It used to be said that there are two types of people in this world: those who like Neil Diamond, and those who don't. That this was stated in the 1991 Bill Murray therapy-caper What About Bob? doesn't negate its accuracy.
I'd argue that these days, the Great Polarizer that was Neil Diamond has been replaced by Sex and the City. For every media outlet championing the series and upcoming film, there's someone tearing it down, criticizing the show as a paean to shallow, sociopathic narcissism and slandering its fans as hysterical, materially obsessed shrews who want nothing more outta life than multiple orgasms and Jimmy Choos.
Time Out New York featured the stars on its cover with duct-taped mouths, the words "Hate It" bannered across their torsos; the Los Angeles Times mused the film may lack wide appeal by captivating only female viewers (it's understood women will see male-targeted films, but men will rarely see female-targeted ones; thus studios generally view chick flicks as unprofitable); and Manhattan gossip blog Gawker dissed fans planning "drunken, cackling rampages on opening night," like we're the warty witch taking a breather from fattening up Hansel and Gretel. Philadelphia Weekly, sadly, is not exempt from such narrow-minded criticism, thanks to some lamely sexist and snide gibes from film critic Sean Burns.
I'm not interested in chewing over such tired questions as, "Are you a Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda or Samantha?" or "Is Sex and the City feminist, postfeminist or antifeminist?" The answer to both, of course, is d) all of the above, and then some. I'm more interested in how SATC's current reignited popularity and backlash is being used to characterize the modern gal as a self-absorbed cat-lady interested only in her ever-expanding closet.
The shamelessly commercial summer blockbuster is nothing new, nor are its innumerable tie-ins. Product placement and merchandising are the name of the game--James Bond, with its logoed gadgetry, martinis and fast cars, is perhaps the most obvious example; Star Wars with its collectible light sabers, fast-food figurines, video games and comic books is another; and Iron Man's Burger King partnership is conventional, even expected.
But the increasing rarity that is the blockbuster chick flick--what does that look like? With the triumph of "bromances" over conventional romantic comedies, and Warner Bros.' head honcho's proclamation to avoid future projects with female leads, it's hard to say. Without much competition, though, it's safe to assume the profitable chick flick hit looks a lot like Sex and the City: The Movie.
Fans can buy Sex and the City lingerie and Sex and the City sex toys. As with 2006's surprise chick hit The Devil Wears Prada (which has grossed more than $326 million internationally), fans with enough disposable income can procure the fashions worn by their favorite characters (Dior, Chanel, Fendi, Manolo Blahnik, etc.). They can also purchase Sex and the City partnered products such as Skyy vodka (cosmo, anyone?), VitaminWater, Coty fragrances (manufacturer of Sarah Jessica Parker's Lovely), Mercedes-Benz SUVs and H. Stern jewelry. They can participate in the SATC-approved, thoroughly fickle, faking-it consumer project called Bag Borrow or Steal, otherwise known as the Netflix of "it" bags. Furthermore, fans can--and will--attend Sex and the City soirees the weekend of the premiere, where stilettos and pink cocktails will dominate, and straight men will be predictably sparse.
It's because of these marketing ploys--and not just the show's content--that SATC fans are being categorized as flippant, histrionic consumers infatuated with our own myth of self-importance. We think we're changing the world because we're bonding with our gal pals rather than tearing them down, talking up between-the-sheet adventures and inadequacies rather than pretending sex is simple and desire nonexistent, and buying trendy accessories with our own paychecks rather than baby food with our husband's. Actually, wait, what's so wrong with that?
Economic power is a real, tangible thing. I'm sick of the claim that purchasing power and power over cultural commodities isn't "real" power. Connecting with a group of women over cocktails and the shared love of a TV show that transformed the ways we talk about sex, love, friendship, feminism and class is as important, in many ways, as establishing institutional change (though certainly not a substitute).
The power to buy and to be recognized as a market is awesome, and necessary in both identity formation and day-to-day functioning. And while purchasing power is far from the only way to take control of our lives and the world around us, it's pretty important. Maybe it's not the most revolutionary form of equality that female moviegoers are now being exploited as voraciously as men, but in an industry that's increasingly neglecting women creators and audiences, it feels good to be excited about a film and share that excitement with friends, to be recognized as having market power, and to flex it.
It's just too bad so many critics continue to chastise SATC fans for engaging in such hard-won pleasures.