Max's Blog

How Pop Culture Leads and Misleads

Tag: Virginia Woolf

Oh. Canada.

Right, Canada Day!


What to write about? You would think that I would, as somebody who recently lived in another country, be filled with nationalistic ideas, but no. I could write about foreigners’ opinions on Canada, if they had any. Or I could recount how I was the politically-correct one at my Dublin Starbucks, informing my co-workers that pulling up the sides of your eyes to signify ‘Chinese’ is not cool, and write yet another ‘multiculturalism and tolerance is deeply rooted in our national identity’ paean.

But those are tiring, and they pretend like Canada has never had any racial problems, and are lame.

I could write about coming home, my joyful feeling as the plane tilted slightly and I first saw the entire Toronto downtown illuminated, CN Tower and shimmering lights, and being back where every neighbourhood, almost every street, recalls a personal story, an aimless wander becoming a survey of my life.

But those are very Toronto, not Canada, and the rest of the country hates us, right?

So here’s a different tactic.

When I arrived at Pearson airport that December night, lugging two gigantic bags of clothing, books and the random relics of my European adventures, I had no idea where my life was going. I would look for a job after Christmas and start a few Ryerson courses, and that’s as far as I got. I had a few euros in my pocket and a habit of turning sentences that were declarative into questions by going up at the end (the only Irish influence on my voice, my brother discovered). But that was it. I lay awake at night worrying and wondering how someone who finished undergrad so passionate and excited ended up, at 24, with no direction.

Virginia Woolf wrote that “on or about December 1910 human character changed.”

Well, on or about February 2010 Max’s character changed.

If you had told me, when I was still jet-lagged, that my Ryerson courses would re-energize my writing, force me to practice and polish my voice and get me excited about posting a blog everyday and pursuing freelance writing, I wouldn’t have believed you.

The school is Canadian.

If you had told me, as I unpacked my grey and neon Penny’s t-shirts from Dublin, that I would get an internship at a fashion magazine within two months, and not just a fashion magazine, but an alternative feminist one, literally put together in a Parkdale attic by dedicated and fabulous volunteers, and that this internship would encourage my writing while reuniting me with my old love of fashion, I would have thought you were crazy.

This magazine, shipped all over the country and the world, is Canadian.

And, at twilight on New Years Day, as I lay on my bed in the dark, just broken up with by the guy I had started seeing, wondering how many more times this would happen, and angry at this dismal start to my year, you said,

‘Worry not: in a few months you will meet a man who will be the smartest, bravest and most heroic person you’ve ever known, and he will inspire you and change you and even ask you to write with him.’

I would have thought you sarcastic, and a bit of a bitch.

Having left his first country, he came to Canada, to be free.

Two thousand and ten has already made me a new person. And my life is fun again. Maybe too much fun, actually, as my latest credit card bill was equal to my last pay cheque.

I am saving up to go to India with Dervla.

After which, I will be happy to come home.


In defence of Sex and the City 2

So shoot me, I didn’t hate Sex and the City 2. In fact, I think I enjoyed it more than the first one, although the two raspberry cocktails I downed before going in may have helped. All the girls in high-heels and gay boys who dressed up to go to the cinema (when else do people dress up for a movie?) got me in the right mood, and my friends and I had an absolute blast. I’m not going reiterate my misgivings about setting it in the Middle East. Nor weigh in on ongoing newspaper battle of the sexes (male reviewers hating it, female writers crying sexism, female reviewers saying they hate it too), but I will point out that if it caused people to talk about it so much Michael Patrick King arguably did something right. I’m not even going to discuss the fashion. Well, not exclusively. Instead, I’m going to describe my favourite scene which early on connected the film with the universe and ethos of the original series.

The movie begins with Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Big (if you’re still reading this I needn’t tell you he’s played by Chris Noth) are finally married, living a chic and childless Nick-and-Nora-Charles classic-Manhattan existence. What is the ultimate single girl to do when she is officially off the market? Well, she writes a book titled I do, Do I? and switches from spending all her money on fashion to spending it all on interior design. And, like many wives, she worries that they’ve lost the sparkle when her husband buys a TV for the bedroom, spends every night laying on the couch and flirts with Penelope Cruz. (Rich people have problems too, and although yes, I’m disappointed that all four main characters, none of whom started out as ostentatiously wealthy, now have lots of money, but I was disturbed by suggestion by critics that because Carrie has a beautiful condo with a walk-in closet she has nothing to complain about. But moving on…)

When at one point Carrie needs a break from her marriage and their shared living space, she quietly sneaks downtown to a familiar brownstone. As she unlocks the door to her old apartment, I literally gasped with delight. She walks around, turning on lights and running her fingers over book spines, as the narration explains that the housing market being what it was, they decided to keep Carrie’s old apartment for the time being. She sits down by the desk and turns on that celebrated lap top. I absolutely loved that Carrie, despite getting married, was allowed to hold on to her twenty-something apartment (“An apartment everyone’s had,” the creators described in the Sex and the City book) and that she has a quiet place to write: as Virginia Woolf would say, “A room of one’s own.”

Later, when Carrie glances out her window to see Big waiting downstairs in his limo as he did so often in the show, I was bowled over with nostalgia for the series and what it had meant for me watching it late nights on ‘Bravo’, and then sharing the DVDs with my university friends. It was icing on the cake when Carrie exits the brownstone in a fantastic Dior dress patterned like old newspapers that, if you were a major follower of the show, you would recognize from the third season. It was the exact kind of tribute a movie based on a beloved TV show should throw to their fans.

Compare it to this scene in the first movie, which is ostensibly about the ladies helping Carrie clear her out closet but actually is an excuse for them to drink Champaign, dance to Aerosmith and play dress-up. I love the concept of the scene (who wouldn’t want to play dress-up in Carrie’s closet?) but the clothes featured were not just never on the show but predate the show’s existence (as Carrie calls them, “the worst of the 80’s”). Especially when the other women join in the dress-up fun (seen in the extended film but not the theatrical release because preview audiences balked), costumer Pat Field missed an opportunity to have Charlotte, Miranda and Samantha wear quintessential Carrie looks and even (if I directed it) making fun of Carrie’s stiletto-strut and girlish yelps. I visualize Cynthia Nixon in a giant crinoline, maybe with three flower-pins, tossing her hair around. True, the scene ends with Carrie wearing the famous pink tutu from the opening sequence, which the other girls seem to recognize despite the fact that she never wore it on the show. That’s a funny meta joke, but it’s another example of how the first movie treated the show as a concept rather than build upon the universe that had been real for fans for eight years.

One of the sequel’s themes was ‘making traditions work for you’ (marriage, motherhood, Muslim niqabs) which was much better, and more feminist, than the first movie’s theme of ‘you should forgive people if you love them, even if they cheat on you or leave you at the altar.’ Still, as I’ve said before, the series will always end for me with the last episode, which reminds you to never lose yourself in your relationships, and that “If you find someone who loves the you that you love, well that’s just fabulous!”