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Sex and the City: Orientalism Dressed In Gucci

The Sex and the City franchise is built up of six television seasons and two movies. The series has been widely praised on its groundbreaking approach to a number of social issues, tackling contemporary themes such as sexuality, promiscuity and femininity, whilst exploring the intricate nature of relationships, both romantic and platonic. However, Sex and the City 2 saw a completely new issue come to light. The movie sees the four New York women travel to Abu Dhabi, on an all-expenses-paid luxury trip. What follows is a very orientialistic and racist depiction of the Middle East.

sex_and_the_city_2_movie5

Screenshot from Sex and the City 2

Orientalism is the exaggeration and distortion of Eastern cultures, as compared to Western cultures, even going as far as presenting “such cultures as exotic, backward, uncivilised, and at times dangerous“. The orient ultimately “creates an image outside of history, something that is placid and still, eternal…the creation of the ideal other… offers a marvellous instance of the interrelations between society, history and textuality” (Said, E, 2001).

Right from the get go, the film has elements of orientalism. When Samantha breaks the news to the girls that they are off to Abu Dhabi, Carrie jumps right in saying, ‘I have always been fascinated by the Middle East. Desert moons, Scheherazade, magic carpets’, to which Charlotte’s four year old adopted Chinese daughter (one of the only Chinese characters introduced throughout the entire series) replies, ‘Like Jasmine and Aladdin?’ Really, Carrie? That is all you can think of when describing the Middle East? Clearly the writers have gained their preconceived ideas from watching Disney’s Aladdin, another film accused of orientalism.  Even when the girls are on the plane travelling to, what the girls continuously refer as the ‘New Middle East’, Carrie comments that they have ‘Arabic Pringles’, to which she explains ‘Ok, now I am impressed!’. This ultimately alludes to the idea that such underdeveloped countries should not have brand name products!

Just for anyone else who may be surpised to hear of Arabic Pringles, I thought I would post a photo for you. I mean, WOW! (Sex and the City 2, screenshot).

Just for anyone else who may be surpised to hear of “Arabic Pringles”, I thought I would post a photo for you. I mean, WOW! (Sex and the City 2, screenshot).

Such racist depictions are also seen in the film as Charlotte Goldenblatt (who converted to Judaism after marrying her husband) resorts back to her maiden name, York, when meeting her Arabic butler. Carrie, being the ever-questioning gal that she is, immediately asks why this is, to which Charlotte explains, ‘It is … The Middle East’. From here, we as the audience, are able to understand that some of the girls do not feel safe in this ‘strange and Middle Eastern land’.

My exact reaction when hearing Charlotte's racist comments. (Image reference: Sex and the City Tumblr GIFS).

My exact reaction when hearing Charlotte’s racist comments. (Image reference: Sex and the City Tumblr GIFS).

Below is probably the most disrespectful scene in the entire movie. It not only disrespects the Muslim culture and aspects of their societal standards and ideals, but honestly does wonders for woman empowerment. Just wait until you to watch it. Be prepared. All class. Totally inappropriate.

Since when is it entertainment to watch a sexually liberated woman screaming at the Muslim community about her sex life? During the scene, the Arab men are also “presented as the frightening “other” who threaten consumer and sexual freedom” (Gerbakher, I, p. 15).

Even when listening to the music, it is apparent that the producers have given the traditional Sex and the City scores a ‘oriental make-over’. From here, the four main characters rush back to the airport and arrive back home to New York with a better appreciation of their lives. What a great underlining motif!

Ultimately, the entire film must be questioned. Why was it that Abu Dhabi was chosen to be the new setting to explore sex and society? Why is it that the producers felt the need to seep orientalism into every possible bit of the movie? Is this truly what contemporary Western audiences are really calling for? I hope not.

References:

Author unknown, 2011, ‘What is Orientalism?’ Reclaiming Identity: Dismantling Arab Stereotypes, Arab American National Museum (online exhibition).

Gerbakher, I, Year Unknown,’Sex and the City and Edward Said: The Chanel Theory of World Peace’, <http://www.academia.edu/1474510/Sex_and_the_City_and_Edward_Said_The_Chanel_Theory_of_World_Peace&gt;

Said, E, 2001, ‘From Orientalism’, in V Leitch (ed.) The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, W.W. Norton, New York, pp.1991-2012.

3 Comments

  1. Hi Blake! I’m agreeing so much with what you’ve blogged about and Sex and the city was a really good example to express orientalism especially the the part shown on the Youtube clip you’ve posted. I also agree that ultimately the entire film must be question and I feel like they’ve chose the wrong setting as Abu Dhabi is such a fragile city compared to many other places in the world. Good job! 🙂

  2. Hi Blake,
    You’ve used a really awesome example to demonstrate the idea of Orientalism and how Western distortions and stereotypes about the ‘East’ continue to permeate in Hollywood films today. This is really well written with a nice flow from paragraph to paragraph and I love the title! The use of a Youtube clip really reinforces your argument, where it shows how the film uses exotic music in the background and the Arab men and women are dressed in traditional clothing, which is juxtaposed to the Western women in Western clothing. It really creates this assumption we have in the West that there is a distinct divide between the East and West and creates the idea of the ‘Oriental other’. This film really is offensive on so many levels and to think it was only made in recent years is scary to say the least! It would be interesting to find out if the movie got any backlash from overseas particularly in the Middle East as well as at home.

    I know there’s a word limit so its hard to include everything, but discussing the background to where these conceived stereotypes of the East came from and its link to colonialism would just add some great background knowledge of why these Western stereotypical depictions were created: (http://www.arabstereotypes.org/why-stereotypes/what-orientalism). In addition to this, possibly one or two more sources to back up your argument would be great such as this article from the Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/film/2010/may/23/sex-and-the-city-film-terrible or this academic source: http://www.academia.edu/1474510/Sex_and_the_City_and_Edward_Said_The_Chanel_Theory_of_World_Peace

    • Thanks Byron! I really appreciate it. I had the exact same thought when I was creating the blog post, about how recent it was! In a day and age like our own, you would like that films would be more respectful.

      Thanks heaps for those sources as well – I was actually just looking for a few more to reword some things and add in just a sentence or two more for some support! It’s really appreciated! I will definitely include them in a bit!

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