It’s too easy to call this a “terrorist recruitment video.” “SaTC2” sends the hypersexualized Manhattanites into the “New Middle East” of Abu Dhabi on an orientalized journey of wish-fulfillment of an audience craving fashion porn. You can easily gather this from the trailer; the, ahem, climax of the film is exactly what you expect: Underneath their burqas, girls just want to have fun with Patricia Field-approved designs. And Samantha screams at a bunch of offended Arabs in a market when a handful of condoms drop out of her Birkin hand bag. No doubt, “SaTC” represent everything “They” hate about “Us.”
But let’s put antecedent to these pronouns: Are “they” only fundamentalist Muslims of the Eastern Hemisphere, or are “they” closer to home? And, are “they” really wrong?
In early 2007, conservative author Dinesh D’Souza went on “The Colbert Report” to hawk The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and its Responsibility for 9/11, where he argued that the “Liberal America” that’s depicted mostly on television is responsible for inflaming Muslim hatred of America. In fact, he argues that there’s little difference between the beliefs of some traditional Muslims and traditional American Christians and Jews. According to D’Souza, the only image that Muslim countries get of America is that of “gay marriage” and “people eating maggots” (which Colbert says must be on the buffet at gay weddings). Colbert’s conservative persona agrees with D’Souza’s premise that “we should take cultural editing notes from the terrorists” and that “liberal values” are destroying America. Toward the end of the interview, D’Souza sensed that he was pulling back the curtain too far, but because these books sell tons of copy, we know that there’s a large segment of Real America onboard with him.
Whatever he means by eating maggots, it’s fair to say that D’Souza is talking about “Sex and the City” and its ilk (D’Souza must also assume that Muslim cable providers streamed HBO before Lost-mania gripped Iran). If D’Souza’s formulation is correct, the reason the traditionalist Muslims offended by “SatC” (the government of Dubai wouldn’t let the movie be filmed there) is the same reason Real America is offended by SatC: It’s culturally depraved. “They” aren’t just the traditional Muslims or the terrorists or whoever; it’s Palin-worshipping “Real Americans” too.
It’s hard to sit through this movie and not think they’ve got a point. Samantha basically gives a wealthy Danish businessman a hand job in full view of people trying to eat. You know the drill. She does everything but draw a picture of the prophet Muhammed on a pair of crotchless panties. Still, even if you understand that “SatC” is a fantasy of Manhattan in which a mid-firm lawyer like Miranda wears de la Renta dresses out for appletinis, the show was always isolated to Manhattan. The “SatC” caricature was always contained in the bubble where it could do little harm.
“SatC2” crashes this offensive fantasy world into an offensive real world to try to score political points. It wants desperately to make hard-hitting political statements about the oppression of women. When the girls navigate Abu Dhabi airport security, Samantha—in a low cut top, of course—shoots a look of disdain at women in burqas, which causes them to look away in shame. In fact, the ladies of “SatC2” are an unstoppable sandstorm of American decadence that, when combined with the unfathomable oil wealth of sheikhs and the “New Middle East”, threatens to upend the entire fundamentalist Sunni dream of a worldwide caliphate.
If “SatC2” has anything smart to say about the Middle East, it could be this: “SatC2” depicts the hypocrisy of an exotic Arab fantasy land existing within a fundamentalist culture, which goes to the heart of the oil sheikh’s dependence on both courting wealthy Westerners and oppressing its own people to maintain its power and wealth. If “SatC2” had realized the similarity between its Manhattan fantasy and the oil-funded theme park of Abu Dhabi, it could have done some real damage. But “SatC2” is so concerned with being offensive that it turns everything (except Carrie and Big’s marriage crisis and Miranda’s mommy woes) into a caricature. You can’t destroy a caricature with another caricature, unless you start believing your own b.s. Thus, “Sex and the City 2” is battle of strawmen that thinks it’s a righteous war of good vs. evil fought between liberated women in “Adore Dior” shirts and prudes who wrap their women in burqas. Despite what “they” (both of them) may think about the culturally elite fantasy world of “SatC,” that’s the real offense here.
The next question is whether ”we” should be offended by “SatC2”’s blatant cultural insensitivity towards these deeply held religious beliefs. If by “we,” you mean liberals who believe, say, that the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution guarantees gay couples the right to marry—then yes. In fact, “SatC2” tries to throw another political haymaker against those who would deny the right of marriage to homosexuals, but it doesn’t land because the first twenty minutes of the movie is a gay minstrel show. Big says “gay wedding” with a big grin on his face about ten times, and boy, is he right: this isn’t just a gay wedding—it’s the gayest wedding. It’s so gay that it’s officiated by Liza Minnelli. It’s got a dancing chorus of hot men. It’s got all the gayest gay things gays could ever gay up a gay wedding with. There’s an interesting but awkward sideplot about one gay guy being able to cheat “only in states where our marriage isn’t recognized,” but the point gets lost in all the gleam of Liza’s Liza-look-alike back up dancers.
Because the movie so clearly establishes at the outset that its moral compass is spinning wildly out of control, we simply cannot take its burqa-baiting seriously. This is too bad, because there is a serious debate to be had about the legality of the burqa in Western societies. This Christopher Hitchens article sparked a long debate at Andrew Sullivan’s blog about whether the burqa is per se oppressive. I’m not asking “SatC” to be a serious movie, but there’s certainly a grand opportunity for cultural satire here—one that could have landed several blows on behalf of those who find the burqa symbol of oppression. Instead, “SatC2”—and its fans’ oblivion to its sheer offensiveness—exposes itself as a shallow exercise in cultural narcissism.
This is why we liberals should also be offended by “SatC2”. It only gives ammunition to “they,” those D’Souzians who think that Liberal America is responsible for 9/11, death panels, the commu-socialist nanny state, and all the rest. It’s the liberal equivalent of the scene in “The Blind Side” where Sandra Bullock, in a powerskirt and designer sunglasses, walks right into a Memphis housing project to threaten drug dealers by sassin’ them that she’s “always packin’.” “Sex and the City 2” is no more an argument against burqas than “The Blind Side” is an argument for the NRA and school vouchers.