I have a love-hate relationship with Sex and the City

I mostly hate it. It’s a gay man’s idea of what women are. You’ve got the frigid WASP, the slut, the ball-busting career woman and the, well, the myriad of awful that is Carrie Bradshaw. She’s not really a stereotype, other than ‘lol, women like shoes’, but she’s also the most obscenely self-obsessed harpy. Worse than that, (well, not worse, but just as bad) it’s a very specific kind of gay man’s idea of what a gay man is. But it’s also the sort of gay man that the dreadful women the show portrays thinks are the only ones that exist.

I was once genuinely told by this woman that she loved gay men because they’re so stylish (while I was unshaven and wearing an ill-fitting fisherman’s jumper), have the best parties (while I was playing darts in the pub) and that I should take more cocaine, because gay men love cocaine. Now, please understand that that’s not me trying to be all ‘I’m so masculine and straight-acting’, because that crap is ridiculous, and I’m also sitting here nearing midnight writing a thousand words about my emotional response to Sex and the City. A lumberjack I ain’t. But the idea that I’m some super-primped wealthy Alpha Gay is equally absurd. But basically, the show’s idea about gender roles and how people should act are not pretty, and don’t bear even a little scrutiny. It comes at you from different directions and is basically offensive in all sorts of ways at once.

I still watch it when it’s on, of course. I just tune out the bits that are most appalling and look at the surface. I don’t really like the ‘it’s a bit of fun’ defence, because it’s an excuse for laziness and poor standards, but I make an exception. Also, you know, getting pissed off at TV shows is fun. Currently, there’s repeats on one channel and the movie on another, and I’m flicking between the two for some weird time travelling cognitive dissonance. Although both the series and the movie are revolving around Carrie going ‘I CAN’T MARRY! WHY CAN’T I MARRY? WHY DIDN’T HE MARRY ME?’. So you know. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même show.

I’ve never seen the movie before. It’s APPALLING. The series at least had its moments. It was occasionally very funny. Mostly for the times when Samantha is an entirely different show from the rest of them, a show where she just stares at the camera and rolls her eyes and necks some vodka and effectively says ‘Can you believe these bitches?’ Or when she’s stoned and does a little dance in the street to her ring tone. Also any scene where Cynthia Nixon got to act, because she’s amazing. Her multiple personality disorder episode of Sexy Victims Unit is basically the best thing ever. ‘LEAVE HER ALONE!!’ The Sex and the City where her mother dies is pretty devastating. Lady can act, is what I’m saying. She has the advantage of acting the character that’s most written like an actual human being, of course.

But the movie? Has literally none of the charm of the series, with the added bonus of Jennifer Hudson as A Black Person who loves Another Black Person and spends New Year at a Black Person Party and buys a wedding dress with her Black People Family and explodes with joy when she gets a handbag. No matter how much Carrie apparently likes her, the only black person she interacts with is the help, and the only white person Jennifer Hudson interacts with is her boss. Oh, and the lady who sells her her wedding dress. I’m not trying to say let’s all live in a multiracial rainbow or that it’s terribly racist that a lot of people tend to have friends of their own race. But this just leaps off the screen with its crass obviousness. Also, Jennifer Hudson says things like ‘Yeah, I totally understand your pain about the man who you’ve loved for years and have this massively complex, twisty relationship with, dumping you at the altar. My boyfriend dumped me and I miss him soooo bad.’

The whole movie is basically an exercise in reshuffling all the pieces to make sure that they end up in the same place as they were to start with. You know, like an episode of the Simpsons (which has the excuse of being a cartoon and in many ways immune to change, and also resolutely joyfully episodic), or the end of a series of Doctor Who (which doesn’t have the excuse and needs to stop. with. the. story. arcs. But that’s a whole nother post.) Or the whole Samantha ‘She has feelings, so she EATS. Ain’t that just like a woman? Deanna Troi knows what I’m sayin’, right gurl? Bitches love chocolate’ aspect. And I’m pretty certain that it’s pronounced St Lou-iss and not St Lou-ee when you’re talking about the city. Try not to make a plot point about something you can’t even say, yeah?

I don’t think even my scientific curiosity and my insatiable appetite for really really bad entertainment can make me watch the second movie where they ride camels and liberate all the Muslims by throwing tampons and lipstick at them and saying ‘fuck’, or whatever it is that happens. Also isn’t that the one where the juddering groaning reanimated corpse of Liza Minnelli sings Beyonce like a drag queen of herself? That’s just depressing. Apart from anything, if you’re going to have Liza sing at your wedding, it should clearly be Ring Them Bells. (Which, incidentaly, Bebe Neuwirth sings on her newish album. Who knew she had one? Thanks Spotify. Also incidentally, Bebe Neuwirth as Velma on the Broadway cast recording of Chicago really emphasises that Catherine Zeta Jones is not … very good. And oh my god, you have to go and watch Catherine Zeta Jones doing Send in the Clowns at the Tony awards. It’s SO bad, you guys. It’s amazing. Send In The Lemsip And The Flyspray Because There’s a Fly In The Room And it’s Really Bugging Me; That’s The Only Excuse For My Head To Be Moving Like This And I’m Fairly Sure My Voice Isn’t Meant To Sound Like That.)

Part of me is questioning the wisdom of writing so much about Sex and the City. It’s still got to be better than whatever ‘So I got to thinking, is love like pasta? So many different varieties, you can find it everywhere, but have too much and you feel bloated and uncomfortable. Meanwhile, across town, Samantha was having her raviolo filled’ crap Carrie comes out with. And that’s problematic in itself. Jacob Clifton pointed this out in relation to another show; I don’t remember which, but it holds true here. The show is full of people telling Carrie that she’s an awesome writer, they love her work, she’s so witty and insightful and blah. But the episode writers also wrote Carrie’s writing. So Character A is writing something, written by Writer, and character B, voiced by Writer, comes along and says ‘GOSH. THAT REALLY IS SOME TOP DRAWER WRITING. BRAVA, FOXY. BRAVA.’ That’s a pretty hard knot to unravel. The cleanest solutions (never show her writing, or never talk about her writing) are kind of a blunt instrument, but playing it utterly straight, like the show does on countless occasions, leaves a rather funny taste. Of course writing is somewhat narcissistic. I’m writing this at least two-thirds in the hope that people are actually going to read it and like it. But a little subtltely goes a long way, and ‘You (AND BY YOU I MEAN ME) are a great writer!’ just ain’t subtle.

I will say that Miranda and Steve are basically the only couple in the whole of fiction that I’m invested in. Well, not the ONLY. Also Lily Bart and Lawrence Selden in The House of Mirth. (And, by the way, my other New York-set show I perhaps shouldn’t watch, Gossip Girl, featured in its first season the married-for-money and a bit of love socialite Lily, married to the brazillionaire, Bart. A show about rich people in Manhattan whose lives revolve entirely around socialising and where scandal and lack of invitations to places is genuinely devastating, slips in Lily Bart references. In a show aimed at teenagers. Actual layers! Jokes that are only funny if you get them! Never mind that, here’s an old woman giving a man a blowjob in a restaurant.) What can I say? I’m a sucker for a woman who does everything she can to sabotage her own chances at happiness. Unless it’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles. I hate that bitch.

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11 thoughts on “I have a love-hate relationship with Sex and the City

  1. You crack me up, but mostly because I agree with a lot of what you said! And, BTW, the 2nd Sex and the City movie was AWFUL!!! AWFUL with a capital AWFUL!!!!

  2. Joel, very sloppy work. You haven’t even mentioned the breathless materialism that oozes out of every crack (pun intended) of this show. Worshipping luxury brands at every opportunity, the film itself was such a wanton shop window of product placement I would be surprised if the studio itself had to put up any money to make the bloody thing.

  3. Even though I will always love Sex & The City, I totally agree with you. I think it’s okay to love something and also recognize its many faults (this is how all relationships work.) I particularly agree with your sentiments on the first movie. The second movie was not THAT bad, and at least made a stab at some humour. And I found the backlash and criticism against it terribly sexist (but that is another conversation.) The first movie was disturbing and contradictory to the series in many ways. You need not feel guilty for writing about this either. A debate about media and the entertainment we’re all obsessed with is always welcome. (That said, you should watch the documentary Miss Representation. If you Google around enough you’ll find somewhere to watch it online. It’s very very worth it.)

    PS Love the Bebe Neuwirth/CZJ deviation.

    • Ooh, thanks for the tip. I’ll try and track it down. I think the thing that bothered me most about the film was that I joined like an hour into it and still had not the slightest problem in understanding exactly what was going on.

      As for Bebe Neuwirth and CZJ… yeah. My writing is basically stream of consciousness.

    • Hmmmm… http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2010/jun/04/sex-and-city-critics-misogynists

      And here’s the Lindy West one that Mark Kermode references. (Which is a really entertaining read, but is, as the Guardian points out “a sexist torrent completely out of proportion to what they were reviewing” even though it’s by a woman.)

      http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/burkas-and-birkins/Content?oid=4132715

      I resent the sound clip that Mark Kermode chose to use. If his job opportunities and sexual attractiveness would have been on the decline once he went grey, he’d have a different reaction, I’m sure. That was probably one of the more real conversations in the whole film. (I agree with some of his criticism of the class stuff, but really, the film is made for fans of the series who know these characters as real people and not the vacuous idiots he seems to think they are from one viewing.) Yes, it was not a great movie, but the critics seem to be attacking it for the wrong reasons. (Your argument about joining halfway in and still following it would be a good one.)

      By the way, sorry, I’m a woman who writes comedy and am very frustrated with the current state of affairs for films/shows about women, or lack thereof, so get very heated in these kind of debates. I probably take it personally, which isn’t healthy…

      • I didn’t manage to listen to the Kermode thing all the way through. I find him a bit … a critic’s critic. Just … 2001 is such a Film That People Who Like Film Like. It’s an absurd apples and oranges comparison. Why not draw a comparison with, I don’t know, Mike Leigh or Francois Ozon or someone else who does ‘real life’ movies rather than contrasting it with science fiction? Leigh and Ozon aren’t great examples, but you see my point.

        Agreed that saying ‘Miranda uses Spanx so these women are shallow’ misses the rather obvious question of WHY she felt it necessary to use them. I think it gives SATC too much credit to say everything they do is, like, a feminist critiqe of society’s demands, but, you know. Complain about the broad-strokes characterisation or the (what I’m sure is) by-numbers plot. Samantha’s character boils down to ‘slut’ – valid complaint. Menopausal woman takes hormones – not so much.

        For all its flaws, at least SATC passes the Bechdel Test some of the time.

  4. So many people say about the show that “it’s a gay man’s idea of what women are like” or “they’re just four men in drag” and I just…don’t get it? I can see saying it about Karen Walker, or Bree van Der Kamp, or…I dunno, half the characters from Tales Of The City. But I never really saw the supposedly queer sensibility (ugh, I just said “queer sensibility”, unclean, unclean) that pervades the show, apart from the pointless gay characters who only exist to make these deeply vanilla wimmin seem vaguely cosmopoitan.

    I mostly hate the show because it’s boring. Too much of it revolves around conversations between four women who have nothing interesting or novel or funny or relatable or endearing to say and the rest is a breathless “investigation” of really conventional relationship tropes that make 500 Days Of Summer look innovative and non-derivative. They also all of them, to a women, respond to sexual difference or adventure with exactly the same “licking piss off an infected cotton bud then running away” sourness that’s so dull I’d almost rather read the try-hard sex bloggers in the ES. I can’t even comprehend the idea of watching the films, although that’s mostly because Jennifer Hudson is a fucking mouth-breathing moron who should not be encouraged to believe she can act. Like, baiting Simon Cowell is fun but it’s not that bloody entertaining.

    “Dr K” can fuck off as well incidentally whilst we’re at it. I REFUSE TO BELIEVE THAT THERE ARE WOMEN IN THE WORLD SO SHALLOW THAT THEY WOULD TALK ABOUT SPANX AND WANT TO BUY THINGS.

    • Ugh. Okay. Here’s the thing. I have a group of girlfriends with whom I’ve watched and loved this show, and all of us have found the things the women in Sex and the City say “interesting or novel or funny or relatable or endearing”. Yes, they can be prudes, but so are a lot of women! God knows I’ve had moments sharing details of my sex life with friends that were met with crinkled noses. It’s unfortunate that they chose to cast judgment on anything vaguely “kinky”, and it would have been great if they hadn’t. The show at least opened up a conversation about sex and got women talking about it. If you are a woman as well we are proof here that not all women are the same, but a TV show is not under any obligation to represent all women when they make a show about them.

      There is no way this show could have been so successful for so long if women didn’t relate to these characters. I can’t tell you how many times a situation has come up when my friends and I have said “it’s just like on SATC when Miranda was seeing that guy with the thing.” Or whatever. We related to elements of these women’s lives and their relationships. We also got frustrated with them when they made stupid decisions or said horrible things, but so do real life people. (I used to be really annoyed at how horrible and selfish a person Carrie can be, but then I was like, actually, we all have friends like that, and none of us say anything about it to their faces, so why should they? Although Miranda does, at one point, but it never really fixes the problem.)

      The show was created by a gay man, but written by women who were writing about things happening in their real lives. It’s fine if you think it’s boring, and yes, Hudson’s performance is cringe-worthy, but I will have to disagree about the unrelatable thing, because other than their ridiculous wealth, there’s a lot I find to relate to in these characters.

      Also, I don’t think the gay characters are “pointless”. They are their friends and the four women on the show are not housewives in Kansas to whom a gay friend is a novelty to spice up their dreary lives. If I were writing a female character who lived in New York and worked in PR or the arts it would go without question that they would probably have gay friends. Not because you’d think they should, but because we all do! It’s annoying that early on they are often described as the novelty “gay boyfriend” and so on, but in the later seasons I think they play a more realistic role as good friends to these people. I look forward to the day when gay characters are not “the gay characters” but just characters. There are probably shows where this exists, but it will take some time to think of them.

      Okay, that’s all. Sorry this got so long. I have a lot of down time at my day job.

      And Joel, thanks for pointing out the Bechdel Test. I’d never heard of it, but am now so interested and all weekend have judged everything I’ve seen by it! (Ahem, Naked Gun and the most recent episode of Sherlock do not pass.) I used to be annoyed that the women on Sex and the City mainly ever only talked about men and relationships, but then I remembered that SEX was the first word in the title, and the main character’s job is to write about it, so I guess that’s kind of the point.

  5. I’ll admit that the ‘gay man’s idea of a woman’ was kind of just a lazy way to intro what I was writing. I guess they’re a bit more like real people than Karen or Bree, but they do still boil down to easy hooks to hang their identities on, and I guess that’s my problem. It’s the whole ‘gay men love divas’ thing. It’s not so much that they’re what gay men think women are like, but women who are written to be easy for gay men to get to grips with.

    But as we’ve got a real bona fide woman telling us that they do identify with the girls, then I guess it’s not really fair for me to be too critical.

    I agree with Chris that for a supposedly daring show, they approach sexual difference very squeamishly for the most part. But run before you can walk, I guess. It’s enough that they talk about blowjobs; Miranda is allowed to freak out about licking that one guy’s ass.

    At least with Stanford and Anthony (?) they do appear lots of times, like you’d expect a friend to actually do. So often Carrie’s like ‘my very dear friend whoever’ and they’re never seen again.

    The Bechdel Test is amazing. And surprisingly hard to pass. At least in SATC they do talk about work and wanting babies and … shoes? And when they’re talking about men, they’re main characters talking about incidental men, rather than incidental women talking about main character men.

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