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Sex and the City's legacy at 25

BY Owen Scott

2nd Aug 2023 Film & TV

4 min read

Sex and the City's legacy at 25
Sex and the City is a show of gigantic proportions, as popular today as it was twenty-five years ago. Why is the show so popular still and what is its legacy?
Sex and the City is a show that seems to constantly have a resurgence. The show is rediscovered each generation, first by millennials and now by Gen-Z, but it’s hard to forget how popular the show was when it first premiered in 1998. The show presented women in a way that was rare for the time: sexual, but from the female gaze.

The main four characters

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A key part of Sex and the City's success was the relatability of the main four characters. Carrie, the lead character played by Sarah Jessica Parker, was the writer that romantic viewers could relate to, where Miranda was a career woman and Charlotte was more conservative. Perhaps, the fan favourite today, though, is the fourth member of the group, the sexual and free spirited Samantha. With each of the main four women, viewers had a character to relate to, as each woman lived their lives so differently.

The show’s award-winning formula

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That premise, following the iconic cast of women, meant every episode had an effective formula. Take Season 1, Episode 10 as an example, where the main four react to the news of a former friend becoming pregnant. Miranda sees motherhood as a cult, Carrie struggles with the idea of whether she would be a good mother and Charlotte is envious of her friend’s newfound motherhood. Meanwhile, Samantha celebrates her life without children by throwing an "I-don’t-have-a-baby" shower. 
"It's this discussion of women’s issues that helped make the show so appealing"
Each of the four women has a different perspective on motherhood and, because of that, the show presented a range of women’s opinions on women’s issues. It's this discussion of women’s issues that helped make the show so appealing. Women's issues were being spoken about with nuance on one of the biggest channels in America, HBO.

Feminism and the city

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This is not to say the show is perfect in representing women’s lives. 
The show, for the most part, is the epitome of second wave feminism. In some ways, it is very progressive in that it empowers women to embrace their sexuality, as Samantha does most notably. Her mantra is "The right guy is an illusion. Start living your lives", encouraging women, as Miranda does in her career, to live a life that does not revolve around men.
"Her mantra is "The right guy is an illusion. Start living your lives""
However, the show is predominantly white, with people of colour rarely appearing for more than a few episodes at a time and nearly every character identifies as cisgender, with the exception of one episode where the show clumsily attempts to engage with ideas of transness. In addition to the main four characters all being white, they are all wealthy (with the exception of Carrie, though arguably that is due to her spending habits.) This does limit the relatability of their lifestyles for a lot of viewers.
The show, then, enscapsulates everything about second wave feminism, empowering to lots of women, but not all of them. The show definitely did not get everything right, but it was part of a positive change in TV and took many of the American TV's first steps in portraying women in a more modern way. It was part of a change that highlighted women and their problems, instead of portraying women as an accessory to men.

Sex and the City as a phenomenon

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Of course, the outfits and the quotes from the show have a life of their own. The show is responsible for setting several trends between the years of 1998-2004, after all and its modern take on fashion was a big part of the show's appeal.
The true reason that Sex and the City remains popular, though, is that it encapsulates the era in which it is set so perfectly. The late 1990s and New York have never been depicted with such love. Characters refer to New York as a place that has embraced a more liberal attitude on life and allows people to live complex, modern lives.
"The late 1990s and New York have never been depicted with such love"
New York's reputation as a place with limitless possibilities is as much a part of the show as the empowered characters, and the two factors combined create the enormous appeal that the show had during the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Sex and the City’s legacy

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The show’s legacy, then, is one of a changing America and a changing idea of womanhood in relation to sex. It’s a perfect reflection of the 1990s and early 2000s and the period’s understanding of feminism, a feminism that did not yet quite encompass all women. It has moments that are excruciating to watch, but other parts of it, such as Samantha’s brazenness, Miranda’s independence and Charlotte's attempts to become a mother through avenues such as IVF and adoption have aged much better. The show's revival series And Just Like That..., airing now, is, in fairness, attempting to renegotiate many of some of the original series' shortcomings in how it addressed race and sex. It’s a complicated legacy, but one that continues to endure and likely will for a long time to come. 
Banner Credit: New York City (ALFSnaiper)
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