The Accidental Fascism of You’ve Got Mail: What This 90’s Rom-Com Is Really About

The Accidental Fascism of You’ve Got Mail: What This 90’s Rom-Com Is Really About

You’ve got Mail starring Meg Ryan and Tom
Hanks. You may remember it as the RomCom with Dave
Chappelle. Or perhaps you confused it with Sleepless
in Seattle, also starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. Or Joe Versus the Volcano, also starring Meg
Ryan and Tom Hanks. It’s definitely not the “I’ll have what
she’s having movie” also starring Meg Ryan but not Tom Hanks. Now, you may have never seen You’ve Got
Mail, and you may not want to. But you should, because of one important fact:
It’s the most successful adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984 ever made. Ok, not entirely, but this movie is seriously
subversive. And by the end, you’ll be saying with me:
Tom Hanks is Big Brother. Big Brother is love. So please join me as I ruin a movie you thought
was exempt from the prying minds of Wisecrack. And spoilers a- ah fuck it. You’ve Got Mail is the story of a small
business owner, Kathleen Kelly, being crushed under the heel of a massive
corporation, Fox and Sons. Kelly runs The Shop Around the Corner, a children’s
book store, when a Barnes and Noble-esque mega chain opens
up in the neighborhood. Kelly can’t keep up with the low prices
of Fox and Sons, or the charm of Tom Hank’s character Joe
Fox “Joe. Just call me Joe” and is eventually forced to close down the
business that her mother passed down to her. While all of this is happening, Kelly starts
romancing a stranger on the internet, despite the fact that she’s already in a
relationship with a writer who hates technology “You think this machine is your friend but
it’s not” and name drops Heidegger “He’s always talking about Heidegger…”
…and Foucault so you know – shout out to that guy. The stranger is none other than Joe Fox, heir
apparent of Fox and Sons, who is also flirting with a stranger on the
internet while in a monogamous relationship. Ok, so it’s the classic will they or won’t
they story of two people falling in love. It even draws heavily on the 1940s romance
“The Shop Around the Corner”, from which Kathleen’s store derives its
name. So what makes it Orwellian? George Orwell’s 1984 is the story of a guy
named Winston Smith who lives in the totalitarian regime of Oceania. In Oceania, loyalty to the party is paramount,
truth is malleable, and as Winston naively muses, the only freedom
you have exists in the few cubic centimeters of space of your brain cavity. After flirting with freedom,
he’s tortured into confessing his crimes against Big Brother. The book is about being crushed under the
heel of a totalitarian system. By contrast, You’ve Got Mail is the story
of being crushed under the heel of big business. Tom Hanks and his family are cruel corporate
despots who take glee in crushing small business owners like Kathleen Kelly
“Listen, I have a sad announcement to make. City books, on 23rd street, it’s going under”
“Aww another independent bites the dust. Whereas Kelly finds her life’s work in transmitting
the joy of reading to a new generation, “Because when you read a book as a child, it becomes
part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole
life does”, the ideals of Fox and Sons are just a facade
to make more profit “We’re also going to have a section dedicated
just to writers who’ve lived on the west side” “as a sop to the neighborhood” “Perfect, keep
those west side liberal nut pseudo intellectuals.” “readers, dad, they’re called readers” “don’t
do that son, don’t romanticize them”. But let’s consider the two endings. In You’ve Got Mail, Kelly begrudgingly befriends
her business rival once she’s left unemployed and with no hope for the future. Fox realizes he’s been talking to Kelly
all along, but she doesn’t. So he plays it slow until the two anonymous
internet lovers finally decide to meet in person. And for Kelly, surprise, it’s Joe Fox. But in the final moments of the film, she
has this to say: “I wanted it to be you. I wanted it to be you so badly”. And in 1984, there’s this… “But it was all right, everything was all
right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.” Wilson finally comes to love the warming embrace
of Big Brother. While the party could have simply killed or
lobotomized him, it’s far more preferable for him to embrace
his oppression. As Winston is told by his torturer, the point
is not to confess, or punish, but to change. “All the confessions made here are true. We do not destroy the heretic because he resists
us. As long as he resists us, we never destroy
him. We make him one of ourselves
before we kill him”. Is this not the real message of You’ve Got
Mail? It’s not enough for Kelly to be broken and
beaten, she must also fall in love with the living
symbol of her destitution “How can you forgive this guy for standing
you up and not forgive me of this one tiny little thing of putting you out of business” But unlike 1984, You’ve Got Mail imagines
power as an act of seduction. Joe Fox uses the language explicitly. As he prepares to open the bookstore amidst
fears of public backlash, “This is the upper west side, man, we might as well tell them
we’re opening a crackhouse. They’re gonna hate us”. He says
“We’re going to seduce them, we’re going to seduce them with our square footage, and our
discounts, and our deep arm chairs, and our cappuccinos, that’s right. They’re going to hate us at the beginning,
but we’ll get ’em in the end. You know why?” “Why?” “Cause we’re going to sell them cheap books
and legal addictive stimulants.” And before you accuse me of stretching, consider
this: There’s an overt reference to being seduced by a Fascist dictator in the film. In one scene, a friend of Kelly’s tries
to comfort her after she decides to close the store. Using militaristic metaphors, she consoles
Kelly: “You are marching into the unknown armed with…nothing
“. And then, has this story to tell “Now I suppose
you want me to tell you who it was I fell madly in love with… but im not going to
tell.” “Who was it, Birdie?” “It wasn’t meant to be…” “Why not?” “He ran spain.” “Spain?” “The country, he ran it, it was his job! And then he died, just as well”. Who exactly is this mythical love who ran
spain? “She fell in love with Generallismo Franco”
“Oh don’t say that. Really, we don’t know that for sure-” well
we don’t know for sure.” “Who else could it have been? It was probably around 1960”. And for some quick context – that’s Francisco
Franco, who staged a fascist coup against Spain’s democratic republic in the 30s,
allied himself with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, and regularly killed political opponents “People do really stupid things in foreign
countries”. “Absolutely. They buy leather jackets for much more than
their worth but they don’t fall in love with fascist dictators”
. While Winston eventually comes to love Big
Brother, like Kelly comes to love Fox,
there’s another layer explore with Orwell. In the dystopia of Oceania, private lives
cannot exists, for they might conflict with the party, but that especially includes romance. The Party allows marriages insofar as they
beget more future party members – but shun any marriages motivated by love. In totalitarianism, both real and fiction,
social bonds are destroyed to solidify the totalitarian relation to the state. And aside from brainwashing Winston,
the other great trick of his torturer is to get Winston to betray his love Julia,
and for her to betray him. ”
“Do it to Julia. I don’t care what you do to her, but do it
to her. Tear her face off, but do it to Julia, not
to me”. and for her to betray him: “I told them all
about you”. Is this not the story of Kelly leaving her
boyfriend, in favor of Fox? In fact, the inciting argument to their breakup
is our aforementioned conversation about Franco. Kelly’s boyfriend cannot imagine how someone
could love a fascist: “She’s out of her mind” Kelly can:
“She is not!” He can’t be with someone who isn’t interested
in politics – “I can never be with someone who doesn’t
take politics as seriously as I do”. And well, Kelly can
– “I didn’t vote.” But of course, it’s not just romantic relationships. Totalitarianism must define our very identities,
something Joe Fox is keenly aware of “The whole purpose of places like starbucks
is for people with no decision making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy
one cup of coffee. Short, tall, light, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat,
non-fat, etc. So people who don’t know what the hell they’re
doing or who on earth they are, can – for only 2.95 – can get not just a cup of coffee
but an absolutely defining sense of self. Tall! Decaf! Cappuccino!” “Tall decaf cappuccino?” It’s not just enough for modern business
to win. It must strip you down and build you right
back up. It must lay the foundations of your identity
and your innermost desires. In short, You’ve Got Mail is the story of
a woman crushed by the system, left jobless and destitute,
who nevertheless falls in love with the personification of her defeat: Joe Fox aka Big Brother. And it’s not just enough to lose the battle
against Big Business, you have to fall in love with him too. “I wanted it to be you so badly.” “I love you.” And that’s the truly subversive thing about
You’ve Got Mail – that this bleak message on the futility of
resistance could be packaged in a saccharine rom com featuring two of America’s sweethearts. . Not only must Meg Ryan fall in love with
Tom Hanks, we must fall in love with the idea of being trampled by the march of history
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as always thanks for watching guys, peace.

100 thoughts on “The Accidental Fascism of You’ve Got Mail: What This 90’s Rom-Com Is Really About

  1. Very clever analogy but sorry Wisecrack … wrong, wrong, wrong.

    There is one MASSIVE difference between Joe Fox and Big Brother which your analogy ignores.

    "The initiation of the use of force."

    Therefore Joe Fox (representing Capitalism) is not the same as Big Brother (representing fascist governments).


  3. 1984 is not about the government watching you. Only people who have heard about it but not read it say that. The book is NOT about being crushed under the heal of anything.

  4. Interesting video and philosophical exploration, but I still love the film…and really hope that Meg and Tom do one more film together before one of them disappears forever…which I think has already happened to Meg, sadly. She was adorable. That plastic surgery was a mistake. It was over after that. She would’ve aged so gracefully with her soft beauty. Why do people do that???

  5. We must have not watched the same movie, all I saw was a story about a corporation beating its competition and of a woman trading up.

  6. Weird. Famous romcoms are joo heavy, from production, to script writing, to actors. They just make sure a cute lil shiksa is the dish.

  7. The movie is about Xgen's and meaninglessness. The 90s were a time of consumerism and boredom. Notice how Meg's character never really suffers any great loss from losing her business. She's still an upper middle class rich white woman never needing to downsize her financial life to take such a major lose. Shes still mostly just frequenting expensive bars and restaurants all over a wickedly expensive city like New York's Manhattan like nothing has change, and she's probably better off now where she doesn't have to work, or, pretend to work, like her bookstore really meant anything to her. She falls in love with "Big Brother" Tom not because she's broken by his oppressive business practices. She falls in love because it doesn't MATTER! And Tom is actually HELPING HER come to this conclusion.

    To anyone confused, let me use another 90s movie about all this to explain. Tyler Durden's Fight Club:

    "We're the middle children of the history, man, no purpose or place, we have no Great war, no Great depression, our great war is a spiritual war, our great depression is our lives."

    All Tom is doing to making Meg's character come to the conclusion that they're both the same. Both rich ppl with too much time on their hands.

    Fine, she loves reading to children in hospitals so much, what's stopping her now from doing that? Seems like she has a lot more time to do that now instead of worrying about the upkeep of a family business that doesn't even matter if it survives or not in the end.

    This movie is about rich liberal douches realizing they're no different from the so-called right conservative"bad guys." They so deeply choose to despise. It's about a "little" person like Meg realizing she was part of the fascist system all along, now learning to accept it and love it.

    The movie is about the death of a person like Meg's hypocrisy, and coming to terms she perfectly fine living the good Manhattan Cosmopolitan life while poor black children starve in Africa.

  8. Very interesting take on the movie.
    There is one major oversight here though;
    Joe is an actual character in the movie, and has an arc.
    Painting what he does as mere seduction and power play leaves that out entirely.
    Granted I don't have a full analysis of the movie, but still,
    skipping the actual character development of Joe is going to leave the interpretation of the movie distorted.

  9. Jesus dude, the links you make in this one are so tenuous that for me it wrecks the credibility of your other videos. Maybe its just your lack of acknowledgement for your clickbaity title. Come on man I love some of your videos.

  10. yeah, i originally thought the second half of the movie went off the rails and became quite subversive. Glad my impression wasn't alone. But I think your title is off calling it fascist, it is more orwellian and those two terms are not equivalent.

  11. We have long assumed that Big Brother would take the form of Big Government; instead it has arrived in the form of Big Business. Therefore, we didn't see it coming–and in fact we have helped to bring it about by deregulating business.

  12. Why would anyone mistake this horror story for a "romance"? Apparently when the small-business-destroying jerk "loves" a woman (and, so we are supposed to assume, will marry her) all is forgiven–because hey, he's rich, and therefore all HER (financial) problems are solved. Never mind that he will continue destroying OTHER people's livelihoods. And never mind that in real life, the hardcore business-realm a-hole is also an overbearing a-hole at home. (The downside of marrying a power-seeker is having to LIVE with a power-seeker.) This scenario is still sold to women as a "happy" ending; but the real-life sequel often takes place in divorce court, when the woman finds her situation intolerable.

  13. If I could utterly destroy a movie in history and have it disappear up its own asshole, it would be this utterly redundant yet more offensive piece of crap. Thank you.

  14. Missing context, the Fox scenes shown are from early on the movie, later on he sees the other side of his business consequences, so Kelly "changes the bad boy".

  15. Shit I watched the movie as a child and I'm from Spain, you would have guessed I would have remembered the casual Franco reference, or you know my parents hurling things at the tv at the glibness of it all. I even went back and checked that the Spanish version hadn't changed the franco reference in the translation, for I don't know Videla, but no censorship here, still there and no references in the Wikipedia pages in Spanish, Catalan or Basque of the film, mind blowing.

    By the way, to add another dimension to the analysis, aside from the fact that Franco was an actual fascist, which I feel you should state more clearly beyond saying that he allied with Mussolini and Hitler (when he was ONE of them not an associate), it also important to consider how involved was George Orwell in the spanish civil war, most of his experiences there detailed in his Homage to Catalonia.

  16. I think deregulated, un-mitigated liberal economics is a better characterization than fascism. Sure, the 1984 comparison to her ultimately loving the entity took her out of business fits, but Joe Fox and Fox Books aren't fascists. Simply put, they're nepotistic corporatists that have free reign to conduct business as they please, carte blanche.

    In the party scene where Joe Fox tells Kathleen Kelly that he's the Price Club of books, global supply chain and logistics allow him to undermine and take out small competitors with such ease. Though it's never explicitly mentioned a company as large as his has the resources to scale up and pay up.

    Think about the fact that Just Around Corner was seemingly in a residential neighborhood filled with small businesses. As a small business and a resident, wouldn't you be weary of the fact that someone just bought out a sizable chunk of the neighborhood? They just came in, paid up, started construction, and nearing completion ANNOUNCED what super chain it would be.

    Yeah, they protested, but the City effectively allowed them to open inconsequentially.

    It's straight up neoliberalism and you've either been seduced or have acquiesced.

    Shout out though to y'all that think a sequel should be made where Fox Books goes out of business, Meg Ryan reopens The Shop Around the Corner, and Tom Hanks is serving up tall decaf cappuccinos there.

  17. Wow, Wisecrack is really embracing the Marxist brainwashing from their years in the liberal arts indoctrination camps…

  18. Oh cool, now I hate this movie and everything it represents. Thanks. In my defense, I saw it once when I was a child, so I couldn’t exactly think of the implications of this affair.
    The most fucked up part is her business stays closed whereas in any other romcom the least he would’ve done would have been to help her reopen and convince his pals to move their activity elsewhere because love and justice.

  19. I’m pretty sure 1984 was meant to portray communism, not fascism. But you know… whatever you say.

    Also, Franco didn’t “stage a coup against the peace loving democratic crusaders” they were tyrannical communists.

    You’re jumping through hoops just to try to equate capitalism with fascism

  20. This is the first time I watch a Wisecrack (and I have seen A LOT of them) episode and think, "Ok, this is so far fetch this makes no sense, maybe they are running out of ideas.". This whole vid is a huge clickbait.

  21. It's a pretty lousy movie, just on the basis of the two characters in relationships essentially cheating, and bad writing and mediocre performances, so I'm not defending it. But the free market is not fascism . Markets change, and those little bookstores that we all love and don't patronize fell to the big chain stores that we all love…and then patronized less and less as we bought direct from Amazon…and now we just download our books. We all have tons of nostalgia for little book stores but they can't stay alive from nostalgia, and what she actually wants is profit just like he wants it. She just doesn't know how to make her store profitable. Oh, guess what? You lose when you don't know how to do that. I think audiences liked this movie because we basically know her store was doomed anyway and its closing seems logical. Essentially, it's NOT Tom Hanks' character's fault. It would be more interesting to use this same story structure to show an actual viable business being strong-armed aside and then try to put a blindfolded love affair in that situation.

  22. You know, I've been mulling over the issue of how to subvert culture by making a pro-fascist film, one that would not be too blatant, and not have it be a tongue-in-cheek joke like in Starship Troopers. What film-making techniques and plots should I be using?
    My reasoning for this thought experiment is that, on a general sense, communist films are made here and there and they slip past the eyes of the public, not realizing the political undertones of the films they watched. Do they let them slide due to the fact that they don't notice the political messaging of the film? Or is it because what the film says manages to fight the audience's general world view and dispositions, slowly subverting them and bringing them to side? These questions need answers, and for answers, I need to experiment. If in the first case, this film should shock people, get them to realize something about the media they watch and consume. If it is the later, I must be more subtle and not go for shock value of the first approach.
    Why Fascism? Because it is such a notorious ideology, for a world that accepts fringe ideologies like Communism and Objectivism with barely a thought as to its impact on culture and film. And rarely is a fascist film made intentionally, and if it is, it's rarely done competently.

  23. Is it bad that I feel this would have made a better Cracked: After Hours segment? Like that show was perfect for this kind of aff the wall stuff…..God I miss them.

  24. OMG I hate this fucking movie!!! You lied and pretended to be someone else, while you were learning my secrets and using them to take my business from me??? The business my dead mother left to me??? OH HELL NAW I'M NOT FALLING IN LOVE WITH YOU!!! YOU ARE MY ENEMY! I loved my bookstore, you ASSHOLE!!!😡

  25. You're suggesting that Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) has a character arc. She really doesn't. In the 90s you could choose between a local internet provider and AOL. From the beginning she uses AOL, so she has already gone with the corporate alternative. Also, there were still plenty of independent coffee shops around in the 90s. You would think that someone who owns an indie book store would get their coffee at an indie coffee shop. But she doesn't, she prefers Starbucks. The film never shows her renting a movie, but you know she wouldn't rent at a local video store, she would be a Blockbuster girl all the way. Kelly doesn't care about the idea of independent bookstores, she only cares about HER bookstore because of her financial interest. She isn't part of any grass roots campaign to save local bookstores, and after losing her business she doesn't try to get a job at another local indie that hasn't gone under yet. She just goes straight to working for Fox and Sons. This completes the trifecta of her corporate choices: AOL, Starbucks and (a thinly veiled version of) Barnes and Noble.

  26. What Francisco Franco did was not let communist leftist totalitarian movement take control over Spain which would result in a terror similar to the one in Soviet Block. He did it by killing the communists. Why do you hate him but in the same time admire US soldiers in WW2? US Soldiers were also killing ppl? I really don't get what is the difference.

  27. U got my head spinning. So the Right wing movement had been active during the 90s. I remember George Bush Jr. talking about exporting the democracy to other countries. Now his own party President wants screw US democracy itself.

    What hopes we had of new millennium?

    Instead we have this.

    You reap what you sow.

  28. I think you could draw parallels to many things in the modern world that seek to drive apart companionship in a totalitarian fashion. First thing that comes to my mind, the pornography industry instilling people with toxic views of themselves and others. This carries over into the beauty industry quite immediately.

  29. This is great! I've always thought this movie to be somewhat sinister. If you look at it through the prism of gender politics it gains another level of 'nasty'. It's also noticeable that Joe Fox doesn't have a redeeming character arc. He's nasty at the beginning and he's nasty at the end, but in the meantime, he's destroyed a family business, put the owner out of work, and manipulated her into falling in love with him!!!

    What was Nora Ephron thinking?

  30. For someone who paints herself as a staunch anti-capitalist who loathes conglomerates, Kathleen spend a lot of money at Starbucks.

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