OFF THE GRID

Has Nora Ephron Killed the Internet?

Sep 1, 09 | 9:04 AM   byMichael Wolff
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I’m pretty sure something is going to happen to this business. That we’ve come to an end of an era. That the movie Julie & Julia is the signpost and, as well, the agent, of the end.

The last time Nora Ephron made a movie about the Internet, it may well have marked the beginning of the end of AOL. Nora’s own view is that You’ve Got Mail, a significant hit for Warner Brothers in 1998, helped grease the way for the Time Warner-AOL merger that was the downfall of the online service.

I tend to think Nora’s contribution to AOL’s demise was even more direct and meaningful. She created a nice, sweet, family-style AOL. Where, in reality, AOL was a vast enterprise of sex chat rooms, she turned it into a walk in the park. After Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks got their mail, everybody in America—including everybody’s mother in America—got an AOL account. Not long after everybody’s mother joined AOL, all the sex chat people began to leave. Nora chased sex from AOL out onto the Internet. Treacly wholesomeness and general mass market media sentimentality is a kiss of death in the digital world. It killed Yahoo, with its cloying efforts at stickiness. It’s why Microsoft, with its middle-of-the-road sensibilities, never got any traction. And why MySpace, with its let’s-be-cool desperation, died.


(Nora Ephron, AP Photo)

Nora believes that movies don’t have to be true to reality—that they shouldn’t be. That, in a movie, you can make up an idealized world, and that people will wholly accept it, no matter how untrue it might be. The phonier it is, the truer it is, in a sense. In Julie & Julia, the character gets 65 phone calls from publishers and media bigwigs when her blog is the subject of an article in the New York Times. I can tell you, when the New York Times writes about you, nobody calls you up (except your mother). What’s more, in Nora’s world, a blog turns you into not just a successful person (in reality, the blog didn’t turn the young Julie character into a successful person, Nora’s movie did), but an incredibly kind, cheerful, and cheesy one.

Anyway, nobody calling you up after the New York Times writes about you (which, by the way, says something about the current state of the New York Times) is not the point. The point is not even that everybody’s mother is going to have a blog (though my mother has one), but that everybody’s mother (more likely to see this movie than their children, because Meryl Streep is now every middle-age woman’s fantasy doppelganger) is going to be asking every twenty-something child why they don’t have a blog of their own so that they too can be kind, cheerful, and cheesy, as well as successful.

Under the weight of such expectations, the Internet, as a new platform for publishing and personal expression, dies.

So back to the porn.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/NewserColumns.
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