‘Sex and the City’ Just Turned 20. Its Treatment of Jews Was Downright Medieval.
The most prominent Jewish character on “Sex and the City,” a TV show about wealthy New York professional women, appears in the penultimate season of the hit HBO show.
In an episode that appeared in September 2002, lawyer Harry Goldenblatt storms on screen shouting and gesticulating incomprehensibly. He has intruded on a sensitive meeting in search of a bagel. He locates the bagel, schmears it with cream cheese, and shoves it into his mouth, babbling. Then he spits it back into his hand, announcing that he will be lodging a complaint about the bagel.
The next time Harry serves as a plot point, the story focuses on how vigorously he sweats. Next, his animal sexual passion.
After that? His back hair.
It’s true — the show that launched a thousand self-administered orgasms and was hailed as watershed women’s programming treats Jews about as well as Thomas Aquinas, the 13th century philosopher who wrote that Jews, despite their being criminals, should still be allowed basic necessities.
“Sex and the City” actually takes anti-Semitism a step farther, implying that Jews are second-class.
Is that a Louboutin too far? As Carrie Bradshaw herself might say, “I couldn’t help but wonder…why would a progressive show about cosmopolitanism depict Jewish characters as hairy, socially-impaired moneybags with big genitals and bigger sweat glands?”
Harry Goldblatt (Evan Handler) sweating on a beautiful shiksa (Kristin Davis)
Charlotte is repulsed by Harry, requesting him as her divorce lawyer because she can’t focus next to the handsome goy lawyer originally assigned to represent her. She finds herself drawn to Harry sexually, even though she is ashamed to be seen with him. Of course Charlotte, the Park Avenue WASP with the bone structure of an angel, ultimately falls deeply in love with Harry in spite of herself. She converts to Judaism, fights for his heart, and marries him. And the show goes on to deliver a shockingly realistic slice-of-diaspora — only after Charlotte converts to Judaism does she realize that her boyfriend is a non-observant Conservative Jew who would rather watch sports than say brachot. But the message that Harry’s physical revulsion, bad etiquette, and sexual appetite are tied to his ethnic Judaism is lasting.
This is especially galling because both the unappealing Harry and human-perfection Charlotte are played by Jewish actors: Evan Handler and Kristin Davis.
Charlotte meets a few other Jewish men in the series. At a singles mixer during an off-again moment with Harry, she meets a man who is almost as perfect a human specimen as herself. He is Jewish, successful, and handsome. And just before anti-Semitism can be pronounced dead forever, he makes aggressive sexual advances on her.
The next Jew we meet, Harry’s best man at his wedding to Charlotte, is a new model of Jew — an attractive neurotic, like an early iteration of The OC’s Seth Cohen. He, too, reveals himself to have a bottomless appetite for sex and a derision for women’s feelings. Sure, it’s a show about pushing the boundaries of portraying sexual pleasure, but Jewish men on “Sex and the City” are not sexual beings but sex-fiends. This shouldn’t be shocking to those who make it to the fifth season of the show, when Harry’s character is introduced. The show’s treatment of bisexuality, black people, and transgender sex workers, seems knowingly hateful. Time for some Interse(x and the city)ctionality.
Jewish men, according to “Sex and the City,” come in two varieties: revolting-but-endearing, and pervert. If only there was a real-life Jew who could serve as a model for the show’s creators. Some kind of beautiful, intelligent-albeit-flawed Jewish woman who enjoyed sex among other passions, maybe.
Ah, well. Maybe in the next twenty years.
Jenny Singer is the deputy Life editor for the Forward. You can reach her at Singer@forward.com or on Twitter @jeanvaljenny