The trouble with Sex and the City's fairy tale endingCOLLEEN CARROLL CAMPBELL
The blockbuster box-office debut last weekend of the Sex and the City movie -- a follow-up to the TV series of the same name -- reinforced the show's reputation as a cultural phenomenon.
After a six-year run on HBO, the series' rebirth on the air in syndication continues to attract die-hard fans. They pattern everything from their footwear choices to their cocktail orders on the show and ask themselves "What would Carrie do?" when confronted with romantic dilemmas.
Critics often note that Sex and the City is little more than soft-core pornography for women, with its ubiquitous nude scenes, profanity-laced discussions of sexual experimentation and exaltation of promiscuity. If a recent survey from engage.com is any measure, their concerns about the show's coarsening effect are well-founded: Forty-three percent of the singles who responded said the show made it more acceptable for women to be unfaithful in romantic relationships. Fifty-five percent of single women said it influenced them to date "more like men date," and 50 percent of single adults said women who follow the show are more likely to have sex on a first date.
The show's emphasis on satisfying carnal appetites extends well beyond sex. Its characters live to consume -- lusting after men, babies, cocktails and stilettos with equal intensity. Given that the series' lead character once identified a brand of shoes as her soulmate, it is unsurprising that producers reserved the most soaring music in the film for the moment Carrie glimpses her new, walk-in closet. The scene's manufactured poignancy is matched only by a later scene in which Carrie gives her assistant a designer purse for Christmas. "You brought me back to life," Carrie tells the assistant. "And you," the assistant answers, solemnly and without a trace of irony, "gave me Louis Vuitton."
Fans of Sex and the City often say they love the show less for its hedonism and materialism than for its focus on relationship issues. Supporters point to the movie's ending as proof that Sex and the City is not so subversive: Three of the four lead characters wind up happily married, even as narrator Carrie assures the audience that the movie's lesson is to "make our own rules," ignore "labels" like "bride and groom" and stop pining for "fairy tale" endings.
Of course, such happy endings may prove more elusive for viewers. Decades of bed-hopping and gold-digging look glamorous on television, but in real life, a woman who sleeps with scores of men is more likely to wind up with a sexually transmitted disease and an attachment disorder than a doting husband and storybook marriage.
For all their pretensions to envelope-pushing, the movie's producers apparently could not improve on the age-old answer to a woman's romantic yearnings: the very ideal of traditional marriage so often disparaged by the series. Even the promiscuous, materialistic fashion plates of Sex and the City ultimately succumb to the desire to direct their erotic energies into something more enduring than one-night stands and shopping sprees. They want, as most women do, the kind of lifelong love that can survive wrinkles and stretch marks and the dowdier duds of old age.
Of course, such happy endings may prove more elusive for viewers. Decades of bed-hopping and gold-digging look glamorous on television, but in real life, a woman who sleeps with scores of men is more likely to wind up with a sexually transmitted disease and an attachment disorder than a doting husband and storybook marriage. And in real life, a woman who postpones motherhood until well into her forties faces the very real chance that she never will conceive.
The popularity of Sex and the City suggests that many women accept the show's premise that a woman can spend decades treating people like things and things like people without compromising her future prospects for marriage and motherhood. That one TV show could sell that canard to so many women indicates that Sex and the City is more subversive than either its fans or its fiercest critics imagine.
Colleen Carroll Campbell. "The trouble with Sex and the City's fairy tale ending." St. Louis Post-Dispatch. (June 5, 2008).
Reprinted with permission of the author, Colleen Carroll Campbell.
Colleen Carroll Campbell is an author, television and radio host and St. Louis-based fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. She is the author of The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy. Colleen Carroll Campbell writes for a wide variety of national publications, speaks to audiences across America, and hosts her own television show, "Faith & Culture," on EWTN, the world's largest religious media network. Her website is here.
Copyright © 2008 Colleen Carroll Campbell