The Nation's Pulse

Sex and the Kiddies

Guess what show many teenage girls are modeling their lives after. Hint: It's now a major motion picture.

By 6.3.08

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For a few months when I was nine years old, in 1978, my pride and joy was inside a large cardboard box that had originally held a pair of sexy knee-high tan leather boots belonging to my divorced mom.

Within was my collection of Charlie's Angels bubblegum cards, separated into rubber-banded sets so I could easily locate duplicates with which to trade, usually in hope of the prized Farrah cards. Farrahs were the rarest because they were discontinued after the first season, when Mrs. Fawcett-Majors departed the show.

It wasn't that I was a fan of the TV show; in fact, I hardly ever watched it. What I liked were the images of the show's stars, especially the close-ups that offered their physical stats on the back. My body was beginning to sprout curves, and I hoped against hope that one day I could be beautiful like the Angels, or at least pretty enough to model.

One thing holding me back in that department was height. Models, I knew, were tall, and none of the women in my family made it up to five-and-a-half feet.

The Cheryl Ladd card gave me encouragement; it said the blue-eyed blonde was just 5-foot-4, my mom's height. I had blue eyes and blonde hair, and my dad used to tell me that after my braces were off I would have a shot at being Miss America.

TODAY'S YOUNG GIRLS have their own dreamgirls -- the ladies of Sex and the City. Glamorous protagonist Carrie Bradshaw, played by Sarah Jessica Parker, is just 5-foot-4, though her character's signature Manolo heels seem to raise her into the stratosphere.

Although SATC in its original HBO incarnation abounded in profanity and exposed flesh, for the past four years a "cleaned-up" version has aired in syndication, gaining an audience of girls too young to legally drink its protagonists' beloved Cosmopolitans.

The fact that Parker and her co-stars are old enough to be their mothers doesn't quell teens' enthusiasm for the show. If anything, it seems to give the Sex characters' actions an imprimatur, fulfilling the sort of elder-stateswoman role that Betty Friedan fulfilled for baby-boom feminists.

"It's my favorite show! I love it," gushes 15-year-old Hannah Montana star Miley Cyrus in this month's Vanity Fair -- the same issue in which she caused an uproar with her backless photo session.

Her SATC obsession helps explain why she was "embarrassed" at the reaction to a shoot she had thought was "artistic." After all, Samantha Jones, the show's most "sexually liberated" character, played by Kim Cattrall, posed nude, and if glamorous, self-assured Samantha could do it, why couldn't she at least show some skin?

As her love of SATC made headlines, Cyrus's flacks went into damage-control mode, claiming she was referring to the syndicated version. "The show she watches is completely sanitized," a source told People.

WELL, YES AND NO. The syndicated show is indeed missing many of the original's profanities and its X-rated sex talk. But no one would confuse it with Anne of Green Gables.

While the four-letter words are gone, the acts for which they stand remain, replaced with dubbed "clean" dialogue. The gals' "f---" buddies become "sex buddies." Samantha's war cry, "You gotta f--- me" is replaced with the so-much-better "You gotta bang me." When the syndicated episodes debuted, Kristin Davis, who plays Charlotte, observed, "[Watching the new version], I was sitting there trying to figure out what they left out!"

One of the most talked-about scenes in the SATC film that opened last Friday is a thinly veiled satire on how the TV show has attained an under-18 audience without losing its X-rated themes. The four female stars are sitting around the brunch table at their favorite restaurant, where they usually dish salacious bedroom stories, only now Charlotte's 3-year-old daughter is present as well, working on a coloring book.

When Miranda brings up their favorite topic, Charlotte urges her to watch her language around the child. Carrie saves the day by suggesting they substitute the word "coloring" for "sex."

Discussing the scene on NBC's Today show last week, Michael Patrick King, who directed and wrote both the film and the TV series, noted with pride, "That's as dirty as you can get and still be clean."

The real dirty little secret of SATC is that the little girls understand. "Sex and the City changed everything for me, because those girls would just sleep with so many people." Lindsay Lohan told a reporter in 2006. The Parent Trap star was only 11 years old when the show premiered.

The show inspired Lohan to create a sexual double standard for herself: She would have sex with whomever she chose, but would draw the line at sharing her male companions. "If I'm going to give my body to someone, I'd rather them not be with other people," she explained. "But I want to be able to if I like someone else."

That's not exactly the freedom Betty Friedan envisioned when she called upon women to escape the "comfortable concentration camp" of marriage and family.

But it is precisely the lifestyle SATC producer Darren Star, who is, like King, an out-and-proud gay man, sought to promote in creating the show. As he told Entertainment Weekly, "I really wanted to do a show that objectified men."

WHILE CHARLIE'S ANGELS gave me an unattainable ideal of beauty that, had I been more vulnerable, could have caused emotional problems, I believe SATC poses a far more insidious danger to young fans.

To understand the difference, realize that SATC is a fairy tale, and children are naturally drawn to fairy tales. More than that, as Carrie says in the film, it is a fairy tale with "a twist."

SATC's fantasy quality comes from its cultivation of the most essential aspect of fairy tales -- what G.K. Chesterton called "elementary wonder." For New Yorkers especially, it's the wonder at how Carrie could afford her Upper East Side apartment and designer wardrobe on a freelance writer's salary.

But the fairy tale fractures when it breaks what Chesterton called the "second great principleof the fairy philosophy ... the Doctrine of Conditional Joy." He explained that "The note of the fairy utterance always is, 'You may live in a palace of gold and sapphire,if you do not say the word "cow"' ... All the wild and whirling things that are let loose depend upon one thing that is forbidden."

Sex and the City turns the Doctrine of Conditional Joy on its head. Instead of saying, "All this can be yours, if you do not do X," it says, "All this can be yours if you do X." All the pleasures of the SATC gals' lifestyle depend upon that X-factor, literally -- they must have sex, or they will lose all hope of happiness. Sex first, love afterwards. Good sex may not lead to love, but sex is a door through which all must pass in order to receive the love that lasts.

That is the message that "changed everything" for Lohan. And that is the message young girls are absorbing as I write, as older siblings and friends sneak them into this R-rated film.

It's also the message children receive from grown-ups who act immature -- and SATC inspires random acts of Teh Stupid like The Rocky Horror Picture Show times infinity.

National Review Online's Kathryn Jean Lopez, who admires SATC's "honesty," was shocked when women stumbling out of an after-midnight showing of the film cussed out the theatergoer who beat them to a cab.

"Here's a movie with suffering and joy and life and cultural lessons," she wrote, "but some of the people I heard leaving the theater didn't seem to have been affected."

I believe they were affected -- and that's why they swore at a total stranger. That, in a nutshell, is the magic of SATC: It makes children act like jaded whores, and it makes adults act like spoiled children.

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