Mr Big: Let me get this straight. Your picture is going to be on a bus.
Carrie: That's right.
Mr. Big: A crosstown bus or a downtown bus?
Carrie: The M2. It goes right down Fifth.
Mr. Big (nodding seriously): That's a good line.
My relationship with women has always been a constant in my life. I am from a large family (four boys, three girls) but the women have always ruled. I suppose that this is true of all families; women are usually the ones who quietly arrange, organize and then dominate all family proceedings. In my own family the boys seemed to play the least important roles – we just watched them. Father figures came and went so I shouldn’t be surprised. However in my house they just didn’t seem like normal women. These girls were divas. They fought, loved, shopped, played, argued and challenged one another. They either had babies or they did not. They seemed to depend on one another. They seemed connected.
When I moved to New York City in 1998 I roomed with another of the women in my life, my friend Megan. She came to the city to be an actress and I came along for the ride. This was also the year that Sex and The City debuted on HBO; from episode one on we were both hooked. Sunday nights at 8pm we would be settled down with our wildly expensive takeout from Mama Mexico (guacamole $9) eager to consume the bite-sized bon mots served up by Darren Star and four feisty NY singles wittily exposing the female dilemma with humor and profanity. No topic here was new to me (or her for sure) but there was something truly novel in the series approach. It neither intellectualized nor pandered to the audience, it was funny, and it was good looking. Need I say that it also glamorized our not so glam New York experience? I thought it was the greatest thing on television. I tried to turn some friends on to it but people had odd responses. One of my friends found it déclassé. Straight men hated it. I thought it was the most enjoyable thing going in pop culture but I was learning that it really only appealed to women and gay men. Perhaps it was this staunchly pro-female upbringing that brought me to the show; I could certainly relate to women saying what they think. What made Sex and The City more and more interesting as the series progressed were the layers and layers the show explored in the female experience. No one type was repressed or vilified. Each of the main characters expressed insecurities within their persona (from slutty to virginal). There were shades of gray in each woman, and in their relationship to one another. It wasn't static. I think this was unusual then and it would be unusual now. This was basically Clare Boothe Luce' “The Women” without the need for farce. And it was refreshing.
Time has passed and those giddy New York years are over. Two movies have come and gone (one passable, the other unnecessary). I still live in NYC but I am more settled. Is Sex passe? There is a definite backlash against the themes and styles that made the show so popular - but I am suspicious. The luxury female is still thriving as an image (perhaps more than ever) and New york still sells that $20 burger (except that it is now $30) . Perhaps the SATC women have maxed out our good will like Carrie did her credit cards but nowadays glamour feels dumbed down. Thankfully the show is still with us in reruns on tv: expurgated, cleaned up versions that chronicle Samatha, Carrie, Charrlotte and redheaded Miranda’s (my favorite character) foibles in a rapid Monday through Friday succession. The whole series can start and finish in two months. I know all of the arcs, all of the problems, all of the catfights and all of the (mostly bad) puns by heart, and I watch it every night. Should I be embarrassed? Maybe. I should be embarrassed as a man that I watch it at all I guess. But I cannot help it. I love the complexity of the stories. I love how much and how well you can write for women (when they do write for women). There are just so many scenarios and possibilities to explore. As the series has now unspooled in front of my eyes maybe a hundred times this is what keeps me comforted and still amused. Womens’ stories are fascinating; their personas are mutable, they shift between roles constantly, they have more emotions available to them and are permitted to express them. It is good drama. We once seemed to know this (as evidenced in the films of the 30s and 40s) but in general I think we have forgotten. Why else would the novel “Eat Pray Love” be so successful? We are obviously starving ourselves.
Not that those characters ever did (they ate and ate on the show and mysteriously never gained an ounce). Until they come up with something better I guess I will watch those tired old episodes and make my apologies later. What can I say? I am from a family of big bossy women, and they weren’t afraid to talk about their periods. It comforts me. Every time I see Sarah Jessica Parker’s tutu get splashed by that bus on 5th avenue I am transported to a shinier, more wistful time, a time where I would be eating duck stuffed tacos with a good friend and imagining a future with no reruns. It was always a blissful 30 minutes with the ladies. Yes images of the luxury female are just as pervasive as ever. But does she have a brain?