Narcissism Part of Carrie's 'City' Charm

Is Carrie Bradshaw, the main character in Sex and the City, a narcissist? Many — including Sarah Jessica Parker, who plays her — would say "yes" without flinching. As part of our "In Character" series, NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports, self-absorption is part of Carrie Bradshaw's charm.

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ROBERT SMITH, host:

Fans of a certain TV series about four girlfriends living it up in Manhattan need wait no longer. "Sex and the City," the movie, opens today. If you're not familiar with the original HBO series, here it is in a nutshell.

Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha spend episode after sexually explicit episode looking for love, expensive shoes and good cosmopolitans. Now the women are mostly in their 40s; their lives have changed. Carrie might be moving into a fabulous apartment with her long-time lover known as Mr. Big.

(Soundbite of film, "Sex and the City")

Unidentified Woman (Actor): (As character) It's so perfect.

Ms. SARAH JESSICA PARKER (Actor): (As Carrie Bradshaw) Except for the closet, which Big says he can redo, and also he says the kitchen needs work. Of course, I don't know about that because I keep sweaters in my stove.

SMITH: The fictional Carrie Bradshaw has a reputation for being a narcissist, and it's that aspect of her personality that NPR's Elizabeth Blair explores in today's installment of our series In Character.

ELIZABETH BLAIR: First a few basics about Carrie Bradshaw. She writes a column called Sex and the City, which is all about love and relationships in Manhattan. As played by Sarah Jessica Parker, she is sassy, takes pride in her femininity and in her unpredictable fashion sense.

Take the time one of her boyfriends picked her up for a date on his motorcycle.

(Soundbite of television program, "Sex and the City")

Ms. PARKER: (As Carrie) That's not a cab.

Unidentified Man (Actor): (As character) No, this'll be much more fun. I haven't had her out on the open road for a long time.

Ms. PARKER: (As Carrie) I really can't have the helmet hair when there's a red-carpet situation.

BLAIR: Carrie Bradshaw is unabashedly obsessed with her appearance. Sarah Jessica Parker says she just loves fashion.

Ms. PARKER: She loves it as a message, as being superficial, as being frivolous, as being serious, you know, as paying homage to the design, to the workers, but she also, you know, uses it to tell a story about herself on any given day.

BLAIR: Is she narcissistic?

Ms. PARKER: Absolutely, but I wouldn't say she's malignantly narcissistic. I would say that she has lived a single life for a long time, no children, no husband. She's responsible to and wonderfully burdened by her friendships, but that's very different than having children and a family, and so she has really been able to take care of only herself for a long time.

It doesn't mean she's not interested in the world and she wouldn't help somebody, but I think it has bred a certain narcissism in her, which is - you know, it is what it is.

(Soundbite of television program, "Sex and the City")

Ms. PARKER: (As Carrie) They say the unexamined life is not worth living, but what if the examining becomes your life? Is that living or just procrastinating?

Mr. BOB THOMPSON (Director, Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University): She is absolutely a narcissist. She is absolutely self-absorbed.

BLAIR: Bob Thompson is director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University.

Mr. THOMPSON: But I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. Generally, when we call people narcissistic, we're not meaning it as a compliment. But we have to remember that for thousands of years of history, and certainly through all of American history, narcissism was something that men engaged in constantly, and it was okay.

Let's remember, it was Narcissus not Narcissa. Narcissus was a guy.

BLAIR: A guy who couldn't get enough of his beautiful reflection in the river. We've all got a little of him in us. Bob Thompson even believes that narcissism is part of the foundation of feminism, since women needed to take themselves seriously before they could fight for equal rights.

In "Sex and the City," those rights are a given, at work and at play.

(Soundbite of television program, "Sex and the City")

Ms. PARKER: (As Carrie) Saturday night. In an effort to save money and maybe even pick up a few extra bucks, I invited the girls over for poker.

Unidentified Woman #2 (Actor): (As character) I'll buy two.

Unidentified Woman #3 (Actor): (As character) I'm in for three.

Ms. PARKER: (As Carrie) So you advocate a double standard. Women can use their sexuality to get ahead whenever possible, but men should not be allowed to take advantage of it?

Ms. KIM CATTRALL (Actor): (As Samantha Jones) No, I'm just saying that men and women are equal-opportunity exploiters.

Unidentified Woman #4 (Actor): (As character) I fold.

BLAIR: "Sex and the City" became so popular during its six-year run on HBO that Forbes Magazine recently ran an article saying the show spawned a cottage industry worth hundreds of millions of dollars from booze-shakers to shoe makers.

But like anything that becomes too popular, "Sex and the City" has also been an easy target for criticism. There are plenty of Carrie Bradshaw despisers out there who say she's way too obsessed with what others think of her, especially men.

Jessica Gross(ph) writes for Jezebel.com, an irreverent entertainment Web site for women.

Ms. JESSICA GROSS (Writer, Jezebel.com): I sort of find it immature. To be constantly having to have yourself validated by outside sources, it's exhausting.

BLAIR: But where the narcissist label does not fit the fictional Carrie Bradshaw is in her ability to be a very good friend.

(Soundbite of television program, "Sex and the City")

Ms. PARKER: (As Carrie) Miranda, you can't make those cupcakes and live with yourself. Move away from the icing.

Ms. CYNTHIA NIXON (Actor): (As Miranda Hobbes) What'll I tell Steve?

Ms. PARKER: (As Carrie) Blame the baby. That's what they're there for.

BLAIR: In the new "Sex and the City" movie, Carrie's narcissism gets her into a lot of trouble, and her friends help get her out. And that, says Sarah Jessica Parker, is what makes her a great character.

Ms. PARKER: She's complicated, she's obviously flawed, she's made terrible errors in judgment and paid for them dearly, but she's bright and curious and inquisitive, and she is a really honorable friend.

BLAIR: Looks like a lot of female friends are planning to see the new "Sex and the City" movie together. Group ticket sales have reportedly been strong. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

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