Tuesday, April 29, 2008

"You've Got Mail" 1998 Award Winning film

First I have to thank (once again) Rowena Cherry for posting my entry of Tuesday April 22, 2008.

I was offline and in the midst of the Passover Holiday. We do a lot of "scratch cooking" for Passover -- though packaged everything is available many places.

So I spent a good amount of time thinking about "women's work is never done."

And I thought back to raising my daughters who were born in the late 1960's, almost before the women's movement got a name. Even teaching them to walk, to play with toys, to take the knocking when falling off the sofa, I tried to foster a kind of independent strength only boys were taught then because I knew (as an SF writer) what they'd face in the world as it was shaping up (and I was right).

Passover is about "freedom" -- it's the commemoration of leaving slavery for real freedom of choice, and about the consequences of making a choice, about Honor (the stuff of Alien Romance Adventures, of Heroism).

It occurred to me that you can look at spending a multiplicity of hours scratch-cooking and hassling around a kitchen BECAUSE YOU ARE FEMALE as a step back into slavery. And that's not what the holiday is about. That's not where it's "at" philosophically.

In what way is being chained to a kitchen sink freedom?

The story/parable of leaving Egypt is commemorated by eating matzah - unleavened bread -- (i.e. crackers made from flour and water only -- baked so quickly it can't rise even if some yeast lands on it from the air.)

This is a more primitive or basic form of bread. It takes away something you don't even know you have. It's kind of like Rowena's novel where the male and female leads get stranded on an island and don't have what they're used to and have to "relate" in that context.

Or like going on any vacation -- away from your ordinary haunts. Going on an Adventure. Take AWAY what you normally have, the normal way your kitchen is organized, and your mind can open up to receive new ideas.

This morning I heard President Bush chanting his usual line about liberty and freedom and democracy bringing peace. To me, he seems to chant this -- like a liturgy. It's so strange to really listen to that man without thinking about whether you agree or not.

I heard Bush right after watching a movie I'd recorded a couple weeks ago on The Family Channel -- YOU'VE GOT MAIL. The two items juxtaposed were illuminating.

YOU'VE GOT MAIL is a nice romantic comedy that was made in 1998. It depicts the difference between how we relate via chat and email and how we relate "in person" with an accuracy that holds true today. The only two anachronisms that will eventually make this film grate on our nerves are AOL dialup email and the lack of cell phones with internet service and texting.

Today they'd be texting buddies and it would be a more intimate relationship because they would interface during the day. I assume you all remember the film. If not -- well, if you like alien romance, you gotta see this film.


Also read Hal Clement's novel MISSION OF GRAVITY. Put the two together and you've got a springboard into a whole bunch more novels you could write. In MISSION OF GRAVITY we have an alien and a human boy making friends despite living in different atmospheres. Clement wrote a lot about friendship over impossible gulfs, which is what Star Trek is ultimately about.

The relationship between friendship and romance, the differences and similarities -- the question of whether there is a necessity for friendship underneath romance -- all that is discussed brilliantly in YOU'VE GOT MAIL.

What's this got to do with Passover and Bush and Freedom of choice?

Bush assumes that any human being would choose freedom, what he calls Liberty and his version of "democracy" (note he never discusses the concept Republic).

In YOU'VE GOT MAIL, Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) makes some whopping assumptions, too, and his assumptions and Bush's may actually be coming from the same place.

Joe Fox presents Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) with a choice at the end of the movie, or rather it seems to be a choice.

In the middle of the movie, she discovers that "Joe" is THE "Joe Fox" who is opening a book selling superstore around the corner from her children's bookshop. When he first met her, he didn't let on that he was "THE" Fox. But he didn't actually lie about it, just omitted this bit of information. She insists he was lying to her by that omission and is pissed. At the end of the movie, Joe reveals one more piece of information he's been withholding, and she is NOT pissed, doesn't call him down for it, and just totally accepts him as who he is.

The email relationship she's developed with this "stranger" (Joe) is rooted in "Psychological Visibility" (google that if you don't know what it is). The real world relationship is rooted in Mortal Combat between business owners (he puts her shop out of business and it's "nothing personal" but like me, she says everything is personal.)

So in the end of the movie, she gives up a certain FREEDOM or LIBERTY by surrendering to the controlling decisions of an information-withholder who manipulates her by keeping her ignorant and using what he's learned of her inner psyche as a weapon to get what he wants (and she doesn't seem to understand that's what happened).

It's a great movie, lots of awards attention, well made, stellar cast, GREAT script, addressing a hot topic of the day (the transition in relationships to electronic communication and how that changes "who" we are to others). But coming out of Passover, I found the ending very disappointing.

Must every pair-bonded relationship between humans have a dominant party?

Is manipulating by using information gained while looking into a person's soul an aggressive act?

It seemed to me in the movie that he knew more about what made her tick than she knew about what motivated him. She was responding to being seen -- and didn't notice that she wasn't seeing into him.

He used what he learned about her to get her to do what he wanted her to do. She didn't use what she learned about him to get him to do what she wanted him to do.

He dominated her. She joyfully submitted.

Now that made it a popular movie because that's what our society expects and lauds. But it's not what I tried to raise my daughters to be.

It was a good movie because it raises a lot of interesting questions about sexuality and social norms. There's an important bit of dialogue missing (from the televised version) in which he wonders if she's a he -- and she wonders if he's a she. By email you can't really tell and they don't ackowledge that at all.

I keep thinking of the e-mail relationship as a telepathic relationship, perhaps conducted across interstellar distances. Or perhaps two empaths kept in adjacent cells "for their own protection" and relating through empathic fields without words.

So what has that to do with Passover? Well, slavery to freedom. Right away as the people left Egypt, some of that rag-tag band were bemoaning the lack of water and meat and wanted to return to the cushy life in Egypt. Freedom is hard work, full of decisions.

Remember a generation had to live and die in the desert before the whole people was free enough of slavery to plunge in and govern a country.

Can a society have "freedom" at all if half the people willfully submit to the other half?

You don't think that's an Alien Romance question ripped from today's headlines? Go listen (really listen) to Bush carrying on then go learn something about the history of the people's he's talking about. Dominance and Submission - Sexuality and Religion -- Biology and Reproduction.
What kind of biology would an alien species have to have to avoid this submission-for-fun-and-reproduction dilemma humans face?

Would you give up your freedom for psychological visibility? Would you let yourself be "visible" to someone who would use that data about you to put you in a cage you couldn't even see was a cage?

Does aggression cause defensive action -- or does defensiveness cause aggression?

Even if you've seen YOU'VE GOT MAIL a few times, go watch it again.

Oh, and the other reason it really grabbed me - it's about my own bread and butter, the publishing and marketing of books. There's a line in that movie I'll bet most viewers don't notice -- that the big chain book sellers destroyed the mid-list, which they did.

If you're a mid-list reader like me, you might consider that all bad. But in truth, I'm wondering if the death of the mid-list just pushed a lot of mid-list writers and readers into the Romance field and started the proliferation of sub-genres of Romance?

So YOU'VE GOT MAIL is a movie that says a lot, very elegantly, so it's worth a writer's study.

Live Long and Prosper,
Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. Great post, Jacqueline, as always.
    "Would you give up your freedom for psychological visibility? Would you let yourself be "visible" to someone who would use that data about you to put you in a cage you couldn't even see was a cage?"

    This is a huge plot point in the novel I have on submission (pun?) right now, in fact. If it achieves publication, I hope you'll be proud of the Heroine's answer.

  2. Kimber An

    Oh, I'm looking forward to it.

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg

  3. Alien reproductive biology: I'm in the midst of watching my DVDs of that wonderful short-lived series ALIEN NATION, and it occurs to me that the Tenctonese are probably free of the dominance-submission dynamic in their sexual relationships. You'll remember that two men are needed to get a woman pregnant, her husband (who supplies the sperm) and a catalyst, a different kind of male, a Binnaum, who makes it possible for her to be fertilized but contributes no genetic material. Right away, we find that sexual jealousy in the human sense doesn't play a role in their marriages. (Although the Newcomer cop in the series, George, later faces human-type jealousy from his wife when George volunteers to provide the sperm for their Binnaum friend and his wife to have a baby -- but George's wife comes to realize that she's thinking in human terms that don't apply to their marriage.) More directly relevant to the dominance-submission matter, Newcomer males become pregnant and give birth -- somewhat like sea horses. Midway in the pregnancy, the pod holding the fetus is transferred from the wife to the husband. This relationship of equality in sharing the physical burdens of reproduction must surely have an effect on their sexual dynamics.

  4. Good example, Margaret, and I have more to say on that in my next blog, I think.

    You never know what will come out when you sit down to write one of these entries!

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg