In light of the recent release of
Sex & the City 2, Rozann Carter examines the cultural fascination with Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha... and the society that covets their lifestyle.
The new Sex & the City movie has hit theaters in America. However, a review for a Catholic blog, it seemed to me, would likely devolve into cliché. With a title that practically speaks for itself, it might be redundant to give the family-film-critique on the portrayed pleasure-seeking, individualist, often brazenly inappropriate plotlines. Truly, we all know deep down what is lacking and what is excessive in the lives of Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte…even if we have never seen an episode of the series. While I am sure that the content of the film, which has the potential to desensitize an entire generation of American young women, likely deserves a harsher critique, I would like to look more closely at the mystery of the cult following of the series and the ironic statement made by Sex & the City2’s first weekend at the theater.
First of all, what is the reason behind the popularity of this cultural phenomenon? Beyond the obvious explanations: legitimizing and justifying the quest for flippant pleasure, fortifying the desire to give in to a relativistic morality, and finding innocuous delight in spoils of vanity, Sex & the City has been touted to provide “an escape” for ordinary women from the mundane details of a less glamorous life.
This begs the question: is “escapism” a bad thing? Is it wrong to venture out from one’s own concrete situation to participate in, for a couple of hours on a weekend, a wholly “other” life? It’s mindless entertainment, it’s funny, and it doesn’t seem to cause anyone any harm. We are all escapists in one form or another. It keeps us from taking life too seriously, right?
J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of the popular series, The Lord of the Rings, wrote a series of essays called On Fairy Stories in which he defended the value of escapism. Both he and C.S. Lewis recognized the necessity of imagination, often fueled by an outside impetus, to refresh one’s own viewpoint. Analogically, they pointed out there was nothing beneficial in a prisoner merely thinking about cells and wardens all day. Through Fairy Stories, Tolkien created another genre of fantasy literature in which he would lead the reader into an entirely different world in order to achieve a new perspective on his/her own. He asserted that this genre could provide moral or emotional consolation by means of a fortunate, lesson-imbued ending. Basically, an escapist story can present a powerful and relatable moral that might otherwise have gone unrealized.
The difference between Tolkien’s idea of escapism and that presented in the Sex & the City series is that Tolkien offers a lesson to be learned and a situation from which to glean a new and positive perspective regarding one’s own interior life. Sex & the City, on the other hand, incites the viewer into an external escapism, which can bring about covetousness and delusion. In living a little portion of the lives of the four main characters, the escape provided promotes a sense of the mundane in the interior and the ordinary rather than allowing one to discover the beauty, mystery, and uncharted territory of one’s own unique personhood.
Is this why this movie is getting less than stellar reviews? Probably not. However, its waning success ironically demonstrates the folly of living out this particular type of fantasy life. Bottom line: it gets old. Why? Because we get old. It is easy to find fulfillment in pleasure for the short time that it is actually pleasurable. However, philosopher after philosopher, wise old man after wise old man, and case after case of mid-life crisis will speak to the reality that this sort of life is ultimately empty. When we learn to move beyond the temporal, whether consciously or unconsciously, we are less impressed by the allure of those who cling to its empty promises. Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte seem eerily past their prime. Most of their former audience has discovered a new set of priorities in their own personal lives. They have moved on; they no longer desire to escape into the lives of these characters because they have ventured far beyond the relatable and into the ridiculous.
Sex & the City 2 provides mindless escapism that eventually proves its own silliness. The challenge that remains for the viewer is to understand the irony of the series’ slow decline as a lesson in true escapism. Nothing is really “mindless,” so we must be wary of that into which we choose to escape.
Rozann Carter is a Production Assistant at Word on Fire Catholic Ministries.
Now, be sure to click here to read Robert Mixa's review of Prince of Persia, in which he addresses the film's demonstration of our contemporary obsession with power.