They once called women the "fairer sex," the civilizers of men, the paragons of reticence and manners. Then along came feminism, which promised women that they, too, could be loutish, horny, greedy and profane. Today, that perspective is not just stylish, it's the toast of television.
"Sex and the City" is the media-darling series on that sleazy media-darling channel HBO, which could stand for Horny, Bawdy and Obnoxious. Now that the pay-cable channel's original episodes are finished, HBO has cashed in some more by selling a slightly edited version of the show to TBS. A whole new audience that doesn't pay premium prices for soft porn now can get the same slutty product, diluted -- with a little less nudity and the word "freaking" where the obscenity used to be.
For that portion of the TV audience that hasn't had the pleasure of reading all about this series, it's about four New York City women friends -- Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda and extra-sexaholic Samantha -- taking turns being, well, loutish, horny, greedy and profane. Young girls watching the show are being instructed by the HBO producers that what they should want in life is sexual liberation and materialistic self-absorption. Life on the series revolves around a clumsy succession of sexual partners, scheduled in between bouts of flouncing through fancy restaurants in $500 Manolo Blahnik shoes.
For years, parents have had to contemplate a double whammy of sleazy TV series. First, they have to worry about the show in prime time, and then they had to worry about the show being syndicated and perhaps airing earlier -- oftentimes, much, much earlier in the day. You can now see bare butts on "NYPD Blue" on TNT at 2 p.m. in the afternoon, with your kids asking about the episode titles, "Mom, what's a 'tushful of dollars'?" Over on TBS, your children can spend the summer watching the high-school sex-capades of "Dawson's Creek" at 10 and 11 in the morning.
But TBS knows that "Sex and the City" is an even raunchier ride, and those episodes are slotted at 10 PM Eastern, a time usually left for the really "edgy" shows like "South Park." Yet even with the editing, the girls of "Sex" outdo just about anything else considered risque during that time slot.
Predictably, cultural commissars are crying foul. How dare their dearly beloved boink-boink show be mercilessly "sanitized"! The New York Times protests, "It's a tad sweeter, a bit less in-your-face, more of a sentimental journey -- still full of insight and wit, but with the emotion dialed up and the sexual revelation dialed way down." They also really missed the F words. In one episode, they lamented, "Margaret Cho's sharp-tongued fashion show producer seems simply blandly hyper without her Tourette's vocabulary."
You decide if this is a tad sweet. In one of the first episodes on TBS, Samantha insists on getting a set of nude photographs of herself done. Why? "So when I'm old and my tits are in my shoes, I can look at it and say, 'damn I was hot.'" In the other plotline, prudish Charlotte is assessed by a gynecologist of having a "depressed vagina." The girls discuss this subject ad nauseam, with the V-word popping up every few minutes.
In another episode, Miranda is having sex with a bartender she's known for, oh, about two hours. Viewers hear panting and moaning and see one pair of feet pointing up, another pair pointing down. Carrie narrates: "After work they went back to her place where Steve the bartender served Miranda two orgasms, straight up."
Minutes later, Samantha is moving quickly into sex in a dark room with an older man named Ed, until she sees his bare rear end -- as does the viewer, in fully lit glory. Carrie again narrates as Samantha leaves in horror: "Ed's lips were not the lips of an older man. Ed's touch was not the touch of an older man ... Unfortunately, Ed's ass was the ass of an older man."
The episode title was "The Man, The Myth, The Viagra." To illuminate the crude nature of the series consider these other episode titles: "The F--- Buddy," "Old Dogs, New Dicks," "Cock-a-Doodle-Do," "Politically Erect," and the poetically perfect "Are We Sluts?"
This, to the critics, is defined as a "sentimental journey."
Series creator Darren Star was happy to create 94 episodes of "Sex" to challenge America, which he thinks is "repressed and puritanical." Now that attempt to make pay-cable TV safe for the vilest language and the crudest behavior is going mainstream, from HBO's 26 million subscribers to the much larger regular cable-TV landscape.
It's only a matter of time before "Sex and the City" is syndicated further, and earlier. Perhaps just in time for Johnny to catch it after he gets off the school bus.