Sex and the City
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And I wondered... Is there such thing as a happy ending or is it just a BIG myth?
The Big Myth of a Fairytale Ending
Sex and the City, based on the book by Candace Bushnell, gained a large audience due to its concentration on women discussing taboo subjects such as casual sex, homosexuality, abortion and woman's role in achieving unity in a male-dominated world. Bushnell first published the book in 1997 and was broadcasted on HBO from 1998 until 2004. The series received great support and it was nominated for fifty Emmy awards. The series tackles socially relevant issues such as sexually transmitted disease, safe sex and unplanned pregnancy.
The idea of the patriarchal myth is evident in Sex and the City; however, it has been modernized. The four female characters embody different attributes of the 'modern' woman. The main story-lines are concerned with stories of 'happy ever after' and of fairy-tale romances but it is intertwined with sexual empowerment, explicit language and humorous incidents. The four women within this programme act as a family unit.
In Sex and the City: A Postfeminist Fairytale Georgina Isbister states: "In Sex and the City these ideas are intersected with other images of promised satisfaction, such as consumerism. Sex and the City's protagonists negotiate the complexities, contradictions and anxieties of feminist ideals packaged into a consumable commodity by the post-feminist fairy tale."
Patriarchal myths of 'true love' and romance have been affiliated through popular culture associated with women for many years. The idyllic happy endings have been featured throughout a broad spectrum of mediums beginning with classical fairytales, folklore stories and myths. In the nineteenth century mass produced romance novels and magazines were popular amongst the middle class and penny dreadfuls were handed down throughout the working class women. Nowadays, it is clear to see that these fairytale discourses are still being used by television programmes and films which in turn feed in to modern popular culture. Walt Disney's cartoons also held the notion of patriarchy and heterosexual romance as the homogenous ideal. These cartoons featured animated adaptations of classical fairy-tale narratives and revealed a narrow representation of the role of the female within this patriarchal binary. "Womanhood was defined through the love of a husband, conjuring up the '1950's' house wife'about whom Simone de Beauvoir (1949, p. 653) notoriously stated at the time, 'Love becomes for her a religion'"(Isbister).
It seems like Carrie Bradshaw's main focus within the show is her quest for 'true love'. However, the traditional patriarchal fairytale of 'happily ever after' has been replaced by a seemingly more post-feminist ideal. Not only does Carrie look for the 'man of her dreams' but also for a secure feeling of self identity in New York; a city of high rise buildings, glamorous bars, roaring taxis and sparkling lights. The notions of female empowerment and self realization are brought to the fore throughout the series which seem to expand the classical fairytale narrative. Women are striving to 'have it all'; a husband, children, a nice home and a well-paid career. The myth portrayed within the series is that one can have the fairytale true love with a man they love and essentially a solid love for oneself. This reminds one of the Cosmopolitan campaigns that woman can 'have it all'.
"As a post feminist popular culture, Sex and the City reveals the postfeminist 'fairy tale' transformation of young, economically independent career women looking 'hot' in Manola Blaniks, dating every eligible bachelor in town, enjoying the sexual freedoms once reserved only for males, as well as reaping the rewards of feminist struggles, even as they pander to traditional images of feminine beauty" (Isbister).
However throughout the series, we see that this way of thinking is problematic due to societal and individual limitations. Miranda must cut down in her long hours and employ a child-minder when their baby, Brady, is born. Charlotte quits the gallery when she marries Trey since she wants to become a 'full-time mother'. Carrie Bradshaw gives up her career as sex anthropologist in the New York Star to move to Paris with her boyfriend. Carrie gets stuck in a predicament when she realises she cannot afford to buy her apartment and looks towards her rich ex-boyfriend and her W.A.S.P best friend for help. Samantha takes over as promotional agent for her boyfriend Smith's acting career and she ends up spending less time with other clients and socialising with her friends as a result. This show knocks third-wave feminism on its head in subtle manners since it shows that although the role of women in society has progressed, there are still issues that need to be addressed.
Throughout the series Carrie's looking for her 'knight in shining armour' but it has been suggested that, in fact, her main concern is with her own self transformation. She does not sit back and wait for 'prince charming' to carry her away in to the sunset, instead she relies on herself and her friends prior experiences with men to help her negotiate her way through 'the freak show' of unattainable men in New York City. It is as though Carrie is shopping for the man she wants to settle down with. She attends opening nights of plush nightclubs, dines in fancy restaurants and attends parties where women can trade in ex-partners for more suitable models. Carries path to self-realisation may be considered the central focus in the popular series. This path is shaped by her relationships with her friends, boyfriends, and career. All of these factors ultimately lead to her goal of self empowerment and, in turn, happiness. "Even as fairy tale romance remains a focus of Carrie's life, 'true love' and 'happily ever after' have been relegated as secondary to the transformations of the self. The dominant metamorphosis is one of the 'self'" (Isbister).
This series is influenced by both traditional classic fairytales and more contemporary postfeminist ideals which can relate to the modern woman. Women can have a successful job and independent lifestyle detached from a male companion. They can choose whether they want a relationship with the opposite sex. For most of the series, they do not need to look towards their male counterpoint for most things. In fact, these women do not even need a male for sexual pleasure; they have their rampant rabbit vibrators. The essence of myth is rampant throughout the six seasons and is even continued to the first film. In the film we see Mr. Big proposing to Carrie by slipping her new Monolo Blahnik on to her foot whilst kneeling on one knee. This reminds the viewers of the classic fairytale of Cinderella.
Many of Carrie's columns contain mythical elements such as: The Man, The Myth and The Viagra. By interconnecting the classical narrative with a modern twist the producers achieve a "means of navigation contemporary female subjectivity and its associations with heteronormative hegemonies. Its incorporation of both traditional and postfeminist fairy tales functions in comparable ways to the marriage/independence negotiation of earlier romance fiction. This draws attention to the presence of the independence/love dilemma as still centrally located in women's experience in a post-feminist context." (Isbister)
Carl Gustave Jung was the founder of analytical psychology. Jungian theory can be divided up in to teachings such as dream analysis, the psyche, the persona, the ego, the shadow, the anima and the animus. Jung also concentrated on different types of Archetypes that exist within society. Dr. Joan Relke explained, "Carl Jung observed that myths and religions across cultures contain common themes and entities: for example, images of the mother, father, wife, husband, lover, fool, devil, shadow, hero, saviour, and many others. The stories woven from these beings, as gods, goddesses, semi-mortals, heroes, and demons, constitute the myths and religious stories of humankind."
Archetypes are often discussed in relation to dreams and personifications since Jung believed that these myths of archetype personas are the collective dreams of individuals within a shared culture. "This unity he called the Collective Unconscious, because we share it collectively and it operates unconsciously within individuals and cultures" (Relke).
This programme includes the typical archetypes which have dominated story-telling, through a range of mediums, for years. These female archetypes, as developed by Jung, are called: The whore (Samantha), the crone (Miranda), the maiden (Charlotte) and the mother (Carrie). There is a set of characteristics which are associated with each of these mythological figures. Sex and the City has overcome the traditional archetype of the typical male figure in classical narrative with a new version of the 'hero'. "Sex and the City examines these fairy tale discourses by opposing traditional and contemporary male archetypes: 'the cad', Mr 'Big' exemplifies the traditional, incommunicable 'bastard'; 'Mr Perfect', Aiden Young represents the contemporary Prince Charming'the more available, sensitive nascent feminist man. The anti-hero and hero symbolise Carrie's negotiations of traditional versus contemporary female subjectivity" (Isbister).
Carrie's turbulent relationship with Mr. Big is the traditional fairy-tale concept developed in a world where knights on horseback have been replaced with well-dressed, emotionally unattainable business men in black limos. In the last episode 'American Girl in Paris: Part Deux' we watch as Big flies to Paris to rescue Carrie from a man she does not love. She is seen as a damsel in distress and he is her savior who sweeps her off her feet and brings her home to New York. By the end of the television series, the spectator can relax in their seats because each of the female characters are happy in their relationships and Carrie has finally found her true love. "I'm looking for love. Real love. Ridiculous, inconvenient, consuming, can't-live-without-each-other love"-Carrie Bradshaw.
Big represents the binaries which existed between the female sex and the male sex in classical fairytales. He overpowers Carrie in relation to social status, wealth and equality. Even in the first series Big is seen as a modern day prince charming with his dark brown hair and penetrating stare. He helps Carrie pick up her belongings when she drops her purse's contents on the floor and he drives her home when she is stranded. In fact, one might note that it is Big's statement that she had never been in love that may have sparked Carrie's quest for true love and 'a happy ever after'. Carrie's relationship with Aiden reflects the post-feminist fairytale. It is a bond strengthened by equality, stability and commitment. This relationship does not seem to contain as many fantastical elements as Carrie's relationship with Big. It is as though Carrie views this relationship as passionless due to its lack of patriarchal fairy-tale values and se soon becomes bored with Aiden and the post-feminist ideal.
"In portraying female struggles Sex and the City creates a level of realism that audiences recognise as their own: trying to conform to an expectation that women can have it all, a presumed white middleclass western dream of having a career, amazing friends, Mr. 'Right', familial and financial success and looking fabulous while doing it. Superficially the postfeminist fairy tale apparently resolves the dilemmas of women's experience, claiming you can have it all: the 'true self' and 'true love'" (Isbister).
The family structure in this programme also goes against the normal 'common sense' notions of the 'nuclear family' myth. The four women form a family unit and their trials and errors are summed up in each episode. Each of the characters brings a different personality trait to the formation which strengthens it and keeps it balanced. By using Jungian archetypes to represent four characters who both compliment and go against one another, the producers ended up with a close family unit of female friends which are there for one-another through each breakup, success, failure and obstacle in life. According to Jane Gerhard in Sex and the City: Carrie Bradshaw's queer postfeminism, "What made SATC different was that it regularly suggested that this family of four could be enough to make up a life, a life still worth living without the husband and baby, a life outside the historic feminine and feminist script."
To conclude, the use of myth, fairytale and 'common sense' notions are integrated throughout this presumably 'post feminist' text. The myths which are included within the text set up a binary within the actual framework of the programme. By reproducing ideologies and classical fairytale notions, the producer, Darren Star, does not succeed in creating a predominant 'post feminist' text. Instead, he modernizes and pokes fun at the classical fairytales and ideals of 'happily ever after' and 'true love' in a satirical manner. The programme can be interpreted as an empowerment to women and an acknowledgement of the progression of women in society that has happened, and will continue happening for years to come as they strive toward equality.
Amber Doyle, Style Columnist: Hi there, I am a freelance fashion journalist who aspires to be a successful editor-at-large. I have a 2:1 BA Honours Degree in English, Media and Cultural Studies. I have worked as a style reporter and columnist for a number of online publications. I love everything vintage and I believe there is nothing nicer than finding a piece that is unique to you, and you alone! I enjoy showing how to attain celeb style for (much) less money! Check out my blog for more fashion tips:... (more...)