Sex and the City, and Centrality!
Yes, Sex and the City is about things central: Sex, of course, and New York. Sex and the City happens principally in Manhattan, and when the camera leaves Manhattan to shoot elsewhere: Brooklyn, Los Angeles etc. it is always a big event to speak about as a “vacation from the centrality” of Manhattan. I argue that New York is, indeed, presented as a centre, especially in its most central part, Manhattan. Then I shall show how some other cities depicted in the TV series, such as Paris, are shown in their most central aspect. I shall finish by some questions: how the TV mainstream series participate in city making and in the construction of the centre’s image?
Sex, the City and the melting pot
New York is presented as a melting pot, a real one. A simple look at the names of the four protagonist friends can reveal something. The four girls come and meat and become best friends in New York: a feature necessary for a city to be global is to gather people from the four corners of the world. In this City the four friends meet men from throughout the world: the rest of the United States, South America, Italy, France and Russia, amongst others. New York is presented as this ultimate melting pot where everyone is supposed to embrace a new self becoming a New Yorker.
I am quite curious about the choice of characters’ names: Charlotte York for example would represent a New York without “New”, plus a “Charlotte”, a typical “Wasp” name. Samantha Jones, with such a surname, would remind me of keeping up with the Joneses! How and why did the author, Candace Bushnell, choose those names and surnames for her protagonists? A very interesting question.
Sex and the City and New York: Manhattan and “everyday centrality”
“The next best thing to being there“, sex is second best to being in New York, in this global melting pot! Yet SATC concentrates on a specific part of New York: the Borough of Manhattan, the small isle which hosts most of the central functions New York has: The United Nations, the Stock Exchange on Wall Street, New York City Hall, Downtown, etc. Even its park is a “Central Park”. In brief, Manhattan respresents New York in its most global/central aspect. New York as a whole is global and great, but its globality is at peak in its most central part, Manhattan, according to Sex and the City.
This centrality of New York’s Manhattan is expressed in almost all the episodes. This centrality becomes banal, becomes what I can call “a banality of good”: it is a part of the hidden beauty of everyday life. The four girls are used to meeting at the Pastis Restaurant on Ninth Avenue, a place made famous with the series, and now to be closed by the end of 2013.
This “banality of good” is to be missed when not in New York; the four girls miss it when they are away and always cannot wait to go back to enjoy what seems “usual” and “routinely”, yet what makes it special at the same time. This “banality of good” can become a culmination of a successful career: Carrie Bradshaw, the narrator and the principal character, rings the Opening Bell at the New York Stock Exchange in Wall Street; a sign of becoming famous and closer to the centre, that is, the central functions of and in New York/Manhattan.
Sex and the City and Paris: choice of central places
Paris is one of the rare places where the city is presented as an “equal” to New York. In the last episodes of SATC there is a focus on two special places in Paris: The Plaza Athénée and the Kong Bar.
Here you are the video of Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) at the Kong Bar in Paris:
Plaza Athénée can be no suprise: it is a luxury hotel, famous, brilliant, beautiful. Not far from the Champs-Elysées and where one can see the Tour Eiffel: a typical Parisian representation… But the interesting choice is the Bar Kong, which is less known. Of course, economic and commercial factors could lead to choose this place, but there is a very central aspect of it: the Kong Bar is situated in the very physical and functional heart of Paris, between Châtelet and the Louvre, for those who know the city. Other places are not less central: Place du Louvre, just in front of the famous Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois church; Place Dauphine at the Ile de la Cité; the Pont des Arts by the Académie Française; and the Place Saint-Sulpice and some streets around. Except Saint-Sulpice’s, the rest are all situated on the grand axe of Paris, the central pivot of the city. The map below shows those places… It cannot be more central?
View Sex and the City in Paris in a larger map
In the sequel film Sex and the City 2 the most central place of Abu Dhabi, The Emirates Palace (Qasr al Imarat), is chosen as the luxury hotel where the four friends reside during their Emirati journey. It is again a “game of peers”: in order to be worthy, the place needs to be as central to its space as Manhattan in New York?
The mainstream TV series and series and the city image enhancement
This map shows percent change in New York residential property values from 2008 to 2012: it is clear that Manhattan has the most important part of the positive change, especially the “new places” around the isle, i.e. the quarters which are being gentified now. In Brooklyn it is remarkable to see the “Manhattan effect”, most of the increasing prices are actually situated off Manhattan, across the river. Manhattan is becoming more and more expensive. Can mainstream TV series and shows participate in this increase?
Yes, certainly they can. This question can be at the origin of some interesting research questions for geographers:
1- How the city’s public image is built? What is the centre of this public image? How this centre is articulated spatially and socially?
2- With the city marketing/branding the centre becomes more central and the periphery more peripheral?! This is, at least, what the map above is partially saying. How do mainstream TV series participate in the creation of more contrasts in the dichotomy centre/periphery?
3- How do mainstream TV series present city centres? I can cite some examples from simple superficial observations: In Desperate Housewives, a propaganda for Suburbia, the city centre is presented as unclean, overcrowded, and sometimes unliveable (in sharp contrast to Sex and the City where suburbs are boring, conservative, ugly, annoying, and “far from the centre). In The Good Wife Chicago is represented as a complete city, where the centre is articulated with suburbs and neighbourhoods of all kinds. Downton Abbey might be a sweet study on centrality: some procedures need the Crawleys to go to York. Some others, more complicated, do need a visit to London, seat of the more central functions.
In conclusion, TV series reflect viewpoints on centres and centralities, and with the time popular ones become factors and participate in the image building and discourse construction of the centre. Sex and the City is telling us a story about centrality, about how central places attract, assemble and transform human lives.
Photo and image Credit: IMDb, Vizynary, storytelling data, available on the link:
P.S.: Carrie Bradshaw, believe me, it is impossible to “visit all the museums of Paris” in one week. You may need years!