Series: Sex and the City versus real life
Earlier this summer I was chatting with Trent Seely about new features that could be included on my blog.
We thought it would be fun to dissect everyone’s favourite show, Sex and the City. Any 20 or 30-something female (and likely their partners) have watched the show at great length and likely multiple times.
Trent will be guest posting on the blog every couple weeks to explore the show – from a man’s perspective.
Here is post 2 of the series.
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I often hear women comparing themselves to others in the show’s terms. As in, “You’re such a Miranda,” or “Your Samantha is showing.” This is all well and good, I suppose. I’ve certainly done the same thing in the past by comparing close friends to Transformer’s Starscream or Dragon Ball Z’s Krillin (because, again, I’m a massive dork), but in doing so you’re also simplifying a fairly dynamic character in the process. Based on colloquialisms, Carrie appears to be the pretty/fashionable one, Charlotte is the conservative/naive one, Samantha is the career oriented/promiscuous one, and Miranda hates men (I’m sure there are those who would also point out that she’s just as career oriented as Samantha, but let’s be frank — being “the Miranda” of your group of friends is rarely viewed as a positive thing). That’s it. Under this context, they each only have a few defining characteristics. The reality, however, is much more complex.
As I look to each of the characters themselves, I won’t be discussing how their personalities are demonstrated by what they say and others say of them. Characters in any media, like people themselves, are defined by their actions. Thereby, I’ll be assessing who they are based on how they treat others and the various actions they take throughout the series.
Carrie Bradshaw is our heroine and the lense through which the audience views the world. By the framing device of her weekly column, she narrates environments, situations, and even the transitions of the show itself. Her character is presented as being warm and extremely loyal to those she cares for, but anxious and at times self-deprecating. In terms of presentation, she is viewed as tremendously fashionable in some sequences and “plain-Jane” in others. This is all for a very specific reason: Carrie not only acts as the show’s voice, but also as the viewer’s primary avatar. To the audience, she is intended to appear as a plucky single girl just trying to find love. She makes mistakes, goes over her credit card limit, and is a self-proclaimed shoe fetishist. You are supposed to insert yourself into her Manolo Blahniks and experience what she experiences. As such, many female viewers like to gloss over her faults in order to better align her character with theirs.
When first asked by Barb what I thought of Carrie’s character, the first adjective I used was “crazy,” though I suppose “slightly neurotic” may be a better describer. Carrie’s degree of nervousness is palpable. She stresses over social science and the mechanics of her love life in a way that is extremely relatable, but also echoes the cracks in her persona. While I’m sure it was unintended by the writers, Carrie’s role as protagonist in this series means that her issues, of which there are several, have to propel the narrative. This is a romantic dramedy (comedy + drama), and her role is to elicit laughs by her own misfortune. As such, we are subject to several instances where she is at her worst: juvenile, shallow, materialist, whiny, and self-absorbed. We see her internally justify adultery (twice), stalk a woman through NYC over a single dirty look, throw tantrums over minor annoyances, obsess over questions which have no direct answers, steer almost every non-Carrie conversation with friends back to her own issues, lack empathy as those closest to her go through personal crisis (divorces, a change in sexual orientation, pregnancy), and willfully overspend and mismanage her own money only to bemoan such decisions later. Yet, the audience continues to root for Carrie because: (a) she’s their avatar, and (b) these character flaws enable her dependence on the other main characters — therein justifying the series’s premise. Carrie may be an interesting character, but she certainly isn’t a good role model.
Charlotte York arguably goes through the most positive character arc of the series. She begins as a naive, conservative art dealer who seeks the “perfect romance” and ends as a high-tension mother who has grown enough to look beyond the superficial to satisfy deeper needs. She initially lacks the romantic cynicism of her friends, making her character seem comparatively sweet, but, as a goal-oriented wasp, she is a little too focused on the financial situation and social prestige of the men she dates. This leads to her seeking out what she thinks are “knights in shining armour,” employing what she calls “the rules” to reel them in. At this point in the game, she is adverse to concession, frustrated by the caliber of men she finds in NYC, sexually repressed, and will at times approach both the mistakes and achievements of her friends with a judgemental attitude. This come to ahead with her first husband Trey. Her troubled wedding, marriage, and divorce with the man she thought was perfect shattered her idealistic approach to romance and forced her to start fresh. This isn’t without hiccups. She meets and eventually marries the sweet, yet beastly Harry Goldenblatt. It is during this time that she goes through the process of converting faiths for him. The first reaction to such a major lifestyle change should be, “That’s sweet,” but the approach she takes is less than sane. She snaps at him by citing his “many” faults, screams at him to “set the date,” and judges the activities of her friend throughout this period. However, she eventually figures it out and manages to gracefully move away from her self-absorbed ways as she transitions to a happy wife and mother.
Samantha Jones is, in my humble opinion, this franchise’s most well-rounded character. Please bear with me as I write myself out of this paper bag. By far the oldest of the group, she is a sharp and independent self-starter who tries to avoid emotional involvement at all costs. This can be attributed to a particularly bad romantic run-in and a naturally adventurous personality. Sam has been seen by most people (both viewers and characters in the show) as a being one-note due to her sexually promiscuous nature, something she consistently gets flack for, but happens to hold some of the most redeeming qualities of all the characters. Sam, unlike most of her close friends, is unwaveringly faithful. When Charlotte calls Sam a hooker for having a fling with her brother, Sam doesn’t hold a grudge. When Miranda’s mother dies and Sam’s having an internal crisis over death and emotional availability, Sam attends the funeral anyway. And I can’t honestly count the number of times Carrie has vented to Sam about her many, many personal issues. She’s even kind to strangers with different ideologies, as we see when she leverages her networks to get both herself and a nun into breast cancer treatment. Ultimately, Sam doesn’t undergo as much as Charlotte does, but she also doesn’t have to. In spite of being “the emotionally unavailable promiscuous one” for a majority of the series, Sam walks and talks with conviction without being a bad person or friend.
Miranda Hobbes, in spite of being the most successful career-wise, is the most flawed character on the show. A Harvard educated lawyer and dedicated stick-in-the-mud, Miranda tries to be the group’s Super Ego to Samantha’s raging Id. A constant denier of her own feelings, she approaches all relationships and men with an air of skepticism. Actually, that’s not strong enough wording. Miranda is an emotional cynic who hates men out of principle because her overwhelming need for stability has made it difficult for her to empathise with opposing viewpoints. She is “type A” to the max and usually conveys her own brand of reason, which has been filtered through a somewhat misandric strainer. Her image softens eventually, thanks to a challenging relationship with future baby-Daddy Steve Brady, but her behaviour remains fairly gruff. From the beginning of the series until the movies themselves, Miranda presents herself as judgemental, hash, and ridged — so much so that her best friend and confidant, Carrie, fears going to her to discuss her affaire. Six months of coldness to her husband ultimately lead the once-timid Steve to commit adultery. Her reaction to this was event was to rebuff his reconciliation attempts and goes as far as to tell Carrie’s cold-footed fiance that “Marriage ruins everything.” Sure, she eventually pushes off from hard-edge, but no main character was quite as negative, insensitive, and broken (start to finish) as Miranda.
So, what are the takeaways of these points character breakdowns? Firsty, these four women are characters. While they might seem real to the viewers of the show, their personalities and the lifestyles they lead are not. That’s why I have no issues with criticising them. Secondly, the show works because of the character’s flaws. Had they not been forced to deal with all of their issues, Sex and the City would have been far less entertaining show to sit through. Finally, don’t model your life after these women. If anything is abundantly clear, it is that they all lead lifestyles that are nigh impossible to achieve and face a number of issues because of those lifestyles. Be you. Guys like women that aren’t neurotic, judgemental, and overthinking.
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About the Author:
Trent Seely is a 20-something guy from the Saint John area. He has a blog at PunctualDork.com.