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Will We Survive Being Sexless?

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Have you noticed that the promiscuity of the media farewells to "Sex and the City" exceed the libidinous energy of the show itself? The show's six year run has occasioned an outpouring of cultural commentary, obsessing over the way in which this cataloging of the lives and loves of unattached single women in New York both bottled and italicized a particular era.

But with all the talk about the state of singledom, shoes, and sex, something has been clearly missing from the discussion. And that is the way "Sex and the City" dealt with - or didn't -- the transformative events of September 11th.

True, there was the cornball shot of a falling leaf with a super about the show being dedicated to the victims of the attacks. And the vixens did launch a downtown shopping spree to pump some bucks into the New York economy. And yes, three of them did rise to their patriotic duty and chase a couple of uniformed cuties during Fleet Week.

But aside from those heavy-handed gestures, you could watch pretty much any "Sex and the City" episode pre- and post-9/11, and be at a loss to place it chronologically. That's not the way it was going to be, though. We were supposed to have been psychically and spiritually transformed, blasted forever out of superficiality, irony, self-centeredness. While Graydon Carter got skewered for his famous pronouncement that "irony was dead", he wasn't alone; a chorus of critics proclaimed we would never be the same. Not so for Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte; while the plots changed, their much-publicized struggles with careers, friendships, and relationships didn't. Neither, for that matter, did their stock-character personalities.

There was a time when popular television shows - "All in the Family", the "Mary Tyler Moore Show" - attempted, in their own way, to grapple with larger political and social issues. "Sex and the City" never bothered to, and to be fair, never pretended to be anything other than canny, titillating froth that for some viewers was aspirational, and for others, mind-smackingly familiar. But the contradiction of the show's obsession with New York -- Carrie at one point says it's her "boyfriend" -- and a lack of emotional engagement with the city's pain, over months and months, is telling.

This may sound like a criticism, but it really isn't. We are a move-on culture; it's one of our strengths. We buy German and Japanese cars; we don't sweat the old struggles, like the Turks and the Armenians - other than in sports, of course. (And the Kurds just puzzle the hell out of us). You can call this microwave memory, and our absence of navel-gazing frivolous, but there are advantages to it. A population that can become so attached to four single women has better things to do than stay around and run Afghanistan or Iraq for decades, as the true imperialists do. Those better things -- shopping, clubbing, career-building and relationship-deconstructing -- are a positive braking system on the world's only remaining superpower.

In the end, like so much else in America, "Sex and the City" was nothing more than an extended commercial for a lifestyle. And while it's a commercial that has run its six year course, what should make it comforting is that we aren't really saying goodbye to the girls of "Sex and the City." As long as we follow in their sandaled footsteps - in our own blissfully self-involved ways, it's safe to say, as Flaubert did, that Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte -- c'est nous.

Last updated: Feb 26, 2004




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