The Beautiful Outfit Is Empty

The contention that the women of Sex and The City 2 are considered too old to be sexually appealing is partly correct. Youth and sex appeal are inextricably linked, no doubt, and the sad phenomenon of mutton dressed as lamb (or L.A.M.B., I guess,) which certainly applies here, appears as the subject of mockery in every culture I can think of. But that isn’t the whole story. The real problem isn’t that the women of SATC2 are mature; it’s that they are not.

We can forgive younger people who worship at the temple of self a little more readily, because they are too young to know any better (though we don’t like it much even then, as the recent M.I.A. debacle demonstrated so forcefully.) The young and selfish have still got a reasonable shot at reform, is the thing. But to see a character in her 40s who is still obsessed with herself to the exclusion of nearly all other interests, who refers to herself in the third person, who is still preening and shopping and acquiring and posing, is to see a woman who has failed to grow up. This is a stunted creature.

Consider the marriage at the center of this film, that this Carrie Bradshaw apparently waited so long for and suffered so much to achieve (or really, get, I suppose I should say.) This marriage seems terribly, nightmarishly empty. The film shows us no in-jokes, no intellectual engagement, no discussion of anything but romantic matters and expensive gifts, no wit, no real conversation about work or events of the day or family, even, let alone what might be shared interests like politics or art or music. I could feel only pity for the henpecked husband, Mr. Big, who is at least shown to be capable of thinking for two seconds about anyone besides himself; what he is getting out of the bargain is impossible to determine. What kind of love affair is this? Compare it with the real article, or Jane Austen. A real lover is telling you, look: I have now found the one person who can make sense of this world for me. But that is not the sort of thing we are seeing the slightest scintilla of in SATC2, because nobody in the movie is capable of it.

If it is difficult to believe Carrie B. as a lover, it is outright impossible to believe that she is a writer. It would be hard to imagine a less articulate, perspicacious or observant person than the one depicted here. At one point she’s shown reading Nancy Mitford, of all people, who was a decent novelist, but who was also a very childish, self-involved, unhappy woman whose love life was an utter trainwreck. I had to wonder if this might not have been a sly little joke on the part of some bookishly-inclined art director or set designer.

Since these women have not grown or developed intellectually, professionally or in any other way, their characters must be swollen out via the only attribute they’ve got left: expenditure. They are what they spend. There wasn’t a single review I read of this movie that did not mention the $22,000 room rate at their fabulous Abu Dhabi temple-to-conspicuous-consumption. Not one Maybach, but four (symbolic, almost, of how self-obsession has become isolation); not just one swarthy young buck of a concierge to look after them, but four; an enormous table groaning under a Trimalchian feast, for just four slender women who will take only a little fruit. This is self-indulgence taken past vulgarity, past gluttony, past even nausea. These people are like geese being force-fed so their livers can be turned into foie gras. They change their (fantastically hideous) clothes about twenty times a day, because, well because they’ve just become more and more like they are, to the point where we too must choke on their excess.

As many have taken to pointing out in connection with this movie, there are some mature women who are still in possession of more sex appeal than most people will ever have in their whole lives. It is kind of a sad thing, I’ve often thought, that this ineffable quality should be so unevenly and capriciously distributed as it is. In any case, obviously, sex appeal is about far more than just the physical. Mature people who are self-aware, not self-obsessed, are powerfully attractive, sexually and in every other way. Men or women. Who have interests and aspirations, who take their professions seriously, who are actively trying to contribute in a way that means something to them. That’s why most adults aren’t, generally speaking, attracted to the very young. They’d get bored!

As pleasant and delightful as youth and physical beauty are to behold, no adult can spend much time in the company of a beautiful, empty-headed young’un very profitably; no, not even if sex is the only motive; sex alone, even with the loveliest person on earth, will pall very quickly if that’s all there is. There are limitless illustrations of this unsurprising fact in the tabloids, in literature, everywhere, recalling the remark once made by a terrible, if typical, Wall Street guy: “Show me the most beautiful woman in the world, and I’ll show you a guy who’s tired of fucking her.” Here is a bogglingly solipsistic, even a nihilistic view, but a common one, and at bottom it is the view that informs the SATC franchise. Money and the consumer products that signify it are the only absolute value, and sex with the best-looking and/or richest person we can find. Everything and everyone is there to be bought, used, consumed. Is that all there is, really? No, it is not. But it’s all that an underdeveloped, immature mind will be able to show you.

Maria Bustillos is the author of Dorkismo: The Macho of the Dork and

Act Like a Gentleman, Think Like a Woman.