Fashion

Forever 69: Watching ‘Sex and the City,’ Then and Now

Fashion

Forever 69: Watching ‘Sex and the City,’ Then and Now

Tate Snidal.">
"I'm a Carrie!" Fiona Duncan as Carrie Bradshaw by Tate Snidal.
SATC, Season 1, 1998
SATC, Season 1, 1998
SATC, Season 1, 1998
SATC, Season 1, 1998
SATC, Season 1, 1998
SATC, Season 1, 1998
SATC, Season 1, 1998
SATC, Season 2, 1999
SATC, Season 2, 1999
SATC, Season 2, 1999
I'm a Miranda!
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Forever 69 is a bi-weekly, bi-curious column about fashion and sex. You can read the first installment here

The hardest thing about creating this column hasn’t been coping with the hard-ons it’s inspired (though you are *cops a feel* very very hard). No, the hardest thing so far has definitely been coming up with the title. What to name this glorious mess! My column, my baby. The vehicle for my textual exhibitionism and sure manifesta (I have an agenda). A good title is vital. Mine had to be funny and inclusive. Attention grabbing and hashtag-able. Hot.

Wanting for ideas, I turned to my editors and friends. “What should I call my new bi-weekly, bi-curious column on fashion and sex,” I tweeted, status updated, emailed, and texted. The replies were brilliant: Shine Bi Like a Diamond, Eat Wear Fuck (EWF), Bi-Me, Fuck/Fashion, Voguina, Men are Worthless & Therefor Women Have The Right to Be Bi Weekly [sic]. And the very first response…

Sex and the City

***

This second installment of #Forever69 (thanks goes to BULLETT Editorial Director Nick Haramis for that) was going to be about the schoolgirl uniform. I was already deep into the research when my various “news” feeds started echoing—Sex and the City Turns 15! Sex and the City Celebrates Its 15th anniversary! 15th… 15th… 15…

I was fifteen the last time Sex and the City meant something real to me. At that point in my virginhood, I could list every episode aired by season and title. Like my favorite: season 2, episode 15, “Shortcomings”—the Salinger-esque episode in which Carrie dates a prematurely ejaculating short story writer named Vaughn. Vaughn is immature and refuses to talk about his sexual issues, but Carrie keeps at it, because she wants to keep seeing his family, a classic New York intellectual cabal. Valerie “Rhoda” Harper played the mother of the family,Vaughn was played by Justin Theroux who—get this—appeared in another bit part on the show, back in season 1 (episode 7, “The Monogamists”), again as a hotshot fiction writer, but this time cockier and with a unibrow. His name was… Jared. This is all, still, from memory; it serves.

Last week, when my feed started to read “Sex and the City Is Old and So Are You,” I immediately dropped the plaid skirts, and started downloading the series. I hadn’t watched it in years, but I couldn’t help but wonder… How would the show seem now? Would I still identify? Am I a Carrie or a Miranda?

Watching Sex and the City again was like reading my teenage diary. Kind of humiliating, like *I can’t believe I thought that.* But with compassion, like *I wish you’d known better, little one.* And some pride: both *what a precocious devil I was* and *look how far you’ve come!* The show’s flaws made me cringe like my first failed kisses (why did I keep biting those poor boys?). Because, like those first kisses, the sex “in the city” was far from open, far from GGG. Except for Samantha, the characters weren’t game for fetish play, bisexuality, polyamory, or even anal sex. Storybook “true love,” a.k.a. monotony, was their goal. And their only goal. All the characters talked about were their love lives and closets, except for Miranda, who would occasionally call them out on that. The women of SATC were also (conscientious feminist critic checklist): attractive, white, able-bodied, upper-class women living in one of the most privileged countries in the world; the SAMO.

When my friend Tate suggested “Sex and the City” as a title for my column, I lol’ed because when she and I moved in together, at seventeen, I brought seasons 1 and 2, she brought 3 and 4, and together we bought 5 and 6. Freshman year, we spent more nights watching the DVDs in our respective bedrooms than hooking up. We did, however, wear ghetto gold jewelry like season 3 Carrie and flashy ankle booties à la season 5. Before Tate called me out, it honestly hadn’t occurred to me that, in launching this column, I was fulfilling a not-so-secret teenage fantasy: a New York fashion slut types an embarrassingly confessional beat about sex… in the city.

Anti-porn advocates have claimed that porn is harmful to young minds as it conditions the brain to associate certain media-specific behaviors with RL sex; it patterns and misguides. Post-freshman and post-virginity, in my Women’s Studies years, I started to believe that Sex and the City was my harmful porn. The show’s lessons continually failed to apply to my real life but I kept recalling them. My early SATC education was so thorough, I couldn’t not think of Miranda’s “big hard sausage” dirty talk when a lover prompted me to be more verbal in bed. I couldn’t not think of Carrie in the elevator with Big when I started to have my own affairs. Flipping the switch on my vibrator, I’d hear Carrie’s first season words to the Rabbit: “How lazy do you have to be?” Memory wasn’t serving, it was enslaving—enslaving me to bad puns, prudish behavior, and clichéd segues…

But then things got better. I stopped watching Sex and the City and started watching Weeds and Sasha Grey. I started reading Anais Nin and then Chris Kraus, started listening to Dan Savage. I had a new slew of sexual role models to accompany me on my adventures. Carrie quips were quieted.

***

Realizing I could watch old episodes of Sex and the City as “work” this week was as rousing as remembering you’re working from home and can masturbreak whenever you want. As the familiar opening sequence da-da-da-da-’ed from my laptop speakers (over and over again) and I relaxed into a familiar stupor of underage voyeurism, I got to thinking about sexual educations: the lessons we learn and then unlearn. Fifteen years since its premiere, ten years since the height of my fandom, and five years since I’d seen it last, I found myself laughing at things on Sex and the City that I’d never laughed at before, and sighing with generous humility at those things that used to make me laugh. And that’s when I had a thought: Maybe bad educations are good. Maybe holding preconceived notions and then proving them wrong in practice can teach you more than firsthand experience alone. In many ways, my unlearning of Sex and the City was as formative as the learning. Now I can proudly say, understanding the other side, that I AM A MIRANDA!

As for style, like the writing on the show, everything was better in the early years: season 1 and 2 (1998-1999), when Carrie talked to the camera Annie Hall-style, when the show showed more reflexivity, when the girls were bad and we knew it. The style then was minimal, restrained, and realistic. Carrie was still a fashion plate but she hadn’t turned into the Man Repeller she would in seasons 4-6 (I refuse to even acknowledge the movies). Simple bodycon dresses—mini, knee, or ankle length—with an oversized clutch and strappy sandals. Capri leggings and shoulder pads. Spaghetti strap tank tops. At fifteen years old, I hated the early season’s style, but now that the show is fifteen, I’m dressing just like that. That’s another lesson, and the title of a pretty decent episode: “What Goes Around, Comes Around,” season 3, episode 17.

Next time on Forever 69: Style reporting from the fetish show!