What is happening in our world? Who is doing what? what is going on now? These are questions that will be answered. Enjoy.
You’ve Got Mail 20th Anniversary
Twenty years ago, it was 1998. In 1998, the world was different. I was a child, for example, for the first time dipping my toes and then full lower half into the mildly racy world of Under-18 AOL chat rooms, a way of socializing on the internet that would not contribute to my eventual vague-but-constant feeling of dread. That year, Spice World came out, which featured some of the best miniature bus stunt work thus far in cinema. LeAnn Rimes and Trisha Yearwood were both nominated for Grammys for the same song! And that song was “How Do I Live!” Lying about having sex with someone was enough to get the president impeached! I’m dizzy.
It was also, most importantly, the year it was possible for a movie to open at number-one in which every single character—the protagonist, her antagonist, both of their parodized exes, the friends, the background actors, the children—were readers. Not just casual readers. Professional readers. Readers who, if they had had Twitter, would have described themselves as “book junkies.”
I have seen Nora Ephron’s You’ve Got Mail, which was released 20 years ago today, upwards of 4,000 times. It is rom-com canon, second only to When Harry Met Sally…, and, to my mind, it has transcended criticism. Its portrayal of Upper West Side aspirational literary culture osmosed itself into my brain and body and largely bears the blame for many of my adult choices. The film, for the exactly zero of you who are reading this who haven’t seen it, centers on Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan), who owns an independent children’s bookstore on the Upper West Side, a paragon of anti-capitalist bibliophilia which seemingly cares about everything but making money—she hosts lazy storytelling hours in the middle of the weekend, hangs ornaments, lends strangers her personal hanky, sells a total of maybe one book.
I have seen Nora Ephron’s You’ve Got Mail upwards of 4,000 times. It is rom-com canon and, to my mind, it has transcended criticism.
Meanwhile, her foil, Joe Fox (Tom Hanks), the young, firecracker heir of the Fox Books megastores (a clear Barnes & Noble stand-in) who scrapes garnish caviar off a platter of egg salad (???), cares about nothing but money. “We’re gonna sell them cheap books and legal addictive stimulants,” he says at one point, talking as menacingly as one can about selling books and java.
Kathleen and Joe both begin the movie in what appear to be fairly serious, adult relationships—Kathleen with Frank Navasky (Greg Kinnear), an affected New York Observer columnist who rejects laptops in favor of word processor typewriters of which he owns three, and Joe with Patricia Eden (Parker Posey), a book editor with her own imprint (good for Patricia, who is certainly younger than 40) who falls asleep thanks to a reasonable dose of one-half of an Ultradorm. Both Frank and Patricia are portrayed in the movie as ultra-pretentious, utterly wrong mates for our real literary heroes (you know they are, because they’ve both read and relate to Pride and Prejudice).
Still, Frank manages to whip up a fair amount of public outrage surrounding the closure of Kathleen’s Shop Around the Corner, which is, if heartwarming, an eventual failure. In 1998, when the Upper West Side was battling the influx of chain stores rather than bracing for potential martial law, I’m sure that seemed like a bigger deal.
Twenty years later, Verdi Square—that triangle at 72nd Street where Joe and Kathleen do much of their feud-flirting, and is in many ways the heart of the film’s perception of the anti-chain, small business-haven that was once the Upper West Side—now has a Sephora, a North Face, a Trader Joe’s, and a Bloomingdale’s Outlet. Barnes and Noble, the erstwhile villain, is a relic; in September, it announced it was considering selling itself to stay afloat, carrying now just a fifth of the market share for print books and two percent for e-books.
Meanwhile, Amazon has slowly, ominously rolled into the picture, like a sky-erasing space ship in one of those sci-fis people love. But not me, because I spend all my free time rewatching You’ve Got Mail. Amazon sells half of all print books and 84 percent of e-books; it also controls, by the way, a major market share of everything else. According to Axios, it has obliterated Sports Authority and hobbled major department stores like J.C. Penney and Sears.
And, as we know, it gets worse. In November, Amazon announced it was settling down in Long Island City after receiving $3 billion in tax incentives from the city and state. This announcement has resulted in a dramatic rise in housing prices, and will effectively destroy the neighborhood for anyone but the wealthiest New Yorkers and transplants, threaten union workers, and decimate, as Hamilton Nolan writes in The Guardian, our “last vestiges of coolness,” that we’ve managed to retain even in the face of the city’s overwhelming finance bro culture. “Forcing us to take in a flood of rich young tech people on top of this is like giving the flu to someone who already has chronic but manageable diabetes,” Nolan writes. “It’s just not fair.”
If someone were to make You’ve Got Mail in 2018, Joe Fox would be Jeff Bezos, a wildly out-of-touch billionaire who wears insulated vests and catfishes the owner of a bookstore who accidentally wipes out in an instant without realizing it. Kathleen Kelly would not be a character. In 2018, the story is base and unremarkable. Not even a footnote.