Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

Jewish Performativity on Sex and the City

Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

Jewish Performativity on Sex and the City

Article excerpt

In the final season of the critically acclaimed series Sex and the City (SATC), an event occurred that had never been seen before on television. A woman converted to Judaism in order to marry the man she loved, a Jewish man unwilling to concede an interfaith marriage. In the six seasons SATC was on the air, almost every topic relevant to the lives of adult women was covered. From giving birth and oral sex, to independence and impotence, to fashion and female empowerment, Charlotte York (Kristen Davis), Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker), Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall), and Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon) forever changed the television landscape with their frank discussions of love, sex, work, and friendship. SATC challenged conventions about the roles women play on television, honestly showed the ways women talk about sex, and promoted the independence of thirty-something women. The awards it has accrued, the academic discussions it has generated, the two feature-length films it spawned, and the assortment of stations that continue to carry the series in syndication clearly mark SATC as a popular culture phenomenon. (1)

Like the show itself, the season six storyline of Charlotte York's conversion to Judaism is groundbreaking. Throughout the first half of the season, Charlotte embraces, embodies, and enacts Jewishness within and through her process of becoming a Jew. From her initial meetings with the rabbi to her final descent into the mikvah bath, (2) Charlotte demonstrates the necessary performativity of Jewish identity. Only during the moments when Charlotte performs an act of Jewishness, cites Jewishness, or does something Jewish does Jewishness materialize within the text and as part of her character.

Each act, statement, and performance of Jewish identity iterates and reiterates Jewish identity as necessarily performative. For example, soon after Charlotte's conversion to Judaism, she eagerly hangs a mezuzah on the doorframe of her apartment. Loudly hammering away at the door, Charlotte is interrupted by her neighbour, an older lady with white hair, red lips, and a Chanel suit, who opens her door and crossly asks, "What on earth is all that banging?" Charlotte eagerly turns her head and exclaims, "Oh! Good morning Mrs. Collier. I'm a Jew now. How are you?" In this moment of marking herself Jewish with a material sign of Jewishness and verbally declaring herself Jewish to Mrs. Collier, Charlotte inscribes Jewishness on her identity and her home and reiterates and reinscribes her Jewishness to the audience. The annoyed Mrs. Collier quickly shuts her door, and Charlotte continues hammering. Later in the episode, after she and Harry have broken up, Charlotte is reinscribed as Jewish by the mezuzah as she walks past it into her home. Despondently looking up at the religious symbol, Charlotte appears saddened as Carrie's voiceover reiterates Charlotte's Jewishness within a framework of intelligibility by summing up her predicament, "Just what New York needs, another single Jewish girl" (Episode 6.4). It is only in these moments of inscribing, iterating, reinscribing, and reiterating Jewishness that Charlotte's Jewish identity materializes and is made recognizable. As such, the existence of a Jewish identity necessitates performativity.

The construction of Charlotte's character during the final season of SATC is an example of the necessary performativity of Jewish identity on television. Jewish identity on television and in real life is often unseen and invisible and relies on the doing, marking, and speaking of Jewishness in order for the identity to materialize (Butler 1993). The invisibility and necessary performativity of Jewishness are a similarity Jewish identity most closely shares with LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered) identity. While race, gender, class, and ability are all arguably performative identities, I suggest Jewish identity is most similar to LGBT identity because neither identity is necessarily seen and because, historically and culturally, Jews and LGBT people share common bodily and socially constructed identities. …

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