My Meta Moment

In the fourth grade I told my art teacher that anyone who was anyone was watching “Sex in the City.” I had overheard fragments of conversations between my parents, my mother and her friends, some of the female teachers at work and somehow had come to the conclusion - without watching a single episode - that this show about having sex in some city was the to watch. I’ll never forget the shock on Ms. Beauregard’s face as I announced it to my classmates at Woodward Academy, implying that not only were my parents watching this lewd show but I was as well. Perhaps it’s my imagination or revisionist history but I swear I saw a hint of a smile of recognition in her eyes. After all, she was a 30-something year-old woman, their target demographic. Surely she watched the show.

About a decade later the tv-gods shone down upon me and the show was put into syndication and on TBS, no less, making it accessible to teens queens and everyone in between. The watered down version contained awkward commercial breaks, the pitfalls of transitioning from HBO to network television, PG language and none of the sex scenes. All of that notwithstanding, I loved the show and didn’t mind being 10 years late to the party, at least I had finally arrived. And even though I wasn’t having any sex, and my city was just Atlanta, I still felt like I could relate to the tales of tragic romance. The same tales my mother and father watched years before on the big screen whilst lounging on the couches in the family room after my sister and I had gone to bed.

Fast forward to today. The Sex and the City empire has come and gone with six wonderful seasons and two stunning films and single people growing into adulthood are left without. No guide to getting older, no Sarah Jessica Parker one-liners and funny mishaps. Now we have Lena Dunham. At the risk of being yet another person that compares Girls to Sex and the City, the show has been my “Aha!” moment. So this is what life is really like, what I’m feeling is normal, it’s not just me that feels lost but rather my entire generation. Just like Sex and the City I came to the Girls train late. I can’t blame this one on child-blocked channels but rather my ignorance and general stubbornness to jump onto any bandwagon. When Girls first came out, everyone was talking about how it was the Sex and the City of our generation. I actively resisted that because Sex and the City  was the Sex and the City of my generation. Or at least it was to me. Though I have never been able to identify with being a 35-45 year old white woman, I still felt like so many of the themes were universal enough to speak to me as well.

In this new era of on demand and online programming, I’ve jumped on another bandwagon - binge watching television shows. Once I gave up and finally decided to start watching the show everyone had been raving about, Girls had just completed its first season. I binge watched the ten episodes in a week. I was hooked from the opening of the pilot. And now that I’ve gone through just about everything else on HBOgo, I found myself replaying old Sex and the City episodes. Zooming through seasons, watching and rewatching episodes I’d seen multiple times throughout my adolescence. In a matter of days Carrie had gone from Aiden to Big back to Aiden to no one, then Big again and finally landing on Berger as well as drastically different hairstyles and more fashion and shoes than I could ever imagine. I find myself completely enthralled by the show even though I watch it out of order and I’ve seen most of the episodes at least once, if not twice before. The inclusion of the raw, unedited sex scenes was startling at first, and hearing the original language has definitely made it a different experience, but it’s not just the profanity for which I’m finally age appropriate but rather the subject matter. I find myself picking up on details I never noticed before and connecting with the characters and the relationships in ways that surprised me.

As I grow and journey off into the great abyss that is the Real World post-grad postmortem, I find myself seeing the dream-like aspects of the show that critics point out retrospectively. Lena Dunham characterized Girls as the story of twenty-somethings who grew up watching Sex and the City and moved to New York expecting the bags, the shoes, the gays and the upper-east side/Park avenue apartments but found themselves struggling to pay their rent in Bushwick. Meanwhile, I find myself on the opposite side of the country paying ten dollars more a month for my room in an apartment in West Hollywood than Carrie Bradshaw paid for her rent-control loft at 245 E. 73rd st. circa season 4. This dreamworld paired with my overactive imagination and not so secret love of all things real housewives, causes me to blur the lines between my desire for escapism and the bounds of my current reality.

In a meta moment, right during the peak of my Girls season 1 immersion/obsession, I began writing a series of essays. I started writing them almost ironically because Hannah Horvath used that as her personal description and career objectives. I liked the way she foresaw the book being a certain number of essays but ultimately she couldn’t write it because she had to “live them first.” So as I sat at my computer writing a collection of personal essays and enjoying the feeling of living in that fictional world with which I had quickly become so obsessed, the irony slowly drifted away and I was left with the raw truth about my love life and my past relationships with people I hadn’t thought about in years making appearances. I was reliving the old drama and feeling all of those buried emotions again so as to be able to write the best collection of essays that could be the voice of my generation “or at least, a voice of a generation.”

It wasn’t until my Sex and the City binge that I realized just how meta I was being. I was writing a collection of essays about my life and my relationships because that’s what Hannah was doing. And while the parallel isn’t quite as literal between these fictional characters as between myself and Hannah, in season 5 Carrie is approached by her editor and asked to publish a book titled Sex and the City meant to be a collection of her 35 favorite columns. A collection of essays each written independently of the other about relationships and life experiences. It could be the logline of any of the three books - the two fictional ones and mine - as well as millions of other memoirs and tell-alls. It’s not a particularly new or unique idea for a book but the realization was striking nonetheless.

The show is like a piece of cultural history. A land frozen in time. One can no longer watch the show for sheer entertainment, as we move farther and farther away from its heyday it becomes more and more like a period piece, a cultural landmark of the history of American television. The show was groundbreaking in the way it dealt with subject matter and it revolutionized the way people thought about television. Not to mention the fact that seemingly every actor made a cameo on it, including but certainly not limited to Becky Ann Baker who plays Miranda’s sister, Betsy, in a passing shot at the hospital in season 4 episode 8, “My Motherboard, My Self.” Perhaps I’m just looking for connections now but I like to think that was no mistake on the part of casting her as Hannah’s severely disillusioned mother.

Watching the show makes me wonder what’s next. It’s been said that HBO has been searching for the new Sex and the City ever since it went off the air. It was said that Entourage was meant to be the straight man’s response to Sex and the City and countless shows include the collection of four best friends, with three who represent dramatized archetypes and the fourth who is at the center and contains aspects of each but no show has paralleled the success of Sex and the City. And because New York was one of, if not the, main character in the whole show, the experience of living in New York while the show was in its prime was said to be magical in and of itself. In the words of my former boss from my brief stint in the fashion industry, “you could hardly ‘round a corner without running into a camera crew and flood lights.” They filmed everywhere, all the time. In restaurants, on the street. The experience of being a New Yorker during the age of Sex and the City was far more than Brief Nudity, Adult Content and Adult Language on Sunday’s at 9PM on HBO. It was a part of your daily routine. Talk about meta. Or maybe it’s just invasive.

So then where do we go from here? And is that question even relevant? Maybe there doesn’t need to be a replacement, a new Sex and the City, because the original still works. The stories are classic, the writing still as poignant and thanks to the beauty of online streaming, it’s always accessible at the viewer’s disposal for as long as the platform exists. The only aspect that’s missing is that the topical references are no longer so topical. It’s a weird feeling to see things popping up into my life that were cutting edge and brand new when they were happening on the show. Though many of the places are still around, they aren’t brand new and exciting in the way they were on the show. There are even Sex and the City tours through New York that many people take to see the different sites mentioned on the show. The empire became much bigger than itself in a way that few shows are able, or even have the capacity to do. Especially a show that’s generally not widely accessible because of it’s subject matter and content.

For now, I don’t have any answers to these questions. And save for writing this down at 5 AM, I try not to keep myself up at night thinking about it. I’m just going to continue to enjoy the show on repeat into eternity and recognize that it is going to fundamentally shape my work and it has very much affected my outlook on the world and the things I want out of life but I hope that this consciousness will help me control it and harness the positives as an artistic influence rather than subconsciously, or consciously, try to recreate the world for myself in my own work and more generally in my life.