Friday, June 13, 2008

How I Learned to Love Sex and the City

One of the little luxuries in life that I had in my last Bangkok incarnation was cable TV, included in my rent with a huge television for a small monthly fee. My job had forced me to become a morning person and it was far more bearable to prepare for a just-barely-post-dawn class when I could absorb news of the world in English while I gulped down several cups of coffee. The soothing tones of CNN International became my wake-up call--on leisurely mornings I even listened to that repulsive toad, Larry King, just to stay in touch with "my culture."

One night I switched on HBO looking for a movie that would tell me a bedtime story and there it was--smart-mouthed, fast-talking, outspoken American women wearing clothes that could get me lynched if I wore them in some neighborhoods in Bangkok, all having wild sex and discussing it in depth the next day.

I was hooked. Every week I would be planted in front of my TV, studying a world that was so fantastic to me in my present context that I thought of it as a form of science fiction. Yes, Bangkok has women who wear designer clothes, and shoes that soar far beyond the heights of Jimmy Choo, and who were reputed to be as free-wheeling in their personal lives as any Western counterpart--but "hi-so" jetset Thai fashionistas did not figure in my part of the city. I was surrounded by ladies in pastel, polyester suits and carefully cut conservative hairstyles and no make-up but a flicker of lipstick and their daughters, who wore school uniforms during the day and t-shirts and jeans when they weren't in school, who sported long and shiny hair and had no need for any make-up at all.

This, I felt as I watched Sex in the City, was my true culture, and studied the clothes and make-up and shoes as though I were scrutinizing a weekly fashion magazine. Like the farm girls in Iowa who headed for NYC in search of Carrie Bradshaw's life, I had no idea in my expat mind that this was a fantasy.

When I returned to the U.S. the first items I bought were a pair of interview shoes that looked as though they were designed for an ex-nun, and turquoise snakeskin sandals with four-inch heels from Nordstrom Rack. I felt well-prepared for my reassimilation into American mores, but both pairs of shoes tore my feet to shreds and eventually were given away.

But my love for the adventures of Carrie and Company persisted even though I now knew better than to study their fashion tips, I'm a single malt scotch drinker, not one who sips cosmopolitans. But the fantasy life of the Sex in the City women is one that I can't resist watching today in a theatre with a friend while holding-- and probably not drinking--a cosmopolitan. It may not be anybody's real life, but that is the whole point, isn't it? Long live fairy tales and fantasy!


Katia said...

Interesting ! I don't watch TV - we have one TV but not hooked onto anything except DVD machine to watch movies. But EVERYONE I know talks about Sex and the City, and I'm starting to feel like an alien - or rather, this is yet another reason for me to feel like a complete alien. Gotta have to rent those somehow and get informed. This series has becoming a cultural icon...

Tokyo Ern said...

Being an ex-pat in Tokyo and also living without cable, I have never seen an episode of "Sex and the City", or "The Sopranos" and whatever else was available. I could rent them from my local DVD shop but watching a serial drama is too much work (and beside, my wife is hooked on Korean dramas anyway). I may have to read Candace Busnell's original book to what all the fuss is about.

Janet Brown said...

Katia, the series is so much better than the movie, which was essentially a two hour and twenty minute gaze at many different outfits. Then after you're thoroughly immersed in all of the TV episodes, watch the movie with a good friend and a cocktail!

Janet Brown said...

Ernie, the book is NOTHING like the TV series--it was sheer genius to extract something good from Candace Bushnell's writing. It would be fun to watch an episode or two with your wife and see what her reaction is--you could probably get a great essay from that experience.
But for truly good American TV, watch The Wire--it's a whole novel on television and is amazing stuff.
(I don't have cable in the U.S.--I just rent the DVDs.)