When Sex and the City premiered in 1998, it was the start of the radical New-Age moment in television. The landscape of television would continue to change forever since its debut. Even 20 years later, the show has reached an almost cult-like status. The show has become one of the most beloved television shows to watch for Millennials, people living in New York, and those who worship the main character’s $40,000 shoe closet. In the 90s era full of Paris Hiltons and the reality television programs, Sex and the City immediately became a hit. Since the ending of the show in 2004 and its sequel two movies, the series has caused society to take a retrospective view of the impact Sex and the City had on society, along with the view of Americans and women it portrayed. Many of the values perpetuated on the screen showcased the changing values of Americans as time has gone on.
The show is centered around four best friends, Carrie Bradshaw, Charlotte York, Samantha Jones, and Miranda Hobbes, living in New York and navigating their hectic thirties and forties lives. Based on the book by Candace Bushnell, Sex and the City is a compilation of her same-named column published at The New Yorker. Carrie Bradshaw is Bushnell’s alter ego, with the former having the same initials as the latter. The ideas of dating, friendship, and professional careers are at the forefront of each episode. Carrie is the narrator of the episodes based around the weekly column that she publishes to the fictional New York Star. Carrie is known for her unique sense of style, shoe obsession, and ability to somehow live in an Upper East Side brownstone on armed with a writer’s salary and shopping problem. Charlotte is a WASP who works at an art gallery and has an obsession with perfection that is never-ending. She is an optimistic believer in true love; a majority of her dating life centered around finding a husband with whom to have kids. Samantha is the oldest of the four, a successful PR woman, and is open to trying anything sexually once. She declares that she has given up on relationships and vows to only have sex like a man: emotionless and with solely physical gratification with the other people she has relations. Miranda is a cynical career lawyer, the voice of reason, and distrustful of men and relationships in general. She often is seen the feisty and no-nonsense one of the group. Sweeney (2018) explains, “Sex and the City, featuring riffs on anal sex, threesomes, bitchy baby showers, sex toys, and faked orgasms, was a truth-teller and palate-cleanser. Rarely before had a comedy drawn attention to the ways in which men and women misunderstand each other.” The foursome life in New York includes funny antics, taboo situations, and one-liners are some of the reasons why the show has reached its favoritism amongst audiences all over.
The very thought of someone never seeing Sex and the City is unimaginable. A writer at Glamour states, “I have a shameful confession to make. I’m 30-something. I’m newly single, having just ended a six-year relationship with the one I thought was the one. I’m a freelance fashion writer living in New York City […] And yet until this very week, I was a Sex and the City virgin” (Duggan 2017). How could a New York writer never have seen the acclaimed feminine show? This type of mentality is the exact thinking associated with the show and helps to explain the widespread reach. Anyone who wanted to live in New York, had dreams of making it big, or lived vicariously through the group of friends, watched the show. People all over the world have seen the phenomenon, Sex and the City. And yet despite this conundrum, more than 20 years later, Sex and the City is viewed in a different light than when it initially aired. The values and attitudes people have deemed as acceptable have changed over the years.
The woke-ness in the world of 2020 is very different than the ideological norms being portrayed in the show at the tail end of the 90s and early 2000s. The 2000s was a time when being gay was just starting to be accepted in the pockets of urban communities such as New York, LA, and San Francisco. It was only 1997 when Ellen DeGeneres came out in a Time cover. Now, in 2020, being on the LGBTQ+ spectrum is not necessarily something people across the US will bat an eye at, whether they agree with it or not. While there may be differing opinions on the moral acceptance of the queer people, not for nothing, Pete Buttigieg is the first an openly gay American running for President. Buttigieg’s lead in the polls against the other nominees furthers the narrative of just how far our country has come in its acceptance of the non-heterosexual communities. However, the more open attitudes towards people’s acceptance of other’s sexual preference and gender fluidity were not the case in the early 2000s. In Season 3 Episode 4 “Boy, Girl, Boy, Girl,” Carrie explains to the rest of her friends that the guy she is dating has openly come out as bisexual. Carrie, Miranda, and Charlotte proceed to judge his generation for their experimentation and openness, then claim that real bisexuality never exists. Bradshaw goes on to complain by saying, “y’know I did the ‘date the bisexual guy’ thing in college. But in the end, they all ended up with men. […] I’m not sure bisexuality exists. I think it’s just a layover on the way to ‘Gaytown’”.
Only Samantha says that she accepts it and states, “I think it’s great. He’s open to all sexual experiences. He’s evolved. It’s hot. […] Don’t worry about labels.” Miranda criticizes Samantha’s acceptance by arguing, “it’s not hot. It’s greedy! He’s double-dipping” (Thomas ; Bicks, 2000). And while the LGBTQ+ community may have its problems, bisexuality is generally viewed as real sexuality. Simply because bisexual people end up with a particular gender does not discount their sexual preferences. Famously, actress and singer Miley Cyrus came out as being pansexual and gender-fluid in 2015. In 2019, she married and then divorced fellow actor, Liam Hemsworth. Cyrus is now dating singer Cody Simpson. American dancer Julianne Hough, who is currently married to Canadian hockey player Brooks Laich, came out as being “not straight” in recent months. Even though they are both attached to someone in the traditional heteronormative sense, it does not change or diminish their queer identities.
Since the show’s forefront is at a glance about the four woman’s relationships with each other, there is sort-of feminism empowerment associated with Sex and the City. However, the show’s form of feminism is exclusive to the classist elite white mentality of America. And by no means does the show pass the Bechdel Test, a measurement of the representation of women in fiction, either. The feminism in Sex and the City promotes only goes as far as the women when they are not in committed relationships or need each other for advice on men. There seem to be no memorable moments within the show that do not involve the protagonists encounter with a male character. In an interview with Alex Bechdel, she states, “maybe sometimes [those] female characters talked to each other about something beside a man, but not really” (Katz, 2014). To pass the test, “[the piece] must feature two women in conversation talking about something other than a man” (Katz, 2014) Even at the beginning of the show, the relationships they develop with other men comes to the forefront, rather than the friendship amongst themselves. Carrie, in particular, shows how bad of a friend she is, opting to ditch her friends last minute for plans with any new man that comes into her life, at any chance she gets.
Carrie can be viewed as being obsessive with always being available for the men in her life, regardless if they treat her right or if she has prior plans. Carrie leaves all of her friends for a man at multiple points throughout the six seasons. Especially during season six, she ditches her friends when she meets the older, Russian artist with who she decides to move to Paris with, on a whim. Carrie’s inability to focus on anyone but herself is heavily criticized. After viewing her friends in successful relationships, she ends up running off to Paris as an attempt to force herself to have a successful relationship with the Russian. Everyone including herself knows that she and the Russian will not last long and are incompatible in a relationship together. Her child-like tantrums continue throughout the series. They especially reach an all-time high when she moves to Paris because she expects that she will be roaming around going to museums and sitting in cafes all day long, which is far from the truth once she actually arrives in Paris. The ending of series particularly gives into Carrie’s narcissistic whims. She is only able to save herself from the mistake she made by Mr. Big coming to rescue her. While Mr. Big is terrible himself, Carrie’s inability to get any consequences from her actions has been completely criticized. Where does the famous Carrie Bradshaw ended up when abandoned in Paris? Who is that girl, and who does she become when she is forced to face her mistake head-on? What growth does she gain from that experience? None of these questions will ever be answered. Instead, the audience receives a nicely wrapped-up finale that Mr. Big rescued his lover from her own stupidity of moving out of the country, despite everyone telling her not to. While it makes sense that the audience would be happy to see a happy ending for Mr. Big and Carrie, it would be more thought-provoking to show the character’s development because of this event; showcasing Carrie’s actions having meaning and consequences that follow.
The two movies created after the series ended have no purpose but to show that Carrie Bradshaw is the same awful person from years ago. After the show, the first movie fast-forwards four years later to Carrie planning an elaborate wedding for her and Mr. Big, something neither of them wants; then she proceeds to get angry at Mr. Big when he has second thoughts about everything. Admittedly, telling her on the wedding day is a bad move, but Carrie didn’t exactly give Mr. Big a chance to say anything. In the second movie, she cheats on her now-husband, Mr. Big, with her former now-married lover, Aiden, while on a girl trip in Abu Dhabi. Years ago, during the show, she infamously cheated on Aiden twice with Mr. Big, who was married to another woman at the time. Carrie’s consequence for her dalliances in Abu Dhabi’she has to take a taxi from the airport home herself and then Mr. Big insists that she stop walking around without a wedding band, and hands her a huge black diamond ring. Carrie is apparently exempt from any and all consequences for the horrible things she puts both Aiden and Mr. Big through; somehow, she manages to triumph in the end, with a slap on the wrist.
According to Lule, “Film has indeed conquered the world as one of the most powerful forms of mass media created during the last two centuries. Beginning in the nineteenth century, a host of new media, including film, would revolutionize the ongoing processes of globalization” (2017 Chapter 4). Sex and the City’s global impact is an interesting phenomenon that has continued since its airing. Armstrong comments that “Australia, Ireland, the UK, France, Germany and Japan, among others, all happily indulged in the risqué New York City adventures of Carrie and her fellow singletons” (2018). Many of the countries were able to become sexually liberated by watching Sex and the City, especially in conservative areas of the world. The article goes on to state that audiences were so enamored with Magnolia Bakery cupcakes that locations opened up in South Korea, Japan, and the Middle East. However, Singapore and other countries banned the sexually liberated version of the show. But, after backlash and more relaxed media laws, a less outlandish version was able to be aired, not without taglines such as “Love is worth the wait” being used in the Singapore ads. Again, not without criticism, Sex and the City 2, set in Abu Dhabi, was supposed to be filmed within Dubai but was denied due to the nature of the script. The film had to be shot in Morocco, which makes sense regarding the nature of its movie, in a more conservative UAE.
Additionally, the amount of debauchery, exoticism, and mocking of the Middle Eastern culture is more than enough reason for the UAE to deny any filming permits. The four friends think that magic carpets and genies in lamps are the only things that Abu Dhabi has to offer. Carra points out that, “at the hotel, the ladies observe the women dressed in hijabs and Miranda warns Samantha to cover up numerous times, which she does reluctantly. Carrie then talks about how the veils across the mouth “freak her out’” (2015). The movie perpetuates the idea that Arabic women are somehow repressed and need saving from the sexually liberated selves. Later on in the movie, the Arabic women wearing the hijabs are shown to be hiding their real natures, reading Suzanne Sommers and take off their hijabis to reveal the collections from summer. This is incredibly offensive, as to say that the women wearing Western clothing are the only way that the foursome could get help and escaped from the offense they caused to the men outside. Almost as if to say, without being Western-liberated, Arabic women are useless.
While Sex and the City was a sexually liberating show of its time, a glance back at the last 20 years indicated how the show has changed the way it is viewed within the USA itself, and globally. Sex and the City presents a mockery of bisexuality, true female empowerment, and mockery of cultures that do not conform to the Western ideologies. Even though the show has opened up the ways females can talk about sex and changed media laws, the cultural nuances of the shows do not hold up to today’s ever-changing American and feminist values. America is a different landscape than when the television show first went on the air. Muslims, the LGBTQ+ community and females no longer stand for being part of the second class of the country. The mockery of the aforementioned group in the country is no longer accepted. While the show was initially revolutionary, it has shown how far feminism and American values have come since the television show first premiered.
- Armstrong, J. K. “Sex and the City: A global revolution”. BBC, 05 June 2018, Doi: http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20180605-sex-and-the-city-a-global-revolution.
- Carra, M. ‘Sex and The City 2’Is Still So Offensive. Bustle, 27 May 2015. Doi: https://www.bustle.com/articles/85442-sex-and-the-city-2-turns-5-the-movie-is-full-of-offensive-moments
- Duggan, Leeann. “Shameful Confession: I Was a ‘Sex and the City’ Virgin.” Glamour, 06 Oct. 2017. Doi: https://www.glamour.com/story/a-sex-and-the-city-virgin.
- HBO Thomas & Bicks. Boy, Girl, Boy, Girl. Sex and the City, 25 June, 2000. Doi: https://www.hbo.com/sex-and-the-city/season-03/4-boy-girl-boy-girl.
- Katz, E. T. Alison Bechdel: ‘Sex and The City’ Wouldn’t Pass the Bechdel Test, But I’m Still Its ‘Number One Fan’. Huffington Post, 03 Oct. 2014. Doi: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/alison-bechdel-sex-and-th_n_5928490.
- Lule, J. Globalization and Media: Global Village of Babel [Third Edition], 2017. Doi: https://ereader.chegg.com/#/books/9781538106280/cfi/6/20!/4/6/96/2@0:100
- Sweeney, Tanya. “20 Years on: The Complicated Legacy of ‘Sex and the City’.” The Irish Times, 21 Apr. 2018, https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/tv-radio-web/20-years-on-the-complicated-legacy-of-sex-and-the-city-1.3459922.