Category Sexuality


Adorno, T. (1993) The culture industry: enlightenment as mass deception, in S. During (ed.) The Cultural Studies Reader. London and New York: Routledge.

Altman, R. (1999) Film/Genre. London: British Film Institute.

Ang, I. (1991) Desperately Seeking the Audience. London: Routledge.

Ang, I. (1996) Living Room Wars: Rethinking Media Audiences for a Postmodern World. London: Routledge.

Ang, I. (1998) Desperately Seeking the Audience, 2nd edn. London: Routledge.

Arthurs, J. (1999) Revolting women: the body in comic performance, in J. Arthurs and J. Grimshaw (eds) Women’s Bodies: Discipline and Transgression. London: Cassell.

Babuscio, J. (1984) Camp and the gay sensibility, in R. Dyer (ed.) Gays and Film. New York: Zoetrope.

Backstein, K. (2001) Soft love: the romantic vision of sex on the Showtime Network. Television and New Media, 2(4): 303-17.

Bakhtin, M. (1984) Rabelais and His World. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Ballaster, E., Beetham, M., Frazer, E. and Hebron, S. (1991) Women’s Worlds: Ideology, Femininity and the Woman’s Magazine. London: Macmillan Education.

Bauman, Z. (2003) Liquid Love. Cambridge: Polity Press.

BBCi (2001) Money Programme Home Page (http://news. bbc. co. uk). Accessed 10 April.

Beck, U. and Beck-Gernsheim, E. (2002) Individualization: Institutional Individualism and Its Social and Political Consequences. London: Sage.

Bell, D. and Binnie, J. (2000) The Sexual Citizen: Queer Politics and Beyond. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Bell, E. (2003) Souffle and jelly bill won’t worry Murdoch. Guardian, 11 July.

Bennet, T., Boyd-Bowman, S., Mercer, C. and Woollacott, J. (eds) (1981) Popular Film and Television. London: British Film Institute.

Berlant, L. and Duggan, L. (eds) (2001) Our Monica, Ourselves: The Clinton Affair and the National Interest. New York: New York University Press.

Berry, C., Hamilton, A. and Jayamane, L. (eds) (1997) The Film-maker and the Prostitute: Denis O’Rourke’s ‘The Good Woman of Bangkok’. Sydney: Power Publications.

Bhattacharyya, G. (2002) Sexuality and Society: An Introduction. London: Routledge.

Billington, P. (2000) A Manchester heterotopia? ‘Queer as Folk’, in Sensing the City through Television. Bristol: Intellect.

Bird, E. S. (1997) What a story! Understanding the audience for scandal, in J. Lull and S. Hinerman (eds) Media Scandals. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Bocock, R. (1997) Choice and regulation: sexual moralities, in K. Thompson (ed.) Media and Cultural Regulation. London: Sage/Open University.

Bolter, J. and Gruisin, R. (1999) Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Bourdieu, P. (1984) Distinction — A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. London: Routledge.

Bowlby, R. (1993) Shopping with Freud. London: Routledge.

Bragg, S. and Buckingham, D. (2002) Young People and Sexual Content on Television: A Review of the Research. London: Broadcasting Standards Commission.

Bristow, J. (1997) Sexuality. London: Routledge.

Broadcasting Standards Commission (1999) Finding: Sex and Shopping (www. bsc. org. uk). Accessed 12 June 2001.

Broadcasting Standards Commission (2002) Finding: Brass Eye Special (www. bsc. org. uk). Accessed on 15 September 2002.

Brooks, A. (1997) Postfeminisms: Feminism. Cultural Theory and Cultural Forms. London: Routledge.

Brooks, D. (2000) Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Brown, M. (2003) Countdown to a new order. Guardian, 1 December.

Brunsdon, C. (1990) Problems with quality. Screen, 31(1): 67—90.

Brunsdon, C. (1997) Identity in feminist television criticism, in C. Brunsdon, J. D’Acci and L. Spigel (eds) Feminist Television Criticism: A Reader. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Bruzzi, S. (2000) New Documentary: A Critical Introduction. London: Routledge.

Buckingham, D. and Bragg, S. (2003) Young People, Media and Personal Relationships. London: Advertising Standards Authority, British Board of Film Classification, British Broadcasting Corporation, Broadcasting Standards Commission, Independent Television Commission.

Buckingham, D. and Bragg, S. (2004) Young People, Sex and the Media: The Facts of Life? Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Butler, J. (1990) Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. London: Routledge.

Capsuto, S. (2000) Alternate Channels: The Uncensored Story of Gay and Lesbian Images on Radio and Television. New York: Ballantine Books.

Carson, B. (2000) Cultural hybridity, masculinity and nostalgia, in B. Carson and M. Llewellyn – Jones (eds) Frames and Fictions on Television: The Politics of Identity within Drama. Exeter: Intellect Books.

Carson, B. and Llewellyn-Jones, M. (eds) (2000) Frames and Fictions on Television: The Politics of Identity within Drama. Exeter: Intellect Books.

Carter, C., Branston, G. and Allan, S. (eds) (1998) News, Gender and Power. London: Routledge.

Cartwright, L. (1998) A cultural anatomy of the visible human project, in P. A. Treichler, L. Cartwright and C. Penley, The Visible Woman: Imaging Technologies, Gender and Science. New York: New York University Press.

Caughie, J. (2000) TV Drama: Realism, Modernism and British Culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Chris, C. (2002) All documentary, all the time? Discovery Communications Inc. and trends in cable television. Television and New Media, 3(1): 7—28.

Clark, D. (1990) Cagney and Lacey: feminist strategies of detection, in M. E. Brown (ed.)

Television and Women’s Culture. The Politics of the Popular. London: Sage.

Coles, R. (1998) Feelin’s, in M. Merck (ed.) After Diana: Irreverent Elegies. London: Verso. Compaine, M. and Gomery, D. (2000) Who Owns the Media? Competition and Concentration in the Mass Media Industry. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Couldry, N. (2003) Media Rituals: A Critical Approach. London: Routledge.

Creeber, G. (2001a) Intimacy, continuity and memory in the TV drama serial. Media, Culture and Society, 23(4): 439—53.

Creeber, G. (2001b) The Wednesday Play and Play for Today, in G. Creeber (ed.) The Television Genre Book. London: British Film Institute.

Creeber, G. (ed.) (2001c) The Television Genre Book. London: British Film Institute.

Critcher, C. (2003) Moral Panics and the Media. Buckingham: Open University Press.

Crowther, B. (1995) Towards a feminist critique of television natural history programmes, in P. Florence and D. Reynolds (eds) Feminist Subjects: Multimedia: Cultural Methodologies. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Curran, J. (1996) Mass media and democracy revisited, in J. Curran and M. Gurevitch (eds) Mass Media and Society. London: Arnold.

Curran, J. and Seaton, J. (1997) Power without Responsibility. London: Routledge.

D’Acci, J. (1994) Defining Women: Television and the Case of Cagney and Lacey. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

D’Acci, J. (2002) Gender representation and television, in T. Miller (ed.) Television Studies. London: British Film Institute.

Doezema, J. (2001) Ouch! Western feminists’ wounded attachment to the Third World prostitute.

Feminist Review, 67(1): 16—29.

Donnelly, K. (2001) Discovery Channel and Walking with Dinosaurs, in G. Creeber (ed.) The Television Genre Book. London: British Film Institute.

Doty, A. and Gove, B. (1997) Queer representation in the mass media, in A. Medhurst and S. Munt (eds) Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader. London: Cassell.

Dovey, J. (2000) Freakshow: First Person Media and Factual Television. London: Pluto Press. Dow, B. (1996) Prime-time Feminism: Television, Media Culture and the Women’s Movement since 1970. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Elias, N. (1994) The Civilizing Process. Volume 1: History of Manners. Oxford: Blackwell.

Ellis, J. (2000) Seeing Things: Television in the Age of Uncertainty. London: I. B. Tauris.

Epstein, D. and Johnson, R. (1998) Schooling Sexualities. Buckingham: Open University Press.

Featherstone, M. (1991a) The body in consumer culture, in M. Featherstone, M. Hepworth and S. Turner (eds) The Body: Social Process and Cultural Theory. London: Sage.

Featherstone, M. (1991b) Consumer Culture and Postmodernism. London: Sage.

Feminist Review (2001) Special issue on sex work, 67(1).

Feuer, J. (1995) Seeing through the Eighties: Television and Reaganism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Foucault, M. (1988) The Care of the Self. History of Sexuality, Volume 3. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Foucault, M. (1990) The History of Sexuality, Volume 1, An Introduction. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Fraser, N. (1995) Politics, culture and the public sphere: towards a postmodern conception, in

L. Nicholson and S. Seidman (eds) Social Postmodernism: Beyond Identity Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Freud, S. (1991) Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious. London: Penguin (first published 1916).

Friday, N. (1976) My Secret Garden: Women’s Sexual Fantasies. London: Quartet Books.

Friday, N. (1991) Women on Top: How Real Life Has Changed Women’s Sexual Fantasies. London: Hutchinson.

Frith, S. (1996) Entertainment, in J. Curran and M. Gurevitch (eds) Mass Media and Society. London: Arnold.

Frow, J. (1995) Cultural Studies and Cultural Value. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Gamman, L. (1988) Watching the detectives: the enigma of the female gaze, in L. Gamman and

M. Marshment (eds) The Female Gaze. London: The Women’s Press.

Gamson, J. (2001) Jessica Hahn, media whore: sex scandals and female publicity. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 18(2): 157—73.

Garnett, T. (2001) Interview with Tony Garnett on Taboo, BBC2, 26 November.

Garnham, N. (1990) The political economy of the production of culture, in F. Inglis (ed.) Capitalism and Communication. London: Sage.

Garnham, N. (2000) Emancipation, the Media and Modernity: Arguments about the Media and Social Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Gauntlett, D. (2002) Media, Gender and Identity: An Introduction. London: Routledge. Gauntlett, D. and Hill, A. (1999) TV Living: Television, Culture and Everyday Life. London: Routledge.

Gibson, J. (1999a) Get your kit on. Guardian (G2 Supplement), 8 June.

Gibson, J. (1999b) Gay programme upsets viewers. Guardian, 22 June.

Giddens, A. (1992) The Transformation of Intimacy: Sexuality, Love and Eroticism in Modern Societies. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Gitlin, T. (1994) Inside Prime Time. London: Routledge.

Glyn, K. (2000) Tabloid Culture: Trash Taste, Popular Power, and the Transformation of American TV. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Graham, P. (1995) Girl’s camp: the politics of parody, in T. Wilton (ed.) Immortal, Invisible: Lesbians and the Moving Image. London: Routledge.

Greer, G. (2000) The Whole Woman. London: Doubleday.

Gronbeck, B. E. (1997) Character, celebrity, and sexual innuendo in the mass-mediated presidency, in J. Lull, and S. Hinerman (eds) Media Scandals: Morality and Desire in the Popular Culture Marketplace. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Gross, L. (1989) Out of the mainstream: sexual minorities and the mass media, in E. Seiter, H. Borchers, G. Kreutzner and E. Warth (eds) Television, Audiences and Cultural Power. London: Routledge.

Gunter, B. (2002) Media Sex: What Are the Issues? Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Gwenllian Jones, S. (2000) Histories, fictions, and Xena: Warrior Princess. Television and New Media, 1(4): 403-18.

Gwenllian Jones, S. (2002) Gender and queerness, in T. Miller (ed.) Television Studies. London: British Film Institute.

Habermas, J. (1991) The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Hall, S. (1990) Cultural identity and diaspora, in J. Rutherford (ed.) Identity: Community, Culture, Difference. London: Lawrence and Wishart.

Hall, S. (1996) New ethnicities, in D. Morley and K.-H. Chen (eds) Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies. London and New York: Routledge (first published 1988).

Hallam, J. and Marshment, M. (2000) Realism and Popular Cinema. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Haraway, D. (1990) Investment strategies for the evolving portfolio of primate females, in M. Jacobus, E. Fox Keller and S. Shuttleworth (eds) Body/Politics: Women and the Discourse of Science. London: Routledge.

Haraway, D. (1991) A cyborg manifesto: science, technology and socialist feminism in the late twentieth century, in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge.

Haraway, D. (1992) The promise of monsters: a regenerative politics for inappriopriate/d others, in L. Grossberg, C. Nelson and P Treichler (eds) Cultural Studies Reader. New York: Routledge.

Haraway, D. (1997) The virtual speculum in the new world order, Feminist Review, 55: 22-72.

Harding, J. (1998) Sex Acts: Practices of Femininity and Masculinity. London: Sage.

Hartley, J. (1999) Uses of Television. London and New York: Routledge.

Hartley, J. (2002) The constructed viewer, in T. Miller (ed.) Television Studies. London: British Film Institute.

Harvey, S. (1998) Doing it my way – broadcasting regulation in capitalist cultures: the case of ‘fairness and impartiality’. Media, Culture and Society, 20(4): 535-56.

Hennessy, R. (1995) Queer visibility in commodity culture, in L. Nicholson and S. Seidman

(eds) Social Postmodernism: Beyond Identity Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Herman, E. S. and McChesney, R. W. (1997) The Global Media: The New Missionaries of Corporate Capitalism. London: Cassell.

Hewett, P. and Jowell, T. (2002) A New Future for Communications (http://www. com- municationsbill. gov. uk/policy_narrative/550800.html). Accessed 17 June 2002.

Hills, M. (2002) Fan Cultures. London: Routledge.

Hinds, H. (1997) Fruitful investigations: the case of the successful lesbian text, in C. Brunsdon, J. D’Acci and L. Spigel (eds) Feminist Television Criticism: A Reader. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Hinds, H. and Stacey, J. (2001) Imaging feminism, imaging femininity: the bra burner, Diana and the woman who kills. Feminist Media Studies, 1(2): 153-77.

Hinerman, S. (1997) (Don’t) leave me alone: tabloid narrative and the Michael Jackson child – abuse scandal, in J. Lull and S. Hinerman (eds) Media Scandals. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Hirschmann, E. C. (1992) The consciousness of addiction: towards a general theory of com­pulsive consumption. Journal of Consumer Research, 19: 155-79.

Hollows, J. (2000) Feminism, Femininity and Popular Culture. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Holt, L. (1998) Diana and the backlash, in M. Merck (ed.) After Diana: Irreverent Elegies. London: Verso.

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Jankovich, M. (2001) Naked ambitions: pornography, taste and the problem of the middlebrow.

Scope: An Online Journal of Film Studies, June (http://www. nottingham. ac. uk/film/ journal). Accessed 15 July 2003.

Jankovich, M. and Lyons, J. (eds) (2003) Quality Popular Television. London: British Film Institute.

Jenkins, H. (1995) Out of the closet and into the universe: queers and Star Trek, in J. Tulloch and H. Jenkins (eds) Science Fiction Audiences. London: Routledge.

Jenkins, H. (ed.) (1998) The Children’s Culture Reader. New York: New York University Press. Johnson, M. L. (2002) Jane Sexes 1t Up. True Confessions of Feminist Desire. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows.

Jones, P. (2001) The best of both worlds? Freedom of communication and ‘positive’ broadcasting regulation. Media, Culture and Society, 23(3): 385—96.

Juffer, J. (1998) At Home with Pornography: Women, Sex and Everyday Life. New York: New York University Press.

Kellner, D. (2003) Media Spectacle. London: Routledge.

Kelly, K. (2003) Digital convergence: dead, dying or delayed. Paper presented to the Media in Transition 3 conference, MIT, Cambridge, MA, 2—4 May.

Kertz, L. (2002) Morals and markets: deviance. Paper presented to the Media in Transition 2

conference, MIT, Cambridge, MA, 10-12 May.

Kidd, M. (1999) The bearded lesbian, in J. Arthurs and J. Grimshaw (eds) Women’s Bodies: Discipline and Transgression. London: Cassell.

Kilvington, J., Day, S. and Ward, H. (2001) Prostitution policy in Europe: a time of change.

Feminist Review, 67(1): 78-93.

Kinkaid, J. R. (1998) Producing erotic children, in H. Jenkins (ed.) The Children’s Culture Reader. New York: New York University Press.

Kinsey, A. (1953) Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders.

Kinsey, A. C., Pomeroy, W. B. and Martin, C. E. (1948) Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders.

Kipnis, L. (1999) Bound and Gagged: Pornography and the Politics of Fantasy in America. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Kirkham, P. and Skeggs, B. (1998) Absolutely Fabulous: absolutely feminist?, in C. Geraghty and D. Lusted (eds) The Television Studies Book. London: Arnold.

Kitzinger, J. (2001) Transformations of public and private knowledge: audience reception, feminism and the experience of childhood sexual abuse. Feminist Media Studies, 1(1): 91-104.

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Langer, J. (1998) Tabloid Television: Popular Journalism and the ‘Other News’. London: Routledge.

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Lara, M. P. (1998) Moral Textures: Feminist Narratives in the Public Sphere. Cambridge: Polity Press.

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Liepe-Levinson, K. (2002) Strip Show. London: Routledge.

Lindahl-Elliot, N. (2001) Signs of anthropomorphism: the case of natural history television documentaries. Social Semiotics, 11(3): 289—305.

Lotz, A. (2001) Postfeminist television criticism: rehabilitating critical terms and identifying postfeminist attributes. Feminist Media Studies, 1(1): 105—21.

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McNair, B. (2002) Striptease Culture: Sex, Media and the Democratisation of Desire. London: Routledge.

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Meehan, E. R. (2001) Gendering the commodity audience: critical media research, feminism, and political economy, in E. Meehan and E. Riordan (eds) Sex and Money: Feminism and Political Economy in the Media. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

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Figure A1 Percentage of sex documentaries by year, 1995-2001 (Source: BUFVC television documentaries database)


Animal Planet






BBC Choice


BBC Knowledqe




Channel 4


Channel 5














Sky One


UK Arena


UK Gold


UK Horizons



Religious 0% Nature 0%

Подпись:Подпись: History 0% APPENDIX: DOCUMENTARIES ABOUT SEX ON UK TELEVISIONFigure A3 Types of sex documentaries during the daytime, 1999

(Source: The Radio Times)



Figure A5 Types of sex documentaries post-watershed, 1999

(Source: The Radio Times)




Figure A7 Types of sex documentaries across channels, 1999

(Source: The Radio Times)



BBC Knowledge 0%


Aesthetics A set of principles of good taste and the appreciation of beauty (Oxford English Dictionary). It is used to describe and evaluate the form and style in which representations are embodied — in semiotic terms the ‘signifiers’ as opposed to the ‘signified’. In cultural studies the emphasis is on how these criteria of aesthetic value are established and reproduced.

Avant-garde Innovative artistic movements that are ahead of the mainstream ideas of the time. Associated most strongly with the modernist movement of the twentieth century in which the ‘new’ replaced artistic tradition as the primary criterion of value. Indeed, it involved dismantling and deconstructing those traditions.

Broadcasters Audience Research Board Ltd (BARB) A company that sells audience statistics to broadcasters in the UK. Less detailed information is provided free on the website http://www. barb. co. uk.

Bohemian A socially unconventional person. Associated with the Romantic ideal of the artist as ‘outsider’ who rejects the conformist values of bourgeois society. It has come to be associated with a form of middle-class rebellion linked to sexual permissiveness and a rejection of materialist values. It re-emerged in the post-war period as a strong component in the hippie movement.

Bourgeois The economic class that owns or manages the means of production in industrial capitalism. Used pejoratively to describe people who are conventional, unimaginative and materialistic to the extent that they put profit-making and the maintenance of the social order, from which they materially benefit, above all other values.

Carnivalesque A term that describes the kind of licentious behaviour that emerges on festive occasions when the norms of behaviour that govern everyday life are temporarily suspended. It emerged as a concept of cultural analysis following Michael Bakhtin’s (1984) theorization of its significance in the work of the writer Rabelais.

Citizen Member of a political community usually defined in relation to national forms of belonging. This involves inclusion in the rights that are offered to citizens, such as the right to vote in political elections, but also responsibilities such as the legal requirement to pay taxes.

Class This term is often used in everyday language to mean social status; that is, where people are placed in a hierarchy of esteem. In Marxist analysis, however, it is used to designate an economic relation to wealth creation in capitalism. In these terms there are two classes, those who own the means of production and those who are paid wages. However, the middle classes, in professional and managerial roles that help to reproduce the system but who are still dependent on wages, occupy a contradictory position in terms of their interests between these two classes. The connection between social and economic classes, in Bourdieu’s (1984) analysis, is that social hierarchies, which are reproduced through cultural and educational institutions, work to legitimate and reproduce the economic classes.

Codes The socially produced rules that govern the selection and combination of signs in symbolic forms and whose shared understanding facilitates communication between the participants in a cultural community.

Commodity A product that can be bought or sold in a market. Commodification is the process by which experiences, services or goods are turned into a form in which they can be exchanged in this way.

Conglomerates Large, usually multinational, organizations resulting from mergers between smaller firms. In capitalism there is a tendency for firms to merge in this way in order to remain profitable by reducing competition and monopolizing the market.

Consumer culture/society Used to designate the cultural and social consequences of what is variously described as ‘late’ or ‘postmodern’ capitalism. It indicates an emphasis on the stimulation of consumption in order to sustain the cycle of production and consumption in a system that can produce more goods than are needed for basic survival.

Deviant In sexual terms, this refers to those acts, and the people who perform them, that fall outside a culturally defined ‘norm’. I place it in inverted commas to indicate that it is not an intrinsic quality of the person or act but is produced through these cultural processes and is subject to challenge and change.

Digital The technical form in which information is encoded and transmitted as binary code. This allows for the transfer and sharing of data between differing media technologies, such as computers, radio, televisions, films and print media. It is gradually replacing older forms of ‘analogue’ broadcasting based on ‘wave’ transmission rather than binary code.

Disavowal A term used in psychoanalysis to indicate when a wish is expressed in the act of denial but not acknowledged because it is too painful, threatening or shameful to do so. This depends on unconscious psychological processes that are by definition not amenable to conscious control. These unconscious wishes are brought to consciousness in order to be denied. In Freudian theory this originates in the castration complex where the knowledge of sexual difference between the boy child and his mother stimulates desire that is then repressed because of the prohibitions on incest.

Disinterested I am fighting a losing battle here to retain the use of this term not to mean ‘uninterested’ as is its most common usage today, but in its original sense of there being no personal gain or financial reward for promoting a particular case or state of affairs. This is an important concept in weighing up the ‘public interest’ as opposed to the profit incentive that underwrites the commercial media.

Diversity In relation to culture it is used as a term to describe the range of identities that arise in complex modern societies, with their dynamic mix of ethnicities, sexual orientations and class interests, for example.

Ethics Used to indicate where personal actions are based on weighing up choices between what is right and wrong. The values that underpin those choices may originate in a specific community, such as religious values. The attempt to find common grounds for ethical choices that negotiate between the specific interests and value systems of these diverse groupings is one of the purposes of political discussion in the public sphere.

Ethnicity Forms of belonging that derive from recognition of shared cultural values, customs, beliefs and a common history and destiny that give a sense of collective solidarity. This may also be embodied in a shared language or national identity. People may identify with more than one group where individuals have a mixed cultural heritage. It may also change over time.

Exchange value A Marxist concept that refers to the monetary value of a commodity in a market.

Feminism A diverse set of political and cultural discourses that share the aim of overcoming the relative powerlessness that women experience in comparison to men. The causes and therefore the solutions to this inequality are much disputed and form the basis for different ‘schools’ of feminist theory and activism. For example, liberal feminists see the problem as wanting to improve women’s position within the existing political and economic order, while socialist feminists see that order as part of the problem and in need, therefore, of more fundamental change before women can achieve equality. ‘Second wave feminism’ refers to the intense period of political activity and polemical writing during the 1970s and 1980s, often also referred to as the ‘women’s liberation movement’. This is to distinguish it from the ‘first wave’ of feminist activism when the ’suffragettes’ campaigned for women to get the vote early on in the twentieth century.

Fetishism In Freudian theory this refers to the sexual satisfaction that men can gain from objects that stand in for the female genitalia, such as shoes, fur or stockings. In film theory it has been used to explain the obsessive return to the image of the glamorized woman in which her sexual allure is presented through a transfixed camera gaze at parts of her body or face or clothing. Explanations for female fetishism need a revision of the Freudian version, based as it is on the displacement provoked by castration anxiety.

Heteronormative The assumption of a universal heterosexual orientation, which works to marginalize and exclude same-sex forms of desire.

Hybridization The bringing together of two distinct cultural identities or forms to create a new one. This sense is derived from the practice of grafting two different plants together to produce a new type of plant.

Identity We create our sense of self out of the interrelation between who we imagine we are, or want to become, and the way in which we are positioned by existing subject positions constructed through discourse and social experience. These produce multiple identifications based on, among other things, nationality, gender, class, ethnicity, sexual orientation and the jobs that we do. The notion of self-fashioning foregrounds the degree to which our identities are open to transformation over time, while more traditional sociological theory emphasizes the degree to which we are positioned by relatively slow-to-change social structures and the discourses to which they give rise.

Imagined community This concept captures the degree to which our identifications are base on an imagined relation to others with whom we feel an affinity and to whom we attribute an identity.

Individualism The belief that the individual is the primary source of agency and values, rather than the social groups to which we belong.

Interests In some cases this word is used not in its common meaning of being enthusiastic about something but to mean having some existing advantage, often monetary or political, at stake.

Market Means by which goods and services are exchanged for money, which is based on the belief that prices respond to the balance between supply and demand.

Marxism A political theory derived from Karl Marx’s analysis of the way that capitalist mar­kets exploit the labour of workers to extract surplus value in the forms of profits for the owners of the means of production. In this theory the fundamental division in society is between wage labourers and the owners of capital.

Modernity The condition of living in a modern world in which innovation and progress is valued over tradition and continuity. The ‘creative destruction’ produced by capitalist markets contributes to this condition.

Narcissism The love of one’s own self-image. In Freudian theory this is one of the primary drives (for survival of the self) that is shaped by the formation of the ego. It underlines fantasies of omnipotence but can also be expressed through autoeroticism.

Neo-liberalism A political ideology that became dominant in the 1980s, based on the belief that capitalist markets should be free to operate with as little government interference as possible.

New social movements The social liberation movements that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s with an emphasis on collective identities, values and lifestyles rather than, or in addition to, developed ideologies, and that tended to emerge more from middle – than working-class constituencies. Examples include women’s, gay and lesbian, environmentalist and anti-racist movements.

Nielsen Media Research A global ratings company. In the United States, Nielsen sells television audience estimates for broadcast and cable networks, television stations, national syndi­cators, regional cable television systems, satellite providers, advertisers and advertising agencies.

Normative A sociological term meaning the way in which certain common expectations are established about how we ought to behave and what values we should hold.

Paternalism Well-meaning policies based on an assumption that people need to be protected rather than having the freedom to make their own choices.

Patriarchy Societies that are based on the power men hold over women, both in the private sphere of the family and in public institutions such as the church, law, government and business.

Pedagogy The theory and practice of education.

Performative A linguistic term in which the words perform an action. The example often cited is the words ‘I do’ at a marriage ceremony, which in their enunciation seal the contract. It has been taken up more widely to describe the way in which identity is formed through discursive practices.

Petit-bourgeoisie The lower middle classes.

Popular Used in cultural studies to refer to cultural practices that arise from ‘the people’ rather than originating in the dominant classes, but that in modern societies, more often than not, arise from their interaction with the mass-produced media.

Postmodern Used to describe a transformation in the conditions of modern societies in the post-war period, and to the forms of culture to which this period has given rise. In both cases a greater uncertainty, ambivalence and loss of faith in ‘grand narratives’ of explanation have been argued to characterize the transition.

Psychoanalysis A set of psychological theories and practices originating in the work of Sigmund Freud (1856—1939), based on a belief in the existence of unconscious motivations and desire. We can only discover these indirectly through the interpretation of bodily symp­toms and other symbolic manifestations, such as dreams or fictional narratives.

Puritanism A form of Protestant Christianity in which great emphasis is placed on austerity and the sinful nature of sensual pleasures.

Queer Originally used as a term to denigrate homosexuals but then reappropriated as a term of political defiance against the policing of sexual identities and behaviour. In political and theoretical discourses it emphasizes the transgression of culturally produced identity boundaries that limit sexual expression.

Race Used in inverted commas to indicate the ideological nature of the common assumption that ‘race’ is a description of groups of people separated by biological differences. There are, in fact, no clear boundaries between humans based on biology; instead they are pro­duced though cultural and political processes. The categories of ‘race’, and the hierarchies to which they give rise, are thus open to challenge and transformation.

Traditional Used to describe societies in which social and cultural practices and values are reproduced in a relatively unchanging way from generation to generation.

Use value A term used by Marx to differentiate the value a product has for its owner based on its usefulness, as distinct from the value it has in exchange for money.

Voyeurism A Freudian term used in feminist film theory to describe the sadistic pleasure in looking at a character who cannot look back at the spectator. This heightens the potential pleasure in watching sexualized imagery, in that the guilt induced by sexual arousal in these circumstances can be evaded by projecting the guilt on to the object of the look, who is almost always a woman. This objectified woman can then be devalued and punished through the processes of narrative, thereby heightening the viewer’s sense of their own


Looking towards the future

The transition to digital television is taking place across the globe, albeit in diverse local contexts. For those countries with a tradition in public service television fears of a rampant commercialism accompany these changes. The UK is developing its digital services ahead of many of its global competitors, making, perhaps, the British response to these changes of wider interest, especially in the way that new regulatory regimes are being tried out. At the start of 2004 the television industry moved into a new period of regulation, as OfCom took over as the new regulator for the converging communications industries. The emphasis is on economic regulation to promote competition and to oversee the transition to a fully digital service by 2010. OfCom retains the duty, however, to protect the public interest, promote plurality and protect audiences from offensive or harmful content, and from unfairness and invasions of privacy. What is not clear at the time of writing is how it is going to do this. In its first six months of operation it is planning to revise every industry code, as part of a more general review of the purposes of public service broad­casting, leading up to the renewal of the BBC’s charter in 2006. As part of this process a national consultation exercise is planned, instead of relying on a committee of establishment figures as previous reports on broadcasting policy have done (Brown 2003).

This is consistent with a ‘consumer’ model of citizenship. What is already apparent is that there is an inherent tension in this model of the citizen-consumer. When decisions have to be made, whose views will eventually prevail? How will the ‘public interest’ be decided? And how will this be balanced against the increased power of commercial interests as British terrestrial television is opened to foreign ownership? Nevertheless, there does seem to be an attempt to encourage ‘cultural citizenship’ in order to offset the potentially overweening power of the global media conglomerates to decide for us what we will watch. As Nick Stevenson (2003: 152) explains, ‘Cultural citizenship aims to promote conversation where previously there was silence, suspicion, fragmentation or the voices of the powerful.’ In using the language of citizenship, there is a concern for rights and responsibilities that goes beyond a simple reliance on consumer ‘choice’.

In thinking through the consequences of these changes for the way in which sexual discourses are regulated on television I want to focus on the figure of the child and the rhetoric that is emerging. The paternalistic approaches of the past, designed to protect the child audience from harm and their parents from embarrassment, shows signs of being replaced. The final report from the old regime of regulators shifted the policy agenda towards recognition of children’s citizenship rights as active ’self-regulating’ consumers of culture and to the support they and their families will need to exercise these responsibly (Buckingham and Bragg 2003). It provided a framework of research to support this transition based on extensive focus group interviews with children and their parents, supplemented by diary entries from the children on their viewing, and a sceptical review of existing ‘effects’ research from a cultural studies perspective (Buckingham and Bragg 2002).

Reporting on this research, David Buckingham and Sarah Bragg (2003) emphasize that television and the media more generally are an important source of learning ‘what it means to be sexual’ and can work to broaden the rather narrow contexts in which children learn about sex in their everyday lives. This research was conducted during the same period as this book, but starting from the other end of the communicative cycle in which audiences produce meanings from the programmes they watch. The extent to which the conclusions match mine is significant, I think. The viewing patterns of children differ from those of adults, of course, especially in their lighter viewing late at night when much of the less mainstream sexual content is shown, but the continuing force of ‘traditional’ ideas about sexual identity among this generation of viewers is evident. Calls by the report for education in ‘media literacy’ to empower children to be critical viewers are intended to enable them to deconstruct the normative discourses that make up the bulk of their viewing, if future generations are to look beyond the categories and boundaries that currently limit their sense of who they are and what they might become. I would endorse this aim and hope that this book might also contribute to its fulfilment.

Popular television needs to be taken more seriously as an important influence on identity formation and understanding of the ‘other’. To finish on this issue, I want to suggest how rethinking the concept of ‘cosmopolitanism’ might help towards this process. The ‘market-led’ definition of cosmopolitan identities is of affluent mobile consumers in a global market, for whom the self-fashioning images of postmodern television have been designed. Nick Stevenson (2003: 5) offers another way of defining cosmopolitanism that envisages a more egalitarian future to which television could contribute. Cosmopolitanism, he argues, is a way of viewing the world that:

dispenses with national exclusions, dichotomous forms of gendered and racial thinking and rigid separations between culture and nature. Such a sensibility would be open to the new spaces of political and ethical engagement that seeks to appreciate the ways in which humanity is mixed into intercultural ways of life.

Living together harmoniously in a globalized world, he argues, requires us to develop the emotional capacity to live with the ‘other’, within the self as well as ‘out there’. Recognizing the ‘stranger within’ – our own internal contradictions, unruly desires and emotions – while developing the ability to respect and learn from those who are different from us, is something television can help us to do, but only if we develop ‘an understanding of the discourses, codes and narratives that make such political understandings possible’ (ibid.: 5).

This understanding will only emerge out of an ‘informed citizenship’ to which formal education can contribute. It also requires a more developed ‘national con­versation’, to which journalism could contribute if it moved beyond scandalized headlines in reaction to ‘explicit sex’, and developed a critical reviewing practice that engages with television as a complex cultural form. Despite its utopianism, I think this way of thinking about cultural citizenship has a value. It moves us beyond the twin poles of state paternalism and the narcissistic individualism of the market, and offers a model for balancing the competing demands of pleasure and responsibility in the formation of our sexual selves.

Generic inertia and innovation

I have argued that television clearly has a significant role to play in the development of sexual citizenship and that there is a legitimate ‘public interest’ in the forms of representation made available that shouldn’t simply be left to market relations.

The historical formation of taste means that generic conventions constrain the pro­duction and consumption of sexual representations in ways that cannot quickly be undone. Nevertheless, we need to recognize, and challenge, the limitations in what is currently in circulation. Diversity of sexual representations on the margins cannot be equated with a generalized shift towards more ‘progressive’ portrayals in the mainstream. The rhetoric of choice obscures the effects of generic inertia as producers look for predictable audiences based on established categories of consumers that normalize and restrict what programmes are made. I will offer a brief overview of what has emerged from my detailed examination of the television of the recent past before offering a few comments on where television in the future might be heading.

There is plenty of evidence for a continuing conservatism in the mainstream of television that works to maintain the sexual exclusions that have characterized modern industrial societies. Those genres associated with the ‘respectable’ public sphere, which carry cultural weight as conveyors of ‘truth’, such as news and science programmes, tend towards normative constructions of gender and sexuality, understood as a fixed category of being based on biological difference, and an assumed heterosexuality. In science and nature programmes this is linked to the hegemony of sociobiology as an explanatory framework that reproduces these normative conceptions of masculine and feminine gender identities. The embedded conventions of visual spectacle also work to position the body of the ‘other’ as subject to male power, whether this is in ‘respectable’ documentary of various kinds or in the pornographic forms that exist on the margins. Sexual diversity is most often defined as ‘deviance’ in the scandal discourses of the mainstream, where the pleasures of concealment, exposure and moral condemnation can be enjoyed as a means to disavow sexual wishes that cannot be acknowledged. A space for carnivalesque ‘licence’ does exist in scandal and comedy but the ideological ambivalence of these forms makes it easy for people to be confirmed in their prejudices as they distance themselves in their laughter from the rule-breaking object of the humour.

This is not to deny that public service remits and the search for new markets have stimulated generic innovations that have allowed for new citizenship claims to be recognized. New, more pluralistic ‘ways of telling’ have emerged that don’t conform to ‘rationalist’ models of political debate and that give voice to subordinated ‘others’. The widespread adoption of a feminized aesthetic of subjective perspectives, emotional empathy and the open-ended forms of serial narrative, across both factual and fictional genres, has contributed to new forms of ‘recognition’ that are an important component of sexual citizenship. The address to a post-war generation, who have challenged the relegation of sexuality to the private sphere, has allowed for a relaxation of ‘bourgeois’ respectability and a broadening of ‘legitimate’ sexual identities, especially for women and gay men. The equation of emancipation with visibility has contributed to a greater diversity of sexual identities finding expression, in ‘quality’ drama and documentary, for example.

The normalizing and disciplining effects of discourse are as true for these ‘pro­gressive’ representations as for more traditional ‘stereotypes’, such as the boundary that has emerged between the respectable gay citizen and his transgressive queer ‘other’. The right to privacy is also an issue, in a culture where visibility is pervasive, to protect the powerless from voyeuristic intrusions, especially for the sexually ‘marked’ bodies of women and minorities. The ways in which feminist, bohemian, queer and postcolonial identities have been taken up in contemporary forms of postmodern consumer culture are double-edged politically. Only certain kinds of sexual identity are compatible with consumerism and new exclusions are created that disadvantage the poor. There is a gap between images of the self-fashioning consumer and the reality of most people’s lives, especially if the global circulation of these programmes is taken into account. Who will be included and excluded from the system of global communications and consumption?


Drawing conclusions when writing about television is a seemingly impossible task. It eludes any comprehensive overview. Its ubiquity can only be viewed from a very limited perspective and its open-ended flow makes conclusions inevitably provisional. This book is best understood in the same way as the programmes it has been discussing; that is, in relation to the time and place of its production and within the limits of selection produced by my own interests and purposes and the imagined audience I have in mind. My background in feminist cultural studies has been the primary influence on this; as someone who first engaged with feminist ideas through their portrayal in film and television I am interested in how cultural identity is discursively formed through popular culture. With this in mind I have demonstrated how, in the cases selected, the portrayal of sexuality can be shown to have resulted from the discursive context in which the programme has been made – the sexual norms, codes of taste and decency, genre conventions and hierarchies of taste that regulate what can be said or shown. These discourses are mobilized in the attempts by television companies to address a varied range of consumer-citizens with differentiated aesthetic tastes, political con­victions, moral beliefs and sexual identities that will affect their orientations towards sexual portrayal. There is no exact fit between what is produced and how it is con­sumed but neither are they entirely disconnected. Both are selectively and reflexively formed in relation to the larger discursive context.

The aestheticized self and sexual relations

Feminist evaluations of Sex and the City have conflated it with other examples of postfeminist culture in which comedy and satire has replaced any serious, ethical commitment to challenging the power relations of patriarchy, a challenge that they argue is undermined by complicit critique. The postfeminist irony in texts such as Bridget Jones or Ally McBeal allows for a constant emphasis on women’s appearance and sexual desirability as a source of worth, while simultaneously subjecting this attitude to ridicule (Greer 2000; Whelehan 2000). In this view, the ironic oscillations in our relation to the bourgeois women who people the fictional world of Sex and the City are complicit with the aestheticized values of consumer culture and its unequal structuring of the ‘look’. It assumes that women in the audience are invited to share this male gaze to the extent that it is internalized in women’s narcissistic relation to their own bodies. This objectifies women’s bodies and renders them powerless. In a counter-argument, feminine cultures of consumerism and fashion have been considered as a source of pleasure and power that is potentially resistant to male control. Indeed, they can offer women an alternative route to self-esteem and autonomy that overcomes the damaging division that second wave feminism con­structs between feminism and femininity (see Lury 1996; McRobbie 1997; Hollows 2000 for overviews of these debates).

These contradictory evaluations need not be presented as alternatives. Part of the problem for academic feminism is to develop arguments that capture the complex contradictions of postfeminism in popular culture. In her discussion of the emphasis on the spectacle of women’s bodies in women’s magazines, Hilary Radner (1995) draws attention to the way this is counteracted by a textual commentary that variously endorses or asks us to question the extent to which women’s worth resides in their looks. In arguing the limitations to metacritical feminist discourse in capturing women’s reading practices in everyday life, Radner highlights the potential of feminine culture to ‘displace the political onto the minute decisions of a contingent day to day practice in which absolute categories cannot be maintained from moment to moment’ (ibid.: 178). Consumption is thereby redefined as an active process that has unpredict­able ideological consequences. In Lash’s (1990) view, the ubiquity of images in postmodern consumer culture in itself produces contradictory juxtapositions that undermine any secure position from which to interpret the world. This, he argues, has the potential to produce self-reflexive, nomadic identities in which gender, for instance, is open to redefinition (ibid.: 185-98). Sex and the City self-consciously explores the instability of feminine identity in a postfeminist, postmodern consumer culture.

A straightforward celebration of the feminist potential of consumer culture is precluded, however, by its commodity form. This promotes, according to Susan Willis (1991), an alienated and fetished relationship between people, defined by the exchange of commodities. Moreover, the codification of class, ‘race’ and gender differences in the stylistic details of commodities normalizes and perpetuates notions of inequality and subordination (ibid.: 162-3). The professional middle classes, she argues, have been duped by the signs of privilege into confusing the individualized freedom to consume with real political power. ‘The production of resistant meanings will always be assimilated by capitalism for the production of fresh commodities’ (ibid.: 175-9). Sex and the City exemplifies these features of the commodity. Its stylistic features contribute to the cultural hegemony of the incorporated resistance of the bourgeois bohemians. Its culture of femininity provides an alternative to heterosexual dependence, but its recurring promise of a shameless utopia of fulfilled desire always ends in disappointment, for the cycle of consumption to begin again next week.

The advert for Bailey’s Cream, corporate sponsors of Sex and the City, exemplifies how in consumer culture the body as the bearer of sensation replaces the ethical self as an ideal. It presents a sensuous image of swirling, creamy liquid with the slogan ‘Let your senses guide you’. Rachel Bowlby (1993: 23) refers to the ideal modern consumer as ‘a receptacle and bearer of sensations, poser and posed, with no consistent identity, no moral self In this aestheticized culture the question has become does it look good or feel good, rather than is this a good thing to do? Although Sex and the City rejects the traditional patriarchal dichotomy of virgin and whore, insisting in its explorations of the women’s multiple sexual experiences their right to seek sexual satisfaction without shame, this doesn’t mean that there are no limits. Aesthetic boundaries replace moral boundaries so that men who can’t kiss very well, who smell, who are too short or whose semen tastes peculiar are rejected on those grounds.

Despite the radical roots of this bohemian attitude, developed in opposition to the rationalist, puritan ethos of nineteenth-century industrial capitalism (in Romanticism and Surrealism as well as Dandyism), it is now fully integrated into consumer marketing and its appeal to our hedonistic impulses and imaginings.

But an important part of this calculating hedonism is an emotional and cognitive distancing on the part of the individual since it is this distance which introduces the possibility of reflection on consumption and facilitates the adoption of playful and ironic ways of consuming.

(Lury 1996: 76)

For women this relation to an aestheticized, self-reflexive identity in which com­modities are used creatively to re-fashion the self is more problematic than for men. Celia Lury (1996: 118-55) argues that this is because they occupy an unstable position in relation to the aestheticized self, an instability that is enacted in the oscillations in tone that characterize Sex and the City and its exploration of women’s sexuality in a consumer culture.

For the women in Sex and the City, it often appears as though hedonism and narcissism have displaced the masochist position that they occupy in patriarchal structures of desire. The grotesque ‘other’ of sadistic masculinity has been repressed (and displaced into The Sopranos, another HBO drama series). In this economy of desire the city streets have lost the danger of a sadistic or reproving masculine gaze. Instead of intimating the dark dangers that kept ‘respectable’ women off the streets, New York is shown to be a place of freedom and safety – the worst that can happen is that their clothes might be splashed by a passing car (as happens to Carrie in the title sequence). These women move freely around the cafes and boutiques, with a confident sense of possession, enjoying the multiple pleasures of consumption in the company of other women and gay men. In this way their dependence on male lovers for emotional and sensual satisfaction is displaced; they always disappoint or disempower, as Mr Big does in the billboard scene by not showing up. A designer stiletto shoe, Carrie’s trade mark obsession, is different. It is always there to be possessed, offering a fetish substitute for the satisfactions denied by men. The autoeroticism legitimated by the narcissistic structure of the look in consumer culture offers the possibility of doing without men at all. The show’s promotion of vibrators as a route to sexual satisfaction (Episode 9, ‘The Turtle and the Hare’) resulted in a huge increase in sales of the ‘rabbit’ model that was featured (Smith 2002).

The programme’s representation of the women’s dissatisfaction with their male lovers could be seen as encouraging a rejection of men as a source of emotional and sexual satisfaction in favour of a feminine culture of gossip and shopping. It is the tight-knit relationship of the four women that is the only constant in the series. But they don’t live together as in the cosy but adolescent comedy series Friends. The recurring message that for grown-ups living in Manhattan means living alone con­structs the single household as the norm – a trend that has been cited as one of the major stimuli to consumption in modern cities (Lury 1996).

Sex in this context becomes like shopping: a marker of identity, a source of pleasure. Knowing how to choose the right goods is crucial. But men in Sex and the City are the only objects of desire that create consumer dissatisfaction. The women treat men as branded goods: the packaging has to be right but the difficulty is to find one whose use value lives up to the image. The quest becomes one in which they are looking for the phallus that would bring an end to a seemingly endless chain of desire. ‘In a city of infinite options there can be no better feeling than that you only have one’ is the aphorism Carrie offers at the end of one episode (Episode 7, ‘The Monogamists’). Yet there is a recognition that the phallus will never live up to its promise of satisfaction and fulfilment. ‘In a city of great expectations is it time to settle for what you can get?’ wonders Carrie (Episode 9, ‘The Turtle and the Hare’). The women try men out to see if they ‘fit for size’, as Carrie tells a potential husband. This is literally the case when promiscuous Samantha unexpectedly falls in love (Episode 12, ‘Oh Come All Ye Faithful’). When she has sex with her new boyfriend after two weeks of uncharacteristic abstention, she is devastated. His dick is only three inches long! In Sex and the City size does matter.

Sex and the City incorporates the ambivalence in feminist evaluations of the aestheticized self, showing it to be a source both of confident autonomy and of disempowerment in its unstable oscillations. For instance, Carrie’s performance is constructed around her role as a successful and famous journalist researching her newspaper column, which bears the same name as the TV show. She is shown as a detached observer of her own and her friends’ sexual desires and experiences. She self-reflexively and playfully deliberates on their consequences, not in terms of some overarching ethical position but from an aesthetic point of view of someone who has to write a witty, readable column that will enhance her professional status. Sexual ethics are converted into a controlled display of witty aphorisms and the comedy of embarrassment. The same is true of the show’s address to its viewers. As an audience we are positioned as detached observers of this sexual play, not as we would be in pornography for physical arousal and the satisfactions of masturbation, nor as lessons in morality, but to be amused.

When the oscillation swings back to close involvement, the mood is one of unsatis­fied yearning, not playfulness. Carrie’s emotional involvement with Big, the main man in her life, produces the feeling that she is out of control: her desire for him can never be fully satisfied. Again this is considered characteristic of a consumer lifestyle in

which consumers ‘experience moderate swings from being in control to being out of control and back again. Their lives are balanced between feelings of completeness and incompleteness’ (Hirschmann 1992, quoted in Lury 1996: 77). Here the consequences of an aestheticized relation to sexual relations are shown to be debilitating – for women. Carrie craves authenticity, and constantly wants to establish whether her relationship with Big is real or not. In one episode, where she is particularly distressed by her powerlessness in relation to Big, Carrie offers a poignant critique of the masquerade as a strategy of female empowerment.

I think I’m in love with him, and I’m terrified in case he thinks I’m not perfect . . . you should see what I’m like round him – it’s like – I wear little outfits. I’m not like me. Sexy Carrie. Casual Carrie. Sometimes I catch myself actually posing – it’s exhausting!

(Episode 11, ‘The Drought’)

Later that evening Big visits her flat for the first time. She is nervous about this as another test of her self-presentation, but is reassured: ‘I like it just the way it is’, he says. On seeing a couple having sex in the flat opposite, offering a distanced but explicit spectacle, Big turns to her and says, ‘Hell – we can do better than that!’ The voice-over from Carrie, ‘And then he kissed me’, places the scene in the realm of a Mills and Boon erotic fiction for women: the unobtainable object of the heroine’s desire succumbs when he recognizes her true worth. Yet it also marks a return to the distancing that characterizes the dominant, comic mode of the series. Carrie’s worries about her unstable and inauthentic identity are resolved through the aestheticized pleasures of erotic spectacle and generic parody. And there is no end to these oscillations: its serial form doesn’t provide the plenitude of narrative closure; instead its repetitions offer the consumer satisfactions of ‘diversity within sameness that is comfortable and comforting to most people’ (Hirschman 1992, quoted in Lury 1996: 77).


The fragmentation of the television market has allowed a sexually explicit and critical feminist discourse into television comedy, albeit within the parameters of a consumer culture and the limitations this imposes. In my view, this is a welcome innovation in women’s representation on television in that it assumes and promotes women’s right to sexual pleasure and validates women’s friendship and culture. At the same time the contradictions of its comedic and serial form expose this culture to interrogation and critique, thereby encouraging intellectual analysis. The analytic approaches used in this chapter are not confined to an academic elite but are available to a broad segment of educated people. An ability to see ourselves in these characters works not simply to confirm our sense of self but to question the costs as well as the benefits of living in a postfeminist consumer culture. It is in the messy contingencies of the everyday that feminism is produced or inhibited in practice, and it is this quality that Sex and the City is able to capture.

This establishes a space in popular culture for interrogation of our own complicity in the processes of commodification – women’s narcissistic relation to the self, the pro­duction of fetishistic and alienated sexual relations – that continue to undermine our self-esteem and contentment. Whether this has the power to translate into political action is a matter of debate, and beyond the scope of this book (see Willis 1991; Klein 2000; Whelehan 2000 for scepticism in this respect). What remain more hidden from view are the global and class inequalities on which the freedom to pleasurable consumption rests, in which women are often the most disadvantaged (Willis 1991; Klein 2000). The majority lack the economic resources to participate in a globalized consumer culture. From this perspective, the programme can be taken as evidence of the consequences of economic liberalism in a society where moral and religious values are in decline, with no alternatives to the hedonistic values of a hegemonic capitalism. In a post 11 September context, however, the connotations of Sex and the City’s logo of the Manhattan skyline have changed, making previous preoccupations seem trivial. The guiltless triumph of consumer values no longer seems so secure.

Bourgeois bohemians

The almost exclusive focus on sexual relationships and consumption in Sex and the City speaks to the cultural influence in the 1990s of the ‘bourgeois bohemians’. This class fraction has, David Brooks (2000) argues, replaced the yuppies as the new culturally dominant class in the USA (and other developed economies). The key feature of this new class fraction is their ability to reconcile the contradictions between bourgeois and bohemian values and lifestyles. Sexual permissiveness, which in the bohemian movements of the 1960s was articulated with radical anti-capitalist political values, has been rearticulated to conform not only with the materialist priorities of consumer culture, but also with the emancipatory politics of the 1970s and 1980s. One effect has been to free white, middle-class women from the sexual constraints required by bourgeois respectability. This attention to sexual freedom and pleasure in second wave feminism is culturally specific and arises from the dominance of that movement among white, middle-class women. A quite different political agenda around sexuality arises from the historical positioning of black and working-class women as the embodied ‘other’ of the white bourgeoisie (Haraway 1990).

A scene from the first season of Sex and the City (Episode 6, ‘Secret Sex’) encapsu­lates this brand identity; that is, the emotions, attitudes and lifestyle with which it is associated and the specificity of its address. In an episode that explores the shame that some sexual experiences can provoke, Carrie gathers a group of her friends together for the launch of a new publicity campaign promoting her weekly newspaper column called ‘Sex and the City’. They wait on the sidewalk for a bus to pass by carrying the poster for her brand on its side. They are in a mood of excited anticipation, marred only by the regret that Mr Big, the new man in her life, has failed to show up to share this proud moment. The revealing dress she is wearing in the poster is the dress that she had worn on their first date, when, despite her best judgement, they had sex. As the bus approaches, the excitement turns to dismay, and Carrie hides her face in shame. There is the poster with Carrie’s body stretched in languorous pose along the full length of the bus, under the strapline ‘Carrie Bradshaw knows good sex’. But as we pan across her body, next to her seductively made-up lips, a crudely drawn graffiti image of a large penis is revealed.

This short scene exemplifies the series’ dramatic terrain, namely the exploration of women’s sexuality in a postmodern consumer culture. It is a culture produced by capital’s restless search for new and expanded markets, and characterized by the com­modification of the individual’s relation to the body, self and identity, just as we see here in the relation of Carrie to her billboard image. The scene also exemplifies the programme’s tone and style, which mixes the display of celebrity lifestyles for our emulation, as in women’s magazines, with a comic puncturing of these aestheticized images. The idealized image of bourgeois perfection in the image of Carrie on her billboard is momentarily satirized by the obscene graffiti. It is an eruption of the repressed ‘other’ to bourgeois femininity in a deliberate disruption of its codes of

sexual decorum. This, plus Big’s absence, is a reminder of women’s vulnerability to loss of self-esteem when it relies too exclusively on body image and its sexual appeal to men. The presence of Carrie’s friends is important, though, in providing the support and reassurance she needs to regain her composure. Their shared culture of femininity offers an alternative to heterosexual dependence.

As a successful brand Sex and the City influences the continuing transformations in fashion that characterize consumer culture. News stories about fashion regard it as an important influence. Sarah Jessica Parker (who plays Carrie) is a fashion icon in women’s magazines and in newspaper columns; celebrity exposure is rapidly replacing catwalk shows and supermodels as the way to sell high fashion. The British fashion journalist who tracked down and bought Sarah Jessica Parker’s handbag in the shape of a horse’s head and then wrote about it in a British national newspaper provided publicity for the TV show, the makers of the bag and Parker as a celebrity (Lambert 2001). It also contributed to New York’s reputation as a city ‘brand’ in the global system of capitalism as a source of new fashion ideas. A report on the New York fashion shows in the Guardian was headed ‘Fashion in the city: cult show underpins style’ (Porter 2001). It commented on the ‘power of the cult drama’ to create a fashion trend, whether for Manolo Blahnik stiletto heels, corsages or purses in the shape of a horse’s head. The report focused on the House of Field, which acted as stylist for Sex and the City. Theirs is a bohemian look, made newly respectable as mainstream fashion, but retaining in the thrift-store elements reference to the anti-materialist values that characterized the hippie bohemianism of the 1960s. It incorporates the psychedelic patterns of that era and an individual eclecticism achieved by mixing retro and new clothing, the avant-garde and the mass-produced.

The horse’s head handbag works within this kitsch aesthetic, in which objects are redefined as ‘cool’ through a process of irony. It reminds the Daily Telegraph journalist of My Little Pony and her nine-year-old self, and it is cheap to buy in comparison to most designer handbags ($165). The HBO website (www. hbo. com/city/insiders_guide/ news) offers Sex and the City merchandise for sale, but they have no pretensions to be designer goods. They are cheap items, T-shirts, mugs and glasses printed with the Sex and the City logo and New York skyline (doubly ironic now). The trash aesthetic of Sex and the City anticipates the ironic response that, in the 1980s, for example, was developed as a subcultural, camp response to Dynasty, the first prime time tele­vision programme to have a resident fashion designer and its own line of fashion merchandising (Feuer 1995). In the decade or so that separates Dynasty from the incorporated irony of Sex and the City’s trash aesthetics, camp irony has moved from the margins to the centre. It exemplifies the way in which a camp and ironic attitude to mass culture, originating in a gay response to their cultural marginalization, has been appropriated by the mainstream media in order to address niche markets in the affluent middle classes. Sex and the City is simply part of a wider cultural trend, the commodified aesthetic of postmodernism in which irony is a central component.

The style also expresses a bohemian attitude to women’s sexuality. But the clothes do not simply replicate the rather demure look for women of the hippie era, when sexual liberation, enabled by the separation between sex and reproduction that the pill made possible, still meant women responding to men’s sexual initiatives. The Sex and the City version of bohemian fashion is post-punk, post-Madonna; it incorporates an assertive sexualized imagery for women that consciously plays with the transgressive sexual connotations of leather, bondage and underwear as outerwear. One garment, ‘open to below the navel before swooping under the crotch, had an immaculate cut, even if the look was purposefully wanton. . . you could easily see Carrie giving the look a try, maybe out at the Hamptons.’ ‘Wantonness’ combined with ‘a perfect cut’ epitomizes the reconciliation of bourgeois with bohemian values in the aesthetics and lifestyle that Sex and the City expresses and promotes.

The specificity of this taste culture is made clear in the series itself through the way the four main characters’ style and codes of sexual behaviour are defined against other social groupings. There are the restrained (and boring) bourgeois women, untainted by bohemian values, in whom sexual expression is kept under strict control. These are exemplified by the women who look increasingly scandalized as Charlotte, the most ‘preppy’ one of the four, at a reunion dinner with her university fraternity friends, reveals the fact of her husband’s impotence and her own frustration. ‘Don’t you ever feel like you want to be fucked really hard?’ she enquires as they recoil in disgust (Episode 46, ‘Frenemies’). Or by Natasha, Big’s wife. His boredom with her is defined by her taste in interior design: ‘Everything’s beige’. Then there are the people who live outside the city, and whose adherence to traditional gender roles is an indicator of their being either low class or simply old-fashioned. On a trip to Staten Island (the ferry marking the boundary) ‘real men’ offer a tantalizing sexual fantasy for Samantha, but when faced with the reality in the cold light of a working day, her liaison with a firemen doesn’t seem such a good idea (Episode 31, ‘Where There’s Smoke. . .’).

In traditional bourgeois cultures unbridled sexual appetites or loose speech are a mark not only of the lower classes but of the unruly woman, who inverts the power relations of gender and has sex like a man (Russo 1995; Arthurs 1999). Samantha’s guilt-free promiscuity is exemplary here, although even she has her limits. She is shocked by a new acquaintance who dives under the restaurant table to ‘give head’ to a man they have just met (Episode 36, ‘Are We Sluts?’). Indecorum is a sign of lack of respectability, which for women has been a sexual as well as class category associated with prostitution. Sex and the City works through the problem of establishing the boundaries of respectability in a postfeminist culture where women share many of the same freedoms as men, but in which the residual effects of the double standard are still being felt. It strives to be sexually frank without being ‘vulgar’.

These women are of a generation old enough to have been influenced by feminism (in their thirties and forties) but too old to participate in a newly fashionable queer culture, despite their appropriation of camp as a style. They are resolutely hetero­sexual, despite occasional short-lived encounters with gays, lesbians and bisexuals that simply reconfirm it. ‘I’m a trisexual’ says Samantha jokingly, ‘I’ll try anything once’. Indeed, she does, briefly, have one lesbian lover. Carrie’s relationship with a 26-year-old bisexual founders when she can’t handle the thought that he’s been with a man; nor does she feel comfortable with his gender-bending friends. ‘I was too old to play this game’, she tells us in the voice-over (Episode 34, ‘Boy, Girl, Boy, Girl. . .’). These episodes, like the one where Samantha dates an African-American, simply mark where their sexual boundaries are drawn. Thus the women’s particular mix of bourgeois bohemianism is ‘normalized’.

Their transgression of bourgeois sexual decorum marks the foursome as ‘unruly’, a challenge to patriarchal structures of power, but their adherence to the sleek control of the commodified body makes this compatible with capitalism. Unlike Edina or Patsy, the unruly women in Absolutely Fabulous (BBC2 1992-94, BBC1 1995-96, 2000, 2003-), a British comedy that is located in a similar cultural milieu, if the women are made to look ridiculous it is a momentary aberration that causes embarrassment (as in the billboard scene). In contrast, the British comedy persistently satirizes consumer culture and the feminine world of fashion, PR and women’s magazines, through a farcical exaggeration of fashion styles. Its slapstick mode of comedy undermines the bodily control and discipline that underpins glamour, often as a result of drug-taking or excessive drinking (Kirkham and Skeggs 1998; Arthurs 1999). This aspect of the bohemian legacy of the 1960s in contemporary consumer society plays a very minor role in Sex and the City in comparison. The comedy in Sex and the City depends instead on verbal wit and ironic distancing, a more intellectual, and in class terms a more bourgeois, form than slapstick. It also enables the complicit critique that is considered to be characteristic of postmodernism (Lash 1990; Featherstone 1991b; Feuer 1995; Klein 2000).

Remediating women’s magazines

The ‘new’ media depend for their success on their ability to ‘remediate’ – that is, ‘adapt to a new medium’ – the forms that are already established in the ‘old’ media. The relationship also works in the opposite direction, with earlier technologies ‘struggling to maintain their legitimacy by remediating newer ones’ (Bolter and Grusin 1999: 61). We can see how this interrelationship works in the way that Sex and the City has been used to enhance the visibility and status of cable television, drawing on successful formats established in network television and the print media, and exploiting on its website the new potential offered by the Internet.

The form of Sex and the City is very influenced by the print media. Adapted from a book written by Candice Bushnell, a New York journalist, it is structured around the fictionalized writing of a weekly newspaper column. It retains the first person mode of direct address, using Carrie’s voice-over to comment on the action in which a question is posed, journalistic research is undertaken and some conclusions are proposed in a personalized, witty and aphoristic style. The questions range from the frivolous to the taboo. They can be serious but not too serious – they don’t deal with rape or sexual harassment as in LA Law or Ally McBeal. Can women have sex like a man? Are men commitment phobes? In New York has monogamy become too much to expect? Is motherhood a cult? Can sex toys enhance your sex life? Does size matter? Each of the ensemble cast provides a different perspective on the question. Their stories are told as alternatives for viewers to weigh up, just as articles in women’s magazines offer a variety of personal anecdotes to their readers to exemplify a particular issue and how different people have responded in practice. These are loosely tied together by Carrie’s final voice-over in a provisional conclusion that is often tentative in tone. ‘Maybe. . .’ The bulletin board on the Sex and the City website (http://www. hbo. com/ city_community) invites viewers’ comments on the episode, asking questions like ‘What do you think of the new men in Carrie’s life? Talk about it with other fans on the Bulletin Board.’ ‘Do you identify with Carrie? Talk about it with fellow fans.’ Thus multiple perspectives are actively encouraged within a tightly structured, repetitive format in which the characters are bound into a relatively unchanging situation in order to guarantee continuation of the pleasures offered by the brand (Lury 1993: 86-7).

Sex and the City’s treatment of sexuality can be understood as an updated version of the ‘Cosmo’ woman who is dedicated to self-improvement and economic independence (Ballaster et al. 1991). This is a figure who can be related back to the rise of the post­war ‘new petit bourgeoisie’ whose ‘liberated’ attitudes to sex, combined with an ethic of ‘improvement’, were discussed in Chapter 3 in relation to pornography. The four main characters’ signature cocktail is called a ‘cosmopolitan’, signalling this sorority. The show’s title echoes that of a book, Sex and the Single Girl, written by Helen Gurley Brown, who went on to be the founding editor of Cosmopolitan magazine in 1965. The function of sexual imagery and talk in Sex and the City is quite different from that in pornographic magazines and cable channels, where sexual arousal is assumed as the purpose for consumption. Instead it dramatizes the kind of con­sumer and sexual advice offered by women’s magazines. This is a sphere of feminine expertise in which it has been argued that women are empowered to look – not only at consumer goods but also at their own bodies as sexual subjects (Radner 1995). Sexuality is presented in this context as a source of potential pleasure for which women should make themselves ready, whether through internalizing the beauty and fashion advice that will attract the right men, or through following advice on sexual technique. Carrie’s billboard slogan advertising her newspaper column draws attention to this pedagogic function: ‘Carrie Bradshaw knows good sex’ (my emphasis). It is an expertise rooted in everyday life and experience. When called upon to give a lecture to a roomful of women on how to get a date, Carrie fails miserably. But she succeeds brilliantly the following week when she takes the women to a bar where she guides them in how to work the room by reading the sexual signals, giving them the confidence and expertise to act on their desires (Episode 46, ‘Frenemies’).

The series is able to go beyond the catalogue function of magazine fashion spreads, or the list of ten tips on how to improve foreplay. A consumer lifestyle is presented not as a series of commodities to be bought but as an integrated lifestyle to be emulated. The clothes and shoes become expressions of the different moods and personalities of embodied, empathetic characters in an authentic setting. This function is in fact most explicit on the programme’s website, which differs in tone and emphasis from the television series and more closely matches the look and address of a woman’s magazine. It relies on the relationship fans already have with the programme, guiding viewers in how to convert their knowledge about the series into knowledge they can use in their own lives, as discerning consumers of fashion, as creators of ‘a look’ and a lifestyle. This is represented as a set of active choices that are an expression of individual character and mood. We are invited to conceive of emotional states as a trigger for particular types of consumption and clothing choices, such as the photograph of Carrie that is captioned ‘the dress that shows she is finally going to split from Mr Big’ (http://www. hbo. com/city_style). The site anticipates, encourages and attempts to shape fan behaviour that will convert into consumerism (Rivett 2000).