November 2, 2000

Long Live the Unpretty!

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Unable to allow Sex and the City to lie peacefully in its off-season grave, I found myself last Thursday night with roommates and friends watching back-to-back reruns of the show. As usual, Carrie was trying to extract meaning from her world of Barney’s and boys, while Charlotte was busy being a ditz, and Samantha was sleeping with SoHo.

Just as we were about to witness Miranda’s slot of astute insight and glib humor, the first offensive phrase was flung from the couch. It was not the first derogatory comment ever directed at Miranda from Mid-C-Town. Many a time I have had to manage my anger as the red-haired intellect on the screen received the undeserved wrath of the room. Which made me ask, “In our day and age, why is Miranda ostracized simply because she lacks the conventional beauty of her comrades?”

Meanwhile, freshmen on the Upper East Side of Donlon and R.A.s in Noyes Village were guilty of this same phenomenon. Miranda’s sexual conquests, emotional traumas, and fashion dilemmas are all brushed off as tedious — just because her breasts don’t pop out of her shirt.

One might argue that while watching a superficial show, the viewer should only be held to as high a standard as the producers are. But the theory remains true for shows of more elevated content too. Take Beverly Hills 90210 for example (before you protest, recall the moral dilemmas of race, drugs, and trust funds). Even after Brandon taught Andrea about parties and beer, no one could see past her glasses and curly hair. And I recall no influx of viewer protests when she left the show.

This brings us to another politically incorrect theme from a long tradition of sitcoms such as 90210 and Saved By the Bell. The oh-so-hip Sex and the City has anachronistically preserved the inextricable link between mediocre looks and extraordinary intelligence. Miranda, the law firm partner, follows in the footsteps of Andrea, the top-ranking student and Editor-in-Chief of The West Beverly Blaze, and Jesse Spano, the valedictorian and class president. Although the intellectual discrepancy between Miranda (the law firm partner) and Charlotte (the art dealer) is less profound than that of Andrea (the valedictorian) and Donna (Tori Spelling), the correlation still exists. Has reality come no further than these formulaic teen soaps?

We must question ourselves and the media engineers who have tricked us in the past. Most Miranda-haters I have spoken to are not even aware of their illness, as their affinity for aesthetic pleasures is so ingrained into their minds. These people place our world in peril, since they shape our lives with their greed for beauty. Britney Spears is ubiquitous because people cannot resist those glossy jail-bait shots in her CD jacket. Rick Lazio might even win simply because of the three misleading camera angles that make him look cute.

Paradoxically, in our age of female empowerment, beauty is as strong a barrier as ever. Miranda represents a determined and ethical woman who did not get to the top by batting her eyelashes. Unfortunately, as we watch her navigate through the boys’ club of a major NYC law firm, we fall back on teenage values and judge her in a way we would expect from frat boys turned I-bankers.

Archived article by Sarah Fuss