I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about the way pop culture in the recession, rather than defining what our aspirations should be, is helping reconcile us to our compromises. So it was with that in mind that I absorbed the news that Bridesmaids has finally beat out Sex and the City at the box office, becoming the highest-grossing R-rated comedy starring women ever made.
Vats of ink have been spilled condemning the consumerist ethos of Sex and the City and of fans who aspire to relive the show in every last detail, fetishizing the mediocre cupcakes of the Magnolia Bakery, ponying up for Sex and the City tours and experiences. I do think that the first Sex and the City movie is better than it’s given credit, both as a portrait of friendships and as a rejection of the series finale’s awkward embrace of monogamy for all. But the movie’s consumerism hit new heights, with all couture dresses, overreaching on real estate and abandoned hideously expensive pairs of shoes, and a subplot that treated one character’s obsession with expensive clothes and public displays of wealth as the cause of the downfall of her relationship acting more as a minor moral correction than a permanent adjustment. Yes, it might be a cute gesture to get married at the courthouse in a vintage store suit, but it’s not meaningful if you’re going home to that hedge fund penthouse.
Bridesmaids isn’t exactly where I’d like lady comedies to be either, in that at the end of the movie, the main character’s capacity for romantic connection is revitalized, while the question of whether she’ll revive her small business and her professional ambitions is essentially unaddressed. Maybe having Annie give running her bakery another try and getting the guy would have been too much. And maybe having her get the bakery and not the adorable Canadian-accented cop would have confirmed stereotypes about career women and their inability to get dudes. But I think it’s as much of a fairy tale to suggest that ending up with the right dude will resolve everything as either of those two options are. Bridesmaids could have resurrected Annie’s professional confidence tentatively, perhaps via a loan from Megan, with the affirmation that it’s going to be very hard, but that it’s worth persisting. As we figure out what’s going to happen to us in which I’m increasingly sure is going to be a permanent period of economic readjustment, we’re going to have to balance between pop culture that encourages us to want too much, and pop culture that suggests we’d be better off not hoping for anything at all, even through hard work.