By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
OF COURSE, THESE ARE DIFFICULT TIMES FOR THOSE who champion women's freedom -- Callie Khouri's gone from the rebel-yell exuberance of Thelma & Louise to the sitcom acceptance of The Ya-Ya Sisterhood. We've long since passed the point at which sexual pleasure was put forth as a foretaste of utopia, a potentially liberating force for both women and men. These days, the right believes in passing out chastity brochures instead of condoms. The left has fallen into prudishness, still cowed by a cadre that finds pornography and harassment everywhere. And though our popular culture never tires of selling commercialized eros -- booty-call song lyrics, nude models on billboards, downloadable smut for every kink, shows like Real Sex that specialize in sniggering -- we have become less willing and able to honestly explore our real sexual lives. We somehow seem to have drifted back into the 19th century. During the Lewinsky debacle, I heard people ask over and over, "Why would a president risk everything just to have sex with an intern?" when the real question should've been, "Why is anyone surprised?" For all of our knowingness, we seem to have forgotten (or repressed) what Freud struggled a century ago to make us see -- that we're driven by unconscious impulses far vaster than we can ever know.
Perhaps reacting to a mainstream that sells jejune ideas of sexuality -- intercourse with fruit pies! -- many of today's artists seem stuck in the clichÃ©s of transgression. Whether it's Storytelling's black prof viciously screwing a white student, Baise-Moi's run-amok chicks banging and murdering men, or the Korean teens in Yellow Hair trying to fuck a man to death, today's "subversive" works merely tar our sexual lives with a reflexive, dead-end negativity that too often feels defeatist: In Catherine Breillat's brainy Romance, the heroine imagines a dream world in which her face can be kissed by the particular man she adores while her nether regions are pleasurably plundered by some guy who turns her on. For her, life's tragedy is that the body and the head have no prayer of getting in sync.
Even a racy Hollywood movie like Unfaithful comes down on the side of misery. Although Diane Lane's adulterous wife isn't demonized or turned into a monster -- nobody's shrieking "Kill the bitch," as the guy did behind me when I first saw Fatal Attraction -- her illicit attraction to her lover still proves fatal. And the movie punishes her for it: A housewife's taste for afternoon delight leaves behind a corpse and a mistrustful marriage that looks suspiciously like a prison. She has crossed the sexual line, and the result is disaster.
Given all this grimness, you see the appeal of AlmodÃ³var films, Nervemagazine and especially Sex and the City. Sure, the show is frivolous, consumerist and sometimes excruciating -- I'm constantly embarrassed for unsinkable Kim Cattrall and her obligatory randiness -- but it has the life-affirming hopefulness of great pop-culture junk. Carrie and her friends inhabit a magical Manhattan where women spend their lives lunching with friends, shopping for shoes, sleeping with attractive guys (who have subtle names like Mr. Big) and then talking about their adventures as freely as gay men. Naturally, this is the purest zipless fantasy, but that's the whole point and the whole pleasure (which is why the last season's more "serious" episodes were so dull). In an era when the dream of sexual freedom is routinely viewed with disdain or disapproval, Sex and the City offers something positive: a lighthearted glimpse of erotic utopia.