Max's Blog

How Pop Culture Leads and Misleads

Tag: SEX!

Matchmaker, Matchmaker

‘Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make Me a Match/ Find Me a Find, Catch Me a Catch!’

Though I know a handful of couples who met online, and have a few times dipped my pole into the ‘Plenty of Fish’ fishing hole myself (it’s more like a koi pond: tiny, cramped and filled with glittering, showy fishes acting all, well, coy), I didn’t realize how huge internet dating had become until I was waiting for a subway and two posters advertised online dating services right beside each other: one gay, one straight. Forget straight men’s metrosexual fashions and fag hags receiving oral sex tips from their queer buddies; internet dating has done more to bring the straight and gay worlds together than ‘Will & Grace’.

The for-pay sites are doing so well they can advertise on TV, leading to those groan-inducing e-Harmony ads in which beautiful people rub their noses together, illuminated by late afternoon sunlight, cuddling on a beach somewhere, unintentionally illustrating the classic “long walks on the beach” line from the pre-digital dark ages of personal ads. The ads seem designed to make single people both yearning and angry.

I was going to call them the opposite of phone sex ads in which monotone blond women lounge about on beds, purring about how they love meeting exciting new people, and trying to convince you to call the number at the bottom of the screen (“Your first call is free!”) as though they are the ones actually answering the phones. Really, they are the flip side of the same reality. Phone sex ads put sexuality at the forefront, when a lot of the men targeted may just want someone to talk to; dating services, which target women more, emphasize companionship and romance, while a lot of the ladies are probably sitting at home feeling a little horny.

Either way, we are lonely. And apparently we can’t be trusted to meet people on our own.

One hundred years ago, matchmakers could be hired to find a suitable suitor for your unwed daughter, at 19 years old almost a spinster! In the western world, this formerly-important tradition is remembered through musical theatre, with the babushka-wrapped matchmaker of ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ and Dolly Levi of ‘Hello Dolly!’, a part alternatively played by Carol Channing, Pearl Bailey and Barbra Streisand. Without campy ladies in gigantic feathered hats to help us, we’re left on our own to find mates, so we turn to the source which helps us spell words (I just looked up ‘babushka’) and find addresses two streets away from our homes: the internet.

Tellingly, in the film ‘Bride and Prejudice’, a Bollywood-style musical based on Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’, the modern day Indian family doesn’t turn to a matchmaker to help get rid of, I mean, set up their four daughters, but an Indian match-up website.

And speaking of dating within your ethnicity, my favourite online service has got to be J-Date, the Jewish dating website. We discovered it one night during undergrad and signed up our Jewish friend Shana, who sat on her bed on the other side of the room screaming. I love that you can be gay or lesbian on J-Date. The fact that someone has bucked tradition enough to be queer but still wants a Jewish partner I find quite remarkable. But the most hilarious aspect of J-Date is how many favourite food options you are given: easily, more than thirty.

“Who decides to go on a first date based on a mutually love of Malaysian or Hungarian or Tex-Mex food?!” I asked.

“Jews do,” Shana said.

Then there’s the stigma. (“There’s no stigma,” Ted on ‘How I Met Your Mother’ whines. “Oh, there’s a stigma,” his friends maintain. “That’s why you said ‘there’s no stigma’!”) I knew a couple who never once admitted to having met online.

“What would you tell your grandkids?” another friend asked me. Don’t you assume, the way things are going, that our grandchildren will live their entire lives online?

I think the stigma comes from the feeling that we shouldn’t have to meet people on the internet. The characters in ‘Friends’ and ‘Sex and the City’ and all the romantic comedies I grew up with never needed websites to go out on dates. Either baby-boomers and Gen-Xers were a lot better at actually getting out of the house and meeting people in person, things that our generation is dramatically bad at, or all those TV shows and movies lied to me (a very likely scenario).

Whatever the reasons, where once an old Jewish lady trampled about the village trying to find us “a good match”, we are now, as we often are in the post-industrial world, left on our own, scanning profile pic after profile pic, trying to see some honesty shine through all bullshit, because deep down, beneath our nonchalance and cynicism, we still believe love is out there.

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Pact of Brotherhood

Last week, the story that gripped the world drew to a happy close as the 33 Chilean miners who were trapped underground since August 5th were one-by-one extracted and greeted by their teary wives and families. Recognizing their instant fame, the miners agreed to a ‘Pact of Silence’, ignoring reporters and banding together to split up any of the proceeds. This lasted less than a week, after Mario Sepulveda, the second miner to be rescued, decided to give an interview. And what was it that made him break the ‘Pact of Silence’?

Gay sex, of course.

According to the New York Daily News, the miners’ silence sparked rumours that the trapped men were secretly engaged in male-on-male sex.

“Nothing like that ever went on,” Sepulveda said. “We were too busy trying to survive to think of sex… Saying we had sex down there with each other is just plain wrong.” Sepulveda found the rumours “offensive”.

It’s hardly surprising that rumours of brother love would crack this ‘Band of Brothers’; homophobia and fears of men growing ‘too close’ haunt almost every form of exclusively male experience, from war time fox holes to professional sports.

Interesting too that it was traditional masculine machismo which led to the short-lived ‘Pact of Silence’ in the first place. As Sepulveda says, the first 17 days without contact or aid from above were “pure hell” and that many of the miners, especially the younger men, had trouble coping. While not given any details, he hinted at fights and emotional breakdowns. God forbid, if you’re trapped deep underground, with good reason to fear you’ll never see daylight again, you’d shed a tear.

That being said, I think a ‘Pact of Silence’ was a good idea. I’m just disappointed that, after everything the miners went through, it was rumours of gay sex which made one of them break it so fast.

So it seems that when the inevitable movie comes out, I suppose staring Antonio Banderas and Javier Bardem, there will be no lip-lock between the two Spanish hunks.

On Beauty, and the End of Dating

I thought the dating world would be different. Years of Friends and Sex and the City led me to believe that my twenties would be filled with meetings at coffee shops, exhilarating phone messages confirming second dates, Sunday afternoons spent laying in bed cuddling, devastating break-ups peppered with the occasional one night stand to spice things up. Most of all, I thought it would just happen naturally, that if you were an outgoing, cool, not hideous-looking young person dates would be all around you, like water in Canada. Turn on the tape and there’s some men! Rather, dating is like fetching water in sub-Saharan Africa: it takes time, patience, fortitude and, after spending all day walking back home with a jug on your head, you discover it’s filled with bits of grit, chemicals and other defects.

Other than the pot-smoking anarcho-lesbian music students, there were no other queer people at my high school. That’s a lie, there was Gerry. Gerry was beautiful, red-haired, a dancer. He led me on and then changed schools. Only after years dwelling on this first disappointment did I look him up on facebook and he told me our non-started relationship had nothing to do with me.

But I was promised sex in university: “Undergrad is all about sex!” I was told. Not so much. I didn’t date a soul in first year. When I look back on it, I’m kind of glad, because not having a boyfriend gave me the time to make a lot of friends and have an amazing, life-changing time. But it hurt my feelings when I saw those around me hooking up.

“Why do you need to be with someone?” my well-meaning friends asked last night over pints.

“I don’t need to be with someone. But don’t you like kissing? And cuddling? And sex? Isn’t that fun? Isn’t that life?”

“Can’t you be happy to be by yourself?”

‘We had all of our childhood, and most likely the majority of our dotage for that!’ I think. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

At Guelph, all the gay cliques were formed in first year, and they were sort of incestuous. Because there weren’t that many of us, you knew who they all were, but your attempt to meet new people and infiltrate another group was often met by awkward stares.

My first real boyfriend, my first love, was a friend of a friend, and I never thought it would end. But it did, because love is simply no match for the unavoidable fact that people change.

After a series of one-night make-out sessions, usually followed by them saying “let’s just be friends” and me having a fitful night of tears, I decided to try this internet dating thing, and I met a lot of people fast.

I always considered myself kind of cool, interesting and talkative, and, despite having the insecurities that we all do, I didn’t think I was unattractive. I thought, ‘Here are guys who have really put themselves out there, who admit that they want something more. And, look, he’s already sending me messages with little hearts! The question is, who will become my boyfriend first!’

Yeah, you can guess how that turned out.

I met a lot of nice guys, had a fun time with them, and never saw them again.

‘Maybe I’m not attractive…’ I wondered, sometimes aloud.

“No!” my friends chime in. “You are a handsome guy! There’s any number of reasons why you didn’t hear back from them; maybe they just wanted friends; maybe they had nothing in common with you; maybe they’re still getting over their ex…”

“Maybe,” my friend Dorrington whimsically suggested, “you remind them of their uncle.”

“Those are all possibilities,” I acknowledged. “But you can only meet so many guys, guys who have made the effort to meet new people and admit they want to date, who tell you they just want to be friends before it has an effect on your self-esteem.”

“But, Max, why is how you feel about your looks tied to other people?” Sandy asked.

“Because that’s the point of looks, to attract people,” I said, bewildered at the question.

“No. You need to be okay with the way you look for yourself. And eventually others will pick up on that.”

“I don’t know if I believe that…”

“Anyways,” she added. “Isn’t it a tad superficial to think that not being attracted to you was the reason you never heard from them again? I have never not called someone because I didn’t immediately find them hot. Who does that?”

“…Who doesn’t?”

“Okay,” Dorrington jumped in. “Say they don’t find you attractive. Why should that hurt your feelings?”

“Because, if they like your personality, and it’s just your looks that are holding you back, how does that not hurt? There’s nothing you can do about it!”

“Precisely,” Sandy said. “So why are you worrying about it? What use is that?”

(This is my truncated version of an incredibly long, enlightening conversation about dating and physical attractiveness)

Beyond my insecurities, what it finally came down to for me was that I always thought people went into dating with the same mindset I did: that if the other person seemed nice and interesting and you found them attractive, you would try to see them again. I’ve only gradually learned this is not the case.

I hear that some guys use internet dating sites to see where they are in the picking order, never being serious about dating someone in the first place. Others have crazy-high expectations that they have to immediately fall in love with someone on the first date. Still others really just want friends, boys to add to their extended group, maybe for a dance-floor snog at some point, but nothing serious. We are the facebook-RSVP generation, automatically clicking ‘maybe attending’ just to be safe.

So I’m going to be single for awhile, because I rarely meet gay guys in the organic, pre-internet way. It’s easy to blame Toronto: in Dublin every other night I went out I ended up talking with someone, and sometimes actually getting phone numbers. Toronto bars, like the queer culture of Guelph, are for those already with friends. But Toronto gets blamed for enough, so let’s leave that aside.

I guess I have to get over ‘blaming’ my looks as well: Dorrington and Sandy were relentless in their attempt to convince me I was being paranoid and uselessly hard on myself. I’m a rational, scientific person (don’t push me, because I will say ‘MacBeth’ in a theatre just to bug you) and I always thought you figured out your looks based on the evidence of other people’s attractions. The concept that one’s beauty is inherent, not based on another’s gaze (is it not in the eye of the beholder?), is something I’m still getting my head around. But, I agree, much less destructive to worry about.

What’s left to blame? I suppose I can blame the TV shows that taught me my twenties would be all about sexy fun dating. Chalk it all up to another lesson of what life is about: it sucks sometimes but there’s moments of pure beauty and joy, if you can get over what you thought it was going to be like. That’s what your twenties are actually about.

 

Hello Sex, Goodbye Gay

Grindr is a free downloadable iPhone app which lets you find “gay, bi, curious guys” in your immediate vicinity. As Polly Vernon writes in The Observer, “It shows you who these men are and what they look like; it’ll tell you how far away from you (in feet, and even more thrillingly, fractions of feet) they are standing; and it will allow you to ‘chat’ them, if they take your fancy.” Gone are the days when one had to waste time surfing profiles on dating websites, spending hours getting to know someone on instant messenger, only to discover, in person, that there’s no chemistry or that the other person is nuts. That past time will soon look as dated as cruising by the steps on Church Street.

Grindr (pronounced ‘grinder’) was launched on March 25th 2009 and witnessed its biggest boost after Stephen Fry, Oscar Wilde incarnate himself, sang the app’s praises on a British talk show. Now, it has more than 700,000 users in 162 countries, and it continues to grow.

“I’ve never, ever had so much sex in my life!” a gay friend informed Vernon. “I’ve probably had as much in the past eight months of Grinding as I have over the 20 years since I came out. Maybe more.” Other interviewees mention hooking up in the subway, staying in and waiting to see who walks down their street, or capping off a nice evening out with friends by checking out who’s at the restaurant to take home.

Basically, sex on demand.

And Grindr’s creators have their eyes set on the straights, with a heterosexual version expected to launch “at latest” by the end of the year. Vernon writes that Grindr “marks a major evolution in how all of us – gay, straight, alive – will meet and interact with each other. Depending on who you talk to, this is either brilliant (liberating, socially enabling – the end, even, of loneliness and boredom); or a potential disaster (signaling the end of monogamy, facilitating sex addiction). Either way, it matters.”

A sex-on-demand-app was one of those ideas, like picture phones, which predated the technology that made it feasible. Around ten years ago I watched a TV program in which they advertised ‘gay-dar’, a little pager-like device which would beep when it sensed another one in the room.

“And what’s to stop gay bashers from using them?” a middle-aged lesbian asked the spokesperson. “Um, that’s something we’re obviously very aware of and concerned about dealing with…” the inadequate answer came. The segment ended with the gay host ‘meeting’ a young man who’s gay-dar had gone off, and if the gizmo’s safety concerns were already causing you doubts, the sheer awkwardness of the televised meeting would have convinced you to stay away.

“Well, that’s the end of a useless invention,” I thought, turning the channel.

Apparently not.

While I’m totally sex-positive and not a prude, I have mixed feelings about the sex-on-demand culture of Grindr, although perhaps it will siphon off the people who are just looking for casual sex, allowing more room on internet dating sites for those looking for ‘something more’. Obviously there’s still the safety concern, but I doubt there’s that many violent homophobes who would want their iPhones notifying them all the time of the queer men around, just in case they wanted to beat them up.

And let’s take a moment here to remember how lucky we are to live in a country in which homosexuality is not illegal, for in many places in the world downloading Grindr would practically be signing one’s own death sentence.

But straight hooking up is another matter entirely. The truth remains that heterosexual women are more apprehensive about sex with strangers than gay men, and I doubt that even women who are very sexually active would like to be signaled out as ready and willing to every straight man in a bar.

But for the moment, let’s focus on its effect on what is quaintly still referred to as the gay ‘community’. Joel Simkhai, the Israeli-American man who founded Grindr, said that he felt isolated as a young gay man.

“I think every gay man starts asking it, from the moment he realizes he’s gay. You are somewhere and it’s: ‘Who else here, right now, is gay? Who?’ You are looking around, you are constantly wondering. Because coming out is a lonely process.” So Grindr is meant to bring queer people together, but in a different fashion than traditional community organizations and hang-outs.

About the title, he explained that “We liked the word. We liked the notion of a coffee grinder, mixing things together… And there’s the term ‘guy finder’ in there, too. We wanted something that was masculine but was not about pride flags. Was not about…”

“A politicized idea of gayness?” Vernon offers.

“Yes! And was fun! And was in a way – not about being gay. I’m gay; I am a proud gay man. It’s not that we have any issues, right? But Grindr’s not about gay rights, or gay anything. It’s about finding guys. Being among your peers. Socializing. Being part of your community. It’s not about: ‘We’re here, we’re queer.'”

So meeting other gay guys is not a gay thing? Grindr is about being part of the community but not about being ‘here and queer’?

There’s nothing new about men who sleep with men who don’t like the names ‘gay’ or ‘queer’, who take no part in the community and live on the ‘down low’. But Grindr could make finding men for sex while completely bypassing gay bars and websites infinitely easier.

Which, of course, is fine, if all you want is sex and don’t feel any connection, socially or politically, to other men who sleep with men.

I spent the better part of last year frustrated at post-structuralists and their obsession with ‘deconstructing’ identities, and queer activists who seemed more concerned with Palestine than gay rights violations around the world. As Nicole LaViolette wrote in The Globe and Mail yesterday, Western world queers are sadly comfortable and complacent when it comes to not reaching out and helping our sisters and brothers in countries where they are constantly under threat.

Maybe I was concerned with the entirely wrong threat to the community. It’s not sexual theories which will unravel the tenuous bonds linking the alphabet soup of GLTTBQQ-etc. It’s sex itself, which, ironically, was what brought us together in the first place.  

Savages, Schoolgirls and Thugs

I like brown boys. This is a familiar refrain of mine, part-truth and part-jest. It’s genuine, because I am often attracted to men of Middle Eastern or Indian Subcontinent-background. But I also recognize it’s a silly thing to say and, because it makes people uncomfortable, it gets laughs.  A certain friend of mine even promised me an ‘I Heart Brown Boys’ t-shirt which I am still waiting for. She knows who she is. But when does my interest (I don’t want to call it a fetish) cross the line from silly into racist? We all have superficial preferences we freely admit, like hair-colour or body type, but when it comes to the race of a potential partner we’re on much shakier political ground. By pursuing certain types of people, are we expressing a healthy sexual preference that’s a part of who we are or are we reducing people to ethnic stereotypes, denying their full humanity in order to cast our fantasies?

I had been thinking about this already after the random ending about hot Native men to my last post (I found another ridiculous comment on youtube: “What state can you find all these men in? I want one. Gimme gimme!”) when an event at work yesterday played it out.

I have a Japanese co-worker named Noriko. She is sweet and reliably helpful, despite her English not being that strong (though we think she understands much better than she speaks). She works harder than any of us Canadian employees and smiles all the time. She likes me because I sing at work (“Max, you are always such fun”) and once tried to teach her about Queen Victoria.

Today this man acted as though he was going to buy something but instead stood there lecherously chatting with her as she tried to get away. “So you don’t have many friends in Canada?” I heard him ask. Creeper. Eventually, my boss called her away and whispered, “If they’re not buying something you don’t need to keep talking.” I thought the subtext of the situation had passed by her until half an hour later when she asked me a question.

“Max, what do you…think of Japanese girls?”

“I, umm, I don’t know many Japanese girls,” I answered. “I think you’re the only one.” She sighed, knowing that I didn’t understand her point.

“What do Canadian men think of Japanese girls?” she asked. “Do you think… they think… they are more… easy?”

“Oh. I don’t know,” I stammered, uncharacteristically at a loss for words. “I know that a lot of white guys think Asian girls are very pretty.” She nodded. “But ‘easy’…? I don’t know.”

“When I was in Australia, a lot of men think Japanese girls are easy,” she said.  Neither of us found more words of explanation and the conversation ended.

How could I tell her that it went beyond thinking Asian girls were “pretty”, that there is a very specific fetish about young, submissive, preferably ‘schoolgirl’ Asians? Why, as a gay man, do I even know this? Because it’s everywhere, although especially concentrated on that repository of fantasy, our society’s hidden-but-not-hidden id: the internet.  A cursory glance online demonstrates that pornography is not peopled with human beings so much as with accepted types. While some types are as general as hair-colour (blondes) or body types (busty), others are much more specific. Different races are tied with different predetermined personalities. Fetishes are not based on physicality as much as a series of cultural archetypes. Therefore, while Asian schoolgirls are ‘submissive’, while ‘big-bottomed’ Latino and black women are meant to be boisterous. And it’s not just a straight thing: gay porn is populated by tough-talking black ‘thugs’, swarthy ‘Italian stallions’, innocent blue-eyed Russian youths, stoic Indian ‘noble savages’ and waifish Asian ‘twinks’. (Wow, ‘Russian’ was the only descriptor there I felt safe not attaching quotes to!)

You could argue, as I’m sure some social constructionist somewhere has, that admitting your attraction to a specific race is no different than admitting to liking redhead girls or hipsters who wear skinny jeans and have bad facial hair. Some might think that as soon as we label ourselves heterosexual or homosexual we’ve already placed assumptions based on body types unto future lovers (he has a penis and all that implies, therefore I can be attracted to him), though I don’t think preference for an ethnic group is as central as our preference for sexes.   

But these fetishes don’t exist in a vacuum. While I am pro-sex and am in favour of people expressing their fantasies, I worry about what socio-politics are behind them. How does an ethnic-minority subject of a fetish feel about being on the receiving end of it: turned on or used (or both)? Why do so many personal ads specify race: do the posters want to attract one specific group, or disincline another? Why is interracial sex so prominent in pornography: are fetishes a way of dealing with itchy social issues we’re uncomfortable talking about openly?

Do I like brown boys because I’m attracted to their dark, expressive eyes, or because I have a series of subconscious conceptions of them I want to see played out? 

That’s a lot of questions that I don’t have answers to. Sexual preference is one of those crazy-complex human things which we may never get to the bottom of. Which I can live with, I guess.

Rue McClanahan

Rue McClanahan was the overlooked member of The Golden Girls. As the sensual Southern Belle Blanche, she was not given the best lines nor was celebrated like Bea Arthur or Betty White. Even Estelle Getty, with her ham-fisted Borscht-belt delivery, got more attention as the sassy Sicilian Sofia. I remember my Dad awhile ago saying “I never was a fan of what’s her name… Blanche, but the other three sure are pros.”

As a society we still have little sympathy for the ‘slutty one’, especially when she is confident and unashamed. Although the other characters mocked her for it, Blanche’s sexual openness was remarkable for TV. You still rarely see characters who worry about one-night stands and menopause at the same time. In I’m the One that I Want, Margaret Cho discussed her sexual epiphany: “I wondered, ‘Am I gay? Am I straight?’ And then I realized: I’m just slutty. Where’s my parade?” After the term ‘slut’ has been successfully reclaimed, I look forward to that parade, led by Margaret, Kim Cattrall and Rue McClanahan, three generations of unapologetic sexual women.

Despite third-(or fourth-) banana status, Blanche was often given emotional ‘issues’ plots, such as when her rival sister had  breast cancer, she was sexually-harassed by an adult education professor or her brother came out as gay (again, groundbreaking for 1980’s TV). Especially next to Maude’s Bea Arthur, it was surprisingly Blanche who often voiced the show’s feminism, such as when she threw out her overweight daughter’s fiancé because he treated her condescendingly. She gave a rousing speech to a Daughters of the Confederacy society who didn’t want to accept her because one of her ancestors was Jewish and from Buffalo: “You say you’re about American history? I am American history!” And when her father “Big Daddy” passed away, she visited her parents graves and broke your heart when she realized she was “nobody’s little girl anymore.”

Rue’s was a more naturalistic acting, her jokes built not around zingy one-liners but by poking fun at Blanche’s overconfidence and vanity. This might be the reason she was viewed as the least funny of the girls, but she was responsible for some of the show’s funniest moments. When Dorothy tells her that her visiting friend is a lesbian, Blanche, after initially getting over the shock that anyone wouldn’t like sex with men, accepts it. “That’s not all,” Dorothy continues. “She has a crush on Rose.” “Rose,” Blanche says, blankly. “Rose. Well, that’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard! She’s staying under this roof and she falls for little Miss Muffet and not me! Who ever heard of something so ridiculous!” “Blanche, get a hold of yourself!” Dorothy growls.  

In another classic episode, Blanche has trouble keeping composed when Rose brings home a date who is a little person. Trying to get a hold of herself in the kitchen, she tells Dorothy that she must play the welcoming hostess because otherwise it would look “unSouthern.” She grabs a plate of appetisers, waltzes into the living room, asks “Shrimp?” and, with perfect timing, turns back giggling and waltzes out in humiliation.

While Blanche was never really portrayed as dumb, it was always hard to believe she worked at a museum, especially when, during the sparse episodes her job was mentioned, she discussed art not artefacts.

‘Wow, Max,’ you may be thinking, ‘you know this show as much as that other show about four single women who discuss men and sex over coffee and desserts!’ I do. When I moved to Dublin, especially before I got a TV, turning on The Golden Girls youtube channel was my only entertainment (besides, you know, like reading). I will always have a fondness for those ladies because of how they distracted me during those first difficult months, and I’m glad to see them rerunning the show again on TV. We need more reruns of shows like that instead of the round the clock snark of Family Guy.

Fans of the show should have known something was up when Rue wasn’t present during Betty White’s lifetime achievement award ceremony a couple months back. Perhaps with time the legacy of her acting and character will raise her from being the Ringo of the quartet to being acknowledged as a great comedienne playing a taboo-breaking role. Maybe then I’ll know how to spell her last name.

Sex and the City and the Desert

High above Times Square a billboard of four women beckons with alluring smiles and glimpses of leg. The film’s title glitters like gemstones. Though air-brushed, the women are unmistakable to people the world over: Kristen Davis, Kim Cattrall, Cynthia Nixon and, naturally in the centre, Sarah Jessica Parker, twirling a blue sheer dress with famed high-heels on display. Or are they Charlotte, Samantha, Miranda and Carrie? Not since the Spice Girls have a group of women so melded with their famous alter-egos, nor represented unabashed post-feminist girlishness to so wide an audience. As the creators of Sex and the City once gushed about the show’s far-flung international fans, “This is America to them!”

The girls are pictured not in front of the New York City skyline but rather in the desert, giving the unfortunate impression of a Las Vegas revue. As all fans of the show know by now, the desert represents not Nevada but the United Arab Emirates, where the girls go on an “all-expenses paid” vacation. “I can hear the decadence calling,” Samantha purrs in the trailer with the gusto hitherto used describing sexual conquests.

On Saturday, May 1st the ladies gazed down on Faisal Shahzad as he allegedly parked a white sports car filled with home-made explosives in Times Square.  Two street vendors spotted the abandoned car and notified police, who evacuated thousands of people from the Square. Although no one was hurt, authorities claim that the car could have produced a “significant fireball”, spewing shrapnel in all directions and killing many people. Two days later, police pulled Shahzad off a plane at John F. Kennedy airport. He was resigned to his fate; according to the Toronto Star he told border guard who arrested him “I was expecting you.” The plane was going to Dubai, part of the United Arab Emirates, where he had spent eight months last year.

After the terrorist attacks of September 11th, Sex and the City spiked in popularity, becoming a symbol of not only New York but of the resilience of the American way of life. The last episode filmed before the attacks was titled ‘I Heart NY’ and the first one of the next season featured shots of NYPD cops, the stars and stripes, and a navy dance at which Samantha, eyeing the cute sailors, declares “God bless America!” What comfort New Yorkers will feel when, perhaps still jittery from the failed Times Square plot and unearthed 9/11 memories, they go to the theatres on May 27th and see their ladies ditching their city to ride camels in Patricia Field’s flamboyant fashions, cruise hot men wearing either skimpy Speedos or ludicrous Laurence of Arabia drag, and sip brightly-coloured cocktails while discussing blow jobs.

One wonders what Middle Eastern viewers will think as well, for all of these activities may be illegal in the UAE. This is after all a country that just sentenced a young British couple to one month in prison for kissing in a restaurant. A month before that, an Indian couple was sentenced to two months in jail for sending flirtatious text messages, and earlier another couple were arrested for having sex on a beach. As with many decency laws, the authorities enforce the rules when they feel like it but can define them any way they chose, even arresting a woman for wearing a short skirt. Gay men, who have always played an important role in the creation and devoted following of Sex and the City (the trailer for the new film features what appears to be a gay wedding with special guest Liza Minnelli), fare even worse in the UAE: twenty-six men were arrested in Abu Dhabi in 2008, all receiving five year sentences and allegedly being forced to take hormone treatments.

Why would a show that celebrated single women as the ‘new bachelors’ and revolutionized what sexual topics people felt comfortable divulging  to their girlfriends go to the UAE? Michael Patrick King, the director of the sequel, told Vogue magazine’s Vicki Woods that the theme of the film was women struggling with traditional roles, and because the Middle East is where women’s roles are most “conventionally defined” he decided to set part of the movie there. “Also,” he continued, “because America slash most of the world is in a bit of an economic crunch still, I felt like everybody needed a big, extravagant, splashy, expensive vacation.” But is this really the year to celebrate indulgent spending, especially in a Muslim country? Vogue being Vogue, Woods wanted to discuss the role Islamic culture played on the costumes.  “You have to look at clothing and women and women’s bodies completely differently,” said Sarah Jessica Parker. “And you start to see how you can still see so much with someone covered. And how exciting that is and how beautiful it is and how draping can be incredibly sexy.” It is the denial of sexuality, rather than its expression, which is behind all that draping.

The irony is that the UAE didn’t allow the studio to film there. Instead, Morocco stands in for the UAE, which Woods points out “is a bit like saying Tribeca is standing in for New England.” Why did the film makers not just make it Morocco instead of directing a two-hour luxury travel ad, glamourizing the parties and sexy adventures tourists can have in a place which locks up people for kissing each other on the cheek? By ignoring draconian decency laws and reminding New Yorkers of a near-terrorist attack, the film makers may have abandoned both the ‘sex’ and ‘the city’.