In both cases, sex turned out to be something of a distraction from the main moral issue. If I say that these were both immoral programmes, it's because the best ethical lesson a television programme can offer is to show us other people and make us identify with them. The trouble with both these series is that what made their characters tick was thorough-going self- obsession (which I do identify with, but not in a nice way).
Sex and the City was by far the more repellent, ending as it did on a note of thoroughly hollow moral uplift. In the final episode, Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) and her friends encountered a series of problems involving men and religion: Miranda's new boyfriend turned out to be a repressed Catholic ("They should wear a sign," she complained), who felt the need to shower away the sin as soon as sex was over. Meanwhile, Carrie - "Raised in the Church of Be Nice to People and Don't Talk With Your Mouth Full" - discovered that her man, the annoyingly named Mr Big, was secretly taking his mother to church every week. Realising that he was excluding her from important aspects of his life, she chucked him, and found that she still had faith - faith in herself as a strong person, and faith that one day she would find Mr Right. On this evidence, Carrie draws her spiritual strength from a thorough reading of self-help books and Danielle Steel.
Queer as Folk also seemed to be heading for a moral lesson, as good-looking, predatory Stuart (Aidan Gillen) found his life falling apart around him. Vince, his likeable punch-bag friend, found himself a steady boyfriend; the lesbian mother of his child, convinced that Stuart had deliberately wrecked her fake marriage, took against him; a casual attempt to chat a man up turned nasty when it transpired that Stuart had already slept with him and completely forgotten about it. Finally his under-age lover Nathan, fed up with being used for sex, stole his father's wallet and headed off to London. This last was presented as a triumph of self-determination, though I found it hard to be optimistic on Nathan's behalf - young, gay, good-looking and with no qualifications, his career prospects in the big city weren't pretty.
It looked for a moment as though Stuart was getting his comeuppance, which would have been altogether too simplistic. In fact, all he had was a miserable few minutes before Vince decided that a proper relationship was cramping his style, and he much preferred the licensed immaturity of unrequited passion. And so the two of them danced the night away to the strains of "It's Raining Men". What moral can you get from this: the only way to happiness is to live in the moment? That however much of a bastard you are, there's always some mug who'll put up with you? Or just a big shrug of the shoulders? At any rate, it was a shrug with style.Reuse content