Sex and the City the television series ended six years ago. One might find this hard to believe, considering the characters and the lavish lifestyles they live have been far from gone in the mainstream media. The latest installment in the SATC enterprise is The Carrie Diaries, author Candace Bushnell’s young-adult novel that introduces audiences to Carrie Bradshaw as they’ve never seen her before – 17, virginal and unsure of how to fulfill her dream becoming a writer. The young Bradshaw struggles through adolescence the same way her adult self struggled through her 30s, and with just as much, if not more, wit and insight. It’s easy to see how Carrie became Carrie as Bushnell chronicles a very real, and entertaining, teenage experience using the skills we’ve come to know her for: realistic dialogue, relatable, yet flawed, friendships and capturing the excitement and emotion the first moments of love.
As a feminist scholar and critic, and an advocate for girl-friendly media, I was plagued by very familiar annoyances in the reading. Although adult Carrie admits in SATC (season 4, episode 17) that her father left when she was a toddler, Bushnell posits high-school Carrie as the eldest of three girls being raised by their father since their mother died a few years earlier. Although a single dad raising three young women is certainly an alternative to the status-quo, it is not more or less feminist than a mother, working full time and raising 3 daughters. And in the case of the latter, it provides something very important missing in both fiction and film – positive female role models.
The debate over Bushnell’s characters and their choices has been raging since the debut of the original series. In The Carrie Diaries, the author offers her own feminist commentary that is neither subtle, nor convincing. In a chapter dedicated to Carrie’s discovery of feminism, the 12 year old visits her local library to see her mother’s favorite (fictional) feminist Mary Gordon Clark speak. The young Bradshaw is chagrined by the woman’s gruff and judgmental manner, leaving her to ponder “How can you be a feminist when you treat other women like dirt?” An excellent question, though I’d be interested in asking Bushnell “Why all feminists must be represented as angry, elite meanies?”
Unlike her adult counterpart, whose friendships offered support, honesty and resilience in the face of obstacles, the high school Carrie is surrounded by a group of friends that are competitive, highly emotional, or just plain bitchy. Her most passionate moments include falling for a narcissistic, but gorgeous guy who eventually cheats on her with her best friend, developing her voice as a writer with the support of the Brown-attending George, and eventually being published in the school paper, with the help and support of the paper’s editor – her friend’s boyfriend.
As lover of pop-culture and an advocate for media literacy among the youth, especially girls, I was encouraged to find the positive elements of a story that will surely resonate with a large audience. Although Carrie’s mother is absent in reality, she is ever present in the lives of her daughters, all of which are struggling to maintain her legacy while evolving into who they will be as individuals. The biting, yet quirky, humor that endeared me to Carrie on SATC punctuates the tensest moments in the novel as Carrie offers teen-appropriate insights like, “Funny always makes the bad things go away.” Unfortunately, comparing the young Carrie to the character she became on the series leaves me no less than disappointed. The Carrie created here comes out an evolved and matured being, moving forward into the next phase of her life, something that was remiss of her character when the SATC series ended, and further exacerbated in the following two films. In fact, I’d favor a film version of The Carrie Diaries over both SATC films.