There’s a battle raging right now on Twitter about the receptions of two shows. HBO’s mob drama-slash-family soap opera The Sopranos and HBO’s writer drama-slash girl gang soap opera Sex and the City and, obviously as happens with so many of these kinds of debates, it has turned into a battle of the sexes.
The Sopranos clearly appeals to the male fantasy, after all don’t men spend their days fantasising about murdering their best friends due to betrayals of trust, having abusive mothers, panic attacks and needing therapy and having their family fall apart before their eyes before, presumably, being shot in the head and fading to black?
Sex and the City clearly appeals to the female fantasy, after all don’t women spend their days fantasising going through endless dramas, relationships, make-ups, break-ups, getting cancer, losing jobs, having unhappy marriages, terrible families, having to balance all of that with a career and then finally having it all wrap up in the end because at least you end up with the right man?
To an extent they’re both ludicrous, both dated, both sexist and both stupid – I should know, I’ve watched both.
Now I know the question you’re asking. Why would a manly man in his 30s have seen all of Sex and the City, were you drunk/high/trying to get laid and the answer is – another question! Why does that matter? (also you’re a massive sexist, but let me explain where I think the problem lies.)
Did I relate more to one than the other? Yes. The Sopranos spoke more to me than Sex and the City but did I feel one more valid than the other? One ‘better’ than the other? No.
I think the issue lies in interpretation, not sex and gender. I’m a working-class bloke and yet I’ve seen musicals, opera, plays, TV shows of all kinds, anime, paintings, sculpture etc. etc. There are some things I love (like music) and some things I enjoy less (like paintings) but there is validity in all of it. Were some of these things stuff that, as a man, of my class, I shouldn’t be indulging in? Why yes. But in the famous words of Rage Against the Machine “fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!” There’s a reason I want to take it all in, and that is because often those things that are the least relatable to me are the things that can teach me most about myself and others.
The problem that I think we are dealing with is one of frames of reference.
We can look at all art as valid, and ask what of ourselves, if anything, we see in it. If we see nothing of ourselves we can ask ourselves why.
Or we can look for the art we see some of ourselves in, ask why we see nothing of ourselves in everything else, and ask the art why.
In one, art is a mirror for self; we probe the mirror to get a virtual, reflected image of us. Sometimes it isn’t accurate, sometimes we see other things we recognise reflected and sometimes, like Count Dracula, we see no reflection at all, but merely take in the ambience of the scene.
In the other, our selves are the mirror and art must be reflected in us to be valid. If we do not see our own selves reflected back at us it must be the art that’s the problem. It’s not taking into account X, Y or Z issue, not reflecting X, Y or Z culture.
Now don’t get me wrong, a lack of representation is definitely an issue in media. In the western, American-European dominated sphere, anyway. But I rarely get the feeling that’s what people are arguing about.
In this instance the issue I am seeing is that a show about so-called ‘white men’ (although the question of whether Italian-Americans can be considered ‘white’ in American culture is a whooooole different discussion) is only considered ‘better’ than a show about white women because men.
Yet is there something of all of us reflected in each? Definitely. The Sopranos features some of the best written female characters in modern television and Sex and the City has some surprisingly insightful moments that can inform men about the juggling act of masculinity and strength versus emotion and vulnerability. Neither is a unisex experience. If anything they’re all very trans exclusionary!
What is more, certain experiences are neither male, female or non-binary, neither black nor white, they’re of no fixed religion, no specific identity, they’re universal.
On that note, though, here are my recommendations – If you want a great show about the bittersweet nature of success as it causes your whole life to collapse around you watch Bojack Horseman. If you want a humorous look at what it is to be a woman in modern Western society, balancing old-fashioned misogynistic expectations with your hopes, dreams and ambitions watch Tuca and Bertie. Both are not Netflix, both are fantastic and certainly Tuca and Bertie did not get the love or respect it deserves.