Small Pleasures

by: Mimi White / Northwestern University

Can you love and hate a television show at one and the same time? I am not talking about general indifference — you watch the show when you can, perhaps if nothing else you like is on, but you don’t miss it when you can’t. What I am thinking about is when you really like a show, and make an effort to watch it regularly. But at the same time (or perhaps some of the time) you actively dislike the very same show. So you watch sometimes but find yourself, as often as not, changing channels, or even turning off the television. But when you don’t watch, you wonder what you are missing.I was made acutely aware of this sort of conflicted viewing when Sex and the City ended its original episodes life on HBO, and started showing in reruns on TBS. When Sex and the City was in its first-run on HBO (1998-2004), I was an indifferent viewer. If I happened to come upon it while flipping through the channels, and had nothing else in particular to do, I might watch it, but often would not. Or I would watch for maybe 7 minutes. The show always seemed mildly appealing, but slightly dull. At the time, I did not think about it in terms of more extreme responses. I didn’t watch enough, or with enough interest, to have a more extreme response.

Cast of Sex and the City Cast of Sex and the City

When HBO ran the final set of new episodes in January-February 2004, I decided to take the program more seriously. Did I fall for the hype? Was I finally willing to engage with a “positive” variant of television’s ubiquitous postfeminism? Does it even matter? I ended up seeing some pretty good shows, and was particularly struck by “The Ick Factor” (11 January 2004), an episode that combines and carefully balances issues about bodies, relationships, grand romantic gestures, and traditional rituals. If certain plot developments gave me pause (I am still unsure whether diagnosing the exuberantly sexual Samantha with breast cancer wasn’t in some perverse, covert way using a women’s health issue to “punish” her), the episode managed to walk the tightrope between being icky and being about things that are icky, between cynicism and romanticism, tragedy and comedy, and women’s romantic relationships and their friendships. I thought it was perhaps the best half-hour television episode I had ever seen. I wondered if this is what I had been missing all these years.

I turned to the best “informants” I could find to figure out if I had really missed the boat here: the students in my graduate seminar. When I gushed about the episode (and I am afraid I did gush), the students who had seen it agreed that it had been an exceptional episode. Many of them assured me that I didn’t need to rush out and buy the series on DVD, because I was as likely as not to be disappointed, if this particular episode was my standard of judgment; others said that the show was uneven, but that I probably would really enjoy other seasons and other episodes. And thanks to the afterlife of first-run television, TBS began rerunning the series shortly thereafter (even if it was “cleaned up” for basic cable audiences — less nude bodies and crude language).

I watched the first two episodes. While I had some qualms about episode one, a scene partway through the second, “Models and Mortals,” moved me to turn off the television. Based on one of Miranda’s dating experiences, Carrie decides to write a column about “modelizers,” men who only date models. At dinner with her friends, the women start discussing modelizers, but end up focusing their attention on models. They say the sorts of things you might expect, parroting most of the well-worn stereotypes about women in this profession combined with pat feminist critiques of the fashion-beauty world. Models are stupid and lazy; they practice starvation in the best restaurants; they are giraffes with big breasts. Models embody the impossible standards of beauty to which the culture holds women, including the women having this conversation. While Carrie makes an effort to speak on behalf of her friends (they are smart, beautiful “flesh and blood” women who should not be intimidated by this beauty fantasy), they all, save Samantha, identify a body part they particularly hate, especially when compared to models: thighs, chin, nose.

There are (at least) two things in this scene that I found distinctly irksome. First, the women soon turn their venom on other women — models — rather than maintaining the initial focus of the conversation on men who date models. What starts as a problematic sort of man is quickly recast as a problematic sort of woman. Second, the women holding this conversation are themselves only one small step removed from models. They may not be quite as tall or thin as the “impossible standards of beauty” that models represent, but they are hardly distant from these idealized, “impossible” standards, and fully participate in and contribute to the same beauty-fashion-body culture as the women they are disparaging. This is true of both the characters and the actresses who portray them.

This scene is written to encourage a viewer to recognize them as “ordinary” women, even though part of their appeal, and part of the larger appeal of the show, is based on their appearance. Indeed, high end, trend-setting clothing and accessories (the very things that models model) are an integral part of the show. The characters shop for and wear expensive clothing and shoes; publicity emphasizes how the characters are dressed, and how they never wear the same outfit twice; and articles in magazines and newspapers promote the latest fashion trends being set by the characters on Sex and the City. This is after all the show that made “Manolo Blahnik” designer shoes a familiar household name. Do Carrie and her friends really not know that Manolo Blahniks are part and parcel of the culture of “impossible standards of beauty” they attribute to models? In terms of bodies, faces, and costume, these women are obviously not ordinary. In fact, they are rather like…models. And while I don’t want to disparage them for this, as they disparage models, I also don’t want to pretend otherwise. Having them vilify models in the language of popular feminist critique of the beauty-industrial complex doesn’t help. Instead, having these women-characters-actresses express these views seems like a blatant contradiction, an insult to my intelligence (even though I also recognize the same clever writing that I enjoy in other episodes). So the first time I saw this scene, I turned off the television, not in indifference, but with full-blown distaste.

This kind of response, oscillations of variable intensities (love/hate or like/dislike), seems especially acute in television. The medium is, after all, so extremely multiple: multiple programs, channels, episodes, writers, producers, directors, etc. are all part and parcel of “a” television show. While we use the singular to designate a television program, it really is not just one thing, but a series — quite literally, of course. Seinfeld, Cagney and Lacy, Two and A Half Men, Two Guys and a Girl, Party of Five, Eight is Enough: you can keep adding to the numbers in the title, but each of these is still a singular program. The multiplication intensifies as opportunities for access proliferate, through reruns, syndication, home recording technologies, and in many cases, the possibility for purchase on tape or DVD.

Television, even one show on television, provides multiple viewing experiences — multiple episodes and multiple ways of seeing them. This, among other factors, opens television to much more complicated, and even contradictory, ways of watching and responding to its texts. We often simply assume that people do or don’t like a show (or a program format, or a genre), and do or don’t watch it. But since a show is many things at once, it isn’t necessarily quite so straightforward. And perhaps my response to Sex and the City is only a slightly more acute version of ordinary viewing. A number of people state that this is how they watch Judging Amy; they only care about the scenes with Tyne Daly, and are otherwise at best indifferent to the rest of the show (or even pretty much dislike it). When it comes to routine viewing (situated somewhere in between not watching, channel surfing, and fandom) perhaps the best we hope for is an exceptionally good episode every now and then; a few characters who engage or divert us; or a few good scenes in an episode that is otherwise boring, clumsy, or even offensive. But given these “small pleasures,” it is worth thinking about how we (and others) make decisions about our regular, but ordinary, viewing choices.

I expect that if I watched all of Sex and the City, I would probably continue to have similar experiences. I would really like some episodes or scenes, and really not like others. And I did end up buying two seasons of the show on DVD, including the set with “Models and Mortals.” So I guess I will get a chance to find out.

Links
Sex and the City
Turner Broadcasting
TBS
Sex and the City fan site
New York Times Sex and the City article

Image Credits:

Cast of Sex and the City

Please feel free to comment.

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24 comments

  • I’m intrigued by the multiplicity principle of spectatorship alluded to by Dr. White. It seems that the influx of new technologies (DVR, TiVo, TV on DVD) encourages dynamic engagement with audiovisual texts in a manner much different from traditional viewing practice. Through these new technologies, viewers can “chapter skip,” fastforward, pause, and rewind programs to watch and re-watch particular segments offering “small pleasures.” Through this proactive approach to spectatorship, audiences may actually create texts consisting only of those segments qualifying as small pleasures. While editing content into “highlight reels” has long been a practice of awards shows, advertising firms, and the like, new technologies encourage, or at the very least enable, “personal” viewership with an episode or series. Furthermore, the fact that these technologies are diffusing rapidly into the majority of American households suggests that the ambivalent viewer may be more closely aligned with those viewers defined as “fans” (a la Henry Jenkins) than ever before.

  • Response to Response

    just to follow up a little more on the episode series as a product notion – it also brings to mind henry Jenkins comments about the branding of television. When a viewer decides to watch one show, he or she quite easily can get ‘sucked in’ to the whole line up of the show. Thus, we might slowly be losing our autonomy in live television viewing and will have to inevitably escape to the new technologies to reclaim our own decision making power..of course, until the next revolution occurs.

  • “Sex” and the Revolution

    I completely identify with White’s mixed feelings regarding Sex and the City.The contradictory nature of this show often made me feel disgusted at my own pleasure, and the feeling accumulated as I faithfully watched on to the (bitter?) end. My multiple spectatorship experience here suggests the important role of characters as focal point for identification or dislike. It seemed this show provided an index of female stereotypes eventually reinforcing (neo) conventional norms. I agree that Samantha was constantly punished for her sexuality. Furthermore, I think this her sexuality was not “liberating” but rather regressive. The character mimicry of conventional male sexuality was an update of the liberal feminist slogan: “anything you can do I can do better”. Kerry was all about branding and consumerism, combined with traditional “little women” dating ethics, and charlotte, well, she was the most interesting miss-goodie-two-shoes I have ever seen on TV. Miranda’s character was the one that kept sucking me in, as it seemed the most “real” and “rounded” one – or maybe it just reflected my own concerns and sexual politics?I guess, being sucked into a post feminist text, providing mixed feeling of pleasure and indignation is, for me, just a new mask for an old practice – deriving pleasure from the contradictory nature of femininity and female identity as constructed in patriarchal/capitalist/white society. As Sarah Jones puts it “Your revolution will not happen between these thighs” or, in other words our revolution will not happen between expensive shoes on 5th Avenue.http://www.ukhh.com/features/l.....ution.html

  • Response to Article

    During Sex and the City’s six year run on HBO I was almost oblivious to its existence. I didn’t have the channel and until college never saw an episode. To date I have only seen a handful of episodes, but I can say I am a fan of the show. I can’t say I have seen an episode that I was turned away by, though I do understand where the author is coming from. When a show is turning out twenty some odd episodes a season it is almost certain that there will be shows that one likes more than others. From a male standpoint, I believe that a show like Sex and the City’s main selling point is pretty women, which this show is full of. I don’t believe that most men are so demanding of a good story line if somewhere throughout the show a female will be taking her clothes off. To us, it’s these sex scenes in which we find our “small pleasures.” Of course a good story definitely adds to the show, but a show with an attractive female cast in revealing clothes is a good way to sell a show to men. That is why a believe shows like the OC and The Simple Life are so popular. Having episodes that are contradictory is at the bottom of our lists in reasons to flip channel.

  • Representation of Women in Popular TV Show

    I can’t say that I’m a fan of Sex and the City, but I did watch the show regularly during its premiere on HBO. While watching the show, I both like and dislike the show at the same time. Well first I think that each episodes are carefully and cleverly written. In the “like” sense, the show is often very entertaining like Mimi White says, it has a mixture of romance, comedy, tragedy, and “women’s romantic relationship and their friendships.” Because of those elements, I am at time, attracted to the show for the reason being. In the “dislike” sense, I think the show lacks a broad representation of women in both the real world and the TV world. In general, although the writers and producers of the show might tried to make the women-characters in Sex and the City appear to be independent, however at the end, the characters result in revealing to the audience that they are only vulnerable and dependent beings.

    For example, let’s examine one of the characters in Sex and the City. Carrie, the columnist, is madly in love with Mr.Bigg. Carrie repeatedly reveals to the audience of her obsession for Mr.Bigg. While, Bigg on the other hand, is not too obsess over her. Carrie basically represents that women although can be very smart and financially independent, but they are ALSO emotionally weak without men. In Carrie’s case, women are the one who would pull themselves apart because of men while men are not emotionally distress after the break-up. And so, I think Sex and the City might shows that women are independent of living by themselves, but they might not be as happy without men.

  • Portrayals of Women on Sex and the City

    I haven’t seen many episodes of Sex and the City; however, the ones I have seen I have really enjoyed. I believe that the reason this television show appealed to me so much is that the female characters spoke honestly about issues that many women are interested in – namely, relationships with men and women, body images and sex. Rarely do television shows address these issues so honestly. Sure, we see sex on TV all the time, but rarely is the experience actually discussed, especially from a woman’s point of view. Although I liked the few episodes that I have seen due to their candor, I also have a problem with the show. I agree with Mimi White when she writes that the characters in Sex and the City are full of contradictions. On one hand, they send out the feminist message to love yourself for who you are and not to compare your body to a model’s. On the other hand, rarely do they exemplify that message. They hate certain parts of their bodies and work to attain an impossible standard of beauty. Another problem I have with the show is that the message it sends out about women is that they fall into the virgin/whore dichotomy. Either they’re virtuous and pure or sexually promiscuous – they can’t be both. Most other TV shows, confine their female characters to one of these roles. Sex and the City confines all of its female characters to the whore role. Yes, Samantha is the “whore” of the group, but all of the women sleep around. I remember one episode where Miranda thinks she has an STD and has to make a list of all the men she has slept with so that she can get into contact with them. I can’t remember the exact number on the list but I think it was nearly 50. What kind of message is that sending out to women? That sleeping around with anyone and everyone is the way to live, or is it punishing Miranda for being a “whore?” Contradictions such as these make me question Sex and the City’s credibility as a groundbreaking drama.

  • I agree with your take on Sex in the City. I only watched a few episodes while the show was on HBO, and I also felt very torn on how I felt about the program. Some of the epidsodes handle issues that woman face today and find a solution to the very problem in a manner that impowers the character. The general theme is to make the female characters (and other woman) self-confident. As I watched more episodes, I found that the very goal of Sex in the City was also being challenged. In some cases, the lead characters deal with problems in a way that almost reveals a negative light to woman. One character decides to still date a man who was cheating on her. To me, that is absurd. It shows weakness in the character because this woman must be with this man, reguardless. It is not a very feminist approach on being a strong woman in the world today, but instead just another example of women shown as submissive on television. Some episodes of Sex in the City are wonderful and have great messages, but these episodes are contridicted by those with a less flattering spin on women.

  • A male’s perspective

    I will admit that I watched the first few episodes of Sex and the City because of the really hot women, but I was also hoping to catch a storyline I could identify with. The show worked on many different levels. The women were extremely sexy obviously for the men, but also for the women who watched. It showed that women who were sexy could be intelligent at the same time. I also think that the reason many of the viewers hated and loved the show at the same time was that it was a pretty accurate portrayal of not only women, but people in general. I’ve had many conversations with beautiful women who think they are fat and inferior to models or feel they are independent and don’t need a man, but fall to pieces when they are dumped. It’s human nature to contradict yourself through out life. The smartest women I know have gone back to the arms of cheating men, only to realize weeks later that it was a mistake. I think Sex and the City portrayed this very well. The show had a hindsight effect on the women viewers in my opinion, only that it was happening while watching the women of Sex in the City make there mistakes. The show did a great job, in my opinion, capturing women struggling with their emotions and intellect. Doing what is right and what feels right at the moment; and when nobody else is looking we usually do what feels right or good whether it’s the right decision or not. That was what kept millions of viewers coming back each week, wondering what the women of Sex and the City would do next. It would disgust some viewers to the point of shutting of the TV, but then going out and purchasing the seasons on DVD to see what happened next.

  • My Love/Hate Relationship with TV

    While I’ve only seen a handful of Sex and the City Episodes, I completly agree with White. Most of hte shows I watch reside on the WB and while I love Smallville, it always pains me to see the show. Every week its the same thing, I mean why do all the evil superheros move to smallville? The show has a distinctly circular pattern, always ending where it began, never really moving the narrative along. Another thing I have noticed is that after a show has established itself, the writters seem to take a break. THe shows lose integrity, but I force myself to watch episodes I can’t stand hoping for a chance to see one that is as good as I know the show can be. Thank god for TIVO. I love my TIVO, it is so easy to fast forward thorugh a show if its stupid, not getting the audio but getting jist of the episope simply from the video.

  • Response to Article

    The first thing that came to mind when I read White’s article is the television program, “Laguna Beach.” When I saw the previews for the show, I thought, “this is stupid and I will never watch it!” I came home one day and my roomate was watching it, and I decided to watch a little while I was eating. I became engrossed in the show and started watching it every week. This is where the contradiction lies: I was disgusted in myself for watching a sleazy, reality(?) show, but at the same time, couldn’t take my eyes off of it, and if I missed an episode, I felt I could be missing something important to the show. Of course, this isn’t the case, because MTV tells you what happened last week anyway, but the feeling is still there. Another example of this love/hate relationship for me is “Law and Order.” I love this program, but only if they feature Jerry Orbach and Benjamin Bratt together as the detectives, as well as Sam Waterston and Carey Lowell as the legal team. If those actors are not on a specific episode of “Law and Order,” then I usually don’t watch it. In regards to new technologies(TV on DVD), they are not only a new way to view television, but also a new way to get television…again. Specifically, the program “Family Guy” is getting new life through a new season on Fox(2005) because of its enormously high DVD sales of the enitire(previously cancelled) series.

  • hello. my name is brea and i’m a sex in the city-aholic

    One of the strangest things I’ve found about Sex in the City is how many self-proclaimed feminists watch it regularly (myself included) or own the DVDs. I can justify it in two ways. One – I watch what entertains me. Sex entertains me and women talking about relationships entertain me, thus I watch Sex in the City (as well as The L Word and other shows that fall into this category). The second reason I find that many feminists watch it is because it is one of the few shows that centers around women and their friendships (oh, yes, and their sex with men). For me, the scene in which the women are talking about how much they hate models was contradictory, but at the same time, I want to hear Sarah Jessica Parker and those other beautiful women say they hate certain parts of their body. See? They’re just like me! Of course, I know they aren’t just like me, but despite my feminist instinct to turn off self-hating and women-hating women, my consumeristic instinct allows me to buy every DVD that comes out.

  • Response to Article

    I agree with one of the author’s main points- that a single television show presents multiple viewing experiences, and when coupled with new technologies, the episodes become even harder to discern. I can also really empathize with the notion of simultaneously liking and disliking a television show. I often find myself making a point to watch a certain TV show, and then hating it throughout the entirety of the episode. Its such a strange conflict, because, why don’t I just turn off the TV? It seems that with the vast variety of shows on television today (I know some people would disagree with me)and the onset of digital technologies that allow us to choose when and how to watch programs, networks must work harder to create programming that consolidates our viewership. The networks must work especially hard because digital technologies are just in their infancy. With DVR, if I am unsatisfied with a particular episode, I’m more inclined to fast forward through it, as opposed to watching the duration of the show if I don’t have access to DVR. When we have complete control of the television shows at our disposal, the line between what we will watch and not watch becomes much more apparent.

  • Sex and the City and Reruns

    Mimi White discusses the conflicting views of Sex and the City in the article Small Pleasures. I believe that it is possible to have a love – hate relationship with a television show. Sex and the City was a show I have watched on a semi-regular basis. The episodes I have had the pleasure of watching were very well -written and had an edge to them unlike most television shows. Not having the opportunity to see every single episode I find more pleasure in watching the reruns on TBS because they are brand new to me. In the White article she explains that episodes are extraordinary while others are so-so. I had a similar experience with Sex and the City. The episodes I had seen during the original airings were above par and the reruns were not as vibrant as the ones I remember watching, but still I have a strong appreciation for the series. When a television show ends and reruns are aired its easier to be displaced within the episodes, because they are no longer in chronicle order. The series have been toned down by TBS. Sex and the City is what it is, a television show that became a mile stone in television history.

  • I’ve a confession: I’m a closet humanist-sensualist–I like exploring anything or anyone that makes me feel good. This usually means that you’ve gotta make me think a little–are you brusque or just earthy? self-consciously witty or just a little unsettled with you acne? I’m glad that White touches on all-to-human ambivalence through the lens of a television viewer’s reactions to the complex “oscillations of variable intensities” seen in the production of a solid domestic comedy. And I’ve another confession here: my curious nature leads me to routinely enjoy people and thing-watching at cafes–I pick and choose who I gaze at, usually walking down the sidewalk or smoking a cig across from me. I remember some faces and shapes, and perhaps a good conversation on which I eavesdrop. How different, I wonder, is this from the multiple viewing experiences that channel surfing or even DVD-viewing afford? Does this mean television viewing isn’t a sin, that good television actually can create a greater sense of community amongst the critically-minded?

  • Response to article

    In the article the author describes a polar viewing experience that borders on a love hate relationship. I think the issue is more about television in general and realistic expectations for the medium. The characters in the show represent fictional representations of a collage of experiences. Perhaps because of a particular episode where the viewer relates to a character there is placed unrealistic expectation to have a consistent experience. Maybe the human aspect of these “ficitonal” characters is pressed to much by the viewer. To find redeeming and consistent qualities in characters in Sex in the City might prove difficult. The show focuses on career driven single women preoccupied with materialistc excess and the often shallow experiences that leave them seemingly unchanged. Perhaps the inconsistency of the characters is the critique that grabs and pushes at its audience. Their problems seem generally egocentric and frivolous, the easiest to relate to. It’s hard to critique a show for something it doesn’t pretend to be. The show manages to stay safely on the surface with occasional seriousness and give the viewer a voyeuristic look into the lives of yuppie females in the city with the grandest stage in the world. Beyond the entertainment value it comes down to realistic expectations. How high are your standards for a television show and what can you consistently expect to get out of it?

  • Re: First Response

    I’m afraid that I must strongly disagree with the sentiment attached to the first response. There seems to be an underlying tone suggesting that skipping scenes which one doesn’t like is a sensible practice.

    I admit that I have done that. However, I am sure that before I do that in a television show or movie, I watch the entire piece. By choosing certain scenes to watch and others to ignore completely, one (in my eyes) makes many mistakes.

    By doing this, they are for one not viewing the piece as it was meant to be seen. If, say, somebody only watches the scenes with Tyne Daly on Judging Amy, one misses most likely the central plot and also all of the other characters. While I am not advocating that a viewer will miss anything, they still should experience the piece as it was meant to be seen.

    Furthermore, this is not in line with Dr. White’s argument. She says that despite the fact that somebody both loves and hates a show, they are still compelled to watch the show, not simply watch scenes which interest them. I have a personal connection to this compelling feeling. Over the summer I became an ER addict, and even though I can barely stand to watch episodes without the “classic” cast members (Eriq la Salle, Anthony Edwards, George Clooney, Juliana Margulies) I still watch the new episodes and enjoy them, even though at the same time I hate them.

  • Agreeing with the Article

    Having been a fan of Sex and the City since the beginning, I can agree with Dr. White’s television/societal observation. Most television shows that are presented today contain minor elements that I find intriguing, rather than the show as a whole. Although this would seem quite obvious to stop watching it, the idea that perhaps the show will present an entertaining half hour or hour compels me to tune in even more. I also agree with “T. White-Schwoch” and believe that the average viewer needs to watch a show for its entirety, rather than “Tivo”ing through not so spectacular scenes. For example, I watch the O.C. regularly, knowing, in my mind, that it is actually a horrible show. But because there are certain parts of the show that I enjoy, I watch the show in its entirety, which allows me to suppress the terrible situations and drama. In relation to the article, I believe that the social ideas and problems presented in Sex and the City were (obviously) exaggerated. Sure, most of the situations are absurd, but at the end of each episode, I couldn’t deny the fact that I was entertained for thirty minutes.

  • Response to article

    I think the issue of multiple viewer experiences is more easily identified in non-narrative shows. I know people who watch the Today Show obsessively, yet despise everything about the show. They hate the anchors, the graphics the topics, everything, and yet everyday they watch. I think that situations like this have much to do with our own desire to feel superiority. My today show example includes the viewer exulting in any on-air slip ups, because they bring Katie Couric (or whoever) down a notch, thus making the viewer feel better.But how does this translate to narrative shows? What kind of gratification do we get from watching shows we hate? And yet I watched “Playmakers” obsessively for a season, even taping it when I couldn’t be there to watch, only to become enraged by it. The negatives were obvious, bad acting, bad writing, bad camera work. So what were the positives of the experience? What was the other viewer experience that kept me hooked?

  • Response to Article

    It’s perfectly natural, if not healthy, to approach any kind of art (be it television, movies, music, etc.) with a critical eye and a healthy dose of cynicism. I even have bones to pick with my favorite shows/movies. I’ve only seen Sex and the City once and it left me a little uneasy on a political level, for the very same reasons described by Dr. White. Women in the show, it seems, do little more with their lives than gossip about guys, date guys and go shopping. Needless to say, I’m not as fond of the show as most of the people posting here. However, I’ve got a few comments on the irrational perpetuation of the love/hate relationship mentioned in the article.

    First, I’d argue that people do not always watch television for enjoyment, and often these love/hate relationships have more to do with satisfying curiosities and needs. I can think of many television shows/movies that were not enjoyable to sit through, but I felt a sort of satisfaction for having watched them. Writers often say that they hate the process of writing, but they like having written something. If someone is glued to a season of television programming that they consider “spotty” maybe they are not motivated by entertainment but by a longing for completion. I’ve got a good friend who calls himself a “completionist.” He loves Black Sabbath, so he’s got to hunt down every last record, even the wretched ones from the nineties. He hates most of it, and he pays ludicrous amounts of money to own and listen to them on vinyl with genuine disgust. I think that a distinction can be made between the motivations for enjoyment and for completion. Personally, I’ll only follow the band up through Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, and pass on the rest.

  • I agree with Dr. White’s arguement in that you can have a love hate relationship with a television show. Though I am a devoted viewer of Sex and the City, there have been a few episodes that I feel should have never made it to air (like most of season 5). And of course, as much as I might dislike a particular episode I still find myself unable to change the channel. Probably because I felt I could relate to many of the experiences the characters went through or I just liked to fantasize about having the life or the clothes these women have. But even with all of the little specifics that don’t really add up (Carrie couln’t afford all of those designer clothes and shoes on a columnist’s salary), I do feel that this show portrayed women accurately, espcially in “Models and Mortals”. I can understand how it would be dissappointing to watch these women turn on other women instead of turning on the “modelizers”, but that is what women do. If a girl’s boyfriend cheats on her she will most likely turn her anger to the other girl and not where it rightly belongs, on the boyfriend. Is it that this show is so high profile you feel it is a shame to have the women in it continue to perpetuate such nasty stereotypes, and that a show like this should show more of a progression in women rather than regressing back to the familiar? I completely identify with that stance, but I feel like you aren’t taking into account all of the people below your tax bracket. I think the content discussed in “Models and Mortals” is much less ick than it is truth. I don’t feel like this topic is something to be so ick about. The majority of the American population thinks in this manner and I feel that is what allows people to identitfy with the show and keep watching even the not so great episodes. Also, I think the women of the show are removed far enough from model status to make the content believable. I see many women everyday that are as beautiful, if not more beautiful, than the women of this show. Just because these women appear to be beautiful to their observers doesn’t mean they see themselves as beautiful. They have every right to complain about their appearance, onscreen and off, without it being controversial.

  • The love/hate relationship Mimi White has with Sex and the City, reminds me of today’s obsession with the O.C. Last year when it first aired, I remember everyone was talking about the O.C. By this time I was familiar with the fresh faced cast thanks in part to the repeated commercials. I had seen the promotional posters with Misha Barton’s face plastered all over and had heard all about “that hot chick–Summer.” From what I could tell, the show was a spawn of 90210 and Melrose place. Once I realized that the show’s popularity had spread from sorority girls to the mass majority, I decided that it was my duty to as an RTF major, to see what all of the hype was about. I tried, I really tried to watch it one evening, but the scene started off with a cat fight which ended when one of the girls landed in the pool(I now hear that this is a reoccuring theme in the show- someone or something always ends up in the pool). My roommate and I turned off the show feeling valid in our assumption that we were not missing anything. This year the show is back for a second season, proving that the show was not in fact a short-lived novelty. There was just as much anticipation last week when the first episode of the second season premiered as there was for last years episodes. In discussion section for my Communication and Ethnic Groups class, my T.A. asked, “who is going to watch the O.C. Season Premiere tomorrow night?” It was official, everyone except me and one other girl owned an I heart the O.C. T-shirt. Even the guy with the Slayer shirt and the 0O gauge earings was a fan. So, last Thursday I watched the season premiere in its entirety. I caught up with the character situations quickly, thanks to the avid viewers around me. I personally didn’t have any strong feelings towards the show one way or another. I can’t say that I hated it or loved it, at the same time. If anything it was watchable and fun to watch with a group of people who looked so involved in the show. I can say that the show was a bit different from what I had preconceived from my first impression last year. It was more Dawson’s Creek than 90210, except the characters are wealthy teenagers living in California. Also, I did like the way the show used music. Naturally, I found myself feeling more involved with the show if there was a song playing in the background and I think that the show manipulates that quite a bit. I also liked some of the visual aspects of the show. There was this one scene where the camera is focused on one of the character’s Vans as he anxiously bounces his foot up and down, while contemplating whether to go after his friend or not.This scene is intercut with shots of his friend making progress towards his car. I have asked some people about their thoughts on the show, and surprisingly many of the show’s fans feel that they love it because it is fun guilty-pleasure entertainment with a hot cast. As one guy said,”It is so bad, you have to watch it.”

  • In response to the article I found it quite interesting that Dr. White decided to entitle her article “Small Pleasures.” I have been a true believer and have called my TV syndication addiction “pleasure seeking” for a couple of years now. I know can totally empathize to this article due to the fact that I have fell in and out of love with numerous amounts of TV shows throughout my lifetime. The love-hate relationship that I have grown to adapt to on classical shows such as I Love Lucy and the Andy Griffith show have carried over into my early adulthood of shows such as Seinfeld and Friends (which lasted for about 2 and a half months). I too tend to find attributes to an episode that I totally don’t agree with and begin to dislike the show all together. I also would like to agree with the statement that is oh so true of many sitcoms and television series; there is never anyone who looks like a “normal person.” Every actor on TV almost never has any flaws or always looks their best at their worst. Seldom (even on some reality shows) does the audience every see someone looking tacky or just as if they don’t care about their hair. And I too can relate when the actors on shows such as Sex and the City makes comments that appeal as if they are a part of the social norm, when in all actually they are truly a part of the social elite. Great article!

  • Samantha Garrett

    Perturbed but loving your outfit

    I had the exact reaction to the scene here magnified, and I remember thinking at my viewing time also, “Shows always do this.” They do, and it is annoying to the viewer sitting at home eating cereal in her running shorts and flip flops. The characters’ criticism of models seemed so trite, that I, as a loyal Sex and the City viewer, lost a lot of faith in the show. I enjoyed the fresh commentary on modern issues confronting women, whether they lived in Manhattan or a slightly less cosmopolitan setting. One can’t help but feel insulted by the shows’ writers assuming we’d take interest in hearing pretty people discuss what’s wrong with pretty people, not even noticing the deep irony in what they were saying. Among my friends, most of the conversation started while watching Sex and the City is about how pretty one character looks in this scene, or how we just adore their outfit at the club. Rarely do we throw our hands in the air, gasping, “How liberated and socially progressive these women are!” Frankly, it is the magazine writer’s job to discuss the underlying social implications of a show; viewers like to look at pretty actresses wearing trendy clothes and talk about a life we dream is not so far removed from our own. Through many other episodes in the series, I am troubled by petty lines or hackneyed themes. Because I am a loyal viewer though, I know that the amazing outfits will far outnumber these shortcomings in dialogue, so I sit back and continue to enjoy my Sex and the City.

  • Elizabeth Kinnison

    Now that over a decade has passed since this article was written, the problematic aspects of Sex and the City mentioned are more glaringly obvious. Case in point, the popular internet meme of “Woke Charlotte” pokes fun at different cringe-worthy scenes, addressing offenses like cultural appropriation, classism, transphobia, and white supremacy: https://i-d.vice.com/en_uk/article/ne4nk7/woke-charlotte-sex-and-the-city

    The show was capitalizing on third wave feminism and sex positivity but failed to recognize intersectionality. The women’s issues discussed on the show were from the perspective of wealthy white women – the glass ceiling, single motherhood, balancing work life and motherhood. When abortion was discussed, the unwanted pregnancy was potentially going to interfere with the character’s career and lifestyle. Lower class women have an entirely different set of reasons for considering abortions, in addition to career and lifestyle, so the show’s conversation on women’s issues pertains a very narrow cross-section of women.

    Even when it’s seemingly being progressive, it doubles backs. As mentioned by Mimi White, the show simultaneously praised Samantha for her unapologetic attitudes toward casual sex and punishes her with a breast cancer diagnosis and through the lens of other characters in the form of shock and judgment (particularly from Charlotte). For all these reasons I hate Sex and the City, and one could add that the characters are unlikable, materialistic, and obsessed with their social status and image. Not to mention the episode where Carrie claims that bisexuality is a myth. Oh dear.

    However, the vapidness of the characters is somewhat cathartic. For example, I find it shameful to spend more than $40 on shoes, but seeing someone else do it, seeing them care about material items and live in a consumerist bubble appeases a part of me that living in a capitalist society keeps alive. Also, they’re all nice to look at and never have any substantial problems, which is the appeal that many shows have (Friends, How I Met Your Mother, That 70s Show, New Girl). The fantasy of only having to worry about personal relationships and trivial problems gives the viewer vicarious pleasure.

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