Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Sex and the City Haters

Hilary sent me a piece from Newsweek that was headlined "Criticism of 'Sex and the City' is Mostly Sexist." The article's thesis is that the Sex and the City movie (henceforth SATC) has received undue and sexist criticism. This might be true, but man, is this article wrong about lots of stuff. If you'd like to read it before reading my response, it's here:

First, this winner: When you talk to men about SATC: "The talk turns hateful. Angry. Vengeful. Annoyed. It's not just that they don't want to accompany their significant others to the movie. How dare Carrie and her girls hijack the box office during a time when the Hulk, Iron Man, Indiana Jones and the good old boys of the summer usually rule?"

Now, Ramin Setoodeh may hang out with a different set of friends than I do, but they must be really different if they're mad about a movie they don't plan on seeing making lots of money. These are ridiculous straw men: leering Hulk-lovers angered that women have the audacity to go to a movie in May/June. Can anyone make sense of this? It's one thing if they're mad that they might get dragged to it, but Setoodeh makes it clear that it's more than that. These imaginary, unidentified quoted men he talked to are upset that a movie for women is succeeding in the summer blockbuster season. Who are these people, Clarence Thomas and Rush Limbaugh?

Setoodeh also points out that "Movie critics, an overwhelmingly male demographic, gave it such a nasty tongue lashing you would have thought they were talking about an ex-girlfriend. "Sex" mustered a 54 percent fresh rating on, compared to the 77 percent fresh for the snoozefest that was "Indiana Jones" (a boy's movie! Such harmless fun!)."

There's so many things wrong with this. First, he used Rotten Tomatoes, not Metacritic, and Tomatoes is useful in some ways but will index practically anyone. One way around this is to use Rotten Tomatoes Top Critics, where only legitimate critics are indexed, and the scores are: SATC 56, Indy 61. Oops. Those scores aren't so different.

Next, he argues that film critics are "overwhelmingly male." This is true, but many publications have multiple reviewers split between the genders. This means that "women's pictures" are often reviewed by the woman reviewer, and that was the case here: 14 women weighed in on SATC for metacritic, but only 7 for Indy, even though Indy received 40 reviews to SATC's 37. But it gets worse.

The metacritic score for SATC is 53; for Indy 65. If you look at only women reviewers for SATC, the score jumps to 65, meaning that women reviewers did like SATC more than male reviewers, but only enough to move it from "mediocre" to "decent," not "good" or "great." Furthermore, the 7 female critics that reviewed Indy have an average score of 66 for that film. This means:
1. Female reviewers liked Indiana Jones 4 slightly more than they liked SATC
2.Female reviewers liked Indiana Jones 4 slightly more than male reviewers liked Indiana Jones. Or if you don't think the single metacritic point has value, let's just put it this way: Female reviewers found Indiana Jones 4 and SATC to be of exactly equal value, and although male reviewers preferred Indy to SATC, female reviewers liked Indy more than male reviewers did.

Finally, I have to deal with one more point of confusion: Setoodeh repeatedly calls Indiana Jones "a boys movie." Although I have only anecdotal evidence against this, I think that's crazy. Yes, the Indy series is made by and stars men, but it is designed for and beloved by both genders. Hell, it's designed for and loved by both genders, all ages, the US and all foreign countries save Germany and now Russia, and yes, probably Extraterrestials as well. Spielberg and Lucas invented the blockbuster, the movie that appeals to everyone simultaneously. And so, although the Indiana Jones movies certainly bear all the trimmings of a classic boys serial, they clearly appeal to everyone - anecdotally, it seems to me that women, in fact, prefer Indy to men, at least those women that I know. That may not be the case for this most recent picture, but Indy as a franchise seems to me just as driven, if not more, by female interest than male interest.

Setoodeh does have a whole paragraph that's just quotes from negative reviews of SATC by men. Which is great and all, but I can play that game too: Manohla Dargis of the Times says "It isn’t that Carrie has grown older or overly familiar. It’s that awash in materialism and narcissism, a cloth flower pinned to her dress where cool chicks wear their Obama buttons, this It Girl has become totally Ick."

Ooh! Sound the alarms! Women critics hate SATC!

Or how about this, from Robert Wilonsky of the Village Voice, on Indiana 4: "it's almost unfathomable that this hoary mishmash is the best that George Lucas and Steven Spielberg could cough up."

Grr! Men reviewers don't like Indiana Jones 4!

If we remove Setoodeh's bogus claims about the critics and his wrong-headedness in insisting that Indy is a boy's movie (or at least, that it's for boys), all that we're left with are:
1.Unidentified hateful men dislike Sex and the City for making money in the summer, their rightful domain.
2.The state of women in today's Hollywood, both as creators and viewers, is woeful (this is the last two paragraphs).

Since I don't buy #1, all we're left with is #2. And yeah, we knew that already.

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