Exploring Popular Culture in HBO’s Sex and the City
As soon as Sex and the City was aired on HBO, it presented reasons to attract audiences of both genders. For the men, it is simply about sex. For the women, on the other hand, it had urbane, educated, fashionable female protagonists sailing across the chaotic sea of romance, love, lust, and liberation. Through their personal escapades, they experience circumstances that push them to explore their sexual nature, wrestle with stereotypical notions of being a woman, experiment with promiscuity, and make an effort to reconstruct femininity. In contrast, male characters are largely symbolic images that are present mostly to fill the fantasies and desires of the leading female characters. Some say that this is the present-day ‘normal’ state of affairs between men and women. However, reading the introduction of Holtzman and Sharpe (2014), one may become uncertain whether we should accept the ‘normality’ shown in popular TV shows, like Sex and the City, or reject it as something not ours.
Sex and the City definitely conveys to its audience the idea of being ‘normal’, which is the continuous pursuit of power, prestige, and intimacy. However, taking into consideration the discussion on ‘Entertainment Media’ by Holtzman and Sharpe (2014) that argues that life experiences and formal education can influence how audiences interpret the messages they see on television, one may ask, are the audiences really learning something ‘normal’ from Sex and the City? Berger (2000) asserts that popular cultures are branded by prevalent personal consumption. Its emphasis is clearly on leisure and private spending. Thus what makes Sex and the City an exceptional instrument for spreading popular culture is the extent of the production of consumer desire within the TV show. It is not about women gaining power over men, or breaking the walls of the traditional gender divide. What I see in this modern popular culture text is an ‘abnormal’ quest for material advantages.
What Sex and the City is imparting as ‘normal’ is the idea that liberation, sophistication, and independence does not emanate from within, but radiates from your clothing, accessories, and material possessions. As Orenstein (2003) claims, “ the heroines of Sex and the City are vapid, materialistic and hysterical” (as cited in Jermyn, 2009, 53). Such perspective goes against my personal view of women today. For me, women are empowered by their inherent strengths, such as intellect, emotional intelligence, communication skills, and so on. Sex and the City simply perpetuates the traditional gender stereotype—that the decorum of women is their appearance.
Berger, A. (2000). Ads, fads, and consumer culture. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Holtzman, L. & Sharpe, L. (2014). Media messages: What film, television, and popular music teach us about race, class, gender, and sexual orientation. (2nd ed.) Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe.
Jermyn, D. (2009). Sex and the City. Detroit, Michigan: Wayne State University Press.