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Apr 12 2024
SEX & THE CITY Trashed By Gen Z, or Why Can't Young Adults Today Grasp The Concept Of Context? Comments (0)

Screenshot 2024-04-12 at 2.34.03 PM

Everybody knows that the key to social media success is engagement, positive or negative, so forgive me if I'm a bit cynical about The Independent paying a 22-year-old named Brittany to savage Sex and the City (1998-2004), which is suddenly gaining wider exposure via Netflix.

The review, decorated with a painfully poorly scanned slide ('memba those?) of the cast from 25 years ago — a hint that we're about to witness digital shading analog — is both painfully aware and self-unaware, a review of something the writer finds so cringe that is itself so, so cringe.

Oh, honey — Brittany may not like this series, but she is definitely the Miranda.

First, Brittany thinks the ladies are “awful people — and awful friends.” I don't object to this opinion, in principle. In re-watching the show (2x) since 2004, I find Carrie shockingly unappealing. Her smoking, some of her elitist views, her need for drama, her relationship with big that comes off like a botfly meeting a host — I get it. The characters, like those on later shows like Girls, are not 100% lovable.

But ... why is that a requirement? Aren't shows entertaining sometimes because the characters are annoying and flawed? From Seinfeld to Veep to Gen Z catnip like South Park and Family Guy, emotionally intelligent consumers of entertainment should not expect good to equal goodness, and should not expect creators to constantly telegraph to viewers that their world views are in synch.

I think it's because Sex and the City presented itself as sort of the Joan Rivers (look her up) of the 30something dating scene, the show willing to say and explore the things every other show was unwilling to say and explore. As such, a young person watching it — especially a young female writer living in NYC, like Brittany — may tend to view it as a show attempting to speak for that entire experience. It's like how gay men sometimes knee-jerk reject gay shows for not reflecting their own unique experiences accurately.

In other parts of her review, Brittany reveals a frustrating tendency among Gen Zers, which is a complete unwillingness or inability to see art in context. Though she cites the many differences between 1998 and 2024, she then complains bitterly about how a show made in 1998 fails to live up to 2024's standards. For example, she's angered by the women's now-dated attitudes toward bisexuality, failing to realize that being gay was so toxic in 1998 still that everyone in their 30s (on up) by that time was familiar with a tendency for some gay people to say they were bisexual as a sort of buffer or stepping stone.

Bisexuality is real, and people are much more used to the idea 25 years later, but accepting that — like all other things — was/is a process. A show like Sex and the City was like taking a pulse. It was only meant to reflect some attitudes of the moment, and shouldn't be discarded just because in some ways it fails to remain timeless. Hot-button-fueled shows rarely are.

I think the most bizarre part of Brittany's piece is that she's irked by how the show handled abortion. Never mind that the show had two of its four female leads frankly admitting to having had abortions and a third deciding she wanted one, too — historic on TV. For Brittany, the very existence of a character — uptight, WASPY Charlotte — who is anti-abortion is an affront. It's as if she is not able to see that the series was showing a range of views among a range of people who happen to be friends. Maybe it's less common now, but it used to be quite common to have friends whose views were not so aligned.

Nor was the show siding with Charlotte. Charlotte's was merely one voice. I know I am correct in my reading of Brittany's critique because she affirms: 

Abortion should be an option for all women.

Yeah! And guess what? There is no way everyone involved with that show was not pro-choice. The show was not arguing against reproductive freedom, it was presenting four women discussing what that looked like for themselves and each other.

Of course, there are other aspects of the show that simply did not age well. Yes, the women are often Karen-y. Yes, their priorities are sometimes superficial. Trans women are under assault now, yet it would be hard to argue that things weren't even worse 25 years ago. After all, trans people were seen as funny or freaky, and even open-minded types like the SATC ladies were comfy using the T-word and putting them down. Samantha douses loud trans hookers with water!

But when Gen X grew up, we were offered far more limited fare on a handful of channels. So, we watched Loony Tunes and I Love Lucy and Gilligan's Island and other reruns. Did we consume these as gospel? No! We could tell that the Brady girls, who thought they looked far out really looked dated as H-E-double-hockeysticks. We knew it wasn't cool that Lucy was semi-owned by Desi. But I would argue we had a built-in mechanism that allowed us to appreciate these cultural artifacts, embrace their unique qualities, and ignore or laugh at their cringe factor. 

Maybe we were helped by the fact that shows that were old for us weren't even allowed to address race or gender or sexual orientation — nothing controversial. Had they been able to, they might look much more deeply offensive today. Shows Gen Z finds to be old were allowed much more freedom — and given much more rope to [suicidal ideation alert] hang themselves.

I believe forward-thinking Gen Zers had a genuine appreciation for how times had changed when we watched old shows, and yet a realization that performances of the past were stuck in amber, their performers unable to course-correct. For example, we might be excited to sense some feminism in Lucy, but we did expect it to permeate a pre-feminist show.

No, we should not be shaking our fists at the sky gods and uttering one of the most reprehensible phrases ever: “They'd never be able to get away with this now!” I just think that while we know that not all of the stuff that came before us is relatable or cool or right anymore, the difference between Gen X and Gen Z is what they do with that knowledge once they have it.

Hysterically, Brittany writes:

Miranda seems compelled to find the negative in everything. She can’t let anyone, including her friends, be happy with their choices ... I found the constant negativity draining to watch.

This is how Gen X feels about Gen Z as they consume past programming like SATC or Friends. They seem more set in their ways than Boomers, resolutely resistant to enjoying antiques for what they are, and for what they were when they were.