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Illustration by Isabel Ríos

Emily in Paris vs. Sex and the City. Has Society changed?

From the same creator but filmed almost two decades apart, how do Sex and the City and Emily in Paris parallel the changes seen in society?

Puns and Manolo Blahniks and tulle skirts, oh my! These are the three quintessential components that constitute the ever-charming Carrie Bradshaw, arguably one of TV’s most influential characters.
What is it about Carrie? It’s been 22 years since Sex and the City’s first episode aired and we’re still talking about its protagonist. Whether she was strutting down Fifth Avenue in wacky outfits or discussing her latest lover’s flaws with her friends, Carrie was magnetic. She became an ideal; a fictional it girl. She reflected values that were considered exceptionally progressive in the early 2000s — though an abundance would appear chauvinistic to contemporary audiences — as well as views that can most accurately be described as unapologetically American. It’s precisely in this way that a TV show can reflect a society specific to its time.
On Oct. 2, Emily in Paris, another show by the creator of SATC, Darren Star, premiered on Netflix. It introduces Emily Cooper as the modern Carrie Bradshaw. But how exactly has the American “it” girl evolved over the course of more than two decades? What can the evolution of TV tell us about how society has changed?
The most obvious difference between the shows is their locations: one takes place in New York City, the other in Paris. Emily’s relocation to Paris for a job opportunity speaks to an increase in mobility in the last few years, as we are now able to explore careers in other countries. A changing labor market, including remote work, allows for smoother transnational movement.
Additionally, the rise of social media as we know it only started in 2004, precisely the year in which SATC came to an end. In Emily in Paris, the role of social media is specially highlighted by the main character’s metamorphosis into an influencer. For her, every moment is an opportunity to upload, every place is made to be photographed. The show accurately depicts contemporary culture, where many struggle to appreciate a sight unless they immortalize it through an Instagram post.
She’s portrayed as a marketing mastermind bringing new ideas to France, dubiously depicted as a country with strangely frigid ideas about technology, luxury and feminism. This is completely contrary to Carrie’s abhorrence for technology, famously reflected by her inability to properly send an email. It’s precisely this difference between the two shows that helps illustrate our shifting relationship with technology over time. Only 20 years ago we were struggling to make phone calls through flip phones; today, we’re terrified of the idea of losing our social media accounts — a fear which is actualized by Emily at a point in the series.
Where Carrie and Emily are far from opposites is both characters’ focus to the way they dress. Emily and Carrie are almost always dressed to the nines, as if their respective salaries, as a social media strategist and a freelance writer, would allow them to do so in the real world.
This is a particularly important aspect of both shows, for it seems to encourage the idea that consumption is of utmost importance. Hence, it’s safe to say that, like the United States itself, SATC and Emily in Paris both idealize a culture based on consumerism, making it all the more difficult to escape.
It's also worth noting that while Carrie’s known for thrifting many of her clothes, Emily seems to have a wardrobe exclusively made up of the latest trends, which highlights that consumerism has only become even more dominant than before.
Another important factor in which SATC and Emily in Paris differ is the overall progressiveness of the views the character’s reflect.
As its name suggests, SATC explored women’s sexuality on television in a way that had arguably never been done before. For many, the show was revolutionary in discussing the experiences of women without judging or demonizing them, celebrating the fact that they could behave “like a man.”
Despite this, numerous plotlines in the show now appear outdated. Many have recognized how characters of color were excluded from the narrative. In fact, it wasn’t until its last season that a recurring black character was introduced into the series. Mindy, Emily’s Chinese-Korean best friend, makes a recognisable effort to make Emily in Paris a little more diverse, but with Lily Collins and Sarah Jessica Parker as the main characters, can one assume that the entire female population of the United States is made up of nothing more than skinny, white women?
In addition, transphobic and biphobic remarks were openly voiced by different characters on SATC, without a hint of reluctancy. Notably, the series’ ending reinforced the idea that a girl can only be truly happy when she’s with a man, as Carrie is rescued by her Prince Charming, Mr. Big.
It would be wrong to say that Emily in Paris does not try to fix the damage done by SATC’s ending. Undeniably, Emily is far more focused on her career path, and the political importance of it, than on her relationship with men. Indeed, she noticeably challenges a particularly important advertisement her marketing firm is working on for its sexist undertones; Emily seems to object to the misogynistic views the society around her upholds.
However, other than that particular instance, Emily seems indifferent to the evidently sexist remarks that pop up around her. When a male character suggests that a woman’s breasts, like champagne, were specifically created to be enjoyed by men, no one questions the remark and it is all presented as nothing more than romantic.
From the comparison of two American it girls, it is clear that society is not as it used to be, at least in some ways. Social media has transformed many aspects of life, potentially even transforming the very core of our existence. And while feminism has also progressed, it still has a long way to go, for the objectification of women continues to emerge from the most unexpected places. To add on, the representation of minorities in the media remains to be far from perfect.
What this says about contemporary society is disheartening at best. As technological advances are made and discrimation remains somewhat unaltered, one cannot help but wonder: is it possible that we’re bringing our bigoted ideas from the past to a technologically modern future?
Francisco Manuel Lopez Ramirez is a staff writer and photographer. Email him at
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