Full disclosure: We are aware that media theorist Michael Wolff doesn’t believe half the things he writes in his Newser.com columns, and that he writes incendiary headlines only to drive traffic to his personal Huffington Post also-ran. However, sometimes it’s fun to play “In how many ways is Michael Wolff wrong?” And so we’re going to do it today, with his latest column: “Has Nora Ephron Killed the Internet?”
First off, Wolff doesn’t mean that Ephron killed the actual Internet. He’s a web entrepreneur! He, like almost everyone except for Regis Philbin, thinks that nothing could kill the Internet. But remember, this is all about the seductive headline. Man, if we were an intern, this one would have us lying on the conference-room table, naked but for shoes and a superabundance of ChapStick.
Claim: “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.”
Reality: Nora may think she had something to do with the merger, but it’s laughably untrue. AOL CEO Steve Case saw that content was going to be a necessary component of online growth, as rival broadband companies were taking users away from AOL’s access services. Jerry Levin, Time Warner’s CEO, was desperate to revitalize the company for the 21st century. (Not to mention, ever-shrinking AOL was doomed to collapse under its inflated stock price eventually.) Even that’s a vast oversimplification — several entire books have been written about why the merger happened and went sour. But of course, as a media chronicler, Wolff knows that.
Claim: “[Nora] 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.”
Reality: By the time You’ve Got Mail (which admittedly was sweet and family-style, if a bit archaic-seeming even then) came out in 1998, AOL was making its money from a couple of wise investments, advertising, and sponsorship deals. Right around then, it was actually ceasing to be sex central on its own, and enjoying revitalized participation as a result of its Instant Messenger service.
Claim: “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).”
Reality: Maybe only your mother calls you when you’re in the Times, Michael, but do we really need to list all the people who got agents after their blogs, or personal stories, or columns were mentioned in a newspaper? Julie Powell, in reality, is one of them.
Claim: “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.”
Reality: Julie Powell desperately wanted to be out of her job and to get a book deal. She did because she wrote that blog. The movie came much later. And this may just be our opinion, but after leaving the movie we pretty much thought she came off as anything but “kind” and “cheerful.” “Cheesy,” maybe.
Claim: “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 doppelgänger) 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.”
Reality: Moms will never understand blogs.
Claim: “Under the weight of such expectations, the Internet, as a new platform for publishing and personal expression, dies.”
Reality: You can tell even Michael is rolling his eyes at himself by now.
Claim: “So, back to porn.”
Reality: Ew, seriously, dude. Leave us out of it.