Monday, May 31, 2010

Urban scrawl

It’s a pretty reliable rule of thumb that the worst art tends to provoke the best criticism. Or if not the best criticism, at least the funniest. I have yet to enjoy the charms of Sex And The City 2. It’s all I can do to avoid those shimmering ads that hover on my laptop screen, threatening to burst into squawking life if my cursor brushes too close; since when has checking one’s e-mail required the steady hands of a bomb disposal expert? And yet I have already wallowed in some deliciously vicious reviews of the movie: first, Hadley Freeman in The Guardian; and then, even better, Lindy West in The Stranger. (“‘If I wasn’t rich, I’d definitely just kill myself right away with a knife!’ says everyone in this movie without having to actually say it.”)

In fact, the reviews have been so good (by which I mean they’re aesthetically pleasing in their own right, rather than that they offer a number of stars/thumbs that might make the producers happy) that they’ve now been reviewed themselves, by Liz Jones, of the Daily Mail.

It’s appropriate that such a potentially postmodern task should fall to Ms Jones, because she doesn’t really exist. Or rather, the ‘Liz Jones’ we encounter on the page appears to be a heightened alter ego of the writer, just as ‘Carrie Bradshaw’ is supposedly based on the author of Sex and the City, a sort of Candace Bushnell 2.0. Every escapade and mishap she relates to her readers, from her divorce to her money worries, is at once too preposterous to be believed, and too banal for anyone to bother making it up. Taken as a whole, they present a simulacrum of humanity, a woman who cannot exist in real life, because if she did she would have been murdered years ago, just for being so bloody annoying. Indeed, when a shotgun was fired at her house last year, many observers pondered that she might have brought it on herself; whether because she depicted her Exmoor neighbours as toothless junkies, or because she concocted the whole episode, an ambiguous smudging of gonzo journalism and rural melodrama, Cold Comfort Farm rewritten by Hunter S Thompson and Jayson Blair.

So, what does ‘Liz’ have to say? Well, her first objection is to Freeman’s remark that the film made her “want to be sick in my mouth”. Intriguingly, this phrase was removed when the Guardian article was republished in, uh, the Daily Mail; as was the reference to “women with higher expectations of movies about women than a compendium of cliches from the Daily Mail”. You see, for ‘Liz’, this isn’t really about whether the reviewers were right or wrong about the film being good or bad. This is about the sisterhood; or at least a very precise slice of the sisterhood, apparently the only sector of society that you’re allowed to criticise these days, “the middle-aged, affluent white woman”. Like, say, Liz Jones. That’s Liz without the quotation marks of course, because Liz is affluent, paid a six-figure sum to grace the minds of Mail readers with the benefit of her wisdom; whereas ‘Liz’ is on the verge of bankruptcy, relying on the generosity of her readers to pay her bills.

Implicitly, of course, Mail readers are also middle-aged, affluent white women, or aspire to being so; the crossover between Mail readership and SATC fandom is pretty obvious. But here’s where it gets confusing. ‘Liz’ praises the movie as being something around which women like her can unite and celebrate, exuberantly and without inhibition, enjoying their own empowerment; she tells us that when she attended, “Samantha’s ‘Lawrence of my *****’ joke got the loudest screams of the night.”

Now, this threw me. It was quite possible that Samantha’s joke was the funniest of all time, and entirely deserving of such collective ululation. But because of those Whitehousian asterisks, I had no bloody idea, and was forced to Google for the un-starred version. And do you know what the missing word was? How bad can it get? The word is – more sensitive readers might prefer to look away now:
Er... right. So while middle-aged, affluent white female Mail readers and writers, both real and fictional, should feel free to celebrate the ditzy materialism of the SATC franchise, they must be protected from any reference to the geography of their own bodies, lest, perhaps, such language makes them sick in their mouths. West’s contemplation of the same area (What is the lubrication level of Samantha Jones's 52-year-old vagina?”) is so profane as to be beyond the protection even of those doughty asterisks.

Because, in Mailworld, in ‘Liz’world, those middle-aged, affluent white women are only worthy of support and protection if they stick to the curriculum, which is about liking nice clothes and shoes and cocktails and worrying about whether celebrities are too fat, or too thin, or too old, or whether the celebrities’ clothes and shoes are nice enough, and whether they’ve consumed too many cocktails. Girl Powah! But woe betide any middle-aged, affluent white woman who steps over the line. Radio 4’s Fi Glover, for example, who ‘Liz’ damns for introducing a segment on an Afghan version of Pop Idol. The unnamed “snooty blonde American academic” who announced the death of romantic comedy on BBC2. Any middle-aged, affluent white woman who might choose to attend “the highbrow Hay Festival”. Words such as “academic” and “highbrow” are of course raw, dripping meat to the Mail faithful, especially when applied to women; stockings should be sheer, not blue. ‘Liz’ has “a PhD in the box set” of the original SATC TV series, and that’s all the cleverness any girl needs. (Although of course, if a university were to put the study of SATC on the curriculum, that would be a Mickey Mouse degree, and dumbing down, and probably political correctness gone mad. Do try to keep up.)

This is squalid misogyny, moronic self-loathing masquerading as sisterhood. But, before you reach for your shotgun and pepper the Jones letterbox, wait a moment. It’s not Liz talking, it’s ‘Liz’, the Carrie Bradshaw of the Mail, a character as ironically vile and idiotic as Alf Garnett or the bigots inhabiting the Randy Newman songbook. Liz herself crouches within, a metacritical Sheela Na Gig, poking and provoking us, flashing her labia at Hadley Freeman and the editor of the Daily Mail and vomiting in Lindy West’s mouth and Carrie Bradshaw’s and her own and ours.

PS: More thoughts on SATC from Mark Kermode on 5Live (in the last half-hour), Anna Carey in the Irish Times and, from a few years back, Sarah Churchwell (the blonde academic herself) in the Spectator, and just now a response to ‘Jones’ in her blog.

PPS: And a final few words from Sathnam Sanghera in The Times (after he deals with a particularly violent Alicia Keys gig).


Annie said...


Anonymous said...

Very like.

Vicus Scurra said...

Still not going to read the Daily Mail. It seems to make you quite tetchy.

Annie said...

Ye-es... that Lindy West piece was funny, though maybe it's because I'm an old bird myself now that I found the hi-lar-ious lampooning of an old bird's vagina as repulsive & disgusting - "aged & withered... deep grey caverns" - a bit more misogynistic than actually funny. If it was Richard Littlejohn writing it... (I'm assuming Lindy West is a woman.)

I prefered the article that Annie retweeted from the Irish Times

Tim F said...

Thank you, Annie R.

Very thank you, Pleite.

You should see how tetchy I am without it, Vicus.

But what's more misogynist, Annie S? Mocking women's genitalia, or refusing to acknowledge its existence, as the Mail subs do? Thanks for the link; nicely skewers the preposterous continuum that 'Jones' traces between SATC and Philadelphia Story, Thin Man, etc.

Anonymous said...

Bit off the point, but when rain drove a group of us villagers who had been camping to a Bournemouth cinema, SATC was rejected in favour of The Tooth Fairy & Street Dance. OK, we had children.
Street Dance prompted impromptu (is that possible?) separate dance displays from mothers and daughters.
The Tooth Fairy was much funnier than expected. Mainly because Stephen Merchant was in it.

As for "Liz" - shudder is the standard response.

Fat Roland said...

It's sweet that you've such an innocent mind you had to google for the asterisked word. Then again, I think I remember the same joke from an episode of American Dad a few years ago.

Tim F said...

BWT: Presumably the children felt they were too grown up for SATC.

Not innocent, Roland, just a bit dim. If I'd known I was looking for a rhyme I might have guessed it. Moreover, it's meant to be the best joke in the film, which is worrying.