Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sex and Our City

One of the benefits of being a famous silent-era comedienne is that you go on location from time to time, which therefore means staying in hotel rooms. And that, of course, means watching random things on TV, since you're far from the happy control freakism of your TiVo. While removing my makeup the other night, I caught one of the most egregious LA-cliche offenders in the history of LA-cliche offenders, the two-part Sex and the City episode where they travel to Los Angeles.

Now, Sex and the City isn't known for its grittily realistic portrayal of New York either, unless you live in a New York where nobody takes the subway and snow always stays sparkly clean. But at least, unlike Friends, it did have some sort of New York vibe, and in general, it was a smartly written show that demonstrated its creators had many keen insights into the dynamics between men and women.

However, these two episodes switch the tension from that between opposing sexes to that between opposing cities, and being that one of them is Los Angeles, all reason, reality and tactfulness go out the window. Here's what the ladies choose to do while visiting our wide, diverse city:

1. Stay at the Standard and sunbathe
2. Go to a "dildo release party"
3. Rent a convertable Mustang that Carrie doesn't know how to drive
4. Go to the Saddle Ranch Chop House
5. Try to crash a film premiere
6. Attend a party at the Playboy Mansion

The Facts of Life Go to Paris looks like a documentary in comparison. There's a recurring dichotomy (especially in the voiceover) of "In New York, we do this... in LA, they do some opposing thing that's silly and flighty." But the perplexing thing is that while the four ladies are held up as an example of East Coast realness, they're the ones who consistently act like the shallowest, most cliched Los Angeles stereotypes possible.

Especially Samantha. While a voiceover solemnly informs us that "In New York, we have parties to celebrate the release of a new book; in Los Angeles, they have parties to celebrate a new dildo" (oh, come on!!), a later scene has Samantha shutting down one of her sex conquests because he's also a poet. Keep in mind the contrasting treatment of aspiring literary figures based in New York: Remember Berger the writer? Carrie went back to that doofus repeatly until he finally broke up with her on a Post-It. Yet the sole reason Samantha bails on this guy is his literary aspirations, because of course trying to be intellectual in Los Angeles is something to be considered silly.

Samantha's other major plot point is that she meets her hero, Hugh Hefner (apparently the new role model for non-shallow New Yorkers), gets invited to the Playboy Mansion, and purchases a fake Fendi purse off the street which is humiliatingly revealed as a fraud at the party. The sale of fake designer bags is treated as a very specific Los Angeles activity, which is a mind-boggling mindset to give a fashion-minded character who lives in New York City. But don't you know? Everything in Los Angeles is fake! Except Samantha's the one cooing over a ridiculously gaudy counterfeit bag, and even the Bunnies at the Mansion have bags that meet the show's idealized standard of non-LA real.

And Carrie picks a car she can't drive solely because it matches her outfit, opining that "cars are the new handbags" or some other nonsense, which really makes it ironic when, at the end of her hour-long sojourn, she steps back into her apartment with voiceover sighing that at least everything contained within is, again, real. Well, everything except her choice in rental cars, apparently. Oh, and her counterfeit-loving friends, the film option she flaked out on for a ridiculous reason, and the ability to afford that cool apartment on a writer's salary. Got it. Carry on, Carrie!

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