During the television documentary that preceded the final episode of the series Sex and the City , the creator of the stories, Darren Star, commented that he and his co-writers would sit around talking until one of them mentioned a new idea so funny that he would "snot onto the keyboard". If this is how the series was actually written, it poses a fundamental problem for the contents of Reading Sex and the City .
Sex and the City is certainly a phenomenon worthy of academic study. But first the truth should be faced. What really induced millions of the British public to stay in on Friday night were the frank sexual discussion between four close women friends; the good-looking men who were dated and dumped with impunity; and the array of expensive clothes and über -cool New York City locations on display in every episode. The show was written around the popularity of these premises, and as its popularity grew, the creators could not afford to ignore them and be as creative as before; new ideas became scarce in the later episodes.
Reading Sex and the City is a collection of essays written by academics analysing the sociological, cultural and educational implications of the series. In most cases, the contributors come across as too clever for their subject. They relish analysing scenes much more closely than the material will bear, gazing deeply into situations that most probably did not get a second thought from their creators. Is it really credible, as suggested in an essay by the editors, that the opening credits of Sex and the City are meant to mirror every man's virgin/whore fantasy, with connotations of voyeurism and Carrie's desperation to be noticed, all in the space of about 15 seconds?
The book does have a few high points, usually where a contributor chooses a topic the creators also would have selected. The most notable example is Deborah Jermyn's essay on the friendship between the four women; also interesting are the several essays on the "fifth character": the clothes worn by the four actresses. But these excitements are few and far between.
Most of the book gets bogged down in writing about what should be the most interesting subject, the sex itself. The authors succeed in analysing and reducing the implications of this to a point where it is impossible to see it any longer as the humorous and daring spectacle it was on TV.
As already indicated, this book suffers from an identity crisis. The essays have po-faced titles such as "Orgasm and empowerment: Sex and the City and third-wave feminism", but there is a map of the girls' favourite hang-outs, and the ingredients for a perfect Cosmopolitan (the City dwellers' cocktail of choice). The introduction advises the reader to "curl up with this book and enjoy". So who is the book intended for - fans of the series or serious students of the phenomenon?
Toby Sprigings is a film and media critic.
Reading Sex and the City
Editor - Kim Akass and Janet McCabe
Publisher - Tauris
Pages - 2
Price - £12.95
ISBN - 1 85043 423 9