(above: Charlotte, Carrie, Samantha and Miranda)
We were at a pretty cool party last night--lots of liquor, lots of food--to celebrate a fellow author's book deal/move to Los Angeles. The crowd was intellectual but lively, which almost made up for the fact that party was located on the Upper West Side. At any rate, at some point, someone mentioned Sex & the City
, and I almost launched into my near-patented Sex and the City
Diatribe. Almost. I have better manners than to dominate the conversation like that. However, I decided to save it up for the blog, and here it is.
Thesis: I am the only woman I know who LOATHES Sex and the City. But why? It's just a show
If only it were. I managed to ignore it as long as possible, but it became a cultural phenomenon. Unlike something soothingly airheaded like Melrose Place
, Sex and the City
purported to Say Something about single women's lives. It was heralded as feminist. It wasn't. It was a giant step back in feminism, and the show is both stupid and dangerous.
Because it features nothing but caricatures of women who were are supposed to take seriously. Carrie is the neurotic-normal Everygirl; Miranda is the career-minded ballbuster; Charlotte is the old-fashioned preppie princess; Samantha is the sex-crazy party girl. These, by the way, are not new caricatures; they have been seen various other shows, including Designing Women
and Golden Girls
(which was a far more revolutionary show: Old people with fulfilling lives! Involved in the world around them! Still having sex! Extraordinary!)But don't you find Sex and the City funny?
Sometimes. It has sort of a crude Mad
magazine type humor--lots of squeamish embarrassment and self-humiliation. (which, as I pointed out earlier, doesn't mean that it's any less self-involved). Frankly, I prefer it when it tries to be funny than when it tries to Say Something About the Modern Woman.But it's about four thirty-something single women who are happy being single! It defies the stereotype that women have to be married at that age!
Are you kidding me? All these women do is chase after men, usually inappropriate or unavailable men. If they find a half-way decent one (Steve, Aidan, Smith) they act like neurotic harridans until any self-respecting man would throw in the towel and hit the road. They are obsessed with men, even while they claim to be happy in their (empty) lives. When do they find happiness in anything else?What about in their friendships with each other?
I find their friendship forced and unrealistic, and very Carrie-centered. I particularly hate Carrie as I am compared to her often. She is supposed to be the "quirky, downtown girl," but everything about her screams "spoiled Upper East Side Socialite." Even her bizarre wardrobe is more high-risk couture than low-rent vintage. And she CANNOT write.But why do you take it so seriously?
Because everyone else does. I was happy to ignore the damn thing, until every single women in the world began raving about it. Aside from the usual episode hype, there were books, articles, and essays (in places like Salon.com, no less) written about the Importance of the Show to Single Women. Which is a crock. Now thirtysomething unmarried women ("spinsters," sometimes) are not even allowed to be unhappy with their situation. They have to pretend that they're having the time of their lives without men, even as they secretly obsess about them.You must not like or know many thirtysomething single women.
I beg your pardon. I am a thirtysomething single female writer living in New York City. As much as it disgusts me, I am fucking Carrie. Myself aside, there are plenty of thirtysomething, fortysomething and fiftysomething single women out there who say they do not want men, and I admire them for it. These women read books. They partake in high culture (without needing to classify it as pretentious or mock it) and low culture (i.e. fun without money). They are involved in their community and in charities. They take an interest in the world around them, including the world outside of Manhattan. Sure, they may buy Manolo Blahniks, but they have full exciting lives that do not revolve around shopping. And, most of all, they are not lying to themselves. If they do not really want marriage, then they don't go throwing themselves into serious relationships and wondering why the guy doesn't commit. (Of course, on the show, when the poor fool does commit, eventually, he gets stomped on).But isn't it cool to see women enjoying and talking about sex?
What's new about that? The previously mentioned Designing Women
and Golden Girls
were full of sex. In fact, the way those women talked about sex was natural, as opposed to Carrie and Co., who apparently want big Broadway lights over their heads saying "Hey! We're liberated! We can talk about sex!" What those other shows didn't have, that is the very core of Sex and the City
, is marketing genius and product placement. Sex and the City
should be named Money and the City
The show is aspirational only because of how much money and free time these women have. When I saw Carrie bitching because she had to pay more than $700 a month on her football-field sized one-bedroom, I went into spasms of disgust and went to clean my toilet. Poor Charlotte and her gigantic $20,000 diamond ring. Poor Miranda dating a lowly bartender. (Incidentally, Steve the bartender is the only middle-class man these women will deign to date. Even Smith the waiter had to become Smith the model/indie film star before Samantha could take him seriously). These women couldn't even go to ordinary bars; it had to be fancy hotel bars and Green Apple Martinis, usually paid for. And if I had to see Carrie in one more slutty, unrealistic outfit designed by an "up and coming" fashionista, I'd have killed myself.Unrealistic? But isn't it supposed to be fantasy?
I wish the show had made up its goddamn mind. A pure fantasy would have been acceptable. So would a realistic show about lives of single women in New York City. This damn thing tried to be both. And who wants to be--let alone date--these neurotic fruitcakes? Their shallow lives seemed sad to me. Believe me, I knew women like these--Of a Certain Age, too thin, designer clothing, Pilates bodies, a look of bitter, pinched failure in their eyes. After all, I worked in the film industry. Give me an plump, honest, unglamorous fifty-year old, librarian-hippie any day.So obviously you've put a lot of thought into this. In fact, it sounds like you've seen a LOT of the show.
I have seen almost every episode, never by choice. As I said, I am apparently the only woman in the universe who hates this show. To me, it's like watching a car wreck of femininity. That said, I have always had female roommates and lots of female friends. I have been regularly subjected to the show since it first aired.You sound like you really look down on anyone who watches the show.
Some of my most intelligent, most respected, most glamorous friends watch this show. They have so much more substance and are so much more interesting to me than any of the characters that I simply find their fascination with it baffling.
Don't you like anything about it?
I like some of the idea of New York being a glamorous, exciting place for single women. It is. While the acting and was generally heinous (Carrie and Samantha being the worst offenders) and the writing pandered to the lowest common denominator (teary breast-cancer bullshit anyone?) I thought Kristen Davis's (Charlotte) acting got better towards the end.But what about Samantha--wasn't it great seeing an older woman guiltlessly pursuing sex, without emotional ties?
Firstly, I don't know many (happy) women like that. I do know a few, but they seem to be exceptions the rule. Most women like to have sex with some emotion or connection attached. Frankly, I think most men do too. That said, I would have been happy to see a Samantha character if she hadn't been such a cartoon. Apparently, a woman can't enjoy guilt-free sex without becoming some sort of leering parody of an aggressive man. (Not for nothing, but many thought Samantha was actually a gay man in disguise). Incidentally, why are you writing this?
I'm writing this because I think that Sex and the City
has become an accepted cultural phenomenon, and no one is talking about its negative effects. I feel alone in my disgust. I'm hoping there are others who agree or would like to enter the debate. Like I said, I'd have been happy to ignore the damn thing if only the Cultural Powers That Be would have let me. I am also writing this as practice for a section in the Lizzie Borden chapter in my book, The Devil Inside Her
. The connection? Part of the hysteria around Lizzie Borden was our fear of thirty-something spinsters, and the fact that they are sexually repressed or sexually loose. Contrary to popular assertions, Sex and the City
did nothing to change that.
Okay, you've made your point. Is there anything else?
One last thing. Why was everyone so shocked and disappointed when all four women ended up in monogamous, committed relationships at the end of the show? Who do you think this show was marketed to? Middle-class America. The same middle class America that complained that Carrie, as a (I am not making this up) role model
, shouldn't be smoking. So the writers had her quit. The show sells a fake glamorous life of single women, but essentially it was just another chick-lit novel where Mr. Right (or Mr. Big) conveniently rescues the heroine from spinsterhood. Middle class America could not stand for their beloved heroines to be happily single. The ending was not a betrayal, but a complete fulfillment of what the show was about.Are you through?
Yes. I feel much better, thank you. I'm going to go see if I can catch an episode of The Golden Girls
to cleanse my palate.