Scene4 Magazine: Kathi Wolfe - Life Among The Heffalumps

Friendship in the City – Carrie Bradshaw and the girls:
The Real Love Story


September 2013

On a February day in 2004 while I was on a poetry residency at a Vermont artist community, I sat sleepily drinking my coffee at breakfast.  About fifty of us, poets and visual artists  from the U.S. and around the world, were making art.  I was brought out of my caffeine haze, when artists, who I'd just met, from around the globe politely asked me, "was the sex good?"  I couldn't figure out why they were asking me  this question – as, let's just say, I hadn't gotten to know them in a biblical  way. Until, I remembered that we'd all watched the finale to the HBO TV show "Sex and the City" the previous evening, and that everyone knew that some of us, including moi, were huge "Sex" fans. Straight guys caught the show so they could get dates with girls, gay boys  because "Sex" fits like a glove in queer DNA, and folks from foreign countries wanted to understand this strange American "Sex" obsession.

I'm flashing back to this encounter because this year marks the 15th anniversary of "Sex and the City" which aired on HBO from 1998 to 2004. This show had the wit, charm and satiric edge of Preston Sturges movies.   The writing on "Sex" was as stylish, witty and clever as that of E.B. White or F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Its costumes and cinematography were gorgeous (often mirroring the best 1940s and 1950s movies).  Take the SATC episode "Anchors Away" which takes place during Fleet Week in New York City just after the 9/11 attacks.  You know that Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda and Samantha, like everyone in NYC, have been shaken by the terrorist assault on their beloved city. Yet the girls, like the city, are defiantly still alive and kicking.  As well as shopping, dancing and having sex with the sailors who are on the town. How could the terrorists win with our girls on the loose?  As Michael Patrick King, an executive producer of "Sex," said in a DVD commentary, the episode has a (contemporary) World War II "On the Town" feel to it.

Yet this stellar show, which celebrated New York city, post-feminism and friendship as much as it had fun with sex, is, as Emily Nussbaum recently noted in a razor-sharp, incisive and insightful "New Yorker" piece, often dismissed by critics. "...the reputation of 'Sex and the City' has shrunk and faded, like some tragic dry-clean only dress tossed into a decade-long hot cycle," Nussbaum wrote, "By the show's fifteen-year anniversary,...we fans had trained ourselves to downgrade the show to a 'guilty pleasure,..."

Most of the condescension towards "Sex" has come from (straight) men - whether "ordinary" viewers or critics.  With its Manola Blahnicks, tutus, fashion shows, girlfriend lunches, and frank, no-holds barred female-centric talk about sex (think "funky spunk"), it's not surprising that testosterone-filled critics and egos would be turned off by "Sex and the City."  Occasionally, even a queer guy has dissed the show to me.  "Is the writing on it really good?," a gay male pal asked me once, who'd told me that he had no interest in "Sex" because it seemed too "fluffy" to him.

One reason why "Sex" is beloved by its fans (and some, mostly female critics), yet frequently discounted by many male critics, straight boyfriends and gravitas freaks, is its celebration of female friendship.  The sex on SATC was tasty brain-candy.  It's entertaining, funny, and occasionally moving (as when Smith, her boyfriend, supports Samantha as she copes with breast cancer) to watch the girls seek romance and relationships without, as in the convention rom-com, giving up their careers or their self-hood in their search for a man.  But the true love story on SATC is the enduring, supportive friendship between Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte.  As with any friendships, the girls have radically different world views.  They have fights and sometimes judge each other.  Yet, in the end, as is so often the case in friendships between women, their friendship endures.  "You girls are the love of her {Carrie's} life," Mr. Big says to Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda, "I'm just lucky if she lets me in."

The girls friendship isn't sexual or homoerotic.  But their bond – their caring and support for each other – is intense. Set amidst all the sex, it's the true love story of "Sex and the City."

The story of female friendships on TV goes way back – to Lucy and Ethel; Mary and Rhoda; and "The Golden Girls."  In these shows, as in SATC, the female protagonists were often, on some level, different from the cultural idea of the "normal" women.  Ethel and Lucy, were hardly suffragettes.  Yet, they gave Fred and Ricky a run for their money.  Though childlike, Lucy wasn't content to just be a housewife.  Having no talent wasn't going to keep her from trying to enter showbiz (or unlike most female characters at the time, from sometimes wearing pants).  Mary and Rhoda were single woman with jobs, who though they complained about their bad dates, didn't center their life around finding a man. The women on "The Golden Girls" defied stereotypes of aging and women by forming a supportive family for themselves.

The girls on "Sex" followed in this tradition.  They subverted cultural stereotypes of women.  Carrie, as Nussbaum pointed out, was a female "anti-hero." She smoked, had affairs and even when she paired off with Big often didn't think of herself as "the marrying kind." On one episode,  getting fed up with buying so many gifts for her friends who were getting married, Carrie set up a gift-registry at a NYC department store, so that her pals could send her presents to celebrate her "single" self. Miranda was a lawyer who, in many ways, was more masculine than many of her boyfriends.  Charlotte posed in male drag for a gender-bending painter and Samantha was the (proud) equal of the most promiscuous man.

I'd wager that many male critics or viewers of "Sex" may not value the show's emphasis on female friendships or, even though we're in a post feminist era, appreciate the ways in which the SATC girls subvert feminine norms.  In friendship, I hope that you, whether male or female, a Carrie, Samantha, Miranda or Charlotte, will check out "Sex and the City," at its fifteenth anniversary.

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Scene4 Magazine - Kathi Wolfe |
Kathi Wolfe is a writer, poet and a Senior Writer and columnist for Scene4. Her reviews and commentary have also appeared in an array of publications. Her most recent Book of Poems, The Green Light, has just been published by Finishing Line Press.
For more of her commentary, articles and poetry check the

©2013 Kathi Wolfe
©2013 Publication Scene4 Magazine


Scene4 Magazine - Arts and Media


September 2013

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