It’s pretty commonly accepted that we all decry Sex and the City, now. It seems a bit like a relic of an earlier time (she was able to spend that much on clothes while working on one newspaper column? She was a columnist who did not know how to work e-mail?) And, gosh, that second movie was terrible. Really, really terrible. Basically only about buying stuff and making puns. So Emily Nussbaum‘s New Yorker piece on how it was actually a very good, progressive, feminist show is fascinating.
She claims that:
“Sex and the City,” in contrast, was pigeonholed as a sitcom. In fact, it was a bold riff on the romantic comedy: the show wrestled with the limits of that pink-tinted genre for almost its entire run. In the end, it gave in. Yet until that last-minute stumble it was sharp, iconoclastic television. High-feminine instead of fetishistically masculine, glittery rather than gritty, and daring in its conception of character, “Sex and the City” was a brilliant and, in certain ways, radical show. It also originated the unacknowledged first female anti-hero on television: ladies and gentlemen, Carrie Bradshaw.
It actually amazes me that, for all the years I’ve been complaining about how I never liked Carrie Bradshaw, it never once occurred to me that might have been the point. It’s probably my own fault. I’ve never watched The Sopranos and thought, “You know, I’m not sure I like that Tony guy.” Nor have I done that with Mad Men, or any of the other shows that feature male anti-heroes. That’s a pretty brilliant point. Nussbaum clarifies that:
Before “Sex and the City,” the vast majority of iconic “single girl” characters on television, from That Girl to Mary Tyler Moore and Molly Dodd, had been you-go-girl types—which is to say, actual role models. (Ally McBeal was a notable and problematic exception.) They were pioneers who offered many single women the representation they craved, and they were also, crucially, adorable to men: vulnerable and plucky and warm. However varied the layers they displayed over time, they flattered a specific pathology: the cultural requirement that women greet other women with the refrain “Oh, me, too! Me, too!”
In contrast, Carrie and her friends—Miranda, Samantha, and Charlotte—were odder birds by far, jagged, aggressive, and sometimes frightening figures, like a makeup mirror lit up in neon. They were simultaneously real and abstract, emotionally complex and philosophically stylized. Women identified with them—“I’m a Carrie!”—but then became furious when they showed flaws. And, with the exception of Charlotte (Kristin Davis), men didn’t find them likable: there were endless cruel jokes about Samantha (Kim Cattrall), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), and Carrie as sluts, man-haters, or gold-diggers.
It does seem remarkable that the characters all behaved pretty badly, and behaved badly in a way that was legitimately offensive to people – and not just, say, Mary and Rhoda getting into a fight. Taking that into consideration, maybe it’s worth a re-watch.
I still think that the real estate on the show was ridiculous, though. I am going to hold to that.
Picture via Sex and the City