Watching “Sex and the City” now
For the past few months I’ve had something close to insomnia. I usually feel more energetic during the night (I’m definitely a night owl), and thus going to sleep and actually being able to do so has become something close to a ritual. Going straight to bed would mean a never ending tossing and turning. So I write, read and watch TV until exhaustion.
I found, among the scarce wonders of the very very late night cable TV offer, a channel with “Sex and the City” reruns. Endless hours of one old episode after the other allowed me to immerse myself in the world of Carrie Bradshaw. I have little to say about the book it is said to be based on: haven’t read it, won’t do it, and couldn’t make myself do any research about it. Yet, after nights of senseless digression from my sleep, after watching too much of this 90’s TV milestone, I feel the inevitable need to write down some thoughts the show triggered.
First, I asked my sister if she ever watched it, and her response was an “of course” that lacked passion but made clear how important or, to say the least, inevitable, it was for her and back then, to watch the love misadventures of four New Yorker women in the 90's.
I remember watching, briefly, one or two episodes while I was just a pre-teen without giving credit to my eyes and ears. I had no idea what they were talking about but I could SENSE there was something forbidden for me.
Looking back, I remember how excited so many women seemed to be when the movies came out. I see today the spoils of that phenomenon and how it became a common place in pop culture to refer to the show as the chick flick series that we, women, all watch.
I can’t help to ask myself: “what was all the fuss about?” What was the commotion? Why every woman seemed to eagerly wait for the next episode? What was so provocative? I remember it was provocative for me in my early teens. But now, on the process of adulthooding, this show just seems, in one word: stupid. If anything, this show is shallow, highlighting anything but independence of women, and instead showing them in pity fragments of issues that have to do with men or fashion and not much else.
For a show that is allegedly about “women power” and friendship, we are offered little of both. None of the characters are fully shown in an active role in their professions or activities: we rarely see them working, or learning, reading or doing any cultural activities that are not tied to a fashion trend (art galleries appear as trendy, hip, new places full of the “it” people of the time). And friendship, although that would seem more difficult to object, it is not there in full extent (or the extent they pretend it has). The relationships that do matter and keep the series going are their love ones. Friendship is forever, that might be true because no one left the show before it was due. But they revolt around not work, nor politics, nor anything outside love relations. They get together and talk either about their partners, kids, clothes, sex and trends in both. They have no opinion whatsoever about anything else outside or apart from men.
Sexual liberation movement from the 60’s was about bigger things, not just sex. And it triggered so many different responses, some of them well intended, some of them misguided, some of them just plain wrong. But they generally went after the idea that sexuality was not tied to moral or ethical judgement. That people should not be condemned for exploring and interpellating a part of their selves as humans with reproductive organs, sexual needs, questions, doubts and problems. For women, specially, it meant the moment of rapture of the double standard that had subjugated them for so long (no need now to go deep into that).
Nonetheless, despite the best efforts of the most idealists of that movement, commercialism and corporations wanted a piece of that pie. Pornography, books, talks, TV shows, movies. More naked people and more people more naked ever more often made their way to the big and small screens. There was a market for the new unraveled shameless parts of the human body.
And there was no need to force people doing anything they did not want to do. What better way but to convince people that this was their path towards liberation? To make people do something the easy way, an even more, to volunteer themselves to do, to cheer, to launch and improve the system, there’s nothing but convince them that this is the way towards liberation. “No one can tell you what to do with your body”, and we suddenly had an hypertrophy of sex and sexuality. I don’t appreciate the use of “slut”, because for me it implies judgement inherited from those double standards, slut is only female, not male. But there’s a big difference between being liberated and owning your own sexual life and consequences, and a misguided sexuality that limits humanity only to sexual parts and inhabilitates other aspects to be developed.
“Sex and the City” misleadingly presents four liberated women, who are not tied to the old standard, who can ask what they want in bed, they can cheat too, they can objectify men, they can only engage with men for their money or sex while asking no apologies for wearing designer clothes and shoes.
What kind of writer praises herself of having no idea on how computers work? What writer goes to Paris and after three days is already bored? Paris. I can’t stop thinking of things to do. And most important: what kind of writer is almost NEVER shown READING!? I understand that a character like Samantha is all about her appearance and sexual relations. She’s a PR, and they cleverly made connections and the way she relates with other people the pivotal point of that character, and to be fair, they did add the most conflictive issue they all had to face by including breast cancer. Miranda? A lawyer, and an inconsistent character that spawns back and forth between being the neurotic type immersed in legal technicalities, and a character with nothing special but sideckiking the protagonist Carrie. Charlotte? She may seem the most consistently built character, with a steady development that, nonetheless, works in an art gallery and is rarely seen in her activities other than trying to get married and/or have babies.
They get together and they talk about sex, sex positions, cheating, relations, boyfriends, babies, orgasms. That is not revolutionary. Actually, what would really make it revolutionary, is to have women talking about politics, their opinions on arts (there’s a writer and an art specialist in the group), talking about their role in their working envornment, discussions about the role of men and women in relations and other aspects of life that are real thoughts on the issue and not mere conventions revisited as a funny pun. THAT would be a real challenge. It would be a challenge now, and it would have been an even bigger one some 10 years ago when the show first aired. That SHOULD be the sexual liberations movement inheritance.
Was there a step forward with this show? It was turned into a must for women, but did it leave anything? It might have been bold for TV to have women talking about their orgasms and their needs in bed. It was probably NEW, but it was NOT revolutionary. It didn’t pave the way for any other women to have their own space in TV or Film history. Today, we have women like Tina Fay and Amy Poheler, to set one example among tons that advocate for more active and leading roles for women in all arts, sciences and activities.
They don’t work, they don’t have an opinion, they just wear their brains out trying to fulfill one small (important, but small) aspect of their life. They try to figure out how to handle relationships while there is a world outside they only touch or refer to superficially.
How did they manage to have these women talking about sex on a international transgenerational TV sensation? Well, it was too risky having women talking about topics such as sexuality, orgasms, abortion, gender difference, etc. IN THEIR OWN WAY. In order to do so, they turned them into men, writers had to masculinize them. The result: thirty year old women at brunch talking like twenty year old men at a bar.
Abortions are discussed in one episode, and Carrie is so moved by the decision Miranda has to go through, that she can’t even pick her shoes. That’s how shocked she is. The topic wasn’t discussed any further and no other episode from those I’ve seen have been that profound. There has been death, cancer, adoption, but before the challenge of embarking into heavy topics that are not easy listening, they succumbed, and just laughed about it, or swiftly referred to it. The rest, all about the same: “he likes me, we made up, we broke up, shoes, purse, new restaurants, etc.”.
Little about the city itself too: nothing to be noticed about New York’s cultural scene but the new hip places that are a must during their opening week. No museums, no music, concerts, cuisine. Needless to say, no reference to cultural variety and possibly its challenges.
I am not asking a TV show to be more than it actually is. I’m merely asking myself what was so revolutionary about it and specially what drove millions of women to watch and follow it, to take the protagonist’s words as words they could relate to, like a compass for their own lives, relationships and friendships.
They missed completely the opportunity of giving a truly feminine voice to female characters on matters that could make a difference. To refer to things actual women have to go through. Instead, they masculinized them, making them objectify men, the same way men do with women in real world. And this has nothing, I repeat, nothing to do with a moral judgment on their sexual behavior. It has to do with how creators convinced women around the globe that successful, happy women had super active sex lives (another topic open for discussion, that would include the misleading showing of sex, sexuality and romantic contact), with friends they could share even the tiniest detail with, and without worrying about global, deeper issues other than designer clothes and attending trendy openings.