Saturday, May 21, 2005

Sex And The City And The City

No, it's not a typo. I went to New York on Thursday and two girls in the train were watching DVD's of Sex And The City on their computer right behind me with NO HEADPHONES.

The audio was so loud, it was just crazy and embarrassing.

At first I wasn't sure what it was -- just something annoying and loud -- but then I noticed a number of the business men around us shifting uncomfortably in their seats as the Carrie Bradshaw character went on and on about blow jobs, Mr. Big and bikini waxing loudly in this sedate weekday business train heading to New York.

So I put in earplugs (I always carry them) to get my work done, but couldn't help thinking about the phenomenon known as Sex And The City.

You can argue with me, but I have to say Sex And The City radically changed the way women thought about sex and their sexuality.

Now, I'm not being specific here about whether it changed it for the better or worse. I think it did both in some ways.

For the better, it gave women license to be sexual, own their sexuality and put aside some of our romantic myths about the man being the sexual hero of our sexual lives. It made it okay for us to talk about sex -- in all its gory details -- to talk about fellatio, cunnalingus, anal sex, you name it. It made it okay for us to ask for pleasure and sexual satisfaction -- in fact -- to expect our partners to deliver sexual satisfaction or be rejected by us if they didn't satisfy us. This was revolutionary.

For the worse, I think the show and all the things the characters said, thought, aired their opinions on were taken at face value as gospel. I think many young women thought Carrie Bradshaw was some sort of high priestess of sexual reality and everything she said was law. I saw this happening all the time when the series first airred and I couldn't stand watching the show for this reason. The series is fiction, the characters are THAT -- characters -- and there was a lot of tongue-in-cheek (and tongue everywhere else) narrative and much complexity below the surface, suggesting Carrie was one girl in New York pontificating as if she knew what was best for all women in New York and out of New York, but the author of the book, Candace Bushnell and the writers of the series were artists and their creation was not to be taken at face value. Some people could have seen Carrie Bradshaw as one seriously screwed up little girl or as one vicious bitch.

Again, more to the heart of the matter, for better or for worse, I think Sex And The City was the end of romance. Sex laid bare -- very bare -- is not pretty. Women being aggressively masculine in their sexuality is not nice to witness. Women deciding to go to the "sex=power" extremes is depressing. The old stereotypes of man-the-rough-sexual-animal-who-can't-get-enough and woman-the-sweet-reluctant-virgin-who-always-refuses-sex are over, it's true but what the series promised to put in place of those images was disturbing to me. They seemed to teach us that "making love" was over and "getting fucked" was the name of the game, in all it's many meanings.

And many young women took Carrie Bradshaw as their new savior. And this always terrified me. She represented a new low in sexual selfishness and gamesmanship to me. She played the game of sex like a ... dare I say it ... man. She played to win and put her pleasure first. I thought she was reprehensible a good part of the time and I didn't care for the show, although I do like Candace Bushnell's writing. In her books, Bushnell draws ironic portraits of these characters. That seemed lost in translation to TV.

A well-dressed man in a business suit approached the two young women behind me who had been playing the DVD broadcasting this sexual repartee so loudly non-stop except to add their own claps and giggles and "right on's" every few minutes.

They must have figured it was their lucky day. He was a good looking guy.

"Can you please turn that down," he asked seriously, "Don't you have ear phones?"

There was a palpable sigh and loss of altitude and attitude on the part of the girls, who did reluctanly turn down the audio.