Sex and the City (h2so4 14)

A View from South London

My curiosity about Sex and the City came from reading the ramblings of “Garry Bushell on the Box.” Garry Bushell is a TV critic and columnist for The Sun, a top-selling UK tabloid newspaper. He earns a living writing predictable rants about our “decadent TV,”reflecting on some of our more mind-blowingly dull soap opera, pop and rock stars, and possessing a line in poor jokes. For example his reflections on Nazi Women—a program looking at the lives of women intimately involved with high-ranking members of the Third Reich: “Nazi Women was a let down, not one whip or thigh-high jack-boot in sight.”

Bushell is not keen on SATC. He doesn’t like the bed-hopping, seemingly sex-crazed world of four attractive, attached, then unattached, attached, then detached, well-off New Yorker women with money in their pockets, packed social diaries and men on their minds. It sets a bad example for the sexless masses of Britain, perhaps. It was his words and articles in other publications that led me to watch a full episode. Since that experience—sometime in December 2000 to be precise—I have been faithfully monitoring developments on SATC.

After my conversion, I tried to share my interest in SATC with four friends, but was met with various degrees of disinterest. A New York friend of mine was pleased that Sarah Jessica Parker was spotted in Manhattan sporting a bag with a WNYC logo. Apparently, Sarah Jessica Parker is a supporter of public radio in New York. Incidentally, my friend works for WNYC. Sarah Jessica Parker plays the designer-clothes-wearing, Marlboro-Lights-smoking narrator and main character, Carrie Bradshaw—a newspaper columnist who “isn’t an expert on men but just writes about sex.” Back in London, a work colleague of mine had heard that Carrie was having secret sexual liaisons with Big. “Big” is the nickname of an ex-partner of Carrie’s who is now married (GULP!). Another friend disliked Carrie’s choice of Aidan as a sexual partner because he seemed like a “drip.” Aidan is a sensitive, downtown furniture designer who doesn’t date smokers—a bit of a made-for-TV “new-man” stereotype. My last respondent claimedthat the lives of well-dressed and well-scrubbed New York art-dealers, PR execs, writers and lawyers rattling on about their sex lives (and their sex lies) was a major turn-off.

In South London, I guess we’re not supposed to care about New Yorkers with money to spend, new bars to check out, art gallery opening nights to trawl through, or fabulous book launches to attend, all with a whiff of sexual tension in the air. It’s not the type of TV fantasy we should get lost in, those around me seem to be saying.... And anyway, unnecessary sleepless nights about dating schemes are redundant around here. That’s for Americans to get tied up in knots with. What is the drama? Why not just make it up as you go along? You either “go out” with someone, or just knock about with your mates.

My last trip to New York was in December 2000. It was an occasion for me to think long and hard about the culture of dating in New York, that unique set of NYC sexual politics and dating routines, which some people told me was crucial to any hope of“meeting someone.” Pete, an old mate from South London and now a resident of Brooklyn, is of the opinion that New York, in all its madness, can be a difficult place to “meet people.” Dates are precious commodities not to be messed with. After chatting up someone whom I sat next to on the plane over from London, I suggested meeting up. We had, after all, had hours of interesting conversation. We ended up sharing a taxi to Brooklyn. However, after a week of negotiation, deliberation and comingto terms with personal scheduling, the best slot I could get with her was “breakfast or brunch on Saturday in Park Slope, New York.” I’d never been asked to meet someone for breakfast in my life, and in South London “brunch” is unheard of. I mulled this over with Pete. He suggested that this was a decent offer and that I shouldn’t raise too many objections.

Of course, SATC people go out on dates with regular ease. They clearly don’t have to contend with offers of “breakfast or brunch on Saturday in Park Slope” for starters. Sometimes their “dates” result in sex and sometimes they don’t. They drop in, out and back into relationships with nice people, stupid people, wonderful people and complete time-wasters. On the face of it, this is not uncommon behaviour for the single and sexually active in a big city, despite what my attempts at NYC dating life produced. But it’s the humour and the subtle slapstick, the well-delivered (if occasionally less than novel) one-liners, the entertaining descriptions of experience, the mini-dramas embedded into each script, and the well-adjusted satire of dating rituals of SATC which I’ve taken to. I’ve begun to enjoy watching the interplay, companionship and relationships generated between the four main characters: Carrie, Charlotte, Samantha and Cynthia Nixon’s Miranda. Miranda is my favorite—lovely posture, great facial expressions.

For an American TV series (consistently interesting US TV imports to the UK, shown on the fringes of “prime time,” are a rare species) this has caught me by surprise. I’ve never been convinced that British television is the best in the world, but perhaps it’s the least worst. Bakersfield PD was my last great American television love: a treasure of subtle comedy about an odd collection of cops in a small, slow town. SATC has turned out to be my Bakersfield PD for the millennium.

SATC has been on British television screens since February 1999, so my recent interest is just over two years too late. Channel 4 is currently screening a SATC double-bill (whoopee!) on Wednesday nights at 10pm. Now!, a fashion and TV magazine which survives by peddling celebrity gossip, photographs of celebrity parties, ideas on “easy cuisine,” and“how to make your house a comfort zone,” runs advertisements encouraging British women to “look as good as the Sex and the City girls—but at High Street prices.” Roll on up and get your Upper West Side-style wardrobe by making astute purchases in South London!

Meanwhile, Garry Bushell has completed an astonishing about turn. In a recent edition of The Sun he argues that SATC “manages to be outrageous, intelligent and adult.” He also points out that images of Charlotte’s impotent husband “helping himself out”may “emotionally scar sensitive viewers.”Thankfully, this is written in ironic tones.

So, looking out of my first floor flat in South London, I can only wonder if the lovely Cynthia Nixon would care to join me for a Guyanese cook-up in Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn. Or maybe Cynthia would prefer to spend time in one of those abysmal“new bars” in Times Square. We could meet and discuss the mating habits of the type of New Yorkers I rarely come into contact with.

Colin Babb