Samantha Jones: The Ultimate Ugly American

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As a traveler from the United States, I often have to confront the “Ugly American” stereotype that unfortunately persists throughout the world.  Ugly Americans travel to other countries but are rude and loud while making unreasonable demands and refusing to adapt to the local culture.

Sex and the City‘s Samantha Jones, played by Kim Cattrall, is an Ugly American to the extreme.  In the movie, a prospective PR client of hers, a hotelier, invites Samantha on a weeklong jaunt to his five-star resort in Abu Dhabi. According to him, Dubai is over — Abu Dhabi is the hottest destination in the Middle East.  Samantha finagles invitations for the girls to join her on the trip as well.

Well, during her time there, Samantha refuses to cover up her body, makes blatantly vulgar gestures with a hookah pipe, gropes a man in public, and pelvic thrusts from a pile of condoms, screaming, “Yes, I have sex!” while surrounded by a mob of angry men.

Her excuse for everything? “It’s the new Middle East!”

Samantha, whether it’s the new Middle East or not, it’s still the Middle East, and you are still a guest in that region.  No matter what, you need to show respect.

Miranda, by contrast, gets everything right.  She reads up on Abu Dhabi, the UAE and the Middle East.  She learns Arabic phrases.  She briefs the girls on the culture and encourages them to cover themselves up, often covering Samantha against her will.

Beyond that, the film briefly dives into feminism topics, comparing womanhood in New York City and the conservative Middle East.  While I will admit it was interesting finding out how a woman in a full veil would eat French fries, most of the dialogue was cringe-inducing.

To me, the conversations displayed the worst Ugly American stereotype of all — a sort of cultural American exceptionalism.  While it’s true that many, many Middle Eastern women have it far worse than we do here in America, not all of them do.  A culture seen as imprisoning to some is liberating to others.

To be honest, I feel like they could have made a bigger deal of the fact that Charlotte chose to go by her gentile maiden name in Abu Dhabi rather than her Jewish married name.  Now, that could be an issue.  But was mentioned only once and ignored for the rest of the movie.

Sex and the City was a fantastic TV show. The films? Not so much.

If you want to see a film that positively documents conservative cultures in America, try Arranged. I LOVE this movie.  It tells the story of two teachers in their early twenties at an elementary school in Brooklyn.  One is an Orthodox Jew, one is a Sunni Muslim, and they become friends — then realize they are both awaiting arranged marriages.

What would Carrie and the gang think of these girls?  Probably sorry for the fact that they have fewer fashion options.  (Though I will say, and this is the truth, that one of the most jaw-droppingly fashionable women I’ve ever seen in Boston was a Muslim woman in a hijab and a stunning yet modest outfit.)

Sex and the City 2 took the easy way out. I wish someone had put more thought into it.

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10 thoughts on “Samantha Jones: The Ultimate Ugly American”

  1. Kate,
    I couldn’t agree more. While I really enjoyed the first film, this one was a TRAINWRECK. I feel like the girls who at one time defined a new feminism and a freedom for women have circled ALL the way around and now become mockeries of women. I would be embarrased to be seen with them in this film, well, except Miranda. The movie was campy, disrespectful and had horrible writing. The gay wedding was a cartoon, the ladies looked..well, old, and were we suppose to feel bad for Carrie because Big – who works a full time job in the crashing stock market! – does not want to go out to yet ANOTHER night out with Carrie? When she was like, “Am I being a bitch?” Sarah and I said outloud, “YES!”. We weren’t the only ones in the theater.

    1. HA! The same exact thing happened at our theater!

      Agreed. Carrie was awful to Big. Did Michael Patrick King really think we were going to side with her?

  2. I’m curious to see this movie just to see how incredibly offensive it is. I’m glad to hear they took the opportunity to use Miranda to talk about the culture a little bit, though it is like Samantha to be offensive anyway. That’s just the kind of character she is.

    Thanks for the tip about Arranged.
    .-= JoAnna´s last blog ..10 Train Travel Tips =-.

    1. The thing that upsets me is that Samantha was always outrageous and borderline offensive in a unique, smart, strong way. This couldn’t be more different.

      I’d go to a matinee. Save the extra few dollars. 😉

  3. You’re so right– the TV series was excellent, and these movies are making an embarrassment out of the whole thing. Bummer for a show that promoted smart, mostly forward-thinking women being independent.
    I haven’t seen the movie. I can imagine that the topic of being in the Middle East would be hard to approach considering the characters, although they certainly could have done a much better job than what you describe. I wonder how in the world they decided to film there in the first place since NYC was always the 5th character. A twitter friend suggested the city paid them to film there.
    .-= Jenna´s last blog ..Same blog, new look, new name =-.

  4. i thought the exact same thing when i saw the movie in theaters and was absolutely appalled. it made me sick to see the disrespect the SATC franchise endured on another culture. im glad you wrote about it because im sure many other girls were thinking your exact thoughts!

  5. There are a lot of fashion foward hijab looks in Indonesian cities, and a lot of London women who cover for religious beliefs do so in a very foxy way. You get hijab fashion shows in many Asian Muslim capitals, so I guess there was a missed opportunity for the ladies to explore the art of layering…

    This movie sounds a little bit like the skit in American Dad, where Francine is in Saudi Arabia — except, I guess, it’s not supposed to be parodic in the same way. At least, on the plus side, they’re not presenting everyone as terrorists…

  6. I was looking forward to this as it came out after my husband had just completed a 2 year contract in Abu Dhabi and I had visited and enjoyed it on a couple of occassions. Having blonde hair was enough to get stared at even when I was fully covered; fitting in would’ve been impossible in their get ups. And the blatant disrespect of the culture around alcohol, social mores and just Islam’s respect for modesty was offensive. Agree with this post 100%.

  7. God, I so totally agree. I watched the movie by myself at home, but I kept cringing in embarrassment. I’m Canadian, so I suffer from the “Ugly American Tourist” stereotype too (until I say I’m Canadian, which isn’t really fair, because I’ve met plenty of “Ugly Canadian Tourists” and delightful American ones), so I am sad that this movie certainly only makes the American international reputation worse.

    If the writers had done their research and taken some time, this actually could have been a thought-provoking movie on the nature of feminism; being grateful for American freedom, but also learning something from the women of Abu Dhabi (and no, I don’t mean that they actually hide Lanvin under their burkas). The TV show, as you said, was good; a bit cheesy but often asking interesting questions about what sexual freedom and modern femininity means. I was disappointed, like you, and though I expected it to be a little insensitive, I was shocked at how blatantly offensive it was. It also ended on a kind of “well the Middle East totally sucks as a tourist attraction, let’s never leave comfortable America every again” note.

    I think Arranged is in my Netflix queue – I’ll have to get around to watching it!

    1. I hope you enjoy Arranged — it’s a great movie!

      I agree — if people invested the time into putting together a good, smart movie, it wouldn’t have been as embarrassing. I guess they just decided it would make buckets of money, no matter what, so why make the effort?

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