Popular Culture  •  August 1, 2002

Single in the City

Men can focus solely on their productive lives, and if they succeed, everything else will follow. On the other hand, with women, their value in the career market is a separate issue from their value in the marketplace of mating, so they must pay attention to both independently. Ironically, for most women, paying more attention to the latter is more effective in achieving a “happy” life in a banal sense of the word. This type of banal happiness is often dismissed by those who see themselves to be beyond it, but it is for most of us a prerequisite for all other types of happiness. This is reflected in the recent trend of online dating services where people are willing to pay over 20 dollars a month for the service, which most other online services can only dream of.

Women’s Entertainment Network has a show called “Single in the City” where they follow 11 “real” single women in New York City as they struggle to find happiness in the marketplace of mating. It is a reality TV version of HBO’s hit series, “Sex and the City”. I’ve seen a few episodes of “Sex” and I find the show thoroughly boring. “Single”, on the other hand, is surprisingly captivating to me.

One of the aspects of “Single” that fascinates me is its shamelessness. The idea of the show itself is a shameless rip-off of “Sex” to begin with. The women in “Single” are all shameless not only in their approach to capturing men, but also in their sharing of their own private lives on TV. The four women who call themselves “The Barracudas” even have a website of their own to cash in on their 15 minutes of fame. A part of the reason why I can’t watch “Sex” but enjoy watching “Single” is because the latter took the banality and the baseness of “Sex” a few steps further, where it shows something interesting about its own banality and shamelessness.

“Single” does not show much of what these women do when they are not chasing men, because it is rather unnecessary. With women, their physical bodies and attitudes are all that need to be on the table before the auction can begin in the mating market. Their creative and productive lives are equivalent to “Hobbies” in a resume. With men, what they do for a living, what they own, who they know, what they can do are all integral part of their price tag. If a male version of “Single” were to be made, just showing them grooming themselves and them in action at a bar, at a restaurant, or on a beach, would not be good enough to establish a character that would engage the viewers.

There is something animalistic and savage about a life centered around mating. Watching “Sex” or “Single” is similar to watching a bunch of monkeys, dogs, or pigeons chase each other for sex. What makes us better than common animals is that we are capable of higher aspirations that go beyond survival and procreation. This is why a life centered around mating is seen to be lowly. The advantage that men have over women is that men do not have to center themselves around mating, because mating will be taken care of as a fringe benefit of their productive lives. Even if your ultimate concern as a man were to get laid, the most effective way to achieve that goal would be to focus on your productive life. This is not true with women. Even if you were a powerful lawyer or a Wall Street trader, you may be worth next to nothing in the mating market. This is why a show about women in the mating market necessarily becomes base and even savage. That is, there really isn’t much difference between them and monkeys.

“Sex and the City” does not show this savageness and baseness in their true forms. It is artificially sweetened. With “Single in the City”, there is no-holds-barred shamelessness in every aspect of the show. The paradox of being a modern woman is presented vividly in Technicolor. It shows the conflict between being a productive member of the society and a woman. It is a sad and ugly reality. Most TV critics hate “Single” because it is ugly and is painful to watch, but, I say, it should be. What I cannot stand is the artificial sweetness of “Sex and the City”. The alienation of female self is a real issue in today’s world. “Sex” is a story told through the eyes of gay men on Prozac, and “Single” is a reality presented in all its ugly glory.