Businessmen Husbands at the Movies

What got me thinking about this was when I was with my sister when she caught a bit of Sex and the City 2 (2010) while channel-surfing (believe me, I’m every bit as embarassed to even know of this movie’s existence as you probably think I should be). Long story short, in this scene, Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Mr. Big (Chris Noth) prepare for a night together. As the movie’s release coincided with the financial crisis late last decade, there was a reference with the “market dropping 100 points”, as Big lamented when returning home from work one day. Despite all that, Carrie insisted upon Big taking her out and expressed displeasure at having to eat the takeout that Big had brought home.

For the minority of you people out there who don’t know, Sex and the City started off as a wildly popular sitcom and eventually had two movie released later on. The premise is basically that four of the shallowest and most materialistic women to have ever been on television are best friends in New York City and are basically on the hunt for (preferably rich) boyfriends while buying products conveniently placed so the viewer always knows exactly what brand they are. Somehow or another, Carrie struck gold with Mr. Big (not to be confused with the villain from Live and Let Die), a Wall Street businessman.

Basically after seeing how Big was portrayed in that instance, I got started thinking about how men are depicted in movies and shows for an ostensibly female audience. Big, as you probably figured, is just his nickname, and he went through the entire series without having his real name (John James Preston) revealed; that happened in the first movie (Keep in mind, most of what I know is from what my sister, a fan of the show, told me as I wouldn’t be caught dead watching this). As far as the series is concerned, nothing about the character, not even his name, is as important as these two facts: He’s rich, and he thinks a superficial journalist with expensive tastes is exactly what he wanted in a woman his entire life. Most interestingly, you don’t really know exactly what his job is. All you know is that it happens on Wall Street and he wound up with a lot of money. Of course, nobody bothered to mention the fact that janitors also work on Wall Street, so I think at least mentioning his profession would be at least….kind of important.

This rich boyfriend leitmotiv also surfaced in the hilariously awful Obsessed (2009). There, Derek Charles (Idris Elba) is an investment banker married to Sharon (Beyonce), whom he met while she worked as a temporary worker under him. Derek had a reputation of being able to bed almost any woman he wanted until Sharon managed to whip (you’ll see why I use this word) him into being faithful to her. Soon, Derek winds up with the unwanted attention of new temp Lisa (Ali Larter) in story that is reminiscent of Fatal Attraction, plus a nice heaping dose of stupid.

You know Derek Charles works for an investment bank, but for the duration of the movie, you never see him….doing any actual work. He just sort of hangs out at the office planning functions while Jerry O’Connell wisecracks. Furthermore, when Sharon suspected that Derek had gotten intimate with Lisa, she threw (with next to no fuss from Derek) him out of their house until he could demonstrate himself worthy of entering his own (yes his own, HE paid for the house) property again.

What I found most amusing was how this guy making huge amounts of money has such a complete lack of self-respect that he can get thrown out of his own house by his wife who stopped working upon marrying him and appeared to simply not elect to even listen to his side of the story.

Stephen King, when talking about Twilight, very bluntly put it that Twilight’s message to the readers was just how important it was to have a boyfriend, specifically one like Edward Cullen. I think Sex and the City and Obsessed are basically saying the same thing, only the boyfriend needs to have a lot of money while still believing a woman like the main character is somehow everything he ever needed in life, and thus is prepared to do her bidding at all times. To be blunt, both Sex and the City and Obsessed are basically the Twilight for older women.

Bond girls are known to be objectified to an extent, and I, a male James Bond fan, am inclined to agree. A good example is any of the three women in Goldfinger. Even Honor Blackman of Avengers fame was relegated to just having sexy fights (and eventually just sexy) with Connery. GoldenEye, in a sudden burst of political correctness, had M (Judi Dench in her debut in the role) billed Bond as a “sexist, misogynist dinosaur” to show that even Bond movies are aware of how they treat Bond girls. At the same time, nobody every confused James Bond with being realistic; everyone knows it’s absolutely unattainable fantasy.

Big had a similar function as Bond girls. He could’ve been an amoeba for all intensive purposes; all he needed was money. And I have to re-emphasize how unimportant their careers ultimately were. With a Bond girl, it’s ok. Women are allowed to be born beautiful: I don’t need to know where it came from. However, both Big and Derek Charles, at least to me, appeared to be more of the nouveau riche type, so their wealth was self-generated and thus they needed to actually earn it. How it was earned is of little to no importance as is shown; Wikipedia was of absolutely no help in both instances.

Also, another thing I observed was the one-sidedness of standards. I’ll leave Derek Charles out of this because Beyonce is beautiful, so I think that was a good catch on his part. However, like Edward Cullen being a 100-year-old vampire who is incidentally a specimen of male perfection is into annoying shallow high school girls, Mr. Big the rich guy is into annoying shallow columnists with expensive tastes. While Bella explicitly states how she has a preference for Edward over “chess club Eric”, I wonder if Carrie would have even acknowledged Big’s existence had he not had so much money.

So what am I saying with this? Am I being sexist? No, quite the opposite. I actually think this is precisely the type of thing that should make any self-respecting feminist have a cow, knowing that producers are making this for women to watch. Viewers who claim to be fans may say that they can relate to the characters. I say that I certainly hope not. What is it when a woman has a relationship with a man in exchange for material goods? Oh right: prostitution.