Deftly Dissecting Dexter

TVGuide.com, courtesy Christian Weber, Showtime

TVGuide.com, courtesy Christian Weber/Showtime

When Channel Ten started to air season one of U.S Showtime’s acclaimed hit Dexter, I was both excited at Ten’s bold move, and intrigued by the show itself. Everything I had read claimed that although the protagonist is in fact a serial killer, this alone should not put one off giving this little series a try. I wasn’t convinced that it would be for me. Although I am partial to horror movies, the presentation of Dexter as a normal person, living a somewhat normal life with his girlfriend, her children and his stable, respectable job, made the whole idea a little eerie and unsettling. But, knowing the calibre of Showtime’s programming, and the talent of Michael C. Hall from his days on Six Feet Under, I wanted to give it a go. So I watched. I’ll admit, the first episode was strange and somewhat challenging to watch; it was creepy, daring, violent, and messed with many of the moral-absolutes that one might believe should guide humanity. However, by the end of the episode I was hooked, thanks in no small part to the astoundingly measured performance by Michael C. Hall as Dexter Morgan himself. Hall manages to imbue Dexter with polarized personalities, the one he shows the world within the text, and the deeply private and personal one that is only seen by his victims, and by the audience. On the outside he is the responsible, lovable and dedicated forensic blood-spatter analyst. Yet underneath this persona he shows the world is something else, a darkness, a bubbling rage just beneath the surface that he knows could blow at any time. It is this understanding of what he is, of what is inside him that has led Dexter to become a serial killer. He knows he needs to kill, and has channelled that need into killing those that slip through the normal parameters of the justice system, usually through legal loopholes. Dexter kills murderers, people that have killed, gotten away with it, and shown no remorse. This is of course, the great irony of the show and the audience is forced to face the realisation that no matter how noble he is, no matter how much we may grow to love him, Dexter may be no different than his victims.

After unravelling the mysteries of The Ice-Truck Killer in season one, I was compelled to jump right in to season two with the DVDs already released in Australia (season two will air on channel ten later this year; Caution, spoilers ahead!) Season two again raises more moral questions when Dexter’s clandestine activities are in danger of being discovered after his underwater graveyard is found. His victims come back to haunt him, and his greatest fear comes to light: execution by electric chair. We learn more about the relationship between Dexter and his adoptive father Harry (James Remar), and how influential Harry was in moulding Dexter into the person he is today, including teaching him the code he kills by. Dexter begins to deal with some of the emotions associated with having killed his brother (The Ice-Truck Killer), and starts to deal more and more with the emotional weight of his “dark self” when Rita (Julie Benz) surmises that he must have a drug addiction after discovering he assaulted Paul (her ex-husband), coupled with the strange hours he keeps. Dexter confirms to her that he does have “an addiction” and she vows to stand by him as long as he submits to a 12-step program. It is here during a Narcotics Anonymous meeting that he meets Lila (Jaime Murray). A former junkie, Lila convinces Dexter that she knows more about him than anyone could, she knows the darkness and she understands the daily struggle to keep it at bay. She draws Dexter into her web of dependence until he begins to think she may be a better match for him than Rita. Although their addictions are clearly very different, she may be able to begin to understand the pull of the darkness inside him. However, Lila is a destructive and dangerous force in Dexter’s life, doing anything she can to try and keep Dexter as her own, including framing Detective Batista (David Zayas) for rape, and placing the lives of Rita’s children in jeopardy.

Meanwhile Sergeant Doakes (Eric King) is convinced that there is more to Dexter than what he shows the world, especially after the way Dexter managed to save his sister Debra (Jennifer Carpenter) from The Ice-Truck Killer. Doakes has taken to trailing Dexter at night, eventually discovering his secret in the final episodes, that he is the Bay Harbour Butcher (the moniker adopted by the media for the elusive killer of Dexter’s found victims). While Dexter holds Doakes hostage in a cabin in remote swampland, the investigation into the Bay Harbour Butcher breaks, with a lead pointing Debra and Batista to an unknown member within their own Miami Metro department. Dexter decides that this is his only chance to get rid of Doakes, the man he fears will bring him down, and protect his identity at the same time. He frames Doakes, drugging him and placing his fingerprints on a set of butchers knives, the very ones Dexter has used for so long, and throwing them into the ocean at the end of a pier, a pier he knows is used for dive training every week. When Doakes’ car is found at an airstrip with blood slides of all the Bay Harbour Butcher’s victims inside – the prized trophies Doakes had stolen from Dexter’s apartment – along with the found knives, the case closes in on Doakes, although he can’t be found.

During Dexter’s imprisonment of Doakes, we begin to see a new vulnerability within our stoic protagonist. Dexter seriously contemplates the idea of turning himself in to authorities, of accepting his fate and facing the punishment for his crimes. We see him struggle with his emotions, with the same emotions that the audience may be feeling. Is what he is doing – killing murderers – in some way just and therefore morally acceptable? Or is he simply the brutal killer he is portrayed as in the press?This polarized sense of self is only heightened by the debates taking place between the Miami Metro staff, and the everyday people of Miami on the very subject, when it is discovered that every single victim was a criminal who slipped through the system. As Dexter contemplates the inevitability that there is less and less time before he is found out, he begins to have his affairs put in order, making Debra sign his Will and spending some last quality time with Rita and the kids.

No matter how deranged and destructive a force Lila may have been, upon discovering his true secret, she did prove to Dexter that he is capable of receiving love; that someone could still love him knowing what he does. She is also ultimately, the person that sets Dexter free from his exceedingly confined situation. Lila’s obsession leads her to steal Dexter’s GPS device from his car; following the last route taken, she discovers Doakes, and exactly who Dexter really is. Taking things into her own hands, Lila, with a history of arson and with a deep desire to protect Dexter’s big secret, sets the cabin on fire killing Doakes and eliminating any chance he may have to expose Dexter and clear his own name. In a last ditch effort to win Dexter’s heart, she then kidnaps Rita’s children and almost commits them, and Dexter himself, to the same fate as Doakes. Now convinced of her volatile, unpredictable nature, Dexter is certain she can’t be trusted, and pays Lila back for his freedom, and for her endangerment of Rita’s children, by sending her to a watery grave.

Dexter leaves season two by declaring he is done contemplating the question of whether he is good or evil. He doesn’t have the answers, and questions whether anyone does. I myself would posit the same question. This certainly isn’t a show for everyone; some will not be able to see past the violence, and among those that can, some will struggle to entertain the concept itself. However Dexter serves as a fascinating, insightful look into the mind of a serial-killer, positing the unsettling notion that maybe one of them could be simply like you or I. Dexter works on many moral levels, and it can’t be ignored that at its heart lies the simple understanding that, sometimes good people do bad things, a notion that is all too familiar in this world.

Dexter is available for purchase from all major retailers, or from DVD Orchard.

Channel Nine: One step forward, Two steps back

TVGuide.Com, courtesy Andrew Eccles/The CW

TVGuide.Com, courtesy Andrew Eccles/The CW

 

Hey upper-east siders, Gossip Girl here, your one and only source into the scandalous lives of Manhattan’s elite world of television in Australia.

So, this was going to be a post about how happy I was that channel Nine in Australia had started to air Gossip Girl, albeit at 10:30pm on a Wednesday during summer non-ratings period, but instead, it’s just going to be an angry rant. Channel Nine originally bought the rights to Gossip Girl back in mid-2007, but on-sold them to FOXTEL’s Fox8 because it didn’t feel the show fit its demographic. Clearly channel Nine is committed to its whole crime procedural/reality vibe, because I honestly couldn’t tell you anything else that they screen. Listen up Nine, you’re not ‘the one’ anymore, it isn’t working, move on. You need to take a chance on some original programming that doesn’t involve a blue light and evidence bags. Gossip Girl was your chance to begin to attract a younger audience. OK, let’s not kid ourselves, this show isn’t going to win any Emmys, but it’s deliciously fun, and bitingly funny, and never fails to entertain. However, it was probably never going to work out, because you wouldn’t have invested anything in promoting it (anyone remember Nine airing three episodes of The O.C before giving up on it? Probably not, because it was barely promoted; Channel Ten bought the rights from Nine, promoted the hell out of it and it became a ratings staple for the underdog.) 

Anyway, I will try and get back to the original point of this article, before I digress again at the end. Gossip Girl has been airing on pay-TV network FOXTEL, with the second season premier set to air tonight. But of course, not everyone can afford, or even wants FOXTEL. Channel Nine, after the show’s now proven success, has picked up the second-run rights (or perhaps these were part of the original sale agreement) to air the first season. Although all the cool kids have already seen it, this is a step forward for free-to-air television and the Australian television industry. Pay-TV has not been the success story here in Australia that it is the U.S. People are not willing to part with their hard earned money for a boatload of garden design and cooking shows speckled with biographies of washed up stars. However, increasingly, FOXTEL is gaining the rights to more and more first run original programming from the U.S, and is producing more quality Australian shows such as Love My Way. This is making it harder for the average Australian to get access to these original and quality shows. The fact that Nine has finally decided to screen Gossip Girl, despite its ridiculous time-slot, means that more people can have access to this exceedingly addictive show. It is a trend that has been occurring increasingly, most notably with Channel Ten’s brilliant pick up of Showtime’s Dexter, which brought quality, original programming to Ten’s Sunday night line-up. Season 2 of Dexter will screen on Channel Ten early 2009, while Showtime will be screening season 3 on its Showcase channel at the same time. I hope Ten continues to acquire such quality programming – even if it is second-run, still, the majority of the country has not seen it – and I can only hope that Nine and Seven follow suit.

Now, on to the continuation of my rant. In my post about Pushing Daisies a few weeks ago, I mentioned that channel Nine would most likely air the brilliant but cancelled series over summer beginning in December, well, while doing some research for this post, I have discovered that this is no longer the case. Channel Nine has sold the rights to its swag of Warner Bros. shows which includes Pushing Daisies, as well as the successful and delightfully funny NBC spy comedy Chuck (incidentally also from Josh Schwartz, the creator of Gossip Girl and The O.C), and the action thrill ride and highly-acclaimed Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. FOXTEL really is becoming a force in the quality TV stakes, and if Nine keeps selling its original content to them, it’s only going to get harder for people to access quality television programs in this country. In this regard, Nine really has taken one step forward, and two steps back in terms of providing Australian’s access to great, entertaining, and well written television programming. I really hope they see the error of their ways, stat, and stop bulking up their schedule with more crime and legal shows. 

Much Loved but Seldom Seen: ABC passes on ratings challenged trio

TVGuide.com, courtesy Andrew MacPherson/ABC

TVGuide.com, courtesy Andrew MacPherson/ABC

 

Sadly, my prediction about the fate of Pushing Daisies in my recent post was apparently prophetic. Whilst checking out The Ausiello Files on Friday I read the sad news that ABC has cancelled not only Pushing Daisies, but also other cult favourites Eli Stone and Dirty Sexy Money. ‘Quality television’, as Ausiello puts it, has suffered a serious blow. Although I hadn’t been keeping up with Eli Stone, from all I have heard it was a delightful and original concept, garnering much critical attention and attracting big name guest stars such as Katie Holmes, who performed a musical dream sequence in the second episode of season two. Created by Greg Berlanti and Marc Guggenheim (of Brothers & Sisters fame) and with the entire first season written by the pair, it was certainly a show on my list for future viewing, perhaps over summer. Dirty Sexy Money (also executive produced by Berlanti) was a guilty pleasure of mine, but I am not really surprised it has not been renewed. Despite its stellar cast, I just haven’t felt the ‘appointment television’ vibe from it this season, and I feel it is another show that’s momentum was damaged by the WGA strike. I will however, miss the oh-so-wrong sexual chemistry between Darling twin Jeremy (Seth Gable) and the older woman, wife of Jeremy’s lawyer, Lisa George (Zoe McLellan).

The only light at the end of this story is that apparently all three shows will finish production on their ordered episodes, but as Ausiello points out, them being finished and them actually airing are two different things. Let’s hope ABC grants us this small virtue and lets the final episodes of these three terrific shows go to air. If, however, this is too much to ask, we thankfully live in an age of DVD box sets! 

Life Imitating Art: The West Wing Leads The Way

TVGuide.com, courtesy Paul Drinkwater?NBC

TVGuide.com, courtesy Paul Drinkwater/NBC

One of my favourite shows of all time is The West Wing; I am unsure whether my fascination with U.S politics stemmed from my love for this show or vice-versa. In any case, I couldn’t help but be drawn back into the world of the Bartlett administration during the coverage of the recent U.S election, re-watching favourite episodes and understanding more and more the process of the unfolding election. Even here in Australia, coverage of this historic election was widespread. I don’t think our own federal election garnered as much attention as did the Obama/McCain campaigns for the White House. During the initial campaign for the democratic nomination, I didn’t really know all that much about Barack Obama, the truth is I was barracking, in my own small and un-influential way (seeing as how I couldn’t really have a say in this election) for Hilary Clinton. Having studied feminism at university, from its beginnings with the suffragettes through to its current incarnation of third wave feminism, I was excited about the prospect of a woman holding arguably the most powerful job in the world. I wasn’t really ‘briefed’ as the political aides say, on her political standings, platforms or policies, I was more simply excited that she was there fighting it out for the party nomination, this was a huge step forward for The United States and for the world. The fact that she was fighting alongside Barack Obama made it all the more exciting. I felt the same way about Hilary as many African American’s felt about Obama; this could be the culmination and ultimate salvation of centuries of injustice. These two minority representatives garnering support and attention on the world stage, was exhilarating; I felt like I was witnessing something truly life changing.

When Hilary lost the democratic nomination to Obama, it was no great loss to me. Like I said, my support of her was not based on her political policies, in fact I knew little about them except that she was a democrat. I was supporting the idea of her; of what she could represent, and what kind of change she could bring to America and the rest of the world. In this regard, I was happy to throw my support to Obama, and to follow him with the same excitement as I did Hilary, because ultimately, he represented the same thing: a new definition for the representations of power in the Western world.

As the intensity of media coverage of the Obama campaign increased, and seeing Obama on the evening news became a daily occurrence even here in Australia, I began to be reminded of a certain presidential candidate from my old favourite show. Obama’s resemblance in status, circumstance, and even personality was uncanny to that of Jimmy Smits’ Texan congressman Matthew Santos. Young, charismatic family man with two young children seeks the democratic presidential nomination. Refusing to be defined by his ethnicity, he strives to be a voice for all the people of America and not just those who identify with his minority background. Along the way he faces tough competition within his own party from a former White House occupant during the most recent democratic administration. Through his rousing oratory focusing on change and the idealism that there is a lot more that unites Americans than divides them, he wins the nomination after a hard fought convention. He goes on to win the presidency, fighting a long campaign against his much more experienced, Republican war-hero opponent. The script, it seems, could not have been more prophetic.

It was with great delight, then, that I discovered that these similarities were not coincidental. It seems that, when over 4 years ago the writers at The West Wing began to plan for their final two seasons, they modelled their minority presidential candidate on a young, Illinois politician named Barack Obama. I may be behind the 8-ball on this realisation, I found articles on this very subject dated as far back as February when former West Wing writer Eli Attie first spoke of the origins of the Santos story, but it seems during this time Obama was not on my radar. I was still all about Hilary back then, and I somehow, inexplicably, missed the whole thing. If you want to read more about it try here or here, or the numerous other sites that will pop up in a search page.

Watching the Obama campaign was true life reflecting art, and it reminded me of just how politically and socially aware the writers of The West Wing were. Furthermore, it proves to me what great television can be, a vehicle to inspire the impossible, and a forum through which representations of our greatest social desires can be made possible. I am excited to see what Obama will mean for The United States and indeed for Australia, if only there was more West Wing to tip us off as to what the future may hold.

Pushing to save Daisies

ABC.com

ABC.com

 

ABC’s delightful and imaginative series Pushing Daisies could be nearing the end of its run on network television. Production has started on the last episode of its 13 episode order, with sluggish ratings suggesting the network will not order a back 9 pick-up of the cult favourite. Campaigns are underway to help save the series, here and here.  Daisies got off to a great start in its first season receiving much favourable critical attention, but was halted drastically by the WGA strike, and it seems it has straggled to regain its original momentum. As a new show trying to make its mark in the televisual landscape, and with one of the most bizarre premises a TV series has ever seen, it was arguably one of the shows hurt most by the strike. Daisies aired just nine episodes of its first season before being shut down, and ABC executives decided not to order additional episodes once the strike was over, (something they did with their other favourites Grey’s Anatomy, Brothers & Sisters and Ugly Betty), instead choosing to hold off on new episodes until the next American fall season. This meant that a show that had barely found an audience was absent from TV screens for almost 10 months; a long time for any show let alone a quirky little one that had only ever aired nine episodes.

Pushing Daisies stars Lee Pace as Ned, a pie maker with an unusual gift; he can bring life to dead things with his touch. Once touched a time limit of one minute applies whereby Ned must touch the thing again, committing it to death forever, or something else must die in its place. Ned decides to use his powers for good, solving murders with local P.I Emerson Cod (Chi McBride) by touching murder victims and getting vital information from them within the one-minute time frame. Anna Friel plays Ned’s childhood sweetheart, Charlotte ‘Chuck’ Charles, who is murdered and subsequently brought back to life by Ned. The rules of Ned’s gift however mean that Ned and Charlotte, although clearly in love, can never touch – ever.

If you’ve never seen the show the premise reads as highly convoluted, but in viewing it, its delightful, unique and refreshing; a true original in a landscape of law, crime, and hospital dramas. Its high production values are evident in its rich and textured sets, costuming, and special effects. The whole thing feels like a fairytale, a storybook being played out in real life. The general rules of television don’t apply here, and there are often moments of pure, unpretentious joy.

Waitress Olive Snook, who works at The Pie Hole with Ned, is an irreverent, sassy blonde whose love for Ned is evident to all but Ned himself. Played by the enchanting and incredibly talented Kristin Chenoweth, Olive is prone to musical interludes such as her fully orchestrated rendition of ‘Hopelessly Devoted to You’ delivered as she shuts The Pie Hole for the night; or her duet with Chuck’s Aunt Vivian (Ellen Greene) ‘Make a Little Bird House in Your Soul,’ an elegy to the grief Vivian feels over Chuck’s supposed death, and how Olive suggest she should deal with it. Vivian also has her own musical moments, such as her hopeful and bittersweet rendition of ‘Morning has Broken,’ delivered as she walks from her house into the rain, a new woman reborn from the grief and depression that has plagued her.

Pushing Daisies is a visual fantasyland, with a decidedly 50’s throwback aesthetic coupled with heightened colour and stylisation. It even feels emotionally like a 50’s family drama, with its sense of innocence and jubilation. It is witty and charming without any sense of highbrow television elitism. It is quite simply, fun.

As of today Channel Nine in Australia has no scheduled date for when they will begin screening this gem, but I was advised by their programming department it would most likely air over summer, from mid-December onwards. If you can’t wait that long, and I hope I have convinced you that you can’t, Pushing Daisies is available from Amazon.com in Region 1 format. 

Sex and the City: A revisiting

HBO.com

HBO.com

 

With the launch of the Sex and the City Movie DVD here in Australia and both Candace Bushnell and Patricia Field in town for the Melbourne Cup Carnival, Sex and the City has been on my mind lately. I got to thinking about the writing that I did for my thesis two years ago, and the way I was thinking about the show so critically and through a theoretical lens of third wave feminism. I wrote my thesis on the representations of third wave feminism present within the text, and focussed mainly on the attitudes and representations of love, marriage, fashion and the pursuit of beauty. I hadn’t thought about the show in that way since I finished my thesis, after a year of picking it apart I just wanted to enjoy it again. But today, I started flipping through my thesis and I thought perhaps some of you might enjoy seeing the show from a more analytical perspective, the way I saw it for so long, so I thought I would print an excerpt of my thesis here for you. It’s hard to pick just one bit, and you must remember that this excerpt is missing all the context and grounding in theory that were laid out in the previous chapters, but it should give you an idea about some of the bigger issues at work within the series. I hope you enjoy it!

 

chapter three:

fashion and beauty

Later that night I got to thinking about Narcissus, a man so consumed with his own image he drowned in it. Did he have no best friends to mirror back a healthier view of himself? And why is it, that we can see our friends perfectly but when it comes to ourselves, no matter how hard we look, do we ever see ourselves clearly?

                                                               Carrie Bradshaw (4/02 ‘The Real Me’).

 

The pursuit of beauty and a penchant for fashion have long been considered frivolous and trivial by the feminist agenda: the pursuits of unintelligible women who don’t know better, women abiding in their own submission – both social and sexual (Brydon 1998, 6). In the second wave, as discussed in chapter one, radical feminists burned their bras in protest of what they believed to be a socially constructed and consented form of subjugation and oppression thrust upon the unassuming female population. Yet, despite these radical efforts of the feminist anti-beauty rhetoric, the fashion and beauty industries have only continued to grow. Current feminist thinking has acknowledged this fact, suggesting that perhaps the continued allegiance of women to the fashion and beauty industries highlights an important re-organization of feminist politics.  In the emerging third wave of feminism; beauty, fashion, and the feminist politics that accompany these pursuits, have experienced a resurgence: an embracing of all things feminine for women, and by women. Can it still be assumed that wearing stilettos represents a woman’s submission to sexual objectification? The four women of Sex and the City – strong, independent, mature beings that actively pursue sex on their own terms – are converts to the stiletto revival, and do we view them as mindless and unknowing in doing so? This chapter will analyse these questions and other related issues such as consumerism in the feminist world, in order to gain an understanding of if and how fashion, shoes, and the pursuit of beauty are used within Sex and the City in service of a third wave feminist agenda, and further how the show uses fashion and beauty as representative of women reclaiming the right to partake in their own empowerment.

fashion is the fifth character

From the very beginnings of Sex and the City, discussion of the fashions within the series has been prevalent. From Fendi, to Prada, Jimmy Choo to Manolo Blahnik, these names have seeped into the present female – and even male – vernacular. From the humble beginnings of the show, designer labels were employed not simply to signify that the four women of Sex and the City were fashion savvy shoppers with disposable income, but also to paint each character with their own sense of style. Every week, the four women’s high fashions are emblematic of their own personal style and personalities. Miranda’s style is practical, corporate and understated; Charlotte’s is preppy, sweet and classic; Samantha’s is sexy, daring and chic; and finally Carrie’s, being the most diverse and changing of the four women, is everything from wistfully pretty to edgy and hip, from eclectic and personal to romantic and dreamy.

These widely varying fashions play an important role in character definition, functioning classically as stereotypes of characters, especially within the first few seasons (Bruzzi & Church Gibson 2004, 115). As Stella Bruzzi and Pamela Church Gibson confirm, this is quite obviously a conscious decision by the show’s producers, writers and designers, to create stereotyped versions of women and feminism – the corporate woman, the sexy woman, the quirky romantic, and the preppie princess – in order to make these different forms of feminism definable and recognisable at first glance. Thus, Miranda is representative of corporate power ideals of feminism; Carrie with her quirks and whimsy can be seen as an emblem of one of the very first incarnations of feminism within the workplace – the writer; Samantha is representative of feminist sexual liberation; and Charlotte represents a return to old-fashioned values, for as Bruzzi and Church Gibson claim, she is everything Simone de Beauvior despised (Bruzzi & Church Gibson 2004, 120). The individualised fashions of the four female characters can also be viewed as emblematic of female choice within a highly dynamic and diverse fashion society; as Naomi Wolf claims, when a woman partakes in fashion, she partakes in choice; moreover she demands it (Wolf 2003, Internet). Such demand, coupled with the sheer plethora of choices available to women in the pursuit of fashion and beauty, serves to further provide women with an atmosphere conducive to personal freedom, something that can be considered feminist in nature and emblematic of the show’s attempts to negotiate the different forms of feminist politics.

The four female characters can be viewed as partaking in the practice of Girlie feminism outlined in chapter one: a re-claiming of ownership over feminine practices and adornments. Embracing fashion and feminine practices, they do so with open minds and in the pursuit of nothing more than their own empowerment. They partake in fashion not to serve the patriarchal tyranny portrayed by the second wave and as recounted by Scott, but perhaps to be ironic, to be sexy, or to be whimsical. Girlie feminism suggests that women in general be allowed to re-claim their femininity and to do so with an open and educated mind: women should no longer mindlessly comply with outdated misogynistic ideals of fashion, they should choose their fashions for their own empowerment and at the same time, understand that it is their right to do so.

a woman’s right to shoes

There are countless examples of the use of fashion within the series as an expression and symbol of empowerment; many of these examples come from the use of the stiletto shoe as a catalyst for feminism within the series. The image and symbol of the high-heeled shoe is a constant presence within the series on an episodic basis and their utilisation is highly emblematic of third wave feminism. Carrie and the girls don’t wear Manolo Blahnik’s because they feel that they make them more attractive to men, they wear them not only because they are attractive and desirable to themselves, but also because the act of wearing them makes them feel powerful and strong. This is evidenced in many instances throughout the seasons of the show; one such example is visible in season three’s ‘Attack of the 5’10” Woman’ (3/03). In this episode, Carrie feels nervous about running in to Big’s new wife at a ‘women in the arts function’, and so decides a new pair of Manolos will be just the thing to help give her the confidence to face the woman she feels threatened by. Carrie’s feelings of inferiority and rivalry towards Natasha are easily viewed as childish, immature and irrational, yet in her new shoes, Carrie is empowered to face Natasha not only because the five inch heels are literally high enough to put them face to face, but because the act of wearing them in itself makes her feel powerful and strong. Carrie’s insecurities are quashed by the empowerment she draws from her new shoes, and no matter how superficial her empowerment may be, no person should begrudge her, or anyone, for drawing empowerment from any source they deem necessary and possible. In this sense, Carrie can be seen as drawing power from what was once a symbol of female oppression, her shoes, in a manner Baumgardner and Richards liken to “gay men in Chelsea calling each other ‘queer’ or black men and women using the term ‘nigga’” (Baumgardner & Richards 2000, 137). For these authors, Girlie is an attempt to re-cultivate the meaning of such feminine adornments, something that is exemplified in Carrie’s use of shoes.

Yet a further example of the use of shoes within the series comes in season six’s ‘A Woman’s Right to Shoes’ (6/09). In this episode, Carrie’s favourite pair of Manolos go missing from a baby shower at which the host had asked guests to remove their shoes and leave them in the foyer of the apartment. When Keira, the host of the party, denies that it’s her fault the shoes went missing and refuses to pay for Carrie’s “extravagant lifestyle” Carrie surmises that after she has bought this woman a wedding present, an engagement present, three baby presents and paid for a trip out of town to attend her wedding, she has spent over “twenty three hundred dollars celebrating her choices, and she shames me for spending a lousy four hundred and eighty five bucks on myself?” (6/09). In this instance, the symbol of the stiletto is used to represent a lifestyle choice, that of choosing an independent and single lifestyle, of being a financially self-reliant, fashion-conscious woman who won’t settle for anything less than the best in all spheres of life. After dissecting the situation and venting her feelings with the girls, Carrie decides that her life, although “filled with shoes and not children,” is no less relevant and worthy than Keira’s, and therefore, perhaps Keira should help to celebrate her choices for once; she calls Keira and leaves a message on her machine stating “I wanted to let you know that I’m getting married – to myself. Oh, and I’m registered at Manolo Blahnik” (6/09). As the episode closes and Carrie struts the streets of New York in her brand new shoes, her “very first wedding present,” the elegant silver stilettos are symbolic of her independence, empowerment, and self-worth (6/09).

In her article ‘Sex and the City: A Visible Flaneuse for the Postmodern Era?’ (2003), Helen Richards further proposes that Carrie’s footwear is highly indicative of her role as a postmodern flaneuse. An historical figure originally belonging to the male gender, the flaneur was a figure of modernity that wandered the streets of Paris, observing, noting and watching its inhabitants, a sort of early journalistic figure (Richards 2003, 149). Richards notes that Carrie, who spends at least three scenes per episode walking, is the modern, female form of this figure, an insight also alluded to by Barbara Creed (Creed 2003, 52). Richards further notes that the flaneur was the “possessor of the gaze, objectifying the inhabitants of the city, noting their activities and appearance for his own enjoyment” (Richards 2003, 150). Carrie’s role within the series is certainly similar; hers are the eyes through which we see the world of Sex and the City, they are her judgements and descriptions of people, places and events that the audience bears witness to, and she is constantly roaming the city, researching, shopping, thinking. As Richards notes, there have been many critics of the idea of a female flaneur. Janet Wilson and Griselda Pollock for example suggest that the concept is implausible because the sphere of the modern city, and the right to look, was not a female privilege but in fact belonged entirely to men (Richards 2003, 151).

Carrie’s affinity with walking further serves to highlight her shoes of choice, stilettos, which are often shot in close up and constantly referred to, as in ‘Valley of the Twenty-Something Guys’ (1/04). “I decided to walk to clear my head. So I walked forty eight blocks in four hundred dollar shoes.” The stiletto can be viewed as a symbol of empowerment when identified with its highly phallic connotations: the metal-cored spike of a stiletto is both a symbol and a weapon with every step. Furthermore, the act of wearing stilettos can potentially be painful, dangerous and deforming (Brydon 1998, 9). In the 1950’s the stiletto was representative of sexual freedom, defiance and decadence; it was a potent symbol of life outside the domestic sphere (Brydon 1998, 7). Girlie feminism and the reclaiming of feminine practices by women as empowering has ensured that the dim view of stilettos held by radial feminists of the second wave has been redefined, within Sex and the City we are experiencing a throwback to the original meaning of the stiletto. Stilettos are now synonymous with the empowerment of the wearer (Young 2002, Internet), as it appears they once were. As evidenced in the analysis of the above scenes, the women of Sex and the City can be seen as drawing empowerment from their stilettos, performing tasks from business, to sex, masturbation to walking the dog in the high priced, high-heeled masterpieces, without any hint of feminine passivity (Young 2002, Internet). The representation of shoes and stilettos within Sex and the City echoes the notions of Girlie feminism discussed by Baumgardner & Richards – re-claiming the right to wear stilettos and knowing how, because of feminism, to use them to their own advantage (Baumgardner & Richards 2000, 126-166).

In this sense, and bearing in mind Wilson and Pollock’s belief that the flaneuse is an impossibility because the right to see and be seen within the city belonged only to men, Carrie’s shoes can be viewed not only as her equipment for walking the streets and for observing the world of the city of New York, but as a powerful phallic symbol of assertion, with every step, of her right to see, and to be seen within the space of the city. Read the rest of this entry »

Mad Men – ‘Meditations in an Emergency’

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AMC’s Emmy Award winning Mad Men wrapped up its sophomore season on Sunday night with the brilliant ‘Meditations in an Emergency’. The episode not only dealt gracefully with some of the major story arcs of the season, but set up a few more for the recently confirmed third season.

Set in the midst of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, the episode is cloaked with a sense of fear and urgency; and it is this fear and urgency that propels much of the story. Don returns from LA ready to do what he can to save his marriage, and I truly mean what he can; his version of an apology to his wife for his infidelity – “I was not respectful to you,” – wouldn’t fly with me, but it is clear that it’s a big step for him as he stands hat in hand before Betty. Don’s timing of his apology though is unbeknownst to him un-inspired; Betty has just finished a horse riding session she hopes may take care of her recently discovered state of pregnancy. She isn’t ready to deal with the crisis of her marriage, she is already dealing with the crisis of her unwanted baby. I can’t help but wonder if the look of surprise, of lost breath on Betty’s face as she sees Don, is more to do with guilt over what she was hoping to achieve at the stables that day, than of any sense of feelings she still may have for Don.

At Sterling Cooper, Don learns the happenings of the past few weeks with the merger with Putnam Powell and Lowe, and the little over half million dollars he will take home from the deal, “Best vacation you ever took,” Roger informs Don. Peggy is becoming more confident with her position in the office, as evidenced by her new hair, her sexier and more form fitting clothes, and her demeanour with the other employees. She greets Don as a fellow colleague, and not as a former secretary, “Don…you look well, how was California?” “Sunny…do I work for you now?” he replies with a smile.  The developing working relationship between Don and Peggy is increasingly rewarding, ever since the mesmerising flashback scene between the two of them in the psychiatric ward earlier this season, there has been a knowing understanding between the characters; they both know there are great heartaches in their pasts, and it is enough to know they exist, without needing to know what they are.

Later, Peggy attends a church service with her mother where the theme is most certainly doom and gloom. Father Gill urges all parishioners to confess their sins, and prepare “for the most important summit meeting of all”. Later he lectures Peggy, “Don’t you understand? That this could be the end of the world and you could go to Hell”. Peggy, unsure of her faith, informs Father Gill that she refuses to believe that that is the way God works.

Betty takes the children to spend the night with Don at his hotel room, and then heads to a bar for a drink. Though, its clear drinking isn’t the only thing on her mind. After sleeping with a Don look-a-like stranger (played with charisma by Chuck‘s Captain Awesome, Ryan McPartlin) in a dimly lit back office of the bar, Betty returns home to her silent, empty house to eat leftovers cold from the fridge. Her sense of isolation, of desperation and fear is palpable, yet there is not an iota of any sense of remorse.

Betty’s infidelity is complex; although she is clearly unhappy and heartbroken over the state of her marriage, her actions are deliberate and calculated. It is the culmination of a season long seduction with the idea – she has flirted with several men – a reaction to her place in the world: the dutiful wife who accepts that men have affairs. Except that Betty wasn’t buying it. The casual sex is a tool to her, a way that she could take Don back and reunite the family without feeling so powerless. Don’s actions hurt her, but she knows that what she did would hurt him more. It was a power play, Don’s now living on her terms.

Back at Sterling Cooper, the final meeting to discuss the outcome of the merger between Putnam Powell and Lowe is taking place. Duck Philips pretends to be surprised when he is announced head of the company, and proceeds to sprout his beliefs that quantity outweighs the need for good creative, “there’s no need for us to be tied to creative’s fantasies of persuasion”. Don informs them all that it sounds like a great agency, and Duck is certainly the man to run it, but if it means creative will be compromised, he will no longer be working there. “This is what I am talking about, artistic temperament”, Duck replies, “Don, you can either honour your contract, or walk out that door with nothing and start selling insurance”. The look on Duck’s face when Don replies nonchalantly “I don’t have a contract” – undercutting his assumption of a non-compete clause –  is priceless. I have a feeling we won’t be seeing much of Duck next season.

With the office almost empty, Pete decides out of fear of there not being a tomorrow, to tell Peggy how he truly feels. He loves her and he wants to be with her. Father Gill’s lecture obviously got the better of Peggy, for she decides to tell Pete the truth: That she had his child and gave it away. Peggy’s new found confidence tinged with heartache is spellbinding in this scene as she tells him “I could have had you in my life forever if I wanted to…I could have shamed you in to being with me, but I didn’t want to, I wanted other things”. Peggy’s situation is glaringly juxtaposed against Betty’s, and becomes even more heartbreakingly clear when Peggy continues to tell Pete,

One day you’re there, and then all of a sudden there’s less of you, and you wonder where that part went, if it’s living somewhere outside of you. And you keep thinking, maybe you’ll get it back, and then you realise, it’s just gone.

Peggy could be referring to the loss of the baby, the guilt she may feel over giving it away, that something is missing inside of her. I however, believe that she is referring to the birth of the baby, and the loss of freedom and sense of self that she felt during that time, something she feels guilt over till this day. This is clearly the emotion that Betty feels, the desperation of a lonely housewife.

While Betty was out satisfying her need for power over Don, he was back at his hotel trying to win her back the way he knows best, with words. “I understand why you feel its better to go on without me, and I know you won’t be alone for very long, but without you, I’ll be alone forever”. The letter accompanied by the fear of nuclear war and her acceptance that a baby is on the way despite her efforts, lead Betty to ask Don to come home. In the final scene, Betty confesses her pregnancy to Don, he takes her hand in silent solidarity with acceptance of what their future holds and in the knowledge that this is partly why Betty asked him back. The camera pans out on the two of them sitting silently in the kitchen and we are left with a sense of almost sorrow, of apprehension and uncertainty for where their relationship is.

It was an amazing end to an already fantastic season. I would have liked to have seen some sort of acknowledgment of Joan’s rape in the previous episode, but I am not surprised we didn’t. I doubt unwanted sex with your fiancee was even considered rape in 1962, rather something a woman was obliged to do. I was also pleasantly surprised by the scene between Peggy and Pete, I truly didn’t think she would ever tell him about the baby, but obviously her character development this season brought her to a place where she had the confidence and maturity to do so. Elisabeth Moss’s performance was stellar as usual, she really is remarkable, and January Jones also did some of her best work this week, Betty’s desperation and fear coupled with a calculated coolness leapt from the screen. Of course, Jon Hamm is always fantastic. I can’t believe we have to wait another year for more of this brilliant show. If you’ve never seen Mad Men, you really are missing out. Hopefully my thoughts will prompt you to find it and devour it. It really is worthy of its Emmy Awards title of Best Drama.