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.

Fast-food restaurants and “continuity errors”.

Errol Morris‘s latest blog post is a reply to some of the people who have commented on his earlier posts, and it’s a fun read. It also includes an intriguing discussion of a dissonance of sorts in his landmark documentary The Thin Blue Line (1988), between one interviewee’s reference to a certain fast-food restaurant and the appearance of an entirely different fast-food restaurant in the re-enactment of that interviewee’s testimony.

The film revolves around the question of who shot a cop by the side of the road in Texas way back in 1976. Dale Holt, an Internal Affairs investigator, says the cop and his partner had been to a Whataburger — a Texas-based fast-food chain apparently common in the southern states — mere moments before the shooting. But the actual restaurant at that location was a Burger King. So Morris had to decide which restaurant to depict in his re-enactment of that fateful night. As Morris puts it:

I had a choice: re-enact what Dale Holt said or what I knew to be the truth. Presumably, I could have chosen either. One re-enactment would be faithful to what Holt believed was the truth (to the interview), the other would be faithful to what I knew was the truth (the underlying reality).

This creates a problem for me as a filmmaker. I know what Holt says is false. It’s not a Whataburger. Should I re-enact something that is false. Or should I re-enact the truth? The problem is exacerbated by the fact that if I show the police car leaving a Burger King, there will be an inconsistency between the image and the narrative. Holt says: Whataburger. The image says: Burger King. Viewers will be disturbed, even annoyed by the discrepancy. In essence, it’s a continuity error. . . .

The Whataburger/Burger King confusion may seem to be trivial, but it is at the heart of the problem of representing reality. What is more important: consistency of narrative (the absence of continuity errors) or faithfulness to the facts? In a documentary film, where an implicit claim is made about the relationship between the movie and reality, faithfulness to the facts is a central issue. . . .

Moreover, consistency vs. faithfulness is at the heart of different theories of truth: theories that stress the importance of overall consistency of a conceptual scheme (as in Duhem and Quine) vs. theories that stress the correspondence between a truth-bearing sentence and the reality it refers to (as in Tarski).

We might ask questions about the narrative in our own heads. Is it a documentary or fiction?

I love the way Morris can take a seemingly minor detail and extrapolate it into a major philosophical point. And what makes this whole tangent even better is that, as Morris notes, Dale Holt made his remark in the context of discussing the fallibility of memory — specifically the fallibility of the memory of the partner of the cop who was shot on that night. So in the course of that discussion, Holt had an incorrect memory. Fun stuff.

Hollywood? No, SHER-wood!

How Sherwood Baptist Church became a hot spot for making Christian movies — including Facing the Giants and the upcoming Fireproof, starring Kirk Cameron.

The regular film world has the Coens, the Wachowskis, and the Farrellys — brothers who collaborate on producing and directing both blockbusters and arthouse flicks.

The Christian film world has the Kendricks — a couple of associate pastors in Albany, Georgia who made a couple of ultra-low-budget movies with a mostly volunteer cast and crew as part of their church’s outreach program, and then hit it big when the second film, Facing the Giants, grossed just over $10 million at the box office.

Now they’re putting the finishing touches on their third film, Fireproof, due for a theatrical release on September 26. The film concerns a firefighter whose marriage is on the rocks, and whose father challenges him to take “the Love Dare” — a series of recommended activities that might, just might, help patch things up.

[Read more…]

Expelled lawsuit — the article’s up!

My third Reel News column is now up at CT Movies, and it mainly concerns Yoko Ono’s copyright infringement lawsuit against Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed — which, as of last week, she is losing — in addition to the usual news links. I also note that Expelled now has a Canadian release date of June 27.

Canadian box-office stats — June 8

Here are the figures for the past weekend, arranged from those that owe the highest percentage of their take to the Canadian box office to those that owe the lowest.

Sarkar Raj — CDN $65,970 — N.AM $65,970 — 100%
Sex and the City — CDN $9,740,000 — N.AM $99,269,000 — 9.8%
What Happens in Vegas — CDN $7,040,000 — N.AM $72,230,000 — 9.7%
Made of Honor — CDN $4,330,000 — N.AM $44,660,000 — 9.7%

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian — CDN $10,690,000 — N.AM $125,846,000 — 8.5%
Iron Man — CDN $24,050,000 — N.AM $288,893,000 — 8.3%
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull — CDN $20,430,000 — N.AM $253,026,000 — 8.1%
You Don’t Mess with the Zohan — CDN $2,970,000 — N.AM $40,000,000 — 7.4%
The Strangers — CDN $2,300,000 — N.AM $37,646,000 — 6.1%
Kung Fu Panda — CDN $3,530,000 — N.AM $60,000,000 — 5.9%

A couple of discrepancies: Sarkar Raj was #9 on the Canadian chart (it does not appear on the North American chart at all), while Baby Mama was #9 on the North American chart (it was #16 in Canada).

Kung Fu Panda — the children! the violence!

I’ve been debating for some time now whether to take my 2-year-old son to see Kung Fu Panda. I took his twin sister to see Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who! three months ago, and I have always felt that I owed it to him to take him to see a movie, too. But there aren’t all that many family films out there, and DreamWorks has a spotty track record, so I figured I would see Kung Fu Panda for myself first, and then decide whether to take him to it. And … well, I’m still undecided. I like the film quite a bit, and I like some of the “values” it teaches, etc., but … it is a martial-arts movie, and we’re trying to get my boy to stop slapping and shoving people as it is.

So I had to give a laugh of recognition when I came across this article by Associated Press reporter Josh L. Dickey:

There was a moment near the end of “Kung Fu Panda” so satisfying, so achingly adorable, that I wished I’d been secretly taping so as to immediately put it up on YouTube for the world to see.

Sorry, Jack Black — you were great and everything, but that final scene was cold stolen. The thief: my son, just a few weeks short of his third birthday.

As the credits rolled, he sprang from his seat, flashed into the aisle and began to whip himself into a jaw-dropping exhibition of kung fu fury.

Feet planted, his torso twisted and his tiny limbs whirled, locking arms and hands into holding positions that would arch the eyebrow of David Carradine himself.

Thrilling though it was, I had to wonder for a moment whether I’d made a terrible mistake.

Had I been too trusting? Are we blindly marching our kids into these animated movies with little regard for the subject matter or material? Was I too dense to consider whether “Kung Fu Panda” — a martial-arts film, by rights — was even meant for the little ones?

Yeah, exactly. And further down, he writes:

The other reason I’m not feeling bad today is that I know I’m not alone. That theater — and assuredly hundreds more like it — was packed with kids hovering below 3. One father, sitting a few rows up and trading actual karate-chops with his entire brood, made me feel especially self-righteous.

And no, my son wasn’t the only little one who was kung-fu fighting in the aisles when the lights went up. The truth is, they just about all were. Just so happens that when my guy got to whirling and chopping, all the kids who were nearby stopped, retreated and watched in awe.

Hu-ah! That’s my boy.

Incidentally, Dickey also talks about how he let his boy watch the original Star Wars (1977) a while back, which is something I definitely haven’t done yet. I was six or seven years old the first time I saw it myself — and on a big screen, where the pop-up Jawas and Tusken Raiders were especially startling — and my sister was only five, so I imagine I won’t hide it from my kids for all that much longer. But I think it can still wait, for now.

Oh, and speaking of Kung Fu Panda, they say the movie may have earned as much as $60 million this weekend — which is easily the best opening weekend for any animated film that was neither (1) a sequel or spin-off nor (2) produced by Pixar. Among non-Pixar films, it is beaten only by Ice Age: The Meltdown (2006, $68 million), The Simpsons Movie (2007, $74 million), and the two Shrek sequels (2004-2007, $108 million – $121.6 million).