The trouble with dated media

“Sex and the City” asks us to consider how much tasteless content can be excused because of old age.

(Ally Marecek / Daily Trojan)

Content warning: This article contains references to homophobia, biphobia and racism.

Some media is clearly a product of its time. Sometimes, the media will get removed, scrubbed from viewing because it is so disturbingly offensive. Or, sometimes, the shows are still celebrated as classics, but to any critically thinking individual, it’s clear that those shows should be left behind. Other times, it’s just not that simple.

As I walked through University Park Campus, crossing Trousdale Parkway, I couldn’t help but wonder: Are we allowed to like dated media?

Yes, that was my best attempt at Carrie Bradshaw writing because today, I am grappling with my love-hate relationship with “Sex and the City.”

I have fallen in love with “Sex and the City” this semester. The fabulous lives of beautiful New York women make for an undoubtedly fabulous show.

I would not go so far as to call it proper feminism, but there are important conversations about womanhood — albeit centered around privileged, conventionally attractive, straight white women. Any storyline that does not deal with heterosexual white people is poorly written, not taken seriously and quite often offensive.

I want to make it abundantly clear that I do not think “SATC” should be necessarily celebrated as a win for feminism. But there are certain aspects of the show that can be admired, especially concerning society’s expectations for women.

Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte struggle with disrespect in the workplace, slut-shaming and the pressure to conform to the American nuclear family. Social media often calls for more complex female characters — and Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte provide that in full.

Though what strikes me the most about the show is its beautiful depiction of women’s friendships. The women fight and argue, but they always love each other. The show — which markets itself with “sex” — follows the women’s relationships with (almost always) men. The four women are always looking for sex, love or marriage.

But the true love story of the show is between the friends.

Throughout the show, the women get promoted, go through breakups, grieve family members. Men come and go, but their friendship is forever. When a show centers so much on women’s love lives, it would be easy to lose the narrative to one that is centered around men. I’ll let Carrie explain:

“The most important thing in life is your family. There are days you love them and others you don’t, but in the end, they’re the people you always come home to. Sometimes it’s the family you’re born into and sometimes it’s the one you make for yourself.”

That being said, as a show from the late ’90s to early 2000s, it occasionally shows its age. And when it does, it’s bad.

It’s easy to fall into a “SATC” binge — episodes fly by in seemingly minutes. Then, all of a sudden, Carrie is saying, “I’m not even sure bisexuality exists. I think it’s just a layover on the way to gaytown.” This quote is just one of many cases where the show utterly failed to respect LGBTQIA+ characters, stories and identities.   

It’s disturbing to see this line played for laughs — and the fact that people believed that (and some people still do). We see now the “SATC” creators trying to undo their harm in the spin-off “And Just Like That…” which features a nonbinary main character and a queer relationship — albeit a poorly written one.    

The new show does not undo the original’s harm. In another tough moment for the modern viewer, Samantha briefly entered a relationship with another woman and the other three women responded by saying: “She’s not a lesbian; she just ran out of men.”

The show also had virtually no characters of color. If one was added, they were a short-term fling with no discerning personality besides racial stereotypes.

Can these archaic ideas and depictions be excused as a product of their time?

It’s clear that the show, its actors and writers have progressed in their ideologies. There was less education about and representation of LGBTQIA+ topics in the early 2000s. Still, Cynthia Nixon — the actress of Miranda — is queer and came out in 2004. She has long been an advocate for LGBTQIA+ rights.

So, the members of the show were not truly unaware of LGBTQIA+ identities. But the types of jokes they were making were normalized at the time. I can’t get in the heads of the show’s writers; I also can’t speak to the culture of the time — I was not even a full year old by the time the final episode of the original “Sex and the City” aired. 

And just like that, this issue is still something I’m dealing with.

I can’t tell you what to watch or not watch, and I don’t want to. “Sex and the City” is nowhere near the greatest problem in the media. More blatantly queerphobic content is still being produced today. 

There’s no neat answer or wrap-up for this column installment. As viewers, all we can do is be thoughtful in our consumption. 

Kimberly Aguirre is a junior writing about comedy. Her column, “Comic Relief,” runs every other Thursday. She is also an associate managing editor at the Daily Trojan.

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