Die, "Sex and the City," die!

The show ended six years ago, but writers can't stop invoking it as a lazy cultural reference. Make it stop!

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published December 3, 2010 4:04PM (EST)

The cast of "Sex and the City"
The cast of "Sex and the City"

Hey, writers -- trying to pull together a story on dating in the "age of female empowerment"?  Obviously there's one reference in the entire canon of pop culture to make. Earlier this week, it was enough to make both Slate and NPR plead for mercy when Katrin Bennhold trotted out a reference to a 10-year-old episode of "Sex and the City" to make a point about how intimidating successful women are these days.  But metaphoric laziness doesn't stop at lady-based trend pieces.

Why not muse, in a design story, about how a robin's egg and hot pink rug is straight out of a certain decade-old HBO series? As, by the way, is the vibe at a trendy, cocktail-serving hair salon. Why not use a science piece about "the slut gene" to refer to a Kim Cattrall character? Or take a cue from Carrie and Big for a story on shopping for engagement rings?

All of which writers for the New York Daily News, Wall Street Journal, Globe and Mail and the Vancouver Sun have done -- in the past 24 hours alone. "Sex and the City": It's the all-purpose metaphor for everything that happens in the world. Go ahead and Google the title along with the words "WikiLeaks" or "Sarah Palin" if you think I'm kidding. Please, God, make it stop now.

Critics may perpetually deride the shallowness of the show -- and you'll get no argument from me that the movies sucked -- but the endurance of its pithy catchphrases ("He's just not that into you" really is the Occam's razor of relationship advice), copious eye candy and resonant commentary on female friendship are a testament to the timelessness of its themes and the visually exuberant way it explored them. Six years after going off the air, new flocks of would-be Carries would not still be lining up for bus tours of her favorite hot spots if it were just all about the Manolos and cosmos. Sarah Jessica Parker would not be gracing the cover of the brand new Elle if women weren't still identifying with the romantically challenged, sartorially out there character she first personified 12 years ago.  The show touched a nerve, one that will flare up every time someone, somewhere, comes down with a case of toxic boyfriend.

But there comes a time when professional writers must stop asking, "Where's the beef?" They must retire the use of Tony Soprano in their references to Italian Americans, comparing anything vaguely offbeat to "Twin Peaks," and insisting that "The truth is out there." Over the show's six-year history, the four ladies of "Sex and the City" got married, had children, changed careers and went through enough outfits to clothe a small Central American nation. The girls may not have been perfect, but they could never have been accused of staying stuck in a rut. Neither, no doubt, could many of the rest of us. Like last year's Jimmy Choos and the whole Aidan thing, "Sex and the City" is over. And if pundits are still looking to Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte for inspiration, maybe they could emulate them best by moving the hell on.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Media Criticism Sex And The City