Today’s sentence(s) I wish I’d written, from Anthony Lane’s review of 2008’s Sex and the City: The Movie: “I walked into the theatre hoping for a nice evening and came out as a hard-line Marxist, my head a whirl of closets, delusions, and blunt-clawed cattiness. All the film lacks is a subtitle: “The Lying, the Bitch, and the Wardrobe.”
At long last, my piece from yesterday’s Paper Machete. Enjoy.
This week in culture. For those of you who don’t know, who have been on Mars for the last decade, in a cave, with your eyes shut and your fingers in your ears, there exists a cultural phenomenon known as “Sex and the City”. Chronicling the friendship of a wealthy and white quartet of women in New York, the HBO series lasted six seasons, garnered 7 Emmys and 8 Golden Globes, and has spawned two feature films, the latest of which opens this coming Thursday.
The franchise has its devotees and its detractors. Many have praised its frank discussion of female sexuality and the general progress that has been made in women’s lives and options. Others condemn the shrill dialogue, strained credulity, and rampant materialism as symptomatic of a show presenting not women but four female stereotypes more concerned with shoes than substance. It’s a tribute to female camaraderie with the trappings of a wealth-based fairy tale. It’s a wealth-based fairy tale with the trappings of female camaraderie. It’s genuinely sweet. It’s deeply cynical. It’s great. It’s shit. Whatever. It’s a titillating moneymaker.
The first film earned over $415 million dollars worldwide. It had the highest box office opening ever for a film starring all women. That is not nothing. So, of course, the inevitable sequel. The market is there, it’s just good business to give it what it wants, and it’s distinctly American business to give the market what it wants in a bigger, more extravagant, more decadent fashion. Last time the girls went to Mexico. This time? Fuck Mexico. We’re going to Abu Dhabi, bitches. More sand than EVER. We’re taking our sexy party to the middle east. That’s so sex and fashion forward it’s backward. Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates and quite possibly the wealthiest of all Emirates: exotic, sovereign, Islamic.
Perhaps this means Burqas are the new Fendi handbag. After all, they do go with everything. By law.
It’s seems counterintuitive that a franchise purporting to be about progressive women and their sexually empowered lifestyles would choose the United Arab Emirates as its next backdrop. What conceivable sex romp could take place in Abu Dhabi? Will Samantha gleefully hit on sheiks and street vendors, her rapture for actual fucking and shoe fucking indistinguishable while the local women are guided past by their required-by-law male escorts? “Ah yes,” the required-by-law male escorts sigh knowingly, “The unclean whore will sleep well tonight.”
Michael Patrick King, one of the series’ creators and the writer/director of the two feature films, was recently interviewed explains that he chose the Middle East because “I wanted a big extravagant blockbuster vacation for the ladies in America who can’t really afford anything right now and I thought ‘Where do they have money? Abu Dhabi.’”1 Ladies. He did it for us.
For me, and you, and all the other recession-stricken sisters and cunty plebeians, so that we could dream of one day having so much money that we needn’t possess social conscience.
It’s true that the UAE is very wealthy, and with extreme affluence comes decadence. And, as we see in the trailer for “Sex and the City 2” Samantha sells the idea of the Abu Dhabi vacation by saying she can “hear the decadence calling.”2 In a recently leaked series of clips from the film, Carrie rhapsodizes over what the Middle East means to her. “I’ve always been fascinated by the Middle East. You know, desert moons, Scheherazade, magic carpets.” “Like Jasmine in Aladdin?” pipes up Charlotte’s aesthetically pleasing adopted Chinese daughter. “Yes, sweetie, just like Jasmine, but with cocktails,” Carrie replies.3 As usual, decadence is defined in the franchise by the Princess treatment: shopping, pretty drinks, various and sundry princes, and gal-pal dialogue that has never shone quite as brightly as the oversized jewelry.
But, isn’t it “Sex and the City”, and not “Wealth and the City?” Initially, the script called for a jaunt to Dubai4, a neighboring emirate and the location of the world’s current tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. The Burj Khalifa, architecture and engineering courtesy of Chicago’s own Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill firm, cost 1.5 billion dollars and rises, like a spiring middle finger to the West, a staggering 2,717 feet in the air. It is a phallus for which Samantha Jones would have a dozen puns at the ready. But, it was not to be. Because the film’s title contains the word “sex.” Dubai considers itself a strict Islamic state. It was inappropriate. So, a pen stroke and Dubai became Abu Dhabi, which was generous enough to lend its name and will benefit from the spike in tourism that only a travel commercial with a built-in fan base and a $10,000,000 costume budget can provide.
But the vacation portrayed in the film opening on Thursday is very different from the usual trip foreign women take to the UAE. Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda will wander from market stand to market stand, rhapsodizing over the cheap prices. They will wear what they want. Say what they want. Do what they want. They will be nothing like another quartet of women who traveled to the UAE: Lusa, Zenia, Tanya, Nayla. There will be no mention of those four women, or the other women in the UAE just like them. Because it is not in the interest of a lady sex romp to discuss the lady children who are lured and sold to one of the most popular human trafficking destinations in the world. There will be no breath of that, because Americans have proved squeamish about selling 14 year-old girls into tax exempt rape. We don’t do that. We favor the healthier alternative of indoctrinated body-hatred and self-loathing.
The sex trade, as a tourism industry, usually works like this: Economically vulnerable countries work to draw wealthy men from economically sound countries with a very specific interactive sightseeing: come to our cities and shores, breathe in the heady air, and fuck someone who has no other choice. Ain’t no pussy like starving pussy. Any hole you can think of, Mr. Smith, and we’ll even throw in a massage.
That’s not how it works in the UAE. The UAE needn’t cannibalize its women for financial gain, and any Islamic woman found working in the sex trade would almost certainly be found in huge breach of religious law and summarily executed by a relative. The UAE only recently resigned itself to women in the workplace at all, it’s a bit early to ask that they spread for tourists. They outsource that shit. Lusa, Zenia, Tanya, Nayla.
The deception of the “Sex and the City 2” is not that Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda would be sold into slavery the moment they exited the limo wearing a “J’adore Dior” t-shirt and tutu. It doesn’t happen like that. An American woman would almost never be sold into human trafficking. Too many people would ask questions, too high a likelihood of parents or a spouse insisting on investigation, too many families in poor countries willing to sell their own daughters and granddaughters and never breath a word of it. The deception of the film is that any thinking women visiting the UAE would be unaware of this industry. Lusa, Zenia, Tanya, Nayla.
Lusa, Uzbekistan, orphan, was sold at the age of 17. Her abduction was arranged by her aunt, who wanted Lusa’s apartment. That’s an interesting twist on the lengths women will go to for real estate. She was given to a prostitution and slavery ring. When they decided she was no longer usable they threw her away, abandoning her at a psychiatric center. Because she entered the UAE illegally the government decided that she should serve two years in prison.5
Zenia, Iraq, 15. Her father sold her to a Syrian trafficker who took her to the UAE. She actually managed to escape. She actually managed to contact the police in the UAE. They deported her back to Baghdad, where the government called her a whore, and sent her to jail for two years.6
Tanya, Ukraine, age unknown, sold for $7,000 to a pimp in Abu Dhabi. After three months she escaped and went to the police. Whore. Three years in prison. THEN deportation back to the Ukraine.7
Nayla, Azerbaijan, 9. Mother sold her to a trafficker in Dubai. Prostituted until she was 13. Police discovered her. Deported back to Azerbaijan. Prostituted another three years. Got pregnant. Found out she had AIDS when she gave birth to an HIV positive baby.8
That’s sex and the city in the UAE. How fucking decadent.
To be fair, some progress has been made over the past decade. Some infamous fuck clubs have been shuttered or torn down to the sand. Some organizations for abused women have popped up along the coast. In 2009 the UAE upgraded from a Tier 3 country to a Tier 2, meaning that the UAE is no longer one of the places on Earth with the worst treatment of humans, although it is still on the Tier 2 “Watch List.” It’s true that the UAE has made significant progress in the prevention of politically motivated imprisonment, the illegal employment or servitude of children, and torture as a police tool, but its practices concerning the obstruction of rape, kidnapping, forced prostitution, and trafficking remain woefully ineffectual.
The UAE only prohibited trafficking last year. But even now that the UAE is prosecuting traffickers, those most likely to suffer remain the women who have been deceived and used, lured by money, love, or the promise of a life less horrific than the one to which they were born. And, as in Las Vegas, what happens in Abu Dhabi, stays in Abu Dhabi.
How little do you have to value women for this to be customary?
How little does the “Sex and the City” franchise think of women? The UAE is not just desert moons, Scheherazade, and magic carpets. In what conceivable post-9/11 film do 4 American women, from New York, not understand that?
If ever “Sex and the City” was about the strength and independence of women, if that was ever the case, it’s been blown to shit in one fell swoop.
Abu Dhabi is Carrie Bradshaw’s latest accessory. And vice versa. The celebration of an exotic locale in an internationally successful film will have one very distinct result: Abu Dhabi’s tourism will spike, and the sex industry will flourish. But “Sex and the City” fans looking for the illusion presented in the film will find themselves in a country where a public kiss earns you a jail stint, and being American will not help you. There’s a reason that although the film is set in Abu Dhabi it was filmed in Morocco, in North Africa. In Abu Dhabi, Carrie Bradshaw would not be allowed outside of the hotel. Tourists looking for romance, in the light of day on the Persian Gulf, will find that it is considered tasteless, and criminal. They will be told to have the modesty to wait until after sunset, when the duped teenagers are taken to market.
How many people in this room right now are thinking “Stupid bitches?” Who’s looking at me, thinking, “Oh, thank God, at least there’s one woman who doesn’t fall for this bullshit. At least there’s one.” At least there’s one? How many women do you know? The series and films were created by men, and their creation goes hand in hand with a pervasive misogyny in America that comes down to two words. Stupid. Bitches. They’ll buy this. There’s no one in the room who’s unaffected, one way or the other.
There ought to be a female driven, globally successful television and film franchise. And one of its traits should be an empowered and open view of sex. There ought to be a television show or film that features a woman saying to a man, “Prove to me irrevocably that you are a feminist, and then we’ll discuss the earth-shattering blow job I’m capable of delivering.” And she had substance, too…well, that would be just great. I want to watch that show.
“Sex and the City 2” opens May 27, 2010. Please, don’t go see it.
1Michael Patrick King, The Daily Show Site, May 12, 2010, available from http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/wed-may-12-2010/michael-patrick-king; Internet; accessed May 16, 2010.
3Sex and the City 2 Clips, Jezebel, May 17, 2010, available from http://jezebel.com/5541051/nine-sex-and-the-city-2-clips-leaked-for-your-pleasure?skyline=true&s=i; Internet; accessed May 21, 2010.
4MIDDLE EAST: The idea of filming ‘Sex and the City 2’ in Dubai or Abu Dhabi? Perish the thought, Los Angeles Times Blog, April 24, 2010, available from http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/babylonbeyond/2010/04/sex-city-carrie-dubai-abu-dhabi-morocco-emirates-film-movie-television-new-york-sarah-jessica-parker.html; Internet; accessed May 17, 2010
5U.S. Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report June 2005 (Washington, D.C.: US Government Printing Office, 2005), 7.
6Iraqi Child Sex Slave? Welcome to Prison! End Human Trafficking Site, May 6, 2010, available from http://humantrafficking.change.org/blog/view/iraqi_child_sex_slave_welcome_to_prison; Internet; accessed May 21, 2010
7Human Trafficking from Armenia to Dubai, UAE, Mideast Youth Site, June 19, 2007, available from http://www.mideastyouth.com/2007/06/19/human-trafficking-from-armenia-to-dubai-uae/; Internet; accessed May 21, 2010
8U.S. Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report 2006 (Washington, D.C.: US Government Printing Office, 2006) available from http://www.state.gov/g/tip/rls/tiprpt/2006/65983.htm; Internet; accessed May 21, 2010.