When I was in Southeast Asia this summer, I had a very unusual experience–I went to see the movie Sex and the City with some Muslim girls from Sudan. It was seriously disorienting as we walked into a movie all about sex, accompanied by girls wearing conservative head coverings. Granted, the country censored all the nudity, sex scenes and kissing out of the film, but it was still pretty racy. I never would have guessed that these girls would be interested in seeing such a movie.
But what was even more surprising is that we all enjoyed it, including myself! Since all the sex had been edited out, I was able to focus more on the plot line which, at its core, is about the unshakable bond between friends.
That story line, about 4 friends who stick together through thick and thin, is a story line that transcends age and culture. That’s why so many women all over the world have identified with the show and its characters. Each woman in the group is different, but each fits in perfectly as she offers her own unique dynamic to the group. And each woman is fully loved by her other friends, in spite of their differences.
In Sex and the City, we see a vision of friendship that allows us to be who we are, and still be loved unconditionally. We also see a vision of friendship that perseveres through adversity, as well as rejoicing in the good times. It is a kind of friendship that most women desire because it provides us with an emotional refuge, and it allows us to be free in who we are. As a result, women watch the show and aspire to have the same kinds of relationships.
There is a similar phenomenon with the show Entourage. Here again, we see a group of guys who live the kind of life most guys only dream about. But what’s even better is that they live this dream life together. Unlike many people, they have not attained success only to find themselves alone at the top. Instead, they remain a solid core through the adventures of life. And like Sex and the City, each guy is different, offering his own unique personality to make the group what it is. Again, each man is free to be himself, and still be accepted.
As a result of shows like these, I’ve noticed men and women will subconsciously (or consciously) imitate the lifestyles of the characters. They mimic their language, their dress, their behaviors, and the way they relate to members of the opposite sex. They are trying to live out the friendships that they’ve seen on t.v. because they look so desirable.
And this is where our sweet tale of friendship goes horribly awry. While both shows display a quality of friendship that we rarely experience today, that tiny bit of truth has blinded countless viewers to an underlying perversion.
The problem with the “friendship” offered us in these shows is that it is ultimately self-destructive. It is a kind of friendship that has no real moral compass because it isn’t founded on anything that is morally tangible. It may appeal to some vague sense of love and commitment or shared experiences, but those elements don’t guard a friendships from selfishness, or guide friendships in the way of integrity.
And that is why the moral values of these shows are so shaky. Throughout the course of the series, the Sex and the City women simply laughed about one another’s crazy antics as several of them had affairs with married men, had affairs themselves, and engaged in other behaviors that would lead to unspeakable pain and heartache in the real world. There was no higher standard by which to measure their actions. The group itself sets the standard.
In the same way, the men in Entourage essentially cheer one another on as they objectify women and treat them like throw away kleenex. It’s all about sexual conquest after sexual conquest. The friends are not cultivating any kind of character in one another. They are instead reinforcing behaviors and mindsets that cultivate selfishness and short-circuit one’s ability to love and commit in a self-sacrificing way.
That is the deceptiveness of shows like these. They offer us a vision of something we desire, and there might even be some truth to it. But ultimately, these friendships are fatally flawed for one reason, and one reason alone: they are not founded on Christ.
Any friendship that is not founded on Christ can wander astray into one of two categories, both of which are demonstrated for us through Sex and the City and Entourage:
1. Friendship founded on idolatry–This is a friendship that is grounded in a mutual interest or shared history, anything other than Christ. It could be anything from the innocent interests of shopping, running, or knitting, or it could even be founded on gossip, partying, or promiscuity. While some of those mutual interests can add depth to a friendship, they cannot replace the importance of placing Christ at the center of your Christian friendships. When Christ is removed, our friendships no longer have an immovable anchor, but are instead founded upon a shakeable moral ground which is largely determined by the subjective opinion of the group.
2. Friendship founded on exclusivity–This model of friendship is not based on who you are, but instead on who you’re not. It tends to take an attitude of “us against the world.” Specifically, women can stereotype and tear down their male counterparts–“we women need to stick together against the men.” Similarly, men can objectify women, seeing them not as equals but as prizes to be competed for. They are not given the same respect and care as members within the group. These friendships also cultivate a false sense of intimacy–you may feel close to the members of the group, but there is nothing substantive that’s really connecting you together. And that spirit of opposition can easily be used to exclude you one day.
HBO is selling a model of friendship that offers us a kernel of truth, and that truth is refreshing in a world where good friendships are hard to find. But we must not allow that grain of truth to blind us to the lies hidden within. True, edifying, Christian friendship should be centered on Christ alone–any other model only feeds our destructive tendencies. Remember that the next time you watch these shows, as well as something as benign as Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Ask what these shows are selling, and whether or not you’ve bought the lie. When you look at the friendships in your life, what model do you see?