Sex, geeks, consumerism, and morality.

No, I still have not seen Sex and the City — though I might, some day. There is only one other film that made over $100 million domestically within the past decade that I have not yet seen, namely The Pacifier (2005), and I do try to stay on top of stuff like this. But in the meantime, the urban mating film is provoking a few discussions that I think are worth noting.

First, a number of people have asked whether the clothes- obsessed, dialogue-quoting fans of this TV-series-turned-movie can be compared to Star Trek and Star Wars fans — though no one seems to have put this question to Sex and the City co-star Kim Cattrall, who once played a Vulcan Starfleet officer in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991; my comments).

In a story headlined “Female Trekkies” — as if plenty of Star Trek fans were not female to begin with — Mark Medley reports:

Filmmaker Roger Nygard knows a thing or two about nerds. He directed 1997’s Trekkies and its 2004 sequel, documentaries about Star Trek fan culture. He sees many similarities between the two groups.

“Having studied Star Trek fans first-hand,” he says, “I could say that I have seen the same fervor, the same symptoms if you will, in the [Sex and the City] fans. My girlfriend bases her daily wardrobe on ‘What would Carrie wear?’ “

But not all chronicles of geek culture are convinced these über-fans fit the mould.

“Women who follow Sex and the City are not geeks,” says Annalee Newitz, editor of science fiction blog io9 and co-editor of the book She’s Such A Geek. “They are doing what soap opera fans have always done: obsessively reading about their stories, and buying related consumer items. Are women who read Vogue geeks? Are women who know every detail about Sephora cosmetics geeks? No. You can’t expand the term ‘geek’ to mean anyone who is interested in something without draining the term of all meaning.” . . .

Jason Tocci runs the blog Geek Studies and is a doctoral student at Penn, where he is writing his dissertation on geek culture. He says it’s not surprising that a discussion of what-is-and-what-is-not-geek-inspires-such-debate.

“It’s still a highly contested concept,” says Tocci over the phone from Philadelphia. While he says SATC fans may playfully call themselves geeks in the sense that they love the show, Tocci doesn’t think they see themselves in the same constellation as Star Trek fans, Linux users, or readers of Spider-Man comics.

“Being identified as a geek, or identifying oneself as a geek, kind of signals an understanding that you are or you know that you should be feeling embarrassed about what it is that you’re interested in,” he explains. “And I doubt that…Sex and the City fans are really particularly embarrassed about their great interest in the show.”

Then there is Kyle Smith, who says Sex and the City fans are “worse” than Star Wars fans because “at least ‘Star Wars’ geeks have some perspective”:

Unlike the “Star Wars” nerds, who are under no illusions that they will ever actually take the Millennium Falcon out for a chance to complete the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, the “Sex and the City” fangirls think that they can live the life they see on TV. . . .

Even 33-year-old women are not living in reality in this town. The multiplexes and networks and bookstores can barely accommodate all the movies and TV series and books (almost all written by men; one, I recall vaguely, written by me) about comical manboys coming to terms with the need to grow up. There is no equivalent message getting through to women. For them, it’s all “27 Dresses” and “Made of Honor” and novels from “Pride and Prejudice” on that sling the same fantasy: There are two handsome, successful men chasing me. Whichever one will I choose? Then they walk into the bar at Pastis and discover: 150 single women, 50 gay men, 50 straight married men and 25 single straight men, but it’s so loud that it’s impossible to talk to anyone anyway.

And finally, for a female perspective, there is Karina Longworth, who seems to agree with Smith’s basic point:

In any case, the pubic hair jokes in the trailer get the biggest laughs, and this gets me thinking about the split between what we might as well call Sex and the City fangirls, and the kind of person we usually refer to as a fanboy. I imagine a 22 year-old boy who’s really into comic books, who, as I was sitting next to the pink martini ladies, was maybe lining up to see Iron Man, maybe for the second time. When I think of that boy, I imagine that he understands that a billionaire industrialist is not really going to build his own indestructible suit and rescue the innocent people of Afghanistan.

But Sex and the City exists on just as deep of a fantasy plane as any comic book world, and when I think of a Sex and the City fan, I imagine a 22 year-old girl who really believes that she’ll someday be rescued by a billionaire (industrialist or no). Am I just being unfair? I don’t know. I do know that during the brief Q & A session, the majority of questions asked by members of the audience had to do with the overlap between the real-life Sarah Jessica and the character of Carrie Bradshaw, with whom the actress has become synonymous, as if there’s something crucial about sorting out where fantasy ends and reality begins. It played as a managing of expectations and aspirations, as if each woman was really asking, “Best case scenario––how much of this fantasy is attainable?”

So, okay, point made: Sex and the City is a fantasy and its fans need some perspective, and they could maybe even take tips from Trekkies and the like on how to do so. But I am particularly intrigued by the way Catholic blogger Barb Nicolosi approaches this issue in her basically positive write-up on the film:

Everybody is talking about rampant materialism in SATC as manifested by Carrie’s and her friends’ 800 or so costume changes (yes, I’m exaggerating, but it really seems like there are that many fashion moments in the movie). Really, this didn’t bother me, and in fact, this was one of the “cinema of attractions” elements that I really enjoyed in the film. The clothes in Sex and the City are like the CGI special effects of a planet getting nuked in a male-oriented action flick. I mean really, why are shots of a super dress with great accessories more ominously bad for the culture than a bunch of dudes whooping it up at a visually clever rendering of an 18 wheeler bursting into flames?

This is an interesting comment, I think, because often, when I am watching an action film, I find myself thinking about the fact that these films are “spectacles of consumption”. They exist partly to say, “Hey, look! We were able to buy all this stuff — all these cars, all these sets, all these props — for the express purpose of destroying it!” And sometimes, in the case of James Bond films especially, the items that are destroyed for our entertainment even come with brand names. Expensive brand names.

(Say what you will about Star Trek and Star Wars, but they at least take place in worlds where modern corporations don’t seem to exist any more. True, real-life corporations do make lots of money off of the movie-related merchandise — and everyone from George Lucas to Gene Roddenberry has been accused of putting things in their movies and TV shows simply for their merchandising potential — but at least there is no place to put a brand name or corporate logo on the screen in those films and TV shows.)

So, okay, the “materialism” in Sex and the City might not be all that different, after all, from the “materialism” of a supposedly male-oriented action flick. Point taken.

Finally, there has been a bit of a kerfuffle over the review of Sex and the City that was posted by one of my colleagues at CT Movies.

Camerin Courtney gave the film three stars for “speak[ing] to the complexities of relationships in a postmodern age”, among other things — and her basically positive appraisal earned howls of outrage from various CT Movies readers and from Ted Slater, editor of Focus on the Family’s Boundless magazine, who called on CT’s editors to “repent” of their “God-dishonoring promotion of this vile movie.”

Along the way, Slater makes a couple of statements that I cannot help but reply to — and I am speaking simply for myself here, and not on behalf of CT, which is simply one of several outlets for which I write on a freelance basis.

First, he accuses those who watch the film of “ogling at” the nudity in the film. And no doubt some viewers do do that.

But is it really fair to imply that every viewer is doing that? Such an accusation is far, far too reminiscent of that outrageous review of Monster’s Ball (2001) that appeared in “Dr.” Ted Baehr’s Movieguide several years ago; in that review, Baehr’s critic went so far as to accuse Roger Ebert of “ogling the naked breasts of Halle Berry”, even though Ebert had actually critiqued the film for dwelling too much on Berry’s nudity. Do we have any reason to believe that Slater’s use of the word “ogling” is any less presumptuous?

Second, both Slater and at least one of CT Movies’ readers make the point that CT Movies gave Sex and the City three stars while giving The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian only two-and-a-half stars.

But these reviews were written by two different people — Camerin wrote one review, and I wrote the other — and presumably these reviews reflect two different perspectives. At any rate, I myself have not even seen Sex and the City yet, so I couldn’t compare the two movies even if I wanted to; and I have no idea whether Camerin has seen Prince Caspian, so I have no idea whether she would be able to compare them either.

What I do know is that the film version of Prince Caspian loses a lot of what made C.S. Lewis’s original book so spiritually and mythically interesting in the first place, so I think it’s ridiculous for any Christian pundit to assume that that film must be worthier of a good review than any other given film. There are a number of reasons Prince Caspian got the rating that I gave it, but I would think that anyone who had actually read my review, instead of merely glancing at the number of stars I gave it, would at least be open to the possibility that the low rating reflects the film’s relative spiritual tone-deafness.

To really understand a review, you have to go deeper than the star rating; you might even have to read the review. And to really understand a film, you have to go a little deeper there, too; you might even have to see the film.

And if you haven’t seen the film, then you certainly aren’t in a position to go around demanding that other people “repent” for having their own opinions of it.

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  • Gaah, yes, of course there are female Trekkies! Hell, some circles of Trek fandom are overwhelmingly dominated by females. The geeky fannish circles I hang out in online are probably at least 90-95% female. You say the word “Trekkie” and my default image isn’t of a guy who draws spaceship blueprints and has endless arguments about which ship could defeat which other ship in battle, it’s a woman who writes fan fiction and has endless debates about which characters should be romantically involved with which other characters. (I almost made a pun there about ships and ‘ships, but you almost have to be one of aforementioned women to get it, so I refrained. :))

    This issue of how fans of things like soap operas resemble or differ from fans of things like science fiction shows, and to what extent they can be considered subsets of the same cultural phenomenon is actually a really complicated and interesting one, and has been the subject of much analysis, both by professional sociologists and by navel-gazing fans. I somehow don’t get the impression the author of that article is even remotely aware of this fact.

    My own experience suggests that there’s more overlap and similarity than you might thinik. E.g., a friend of mine who is a big fan of a particular soap opera has recently gotten into Doctor Who, and at one point during a discussion of DW he employed a certain acronym, and then paused to explain what the term meant in soap opera fan circles. But he didn’t actually need to explain it to me; media SF fans apparently speak the same language.

    Now, I know squat about Sex and the City or its fans, but based on the impressions I do have, I don’t think I’d classify them as geeks — I do think that’s defined by a particular set of interests that aren’t in play here — but I’d say that they are definitely part of that phenomenon we geeks refer to as “fandom.” This may have started out — or at least, the modern multi-media incarnation of it may have started out — with Star Trek, but these days, honestly, it seems to be defined much more by the behavior, the attitudes, and the activities of the fans, rather than the subject matter. All the time, I see people treating mainstream TV shows, works of classic literature, kids’ books, action movies, cartoons, video games, and even bands and sports teams exactly the same way they treat Star Trek and Doctor Who. Those Sex and the City folks may not be geeks (although for all I know some of them are), but based on the stuff the article is saying about them, they’re definitely “fannish.”

    (Ahem. Sorry for the ramble. I’ll take off my Extremely Amateur Subcultural Sociologist hat now. :))

  • Ha! I was wondering if you’d have something to say about this, Betty. I also love how your soap-opera loving friend goes by the pronoun “he”. 🙂

  • Well, I couldn’t not. 🙂

    And, heh, see? Gender stereotyping soap fans is just as stupid as doing it to Star Trek fans!

  • As I read this I thought of the TV show BEAUTY and the GEEK. If you’ve ever seen it you realize that both are stereotypical and therefore reinforce prejudices. What is more true is that we all have an interest in a film/show for many reasons. As a childhood-on Trekkie I have watched SATC and do find the clothing fascinating. I have no idea how a columnist can afford such a wardrobe, but then as a Trekkie I have no idea why WARP 10 is the phyiscal limit. The fantasy of both is what matches between the two fan-groups.

  • Good point about the presumptuousness of Slater’s “ogling” comment. He assumes, of course, that everyone seeing SATC is only doing so out of prurient interest, or at least can’t helped but be overwhelmed by their own desire. Um, what in the world?

    Here’s my take:

  • A most interesting post Mr. Chuckaway.