put your husband’s needs first?”; Charlotte’s absurd Poo-keepsie moment; Big’s continued mono-dimensionality, and who even cares what happened to Samantha – but she still wound up alone.

Still holding onto the love I used to have for the show, I decided to revisit it on Paramount, and was in for a shock. The desperation, the over-analysis, the meaningless ugly-bumping. Where was the excitement, and the glamour that had me thinking “I want to be them when I grow up”?

What I saw instead made me sad. A coven of crones, older and less attractive than my mother, running around as if they were in their twenties. The thing about your twenties is not that it’s more fun. Oh no… It’s that you’re naive; that you’re pressured into what you ought to be doing with your life; what you should be wearing; what you should be interested in. They’d alternate between “oh, I’m having too much fun to settle” and obnoxiously pressuring the latest man, with wild gesticulations of veiny arms. Men were not fellow human beings, but a foreign species to be broken in, and analysed. You could never truly find a partner in life, because the girls must always come first, no matter how different your lives and priorities may be.

So, onto the sequel. I’d heard bad things, but my honest feeling is that, in some areas, they were unnecessarily harsh. Journalists have criticised Charlotte for daring to find motherhood difficult, because people who have money aren’t allowed to have such feelings. They’ve bashed Miranda for wanting more from life than just tending to her child – in this decade, really? Nobody cares to mention how they would live if she did – Steve’s fun job isn’t really going to pay the mortgage!

But Carrie… Call me old, but the idea of going into Central London on a Monday night, to cram into a pretentiously-hip venue does not appeal. Stick me in front of the tv on a big comfy sofa and I’ll be fine. It’s all very cute to be freelance Carrie, able to down cocktails until dawn and turn in a pun-laden column every once in a while, but her absurdly swanky apartment is paid for by her very hardworking husband, who probably deserves to veg out every once in a while.

Samantha has become a caricature of herself, and that’s really something for someone who was already a caricature of the worst kind of gay stereotypes. Honestly, if gay men really live like that, then – sorry Mr Stephen Fry – I’m rather delighted to be a straight woman. I find interpersonal connection part of the fun, and the idea of my brain being ruled by my nether regions sounds rather inconvenient! Don’t get me wrong – sex is rather wonderful, but surely if you never get a repeat performance, nobody was actually having that much of a good time in the first place.

Our favourite love-to-laugh-at-but-would-hate-to-know girl has surpassed herself. Her coital shrieks managed to be the most over-the-top thing at the Blatch/Marentino wedding. The complete lack of respect she showed for modesty in Abu Dhabi took things too far. I don’t know if they still intended for us to react in an “oh, Sam! You’re so risqué!” kind of way, but it really didn’t work like that for me. One of the things that eventually put my parents off Dubai was the increasing presence of “Natashas” – Russian trophy wives who would behave inappropriately for a family resort – getting drunk, sunbathing topless. Once, they even saw one throwing up in the lobby of the hotel, due to too much booze. The Arab man and his wife who reported Samantha for lewd conduct are portrayed as prudish, but I would quite like to enjoy a meal without the woman at the next table groping her dinner mate; and go for a nice walk on the beach without coming across a pair of strangers, rutting like warthogs.

Samantha’s emotional blackmail point to Charlotte – that she had attended a few children’s birthday parties and therefore Charlotte must go away for a week, sometime that same month – was hideous and a true example of the way the four friends’ stifling friendship had run over the years. Carrie, upset over a bad review of her latest book, burned Charlotte with a nasty comment about her marriage insecurities. The only person you really felt like you’d want as a friend, let alone a “soulmate”, as Samantha refers to the four, is Miranda. An episode of the L Word, entitled Lobsters, put it best. When male lobsters are being cooked, they work together to try and get out, but when female ones are, they hold on to each other and drag each other down. I don’t know how true that is, but it really seems to apply to these women.

The final insult in the film was the use of the Ugly American stereotype. The need to say “The Middle East” every thirty seconds was irritating enough. The desire to lump entire regions into one is a bit of a bugbear of mine, especially when people act as if Africa is the name of a country; or people state “I’ve been to Europe; I don’t think I need to go back”.

The idea that the girls could just turn up in a country, figure out all its problems and pass judgement is somewhat hideous. I was reminded of an interview I heard with Jimmy Carter, in which he talked of tricking tribal leaders into holding democratic elections, with the patronising chuckle of a father who has somehow conned his children into doing chores. Then there was Charlotte’s decision not to use the name Goldenblatt while in Abu Dhabi. I’m afraid I just don’t have the words to express how much is wrong with that.

I thought nothing could beat the “karaoke can have a real impact in the world” message, until they pulled out the big moral of the story… Underneath their burqa, Muslim women are just like us! I never thought that I’d say Liza Minnelli was the most charming part of a film, but her rendition of Single Ladies was as fabulous as it ought to be.

I know I’m probably taking this too seriously; I know that it’s meant to be harmless fluff. The problem is when it just stops being fun; worse still is when they start trying to make political observations. I know that we probably wouldn’t watch if they all started wearing sensible shoes and staying in with Desperate Housewives and a plate of cheese on toast, but maybe I, like friends often do, have moved on.


The Ghost of Christmas Present

26 Dec

Christmas has been great. Families have got on well; Father Christmas has been beyond generous, and I haven’t eaten my body weight in those Peppadew peppers stuffed with cream cheese. I am currently posting from my shiny new iPad (thank you, lovely Dad) and have a collection of gorgeous, maternity-ready clothes from my Mum and sister; and a hamper stuffed with goodies from Fenwick’s food hall.

If I were in an indigestion remedy advert, my punchbowl would contain smoked salmon, capers, roast beef and yorkshires, Coke-boiled ham, jelly beans, Christmas cake and Black Forest gateau. Ok, that sounds like a lot, but I’ve walked four miles over the last two days, so I feel quite justified.

I had got myself into a big stress over the gift situation – we decided to cut our budget by 40%, and I was definitely feeling the pressure. I scoured the blogosphere for things I might be able to make, and discovered two significant problems. One – unless fairly complex and done well, I think home-crafted items look like primary school art projects, suitable only for Granny’s fridge. Martha may push the crepe paper, but should we really be following what she learnt during her stay in Alderson, WV? Then of course, two – craft supplies are frickin’ expensive. So, there’s every risk that you could spend a small fortune creating something that isn’t even good enough to be regifted.

In the end, I had to abandon what was holding me back – the desire to produce the “best present ever”. What is that, exactly? Something that is exactly what you wanted, without you ever having thought of it. It’s something that fulfils childhood sentimentality, yet is the latest thing, ahead of its time. Where to find it? Less easy to answer. I have the rest of my debt-free life to buy amazing stuff, but for now, I have to just go with modestly thoughtful. I think I succeeded. People won’t be talking about my gifts for years to come – like I still talk about the year I got a clarinet and a Sega Mega Drive – but they will use them and see them and hopefully think of me.

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