To Be Real
Do you have an accurate picture of the way you’re read in the world? That is the question posed by Sex and the City’s season 4 episode “The Real Me”. This is my favorite episode, in a season that overall I tend to regard as mixed to meh.
Now I realize Sex and the City tends to be a polarizing topic and for good reason That said I’m not particularly interested in having that conversation here or ever again. You don’t need to lecture the chubby black girl about the level of privilege fail surrounding this show. Read the tagline, folks.
Say it with me, “Trust me, I’ve done the legwork.” Then take a deep breath and let that balloon go.
What I find most charming about this episode is the level of self reflection demonstrated by Carrie – a quality generally lacking in all the characters with the exception of Big, Steve and Samantha. You don’t have to like what you find when you self reflect. Hell, you don’t have to even change it. It still puts you ahead of decepticons in my book.
The episode finds Carrie out at a gay bar and running into the only other fruit fly in the building – played by queen of the fruit flies herself, Margaret Cho – who asks her to model in a charity fashion show. Carrie scoffs, but reluctantly agrees, only later confessing to her pal Stanford (the wonderful Willie Garrison!) that she’s not model quality. Stanford, who is often portrayed refreshingly free of misogynistic tendencies, says, “well then you can’t see what I see.” The look in his eyes and the confidence in his voice suggest to me his statement comes from a place of true friendship and love. It’s a great moment, played effectively by both actors.
Samantha’s story makes me smile too. She spends the episode getting nudie snaps taken and while others might frame Samantha as a vapid privileged such and such, I choose to see her as a wonderfully present, self actualized chick who gets that she’s got the societal accepted hotness and hey why not get it on film. I like this about her. I like this about the show. I find nothing particularly noble in privileged folks pretending they lack privilege or actively trying to devalue it as though THAT would make the world a less problematic place for others. Beating your privilege with faux batons of condemnation is not activism; it’s lip service. Or worse it’s the opposite. It’s another means of maintaining the status quo, while both giving the appearance of action and also suggesting to marginalized folks are overreacting to that which doesn’t really matter. Look you’re not going to rid the world of privilege by picking apart the concept or acting as though its existence undermines your ability to assist in unraveling the entire system.
Lately, I seem to find myself talking about mating from a sociological perspective. In fact, I’m doing a talk later in the month on a paper I wrote entitled: “In The Bingo Parlor of Life the Old Ladies Want to Go Home with James Cromwell not Sean Connery”. Here’s an excerpt:
There’s little about attractiveness Hollywood ever gets right. In Hollywood men like James Cromwell, Danny Glover, John Cho, Ruben Blades, Jeff Goldblum, Jimmy Smits, James Gandolfini, Ed Harris, Russell Wong, Don Cheadle, John Malkovich or The X-file’s Mitch Pileggi (Skinner) play roles, which largely under emphasize their staggering attractiveness. These are very good looking men, each in their own way and I do not mean this in a patronizing way. Yet, on film they are often showcased in vaguely de-sexualized roles, which run counter to what I believe is their currency in real life.
In real life I do not see men looking like Ed Harris hurting for loving, yet why is he a lonely widow lucky to date a hooker? (who is framed in the movie “Milk Money” as scraping the bottom of the dating barrel) When in real life, he’d be up to his sweet bald head in casseroles and phone numbers before his movie wife’s casket was lowered into the ground.
Hollywood expertly skews attractiveness so that legitimately handsome men are framed as “average” or even “unattractive” and the bar for “unattractive” for women is still far hotter than the “hottest” of attractive women in real life. Beyond merely opting to narrowly define “hotness” which is not up for debate or not the focus here, it’s no wonder that folks can’t find anyone, despite being surrounded by tons of somebodies on a daily basis.
I once dated a guy who looked not unlike Adam Arkin. Like EXACTLY like him. On TV, Arkin the son gets some play, but man, I cannot tell you how tired my arm got beating off the ladies who wanted a piece of my fakey Adam Arkin. It was stunning. And interesting, but mostly annoying.
My partner looks like a mixture of a young Harold Ramis, Spielberg and has Gere’s profile, nose and pattern of speech. Women look. Oh do they look. And then they look at me. Oh do they stink eye. I’ll go ahead and toot my own clown horn (once again) but I think we’re well matched as far as looks go. Of course I’m a tad prettier, but that’s generally the pattern in successful relationships. Again, a fact worth noting, but not a useful exploration for the purposes of this discussion.
What started the whole shebang was a conversation I overheard recently at Barnes & Noble. Two average looking guys were looking at pictures of Heidi Klum and scoffing at her husband Seal. “If he can get her, ” one stated, then laughed, “there’s hope for all of us.”
It took all my restraint not to drop sci on him. What I spared him I will share with you.
Seal is in fact, very handsome. Moreover, Seal and Heidi are of commensurate levels of attractiveness. I’ll go you one better, they even appear to share similar values both in life goals (family is important) and professional interests (arts, commerce and culture). And I’m not even wearing “kiss from a rose” colored glasses. Seal is prototypically hot: Tall, strong features, warm smile and well proportioned body. And anyone who points to his scarred face – a result of a childhood illness – done missed the boat and has some serious issues. Without knowing much about the couple and just by examining pictures, they don’t seem at all ill matched. Not to me.
Another couple was Harrison Ford and his ex Melissa Mathison. I often saw people make snarky remarks about her level of attractiveness compared to his. Guess what. Again, I’m seeing two people of commensurate levels of attractiveness. Harrison Ford is hot because he is Harrison Ford (and has the height, great voice…) and not in spite of it. And yeah he traded her in for a younger model, but don’t kid yourselves, he didn’t change his order. Ally McBeal is still in that same vein of attractiveness as his ex.
What this demonstrates to me – beyond folks needing to get lives and quit look-snarking – is Hollywood has really warped our perceptions of what is “attractive” and what is not. Who deserves whom and what that means for our weekends.
Whenever I write or discuss dating with people I am amused my opinions are considered controversial. Provocative, sure. But controversial? I don’t see it. If people are uncomfortable with the language I use or the frankness in which I address the topic then I feel that says more about their unwillingness to examine the merits of my argument and less about the argument itself.
Conventional wisdom – careful with that loaded gun of a phrase, Snarky’s – suggests that women undervalue their own looks and men overvalue their looks. For every gal who doesn’t think she’s that cute, when in reality – no she doesn’t look like whatever new flavor of hotness is on the menu – she’s probably plenty cute. For every guy who thinks he’s “better looking than that guy.” Here’s your Snarky’s wake up call: you’re probably NOT. How one wishes to unpack this new shit coming to light has far reaching impact on the ability to find satisfying partnerships where folks are meshed not by some fantasy version of desirability but by a negotiation of shared values, life goals and areas of commonality. Oh yeah, you’d be real surprised at how attractive a person who is traveling a similar path to your own can be. Here’s a hint: it’s real hot.
But back to Carrie. The best line comes from Carrie, upon realizing she was selected as one of the “real” people. She says something to the effect, “Those are MODELS. I don’t want people to think I don’t realize the difference between me and them.”
Irony aside – to be fair, Parker herself has taken quite the public beating for her looks, particularly her face – I love this line. It does not denigrate her looks or the models, only seeking to say, “I am aware of the game, independent of my own interest in playing it.”
And I think that’s a great place to be if one really wishes to unravel this mess of desirability, beauty privilege and oppression as a whole.