Why Sex and the City is actually the ultimate fantasy show
The age of men is over indeed
Cut to the Feeling is a monthly column by Anne T. Donahue about the art and pop culture that sparks joy, grief, nostalgia, and everything in between.
Of all the series HBO has given us, its most fantastical show — steeped in the complexities and extremes of the human experience — remains a key cultural touchstone.
Yes, it was rooted in make-believe. Its heroes and villains ranged from unrealistic monsters to mere mortals with relatable flaws. It was grandiose, over-the-top, and sensational. It reeled us in with its controversial relationships and kept us close with story arcs that eclipsed the lacklustre dialogue. The massacres were emotional and they were constant — some of which many of us will never recover from.
This is why 25 years later, Sex and the City remains the greatest fantasy show of all time.
It begins with our hero. 30-something Carrie Bradshaw is a writer (much like Bilbo Baggins) with a singular mission to date until she finds or dispels the myth of "the one" (like Frodo's one ring to rule them all). A resident of a long-ago New York City, Carrie's home is a version that exists only to those who sleep among piles of gold or in affordable one-bedrooms boasting walk-in closets. Her wardrobe is as unparalleled as it is striking: a uniform of capes, oversize flowers, designer labels, and heels so tall they'd leave a mortal tethered to a podiatrist.
Carrie's clothes are, of course, a superpower — an exercise in constant upgrade, cloaking her in an array of personas required to survive the social and sexual situations she uses to propel her further along a journey. She dresses for the jobs, parties, and men she wants, wrapped in pieces that most of us have never seen before (and, after one episode, never actually see again).
The source of these clothes? A myth in and of itself, since Carrie's only job is that of a weekly columnist in a make-believe newspaper whose rates would realistically only ever guarantee enough money for maybe eight frozen pizzas a month. (Have you ever met a writer? We work for coins that are never, under any circumstances, ever paid on time.)
But logic in Sex and the City is unnecessary. In the same way we know that life in Westeros is hardly survivable (they don't have a single Shopper's Drug Mart, which makes the acquisition of Advil or Imodium impossible), Carrie's world makes sense only in relation to its overall plot: her job, her ever-evolving uniform, her ever-present friends. These forces work to elevate her to a place in which she can confront her nemesis. Having met him in the series' pilot, her growth and identity is defined by her relationship with the elusive Mr. Big — her own personal dragon (Smaug) from whom she must reclaim her treasure.
Mr. Big has stolen her heart.
Like all great villains, Mr. Big is hateable in most ways but alluring in others, particularly when his humanity surfaces itself long enough to lure in our heroine while infuriating those who champion her. He is, in short, the stuff of nightmares: a man whose penchant for The Finer Things™ includes a certain (young, stereotypically beautiful) type of woman willing to bend herself to his charms and whims. He is selfish, abrupt, and inconsistent to the point of being chaotic. He feeds his ego (his own superpower) through cigars, car service, and expensive suits, offering Carrie what he knows she wants before revoking his commitment and inciting unspeakable emotional damage.
And yet, she cannot escape him until he is slain. Presented with this nemesis from the series' onset, their paths weave together over the course of seven seasons, two films, and a reboot. His presence lingers for over two decades, even as she navigates her changing world and catalytic moments within it, wielding her pen (as a sword!) by sharing the details of her makeups and breakups through her columns and a book and a podcast before he acknowledges his capacity for vulnerability ... and dies.
Game of Thrones wishes. The Hobbit, somewhere, is crying in his burrow. The lads of Lord of the Rings are standing by the credence that 'the age of men is over.' And with Sex and the City, they are correct.
Chaos is a ladder. Because like all fantasies, we're drawn in not by what's realistic, but what we hope is attainable. We all long to defeat our personal Smaugs, Gollums, and Joffreys, and Sex and the City followed suit. From its 1999 inception, the series was presented as a fantasy world that we were meant to accept as not just normal but aspirational. The same kingdom could one day be yours if you simply believed.
And millions of young women did. Carrie Bradshaw managed to transcend time, age, and location, and many viewers used the show as some sort of guide to life (complete with mantras like "he's just not that into you"). But this only added to the ridiculousness of the fantasy: despite the majority of the adult world having nothing in common with Carrie and her counterparts, their reality was still presented as the Promised Land. With only the consumption of $12 cosmopolitans or the acquisition of new Manolo Blahniks, 30-something women could cosplay as the world's most famous columnist while living lives that varied greatly.
Not to mention Sex and the City's effect on wee baby teens like me. Despite living in the suburbs and still going to high school, some of us sought to escape our mundanity by believing our own futures could be so Fabulous — that maybe we could empower ourselves through clothing, friends, and a buffet of romantic scenarios. It was the same way that we had clung to the fantasy stories of our childhoods, rich with monsters and rescue missions and Queen of the Lizards (the nickname I gave myself at age three).
Carrie was an easy hero — a woman with no fixed identity outside of the kind many of us assigned our dolls growing up. She had a career, lived alone, wore what she felt like, and made choices that set her back as a person but catapulted her narrative. (My Barbies inevitably fell for a "bad boy" I named "Brad.") She wasn't as interesting as she was easy to project on, making her problematic qualities (the woman is very judgmental about sexuality for being a woman who writes about sex!) easy to gloss over for the sake of cheering for her to defeat or transform Mr. Big once and for all. Perhaps we too could parlay a love/hate/toxic relationship into the stuff of an adult contemporary song. Perhaps if we believed just hard enough, we could inspire a nemesis-slash-love interest to fundamentally change.
Game of Thrones wishes. The Hobbit, somewhere, is crying in his burrow. The lads of Lord of the Rings are standing by the credence that "the age of men is over." And with Sex and the City, they are correct: it's a tale set in a world of make-believe where the chosen one embarks on a harrowing journey down the road to the final boss. It's a story of a years-long quest to embrace the role of a reluctant hero who repeatedly confronts her dragon face-to-face in hopes of finally slaying him — only to show him the light as he's rescued from the dark side.
But that's why we're still talking about it. Who needs dragons when you've got Bradshaw? And at least unlike Game of Thrones, SATC's sexual relationships exist between people who are not related. The fantasy that fuels Sex and the City is spectacular. The only way it could be more sensational would be if Carrie's next boyfriend is Jon Snow.