The litter in littérateur. Ricky Opaterny on Books, Music, Art, and Sports


Too much Sex (and the City): a review of SATC2 featuring Susan Sontag

There are many cringe-inducing moments in the second Sex and the City film—the poor jokes, the cheap moralizing, Samantha waving around condoms and giving the finger to an angry mob of locals in Abu Dhabi—but the one that really got me came at the very end of the film when Carrie places her latest book—its subject is marriage, and the New Yorker pans it complete with a cartoon drawing of Carrie Bradshaw—on a shelf next to Susan Sontag’s Against Interpretation in her apartment. It’s the same Picador paperback edition of the Sontag book hat I purchased when I was fresh out of college and living in New York. It’s an excellent collection with two very well-known essays, the first of which I’ll mention is “Notes on Camp.” The appearance of the Sontag volume finalized what was already obvious: SATC2 went too far—it was Camp that acknowledged itself as such, it went beyond Camp so as to be meaningless.

Sontag’s most famous lines on Camp: “the essence of Camp is its love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration” and “The ultimate Camp statement: it’s good because it’s awful.” The HBO series of SATC always had some qualities of Camp about it. The characters, while developed over time, remain, with the possible exception of Carrie, archetypes. The jokes and situations were often clichéd and predictable. But the show always had what Sontag considers an essential quality of true Camp: it was dead serious. And that it maintained that seriousness throughout six seasons is what allowed audiences to love it unequivocally, to feel connected to and care about the characters.

I confess to the potentially unforgivable sin of being a straight, white male who fell for the show. I appreciated Carrie’s outfits as much as someone in that position could, which is to say that I thought she looked interesting and I now know the name Manolo Blahnik, but I wouldn’t stand a chance of picking a pair of his shoes from a lineup even if the other suspects came from Nike. Although I’ve lived in New York City twice, SATC probably did more than any other media to shape my idea of New York—the way I think about the City when I’m not there. I mentioned clichés, and it occurs to me that there are good and bad ways to employ clichés in art: you can use them out of laziness because you can’t come up with anything better to resolve a conflict or a silence or you can use them to give a universal quality to some experience, some emotion. SATC the series did both, but more often it did the latter, and sometimes it did so extremely well—nailing the perfect pitch of a line or a break-up or a fight that you, as an audience member with a history of relationships, couldn’t deny of its elemental truth. Yes, sometimes SATC was Camp, but sometimes it wasn’t, and when it wasn’t it was real and relatable and brilliant.

In the show and into the first movie, there were real things at stake for the characters. Sometimes they were disappointed: think of the end of season four—Carrie’s engagement has ended and Big has decamped to the other side of the country, Miranda has become a mother on her own, Charlotte is divorced, and Samantha’s boyfriend has cheated on her. A happy ending was, by no means, assured, and so we watched on for two more seasons.[1. I actually haven’t seen most of these seasons, but I feel I’ve seen enough to have a perspective.] Even in the first movie, it was unclear whether Big and Carrie would ever marry or see each other again after he left her at the altar. It might have carried the prefix of melo-, but this was dramatic tension. Perhaps, as a novice fan, my viewing here is naïve. That, I’ll admit. But I heard the biggest gasps produced by the second film’s plot, and they came when Carrie accidentally left her passport in the stall of a shoe vendor in Abu Dhabi. Did anyone ever doubt she would get it back?

As for the film’s plot, there isn’t much of it. Each character begins the film with a dilemma: Can Miranda have a fulfilling career and her family? Has Carrie’s marriage become staid and stale? Will Samantha maintain her sex drive and sanity with the onset of menopause? Is Charlotte’s husband cheating with their bra-less nanny? That said nanny turns out to be a lesbian at the movie’s conclusion tells you everything you need to know about how low the stakes are in this film—for the characters and, consequently, for the audience.[2. The absence of plot doesn’t bother me. In fact, I tend to find plot cheap and distracting from character development. However, the absence of any sense of risk in this film is inexcusable.]

Before that and other similarly simple resolutions, the girls spend the bulk of the two-plus-hour film in Abu Dhabi thanks to Samantha and a potential hotel client of hers. They stay in a $20,000 per night suite and have individual, chauffeured Maybachs to drive them around until things go wrong and they offend the locals—at least, Samantha offends the locals. Excess is an understatement. Excess is up, but because seriousness is out, the film misses the mark of being even Camp—it’s too awful to be good.[3. Cf. Sontag: “The hallmark of Camp is the spirit of extravagance. Camp is a woman walking around in a dress made of three million feathers.” She might as well have cited Carrie’s gold Louboutins in SATC2.] Carrie runs into her ex- Aidan in the souk, they have dinner, they kiss, she runs away. The kiss is supposed to be the climax of the film, but it feels entirely inconsequential. She confesses it over the phone to an impassive Big, but of course he takes her back at the end shortly after she returns to New York and moments before she puts her book next to Sontag’s.

Other reviewers wrong-headedly interpret the placement of Against Interpretation as a nod to the women’s liberation movement, in embarrassing contradiction to the film’s message, as they see it. First, if you read Sontag’s journals, it’s obvious that she was just about as dependent as anyone alive on love and affection and relationships. Second, the title essay of Against Interpretation argues against the marshaling of film and literature and art to serve political causes and for experiencing art as what it is and not what one thinks it might represent. Therefore, I find many of the discussions about SATC and feminism to be entirely off base, especially when it comes to this second film.[4. Jessica Bennett at Newsweek takes this the farthest: “But it’s still sad to see the characters go from trailblazers to conformists, suddenly telling us that work and child-rearing actually don’t mix, that it’s a bling on a ring finger that will prove a union to the world, and that we must worry—no matter how stable a marriage—that a husband will cheat. It’s fiction, we know. But these characters, like the lubrication they inspired, helped legions of women embrace their own fierceness—and here they are, 12 years later, nothing more than stereotype and cliché.”] Yes, three of the girls end up married and yes, the other, Samantha—big surprise!—is on her back at the end of the film. But to focus on this is to miss the point of the film: it’s an extension of the SATC brand.

And perhaps, it’s unfortunate that such a lackluster screenplay will still succeed at the box office by trading on that brand name.[5. Cf. Mencken: “No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American Public.”] But for a certain set of fans—those who liked the show more for the clothes than for the content—there’s evidence that this film is actually enjoyable. And by evidence, I mean the oohs and ahhs emitted by girls in the Marina theater on the film’s opening night each time the characters appeared in new outfits—or, to appropriately place the emphasis: new outfits appeared on the characters.[6. When Lori and I left the theater, there were more girls lined up outside for the next showing, girls who would inevitably ooh and ahh in unison at the same scenes because that is what people who stand in line for a film will do. The Marina seems to attract these sorts of people, whom we find hilarious, which is why we went there.] And there’s nothing wrong with a little fun, it just that this sort of fun isn’t really for me.[7. I recently heard Sarah Jessica Parker recount, in an interview, the story of HBO’s refusal to produce the first SATC film. She was convinced, however, as she proceeded to shop around the concept, that the film could be an event for people to get together. Is this a complete dismissal of any artistic value or is the community that the SATC brand created, at the very heart of artistic value? Is it not the very thing that a director or a writer aspires to, to bring people together around her work?] Or rather, I care little about clothes and a lot about character; if it were the inverse, I might have found this film something other than a disappointment.


The best novel of 2010: Great House

Filed under: Books,General — Ricky @ 6:34 pm

I recently finished reading Great House by Nicole Krauss, and it’s so obviously the best book—the best anything—of this young decade, that I had to share my reaction here. I hope to write something longer about Krauss’s fiction in a few months.


Interview with Leica M product manager Stephan Daniel

Filed under: General,Photography — Ricky @ 10:02 pm

This interview took place before the public announcement of the Leica M9 last September. Although the questions are often too technical and boring for my taste, Daniel comes across as an excellent, thoughtful PM.


One day a week: Ann Curry on photography

Filed under: General,Photography — Ricky @ 5:57 pm

I watched this segment when it aired on the Today show a couple months ago. In it, Ann Curry discusses her passion for photography and gives the best advice you’ll receive all day: “All of us can find peace even in the chaos of our own lives if we can find that one thing we care so much about that it helps us breathe more deeply. For me, it’s taking pictures.” Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that she shoots with an M9.



Details’ 1996 Profile of David Foster Wallace

Filed under: Books,General — Ricky @ 10:11 am

Here is a profile of DFW that ran in Details magazine back in 1996.


Listen to Tracey Thorn’s new album, “Love and Its Opposite”

Filed under: General,Music — Ricky @ 3:14 pm

This new record from Tracey Thorn will be replacing Katell Keineg’s At the Mermaid Parade in my stereo for at least the next week. Click here to order a copy. Or click here to hear an interview with Thorn on NPR. I was thrilled to see Sasha Frere-Jones’ review of the album in this week’s New Yorker and a gardening column by Thorn herself on a blog called Caught by the River.


Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-03-27

Filed under: General — Ricky @ 3:18 am
  • Clearly, @FrancesSF is the best new restaurant in San Francisco: #
  • I'm hoping for big wins today from Coach K and Speaker Pelosi, who can redeem herself after having wrecked the economy. @atcal #BeatCal #
  • RT @BarackObama: Yes we can. #
  • A great piece by William Deresiewicz on leadership: #


Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-03-20

Filed under: General — Ricky @ 3:18 am
  • "…these days, it seems, the really unhappy people are working in offices." #
  • This video's form mirrors my personal motto: "Can't repeat the past? Why of course you can!" (via @GinaGarzaNYC) #
  • On @MLBNetwork John Hart just said Kenshin Kawakami has "Asian hesitation" and that the Braves bullpen is full of "Irish rogues." #racism? #
  • Michael Lewis's The Big Short is the biggest disparity of great writer, awful paper.What were the colleagues of @norton_fiction thinking?;-) #


Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-03-13

Filed under: General — Ricky @ 3:18 am
  • Is there a translated work of literature that readers consider to actually be better than the original work? #
  • It's a testament to Sushi Zone that its waitresses waited 30 minutes for seats at the bar on their day off tonight. #
  • “[It] is in failure and through failure, that the subject constitutes itself." –Michel Houellebecq #
  • Tracey Thorn's "All the Divorces" from her new album isn't a pop song, it's a panorama of adulthood's disappointment: #


Hear Tracey Thorn’s “Oh, the Divorces!” from “Love and Its Opposite”

Filed under: General,Music — Tags: , , — Ricky @ 5:59 pm

More than, perhaps, any other songwriter, I’ve found Tracey Thorn’s songs from the past three decades to be consistently evocative. Every album has something that ignites my memory or feeling, and her new one is no exception. Love and Its Opposite is due in May, and its first track, “Oh, the Divorces!” isn’t a pop song; it’s a panorama of adulthood’s disappointment. Click here to download it as an MP3.

Tracey Thorn / ‘Oh, The Divorces!’ by buzzinfly

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Drawing Google Street View

Filed under: Books,General,Technology — Ricky @ 5:15 pm


This is the best use I’ve seen of Google Street View.



Yanidel street photography Aperture presets

Filed under: General,Photography — Tags: , , , , — Ricky @ 11:19 pm


I’m a big fan of Yanidel’s photo blog of his street photography in Paris. I’ve long tried to get a similar look to his photos by decreasing the desaturation slider and then selectively increasing the saturation of colors or spots in my photos. However, I’m nowhere near as good at it as he is. I recently posted on DPReview’s forum about this issue, and Ian Wood responded to me by creating a few Aperture presents that achieve a baseline for Yanidel’s look. You can download the Yanidel Street Photography presets for Aperture. I tested them out tonight, and you can see the results here.

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-03-06

Filed under: General — Ricky @ 3:18 am
  • What a comeback by Finland in the Bronze Medal game! Nice to see Selanne still out there. #
  • Where are the technologists who oppose this personal branding trend? #
  • That was the best hockey game I've ever seen. (No, the perfect ending didn't hurt.) #
  • RT @paidContent Mags To Their Digital Units: Drop Dead (This is a deliberately provocative + misleading headline.) #
  • My friend Russell did a much better job than @paidContent in covering the "Power of Print" campaign: #
  • Before today, this was clearly the best hockey game I had ever seen: #
  • This is my favorite Neil Young song. #ClosingCeremony #
  • The USPS complains about its losses and yet hires Accenture, BCG, and McKinsey. There's its problem right there. #
  • I just finished reading Patti Smith's tremendous and tremendously beautiful memoir, "Just Kids," from @eccobooks #
  • My photos from yesterday's protest at the Civic Center in San Francisco. Lots of @atcal kids were there! #march4 #


Adam Gopnik on Canada’s gold

Filed under: General — Ricky @ 12:58 am

I’ll be writing about Canada’s hockey victory at the Olympics shortly. In the meantime, enjoy this piece and the following line by Adam Gopnik on the subject:

Anything that depends on a single bounce or giveaway, though it can fairly be called victory, can’t really be called a triumph. But anyone who didn’t understand the role of hockey in Canadian life at least got a glimpse yesterday.


I’m not a doctor but I still want to save lives

Filed under: Books,General — Ricky @ 8:46 pm

I just recalled one of my favorite quotes from anyone: Ricky Moody in an interview with the Times Book Review stated his aspiration to “save lives” with his fiction. After all, why shoot for anything less?

I still want short stories to save lives. I want people to feel about the short story the way they feel about “Strawberry Fields Forever” by the Beatles, like their lives were changed by it in some way. And that requires I think a real commitment to dealing with . . . you know, the human passions and not being . . . not feeling that that’s in some way uncool.

New York in miniature

Sam O’Hare spent a week making a neat video of New York City. He shot the entire thing with consumer-grade lenses on a Nikon D3 in burst mode. He added stabilization and the tilt-shift effect in post-processing. You can find more details about the production of the video here.


President Obama on baseball

Filed under: Baseball,General — Ricky @ 12:43 am

Why this video doesn’t have more views, I have no idea. How fun it is to hear President Obama talk about the sport.


Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-02-27

Filed under: General — Ricky @ 3:18 am
  • Why President Obama should have never said that he "hated the bank bailout": #
  • I would trade legislative transparency for a health care bill. I've read Eating Animals. I don't want to see how it's made! #
  • Thinking about social media as a return to a pre-literate and not desirable age. #
  • Getting ready for game time—Let's go, Team Canada! #
  • Know any students interested in journalism and technology? We're looking for an intern: #
  • Pulling the goalie with a one-goal deficit just seems stupid to me. I've seen it fail three times in the Olympics and succeed none. #


Why Obama was wrong to say he hated the bailout

Filed under: General — Ricky @ 4:27 pm

As anyone who discussed Obama’s State of the Union address with me knows, I absolutely hated the speech’s opening in which Obama expressed his own hatred for the bank bailout. I hated it because Obama’s words seemed to me so, so untrue—or at least they should be untrue if he’s at all listened to the economists who surround him—so full of populist pandering. I was glad to hear David Frum echo this point on Marketplace a few days ago, arguing that it the problem isn’t just a lack of conviction but the fact that that absence of conviction will handcuff the government when it comes to pushing any sort of difficult, currently unpopular long-term policy.

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-02-20

Filed under: General — Ricky @ 3:18 am
  • Why underdogs risk more in competition: #
  • "[GDP] measures everything . . . except that which makes life worthwhile." -R.F.K. #
  • Getting ready for South Africa: "A World Cup is the sort of common project that otherwise barely exists in modern societies." #
  • I think I'm going to read Patti Smith's "Just Kids" and Edmund White's "Rimbaud" as a pair. #
  • Listen to the new K's Choice single, "Come Live the Life": #


Why do drugstores and gas stations appear in clusters?

Filed under: General — Tags: , , , , — Ricky @ 11:45 pm

Marketplace covered the acquisition of Duane Reade by Walgreens and suggested that drugstores in New York are on nearly every corner because consumers seek convenience. That’s true, but to really understand why they are all over, you need to understand a little game theory. Presh over at Mind Your Decisions has a very simple explanation of why competing gas stations are found across the street from each other and, similarly, why political candidates tend to be centrists.

Listen to the new K’s Choice single “Come Live the Life”

Filed under: General,Music — Ricky @ 9:00 pm

One of my favorite albums, which I discovered by chance at FNAC ten years ago, is Almost Happy by K’s Choice. The brother and sister duo broke up and is now back together, releasing their first album since. It’s called Echo Mountain and its first single is called “Come Life the Life.” I heard the band’s lead singer, Sarah Bettens, perform it live on Tuesday in San Francisco. I’ll be posting more about her show shortly. For now, enjoy the new single:

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Why should underdogs take big risks?

Filed under: Baseball,General — Ricky @ 2:24 pm

For the answer, see Jack Hirshleifer’s article, “The Paradox of Power.”

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-02-13

Filed under: General — Ricky @ 3:18 am
  • Of course, pubs stagger release dates. If you want the cheaper, more portable edition, you gotta wait. Why should ebooks be any different? #
  • Why would I ever vote for a gubernatorial candidate who wants to run California like a business? #
  • "In what way do technological systems have moral characteristics?" #
  • Anyone know how to search tweets from only people you follow? #
  • Techies, pay attention: "…our greatest challenge now is the decision not to do what it is in our power to do." –Jedediah Purdy #


Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-02-06

Filed under: General — Ricky @ 3:18 am
  • Why isn't the Twitterverse reviving the #amazonfail chorus over the bookseller's dropping all Macmillan titles? #
  • Is Amazon nudging people to do the right thing and buy from independent bookstores?! #
  • Amazon/Macmillan standoff is over. Now, stop licensing eBooks to readers and start selling them! #
  • Why haven't many people pointed out that the iPad can handle epub, PDF, and Kindle–all the ebook formats! #
  • An excellent, long interview with DFW: #
  • "…sending and getting…updates to and from dozens…of people every few minutes is an image from information hell." #
  • "Any journalist who cheerleads uncritically for Twitter is essentially asking for his own destruction." #
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