Part I, focusing on feminism, is available here.
While I was writing the last post, I found that I knew so much about SATC, and had so much to say about it, that I would need to split my analysis into two parts. Some people might consider that a sign that I should watch less television and/or reassess my life choices; I consider that those people are jerks.
‘Sex and the City’ was created by an openly gay man, Darren Star, and was executive produced by another openly gay man, Michael Patrick King. Yet, to my mind it has some of the most one-dimensional representations of queer characters on television.
Let’s start by looking at the show’s two main gays: Stanford Blatch and Anthony Marantino. From the beginning, SATC does not take Stanford (pictured) seriously. Look at his name, for God’s sake. His dress sense is cartoonish and his sexuality is largely irrelevant for most of the series. His role is essentially to be Carrie’s handbag, and he proves to be as interchangeable as the rest of her accessories. Although he is there for several of Carrie’s pivotal moments, such as her decision to have ‘sex like a man’, the introduction to Aidan, and her moment on the catwalk, IMDb shows that Stanford was in only 27 of SATC’s 94 episodes: he is often pushed aside whenever Carrie has a new love interest. The show further dehumanises him by denying him the chance to have his own love life, only giving him a ‘real’ boyfriend, former escort Marcus, in Season 5. Even when he is with Marcus, his existence as a sexual being is mocked, as the women express surprise to find him on the receiving end of a blow job. He simply doesn’t exist as a whole person when he is outside Carrie’s orbit. His dependence on her is highlighted in Season 1′s epiode, ‘The Turtle and the Hare’, in which he actually proposes to her, indicating his inability or desire to practice his sexuality, and in S04E14, where he becomes ‘comically’ jealous of Carrie’s new Australian gay friend, Oliver. Apparently women are limited to one gay male friend, who knew?
Charlotte’s one gay friend is Anthony. We are first introduced to him as her stereotypically bitchy, queeny wedding planner. He appears in just 12 of SATC’s episodes, and crops up only to give Charlotte advice on her sex life (‘If you have to think about it, it’s been too long’; ‘If you don’t put something ‘in there’ soon, it’ll grow over‘) or help her choose out a wedding dress - it’s his job, after all, but also helps to highlight his queenliness (is that a word? No?). Anthony is sex-obsessed, and we do not see him in a relationship with anyone until the films. That relationship is with Stanford, whom he formerly detested, but hey – may as well marry the two gay guys instead of actually fleshing out their characters, or, god forbid, introducing another gay man.
As stereotyped as the characters of Stanford (asexual gay BFF) and Anthony (oversexed gay BFF) are, at least they have quite good visibility in comparison to lesbians on SATC. The show portrays two instances of lesbianism: through the characters of Brazilian artist Maria (3 episodes) and the art-buying lesbians (s02E06).
Maria is meant to represent one of Samantha’s major relationships (in three episodes!), but the thrill is soon gone for Samantha as the sex dries up and Maria insists on having actual conversations with her (‘Women!’, cries an exasperated Samantha). Referring to Maria as ‘the ball and chain’, the lesbian relationship is meant to comically examine how the rotating cast of men may feel about our leading ladies but only further emphasises how the show stereotypes its female characters (of course the female artist is a lesbian! Of course she is ethnic and angry!).
The art-buying lesbians have it even worse, appearing in just one episode. They are portrayed as a posse of ex-lovers, who are impossibly supportive of each other and incredibly friendly to Charlotte. Charlotte hangs out with them at lesbian bar ‘Love Tunnel’ and even makes plans to go skiing with them until she is told by ‘power lesbian’ and queen bee Patty Aston: ‘Unless you’re going to eat pussy, you’re not a dyke’. While disappointed to be banned from the ski trip, the logistics of lesbianism seem to come as a surprise to Charlotte, who pretty offensively remarks that her new friends’ ‘lives are uncomplicated by men’, further proving the show’s uneasiness with anything other than monogamous heterosexuality.
In both of these representations, we are shown that lesbians are unable to have non-sexual relationships with women: Maria tells Samantha she can’t be her friend, and Charlotte is only welcome until it becomes clear she won’t be going downtown. And yet SATC doesn’t let these woman-hungry women actually act on their desires – as we have seen, Maria quickly stops having sex with Sam, and the art buying lesbians are all single (and unable to get their hands on Charlotte). Once again, queer characters on the show are defined and stereotyped by their sexuality, without being given the chance to act on it.
I’m not sure I’ve mentioned this yet, but for the last few years I have identified as bisexual. Not that this should come as a surprise to readers, and I suppose it’s not that big of a deal, but it’s about to get pretty relevant to this post. SATC hates bi people. Samantha, despite her brief relationship with Maria, is not bisexual but is a self-described ‘trysexual’ (she will try anything once) and admits that she only prefers sex when there’s a man involved. This leaves all representations of bisexuality in SATC down to just one episode: ‘Boy, Girl, Boy, Girl…’ (S03E04). In this episode, Carrie finds herself dating a guy in his twenties who has previously had a relationship with a man. Carrie becomes obsessed with finding out whether he prefers men or women (when will people stop asking that?) and turns to the girls for advice. Charlotte believes that bisexuals should ‘pick a side and stay there’ and Carrie admits that she’s not ‘even sure bisexuality exists. I think it’s just a layover on the way to Gaytown’. Samantha makes the observation that all the bisexual men knew in college ended up with men, and so did all the bisexual women. Bisexuality is a joke, or something that young people give up after a while. We see this at the end of the episode: after giving Shaun another try (at a party, where she ends up kissing Alanis Morissette in a game of Spin the Bottle), Carrie ultimately decides that she is ‘too old to play this game’ (that ‘game’ being my sexuality, so fuck you, Carrie) and walks back into her world where bisexuality is never mentioned again. In her world, men are men, women are women and you only sleep with one or the other.
Unless you’re Stanford or an art-buying lesbian, in which case, good luck with that.
RESULT: It’s hard to endorse a show that doesn’t believe I exist.
Up next: ‘Women’s Appreciation’ in ‘The Office’ (US)