May
22nd 2008
The consuming pleasures of “Sex and the City”

Posted under: Gender, the body

We’re about to go all Sex, all the time around here, as we begin the final countdown until Sex and the City:  the Movie drops.  If like Historiann, you’ve occasionally thought to yourself, “whatever happened to Sex and the City?”, don’t miss NYC Weboy’s terrific overview of SATC (the TV show)and thoughts on how and why the show changed over time.  (You can find NYC Weboy at his eponymous blog, or over at New Critics.)  NYC Weboy’s thesis is that the show became more about the clothes than the characters:  “Pat Field’s evolutionary costuming wasn’t just a “fifth character” as so many suggest – it was the vehicle for reimagining the whole story as a consumerist fantasy.”  At the same time–and perhaps not coincidentally–the tone of the show was brightened up to make the characters more likable “types” than the individuals who inspired Candace Bushnell’s original columns in the New York Observer.  (Quick aside:  check out the cover of Vogue, featuring SJP wearing a very druggy face and crouched in between “Big”‘s legs.  Not an encouraging omen for the movie!)

I think NYC Weboy is correct–but I’d also humbly like to suggest that the TV show incarnation was always a consumerist fantasy, although I like his point that the materialism accelerated with the brand-name shoe fixation and Alexander McQueen couture miniskirts.  The show was always a consumerist fantasy because the four key women were depicted mostly eating and drinking in restaurants or bars gossiping with each other or meeting men, while effortlessly remaining size 0 or size 2.  It was all about the spending of money on the body, not the getting of the money, too:  the characters were rarely shown working, and problems at work were never developed except as they became problems in the characters’ social and/or sex lives.  Occasionally, the characters would be shown exercising–chatting in a yoga class or jogging in Central Park–but maintaining their sylph-like figures was another kind of work that was rendered strangely invisible. 

In other words, the show was a fantasy about the consuming body–feeding the body, pouring in alcohol, adorning it, giving it sexual pleasure–without the possible consequences that consumption ordinarily leads to (weight gain, debt, alcoholism, pregnancy, and disease).  Carrie Bradshaw even smoked cigarettes!  (Talk about a fantasy of the consuming body–she may quite possibly be the last likeable main character in a TV show who was a smoker.)  With many other women–married women and mothers–their bodies are there for the pleasure and use of others:  husbands, babies, and children all demand satisfaction from the bodies of wives and mothers before the wives and mothers can claim their own pleasures.  No wonder SATC was such an appealing fantasy world for middle-class women.  It was a world in which women’s pleasures came first, and without consequences.

2 Comments »

2 Responses to “The consuming pleasures of “Sex and the City””

  1. squadratomagico on 22 May 2008 at 10:17 am #

    I always enjoyed SATC, and I am not a big TV-watcher. While nowhere near as good as my favorite show of all time, BVS (Buffy), SATC shared with BVS a female-centrism that was gratifying and rare. And though it’s true that the characters never were shown working at their looks, that’s also something I liked about it. They seldom were shown working out or even shopping — they just looked good and they knew it. And the characters seemed to want to look good for their own pleasure, in their own individual styles (sexy, preppie, careerist, boho), rather than dressing specifically in order to attract men. They didn’t have a Hollywood bombshell look, but a couture look that was far more creative and artistic (if unrealistically unaffordable for most of the characters).

    While on the one hand, I agree with you that this was somewhat dishonest, on the other hand, I would have little interest in watching a show about women obsessing about their appearances, always wearing push-up bras and low-cut shirts, and fussing over how to attract a man.

  2. ej on 22 May 2008 at 3:50 pm #

    One of my personal favorites was when Carrie Bradshaw denounced shopping on-line because “shopping is my cardio” yet that season, was often seen wearing cropped tops that revealed incredibly toned abs!

    That said, I did appreciate the story line about Miranda trying to lose her baby weight-even more so now that I’m in a similar position!