Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong's "Sex and the City and Us"

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong grew up in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, where she spent most of her time putting on shows in her parents’ garage, studying TV Guide, devouring Sweet Valley High books, and memorizing every note of every George Michael song. This finally came in handy when she got a job at Entertainment Weekly, where she worked for a decade. She’s now the TV columnist for BBC Culture and also writes for several other publications, including The New York Times Book Review, Fast Company, Vulture, and Billboard. She’s the author of the New York Times bestseller Seinfeldia: The Secret World of the Show About Nothing that Changed Everything and a history of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted. She now lives in Manhattan.

Armstrong applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Sex and the City and Us: How Four Single Women Changed the Way We Think, Live, and Love, and reported the following:
My page 99 is largely dedicated to male critics expressing disdain for Sex and the City’s objectification of men and its “hollow and predictable … portrait of the desperation of the over-30 single woman.” This checks out: It’s a theme throughout my book because it’s a theme that ran throughout the show’s six-year run, not to mention its afterlife. Sex and the City has always struggled for the respect it deserves, and it’s often been reduced to a caricature, but it was more than just a silly show about sex, shoes, and cosmopolitans. I couldn’t have written an entire book about it otherwise.

The early reviews of the show were hilariously melodramatic about their fear of this series celebrating sexually independent single women—and their concern over how straight men would feel, as the women, for instance, discussed a man’s unimpressive penis size. They were also very, very mean at times. (The Washington Post’s Tom Shales, in particular, loved to go after the actresses’ physical appearances, and another male critic called the character of Samantha a “slut.”) This demonstrates the power the show had. It wouldn’t be so scary if it weren’t pushing a seismic shift in perceptions of single women over 30.

Even its glitzier aspects played to this power. The shoes, the nights out, the clothes, and the other indulgences made these women’s lives look enviable. They turned single women from cat ladies into the women everyone wanted to be. They made women want to ask each other, “Are you a Carrie, a Charlotte, a Miranda, or a Samantha?”

In the end, that’s what Sex and the City and Us is about: It’s about the Sex and the City characters and stories that made fans want to live in that world, and it’s about what that meant to all of us. Many young women and men have moved to New York City looking for their own Sex and the City. The show taught us about sex, relationships, friendship, and how to express ourselves through outrageous fashion. In short, it changed lives. I should know. The first line of my introduction is, “I left my fiancé for Sex and the City.”

That’s hardly hollow, predictable, or desperate.
Visit Jennifer Keishin Armstrong's website.

My Book, The Movie: Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted.

The Page 99 Test: Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted.

The Page 99 Test: Seinfeldia.

--Marshal Zeringue