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Opinion – Pop culture has skewed Gen Z’s perception of money

Sex and the City’s new spinoff promotes the same irrational spending as its predecessor – but how much does the content we consume shape our financial habits?

Despite being just one year old when HBO’s juggernaut Sex and the City first aired, I probably devoted the majority of my teenage years to Carrie Bradshaw’s tumultuous love affairs – emotionally unavailable businessmen and bejewelled underwear included.

Sure, certain storylines have since aged like milk (the treatment of bisexuals promptly springs to mind), and it’s best we forget the movie sequel ever happened.

But Darren Star’s hit took prime-time television where it had never dared roam before: into the heads, hearts, and sex lives of thirty-something women.

Sex and the City (or SATC as it’s often truncated) has since paved the way for other women-led success stories like Girls, yet I still carry the wisdom of Star’s main show well into my twenties, navigating heartbreak and career-breaks with an apparition of Miranda Hobbes looming over my shoulder.

Now, the show is returning to its spiritual home. HBO’s limited series And Just Like That intends to pick up where its predecessor left off, as the women navigate ‘the reality of life and friendship in their 50’s’. Casting news indicates those friendships will be more diverse, too.

It’s the first time Gen Z audiences will meet Carrie, Charlotte, and Miranda outside of a dubious cinematic adaptation. And with the re-boot’s first trailer dropping this week, I knocked back a cosmopolitan and binge-watched the original series.

As always, I squirmed at outdated one-liners and cried whenever Charlotte made a suitably profound comment about love. But for the first time since my inaugural viewing, something stuck out like Carrie’s abs at a Hamptons hoedown.

Maybe it’s that I’ve since reckoned with the trauma of a post-grad overdraft, or that we’ve simply grown pragmatic during the pandemic, but I found myself disillusioned by the same on-screen lifestyles I’d sought to emulate in my teens.

I watched as Carrie squandered her pennies on Manolos and cocktail parties, brushed shoulders with politicians, and – at least once per season – stood proudly at the helm of her overflowing wardrobe.

Any writer on a freelance salary will snort at Carrie’s gorgeous Manhattan apartment and ‘FOUR dollars a word at Vogue!’, let alone the mass of free time she spends pondering a column over the drags of a Marlboro Light.

But as I hit play on season 6, I realised this daftly unrealistic lifestyle had shaped my relationships to money, work, and fashion more than I’d like to admit.

It’s sobering to consider just how much my decision to be a writer was spurred by Carrie’s endless carousel of bags, parties, and artistic Russian boyfriends. Has this show cultivated toxic spending habits amongst our generation, at a time when financial security is arguably more crucial than ever?

I used to laugh fondly at Carrie’s famous phrase, ‘I would buy Vogue instead of dinner. I felt it fed me more.’ Her tussled curls and toned deltoid’s made frivolous spending seem glamorous. Now I worry that this message may be landing young people in financial hot water.

Press shots from the new series have already promised the same unattainable vision of adulthood that defined the first (Charlotte’s Burberry dog poo bag dispenser is a notable highlight).

This narrative is particularly dangerous for young women, who can be drawn in by the spectacle of female success that shows like SATC promise.

The outrageously expensive outfits that come with that success send the message that, to achieve their goals, women must cultivate an exorbitant self-image – regardless of the cost. Refinery29 calculated that just one of Carrie’s famous get-ups would have set her back a whopping $29,165.

This comes at a time when Gen Z are placed under increased pressure to spend money they simply don’t have. Social media is abound with luxury influencers. These so-called ‘rich kids of Instagram’ flaunt designer garb so casually that their lifestyles appear bizarrely normal.

A 2017 study found that 41% of 18–25-year-olds feel pressure to wear a new outfit each time they go out, and 1 in 6 won’t repeat an outfit if it’s been on social media. Despite efforts to boost conscious buying, this number only seems to be growing.

This culture of disposability is also threatening our mental health – and need I mention its impact on the climate crisis.

After the past 18 months, we certainly deserve some escapism, and Sex and The City’s reboot looks fit to provide.

But it’s important that Gen Z are able to guide themselves through this post-pandemic financial minefield. Resources like Thred’s ‘Hustle’ page are a great place to start, offering advice on everything from job hunting to investment.

I only hope this kind of content stretches into pop culture next year, too. Because no matter what Carrie Bradshaw’s wardrobe may suggest, nothing is more glamorous than financial stability.

 

 

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