Thursday, 27 May 2010

Sex and the City: The Cheating Curve

Since the new movie is coming out pretty soon (not for another month or so in our nearest cinema, but sooner elsewhere I think!) this seemed like a good time to mention a couple of Classical references from the TV series.

In this season 2 episode, Charlotte’s story is book-ended with Classical references. This is the episode where Charlotte makes friends with a group of women Carrie refers to as ‘Power Lesbians’ – lesbian businesswomen and art collectors who tend to hang out together. Charlotte meets them when she curates an exhibition by a feminist artist where several of them buy pieces and they make friends.

One of the pieces highlighted is a painting of a naked woman being crucified underneath the phrase ‘Death Before Dishonour’. Generally speaking, crucifixion in Western art is a reference, however obscure, to the death of Christ and, therefore, to ancient Rome. Here the image of a woman instead of a man on the cross emphasises the often overlooked suffering of women in various ways, not least the physical, emphasised by her nudity.

I found this particularly intriguing in the context of the ‘Death Before Dishonour’ tag. This phrase appears to have a number of different connotations, many of which I’m unfamiliar with, largely military (including a 1987 film directed by Terry Leonard with a military-based plot). There are also books, songs, bands and games. The idea is that, obviously, it’s better to die than to do something dishonourable, and it’s similar to the Spartan military ethos (‘Come back with your shield or on it’). So the woman in the painting is dying rather than doing something dishonourable - fighting for women perhaps? I have to confess, the first interpretation I thought of, mostly because the cross had me thinking of Romans, was related to the story of Lucretia but I don’t think that’s what they were going for.

(Whew, that brought back memories of the subsidiary module on Art History I did in first year!)

Towards the end of the episode, Charlotte goes to a party thrown by a woman who is apparently the most powerful of the power lesbians and who has a large statue of ‘Diana the Huntress’ in her (rather large) hallway. Diana is the Roman name for Artemis, who is indeed the Greek goddess of hunting, wildness and animals. As a powerful goddess, Artemis is a good symbol of female power. On the other hand, Artemis is also a virgin goddess, a protector of girls up until marriage (and during childbirth – the nine months between marriage and the birth of the first child were a bit of a limbo for Greek women, who were therefore not maiden, mother or crone). Artemis herself is often depicted as a young girl; she is not a sexual goddess. The head power lesbian, on the other hand, refuses to be friends with Charlotte if she won’t ‘eat pussy’.

In a way, this can’t be helped. The other major Greek goddess, Athena/Minerva, is also a virgin goddess, while Hera/Juno is the archetypal wife and Aphrodite/Venus is emphatically heterosexual. Really, if you want to look for a lesbian symbol from ancient Greece, you need to come down from Olympus and use Sappho, but of course, we don’t have any images of her. Diana the Huntress work pretty well as an image of female beauty, power and independence (presumably using the Roman name because it’s better known than ‘Artemis’, which is occasionally used a boys’ name in some fantasy books).

One of the other storylines in this episode features a man who creates artistic images of thunderbolts in his girlfriends’ private parts and who calls himself (I presume it’s not his given name) ‘Thor’. Clearly, the writer was in a myth-y sort of mood that day.

A cosmopolitan I drank while in New York last winter. Because, well, you know.

This is a fairly low-average episode of Sex and the City. The theme of cheating is only loosely related to Carrie and Charlotte’s stories (Carries is ‘cheating’ on her friends with Big, Charlotte is temporarily put off men by a cheater) and dealt with only fairly perfunctorily in Miranda’s (the guy who likes porn more than Miranda) and Samantha’s (Thor strikes in several places). Like a lot of the earlier episodes, it doesn’t carry a great deal of emotional weight, except maybe a little in Carrie’s story. It is, however, one of the episodes that make nice use of Charlotte’s job in an art gallery, which allows the show to add some intriguing modern art to it’s fashion-oriented palette and which I missed in between Charlotte giving up work in season four and Carrie meeting Aleksandr in season 6.


  1. Crucifixion? Good.

  2. Hope you're not going to see the new movie. From what I've heard it's an insult to just about everything. Ever.

    Nice that there is a classical connection somewhere in the TV show, though. I recall watching Pretty Woman a while ago and in a meeting room where Richard Gere was being all Richard Gere-y, the paintings on the wall were all of classical architecture.

  3. What was your Art History module like? I'm thinking of taking it at uni, because you can do three subjects at Scottish unis etc. I'm taking English Literature and almost definitely French, but for the third it's a toss-up between Classical Studies and Art History. Can't decide! I don't know how choosing your extra subjects works anyway :)

  4. Well, obviously I recommend Classical Studies! :) Art History was really interesting too though. The people doing it as half a Joint Honours degree did both the history of the actual making of the art - techniques, materials etc - as well as the history of the content of the art - style, subject matter, patronage - but I only did the module on the history of the content, which is what I was interested in. I didn't know you could do three subjects at Scottish unis, that's cool (though I think I'd have been overwhelmed!) I only did one short module in History of Art, as the rest of my degree was single honours Ancient History, but I enjoyed it a lot.

  5. I think I'm probably going to go for Classical Studies :)

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