Library Dissertation Showcase

Postfeminism and progression: an investigation into representations in Sex and the City and Big Little Lies

  • Year of Publication:
  • 2020

Looking specifically at the HBO series Sex and the City (HBO, 1998-2004) and Big Little Lies (HBO, 2017-), this dissertation will seek to determine how postfeminist these series are by analysing and comparing two key representations from each show, in line with postfeminist theory. Furthermore, it will strive to determine whether the representation of women in television has advanced over time, and whether the influence of previous female-centred series can be found in modern television.

The women presented in these shows are complex, challenged by the lives they lead and are all extremely varied, which makes them interesting subjects for a textual analysis and comparison. Textual analysis has been chosen as the investigative method of choice, as it will allow for important scenes throughout each series to be analysed in detail. By looking at various elements including mise-en-scene, narrative advances and character discourse, a greater understanding of each character’s representation will be inferred. Through these methods of textual analysis, this dissertation will aim to understand why these characters have been presented in the way they have and what these representations mean within a postfeminist context. The first, female-centred television series which this dissertation will analyse is Sex and the City (hereafter SATC). SATC has been described as a “television milestone” (Jermyn, 2009, 4-5) as a result of its progressive female representations and frank exploration of themes such as female sexuality, divorce and infertility. The series debuted on the pay subscription service HBO (Home Box Office) in 1998 and follows the day to day lives of four women in New York City. The women of SATC have been both hailed and condemned for their actions within the series, and as the series debuted during the height of the postfeminist era, provide a great opportunity to determine the extent to which they can be classified as postfeminist representations. The series with which this dissertation will use as comparison is another HBO original series, Big Little Lies (hereafter BLL). BLL first debuted on the network in 2017 as a mini-series adaptation of Liane Moriarty’s novel of the same name. The series follows a murder enquiry within a seemingly perfect Californian community, whilst delving into the psyche of the complex, varied and opinionated women who call the town of Monterey, home. The series explores the small lies we tell to present the image of a perfect life and how detrimental, or deathly, these lies can be. By comparing BLL and SATC, this dissertation will be able to compare the representations themselves and explore whether the wider representations of women in television have, in any way, advanced since the women of New York first stepped onto our screens in 1998.

Chapter one will begin by outlining the historical context with which these two series can be placed; exploring the representations which preceded them and the wider history of female-centred television. It will also discuss the postfeminist theory with which this dissertation will utilise throughout its analysis; discussing the work of prominent, postfeminist theorists such as Bonnie Dow (1996), Robyn Swink (2017) and Amanda Lotz (2001), before defining ‘postfeminism’ in its own way. In addition to this relevant context, chapter one will also provide a brief history of the network channel that premiered these two female-centred series, HBO. This context will provide a crucial platform for the analysis of SATC and BLL which will follow in chapters two and three.

Chapter two will focus solely on SATC. This chapter will introduce, analyse and debate the representations of Charlotte York (Kristin Davis) and Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall), whilst looking at their representations within a postfeminist context. As the series premiered during the height of the postfeminist era, exploring the representations of two of its most opposing and complex characters will provide a great case study into how postfeminist television represented women, and the types of themes which were present at the time. These themes will then be discussed in relation to BLL to enable comparisons to be drawn between the two HBO series. Chapter two will execute this exploration through methods of discourse and narrative analysis, focusing on key episodes which prominently feature crucial elements of the representations discussed.

Chapter three will be dedicated to the representations featured in BLL. Similarly, using methods of textual analysis including discourse, narrative and mise-en-scene analysis, this chapter will seek to understand how the women of Monterey are viewed, and whether they can be classified as postfeminist representations. Looking specifically at the representations of Renata Klein (Laura Dern) and Celeste Wright (Nicole Kidman), chapter three will apply postfeminist theory to these representations and compare them to the women of SATC. Once the representations have been explored and debated, chapter three will seek to understand how the female representations within each series compare to one another and whether the wider representation of women in television has advanced.

This dissertation will ultimately aim to understand how postfeminism is represented in both series, and what influence the women of late 1990s New York had on the modern-day women of Monterey. By looking at both shows, in relation to postfeminist understandings, a clear comparison and conclusion will be drawn as to how the representations of women in television have developed over time, and whether previous female-centred series should be praised for their bold strides in female representation.

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