New York’s finest: Sex and the City
Sarah Jessica Parker’s onscreen portrayal of the New York sex columnist Carrie and her equally empowered girl gang was a turning point for how women were depicted.
In real life Candace Bushnell was a ground-breaking columnist who wrote about her dating experiences for The New York Observer in the early 1990s, a profoundly enlightening expose of sexual freedom for women just as South Africa was awakening to its own democracy. These amusing anecdotes, from 1994 to 1996, were so good that she compiled them into a bestselling book called Sex and the City.
But her greatest fame would come from the breakthrough TV series of the same name, which was an equally pioneering show for television. Sarah Jessica Parker’s onscreen portrayal of the New York sex columnist Carrie and her equally empowered girl gang was a turning point for how women were depicted. Inside of being the sidekicks to men, the ditsy little woman, the object of a male character’s lust, Sex and the City made women the heroines, and (sometimes) the sexual predators. At the core of the story was the belief that women (admittedly in a sexually admissive age and seemingly always horny city) could be in control of their lives, and – specifically in this show – their sex lives. Academic papers have been written on this subject and how this remarkable TV show played such a great role.
It did more than turning stereotypes on their head: it made women strong, independent and just as capable as men in all respects, including making bad decisions.
Carrie’s friends were all thirtysomething women – except Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall) who was in her forties – going through an assortment of issues, based on their personality type. Waspy, prissy Charlotte York (Kristin Davis) and prudish but confident Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon) were foils to Carrie’s complicated, angst-ridden ordeals; while Cattrall’s sexually aggressive Samantha was as unsentimental as most men are depicted.
Over lunch and dinner, or sipping the Cosmopolitan cocktail they would make famous, they would discuss their very different sex lives and experiences. With a quirky sense of humour, the show explored the shifting morality of sexuality, promiscuity and femininity.
It would run for six seasons, and cover a range of issues with a pop culture ease that the academics are still discussing for how groundbreaking they were.
As the seasons progressed the characters would get into various relationships, exploring their various preoccupations. For Carrie it was Mr Big (played by Chris Noth), an enigmatic businessman who was the ideal companion to her socialite, but thoughtful, character.
Uptown Charlotte, who works in an art gallery, dates an equally moneyed character Trey MacDougal (Kyle MacLachlan). Lawyer Miranda finally finds love, with a bartender. Arguably the best famous cameo is when famed Russian ballet supremo Mikhail Baryshnikov becomes Carrie’s lover in the final season.
Sex and the City – which won seven Emmys, eight Golden Globes and three Screen Actors Guild Awards – would come to define those heady days at the end of the Twentieth Century, as much as it would encapsulate the wildness of New York City.
It also helps confirm my argument that television is the new literature.