I never watched Sex and the City when it first aired, but after years of nagging from friends I’ve finally got on board with the famously well-heeled foursome from NYC. Admittedly I’m about a decade behind everyone else, but better late than never, right? Sure, it’s not something I care to admit in casual conversation (sort of like having a yeast infection or being a Liberal Democrat, I imagine) but it’s marvellously watchable and, at 25 minutes per episode, exactly the right length to put on while you’re drying your hair or in the bath, laptop balanced precariously atop a pile of towels stacked on the toilet seat.
Although now a little dated, there can be no doubt that SATC was revolutionary in its heyday. I don’t remember a whole lot of the nineties – I was nine when the first episode aired in 1998 – but never before had mainstream television really dragged these issues so unashamedly into the open. We’re so at home with the controversial nowadays that it takes something really outrageous – like somebody setting fire to a baby or taking a dump on live TV – to really shock us. It’s hard to imagine now how radical a primetime series was that showed gay love or women taking charge of their own sex lives with such zeal, but at the time it was ground-breaking. Undeniably, it marked a new chapter in the sexual revolution, not because of what they were saying but because they were saying it at all. How fantastic that we can talk now about absolutely anything, no matter how risqué. It’s paved the way for STI awareness campaigns, the growing acceptance of alternative lifestyles and even blogs (like this one!) that discuss things that may have been considered inappropriate twenty years ago. Obviously, there are a couple of flies in the ointment – such as having to watch my fellow commuters struggle to compose themselves when reading Fifty Shades of Grey on the train – but what does it matter so long as everyone’s enjoying themselves? So long as nobody gets girl-spaff on my bag or anything it isn’t a big deal.
Predictably, a show that openly discussed vibrators on the telly attracted a lot of attention from critics. It was funny, relatable and applauded by many modern women for its new, softer, twenty-first century brand of feminism (“Orgasms! Independence! Shoes!”) It was also roundly criticised by the other, more traditional feminists for glamorising sex and stereotyping women. Journalist Tanya Gold, most memorable for a cathartic piece in Stylist magazine claiming that fat people and thin people can never be friends because the former are too bitter and the latter too smug, complained in The Telegraph that “SATC is to feminism what sugar is to dental care.” Why? Presumably because the characters like to drink cocktails, covet expensive shoes and would quite like a boyfriend at some point – “TOO FEMININE! TOO WEAK!”, you can practically hear Gold and her band of po-faced naysayers shrieking in the background. Never mind that a significant number of women actually do like cosmopolitans, fancy footwear and getting laid; I’d consider myself about as independent as they come and I both love cocktail hour and own forty-three pairs of shoes. And although I’m happy with my (single) marital status at the moment, spending my twilight years cooking on a One Egg Wonder doesn’t exactly feature in my life plan. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Gold also neglects to mention in her unbridled self-righteousness rage that all four female protagonists have independent, high-flying careers of their own (only Charlotte, the token traditionalist, dreams of getting married and staying at home). How about the “extreme slenderness” of the actresses, then, whines Gold, ignoring the fact that EVERYONE on the box is of miniscule proportions. Even if you have a problem with the aesthetic homogeny of actors and actresses in general, it is unfair to pick on SATC. It’s not as though CSI, Dexter or any of the other more ‘masculine’ mainstream shows have a broad spectrum of body types either. Even the news is read almost exclusively by good-looking people, for Christ’s sake.
Although I am happy to champion SATC on the basis that it is a fictional TV show and exists only to entertain, which it does very well, I’m bloody glad I didn’t get into it when I was thirteen. I feel that watched at that age it would probably have set me up for bitter disappointment when I got old enough to experience the comparatively dull reality. Obviously as a grown-up I can now see that the protagonists’ action-packed personal lives are exaggerated for dramatic effect – it’s a TV show, duh – but as an impressionable teenager I would probably have got completely the wrong end of the stick and convinced myself that adult life is a whirlwind of dates with eligible Adonis-types and one-off encounters with stud-muffins that one meets in Starbucks, shoe shops, police stations, etc. You know, the usual places to pick up men. If anyone is reading this and thinks this may be the case, it is my unfortunate duty to tell you that you have been misinformed. Either that or I’m doing it wrong, or perhaps the UK is just shit, in which case my next holiday is definitely going to be a city break to Manhattan, where improbably gorgeous men apparently just throw themselves at you in the street. I know, I know, it’s disappointing, but you can’t believe everything you see on TV. Take it with a pinch of salt though and it’s still great viewing.
For those who are offended by SATC (my advice: just bloody turn it off then; nobody is making you watch it), one of the biggest complaints seems to be that it places too much emphasis on sex and dating. No shit Sherlock. The lead protagonist a sex columnist for Christsake (although I would actually love to know how the writers justified a character’s Choo-charged lifestyle in New York City with the income from one measly weekly column). According to entertainment news site Hollywood Backwash, the four stars between them racked up an impressive 95 conquests in six years’ worth of episodes, a figure that dwarfs even the considerable numbers of my most adventurous friends, male or female. But then none of us have abs like Sarah Jessica Parker. One particularly adorable journalist, Joan Swirsky, who seems to make her living entirely from inflicting her ghastly, puritanical views on the unsuspecting public, complains of the characters’ engagement in “loveless or even like-less sexual encounters”. As an enthusiastic Sarah Palin devotee and aggressive pro-lifer, her opinion doesn’t really count for, well, anything, but seriously, GET WITH THE FUCKING PROGRAMME JOAN. It really can’t be news to her that quite often people sometimes like to have sex not out of love but because it’s fun? For me, the unapologetic promiscuity of Carrie et al is actually the best thing about Sex and the City; the characters aren’t remotely fazed by the notion that they may be judged or considered slags or whatever. They literally couldn’t give less of a shit, and good for them. So long as they’re not endangering themselves or anyone else, what’s the problem?
(Answer: there isn’t one. Being a raging sex machine isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I’m all for everyone being able to do what they like with their lives. That’s what modern feminism is about.)