A Woman’s World – The Worldviews of Sex and the City
Sex and the City (1998-2004), was a popular HBO drama-comedy series about four glamorous New York women. Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) – sassy romance column writer; Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon) – driven lawyer; Samantha Jones (kim Cattrall) – hypersexual PR agent; Charlotte York (Kristin Davis) – relatively conservative art dealer and later housewife.
Each of these women has a literally fantastic life; the stuff of fantasy. They live (alone, at least at the start of the series) in their own well-appointed, spacious apartments, have plenty of money, lots of free time, go shopping often, are unencumbered by parents or siblings, eat out in excellent restaurants, have interesting friends, gossip endlessly, drink quite often, and get into plenty of adventures involving the opposite sex. In short we have four characters who have fewer strictures than most ordinary people, and more freedom to pursue what they want to do. This is the basic premise for the show and it is also the reason it was so appealing to its audience.
However, this premise of freedom also had another effect, though one which may not have been intended at the start. If we are free to decide what exactly we ought to do to be happy, then how do we make that decision? When all our immediate biological needs of survival are met, how do we decide what we are going to do next? How do we decide what is important to us? One answer is that we use our own Weltanschauung, or worldview; our way of looking at the world, influenced by culture, history, geographical location, philosophy and religion.
In Sex and the City, there are two dominant worldviews, which also happen to be the dominant worldviews informing everyday life in the USA and other western countries right now. The first worldview is broadly speaking materialist, rational and atheist. The second is a spiritual or religious worldview, influenced by Christianity but not actually Christian. It is more of a spirituality of the natural world. Let’s call these two worldviews the material and the spiritual.
This chart illustrates the different aspects of both of the worldviews in Sex and the City, They are represented here as spheres.
With the exception of Carrie and her once relatively serious boyfriend, Jack Berger (Ron Livingston), each character in the series is influenced more by one or the other sphere. No character’s life is directed wholly by one or the other sphere. Carrie sits on the fence halfway between both spheres, almost never really wanting to go one way or the other. It is probably for this reason that she constantly analyses her life, making, in fact, a living out of it — because her life, to her, lacks certainty.
Carrie is drawn to the natural-spiritual sphere, but distrusts and occasionally scorns it. One example of this is her constant fascination with the idea of ‘the one’, a lover who is her ideal man, her soul-mate. The soul to which she was attached before she was born, and whom she can only find true contentment by reuniting with. This idea of human relationships is highly attractive, and is firmly in the spiritual sphere. But she is never 100% committed to the idea, as Charlotte is, until the very end of the series.
Carrie’s ambivalence through the series can be contrasted with two other main characters, Samantha and Charlotte. Both these characters are ensconced comfortably in one or the other sphere. Charlotte and Samantha seem more comfortable in their own skin than Carrie does, and more certain about who they are and what is important.
Whether or not any of this was planned by the creators of the series is hard to say. The only obvious clue is that Miranda is apparently named after a philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, who believed that an individual’s actions are motivated entirely by the selfish concerns of the individual. Miranda is also the most materialist of the four main characters, as well as the one who least wants to rely on others for anything she needs in life. Those needs are for her material needs.
Of the four main characters, Miranda is also the most skeptical and mocking of the spiritual sphere and its adherents, such as Charlotte. As a lawyer she has the dullest, most pragmatic occupation of the four. Contrast this with Charlotte and Carrie, both of whom have jobs in the more spiritual world of art, love and self-expression.
The title, Sex and the City, also describes the existence of and conflict between the two dominant worldviews in the series. Sex and the city: the natural and the man-made, the spiritual and the material.
J Marc Schmidt
This article is based on a longer essay appearing in J. Marc’s book, Secrets of Popular Culture.