You’ve Got Mail and Double Standards, too

ygmI don’t know where I heard it, but I do know it happened sometime last fall. The quote: We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behavior.

I tried to find the source, but after a single, exhausting Google-search and two exploratory clicks I found conflicting information and zero recognizable names. So I gave up. Hopefully Ohio State’s plagiarism policy doesn’t extend to blogs that nobody reads.

Coming back to the quote, judging ourselves and others by different standards inspires Nora Ephron’s You’ve Got Mail. The movie’s basic plot pits two bookstores against each other. Meg Ryan owns a small community shop threatened by Tom Hank’s corporate mega-store. Their professional competition and personal distaste is complicated by the fact they’ve been unknowingly and romantically corresponding via Instant Messaging. (Is there anything more 90s than IM and this trailer?)

The two characters swing from nasty confrontation to expressions of regret throughout the movie. Based on their interactions, they are each terrible people. Both operate under the premise that “the other person is terrible, I really didn’t mean what I said.”

Their true, lovable selves (because no one is as lovable as Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks) come out in their charming correspondences. Usually they bemoan the awful things they said, unwittingly, to each other.

Us hoity-toity English majors call this driving tension dramatic irony: The idea that the audience knows something the characters don’t. Hanks and Ryan’s characters drive us crazy because their small character flaws and professional rivalries keep ruining a Match-Made-In-Hollywood. They drive us crazy because Sleepless in Seattle and Joe Versus the Volcano have already conditioned us to believe they belong together. We know they’re meant to fall in love, but they’re actively and unknowingly driving each other away.

Dramatic irony highlights the division between Expressed Self and True Self. The moral lesson that Nora Ephron is preaching is simple: Give a little grace to those who drive you crazy, and know that noble intentions can truly hide behind brutish behaviors.

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4 Responses to You’ve Got Mail and Double Standards, too

  1. sirwink says:

    I was worried that while on your honeymoon the world would be deprived of these posts that it so desperately awaits. I see i needn’t have. the plagiarism line made me laugh. love to you and D. i hope she knows what she’s in for.

    • gauch2 says:

      Never fear! I wrote this a few weeks back in case I’d ever need it in a pinch. Which, as it turns out, is my honeymoon. I say this to make sure everyone knows I’m not already neglecting my new bride…

  2. Paul S says:

    As far as I’m aware “We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behavior.” is attributed to Stephen Richards Covey (October 24, 1932 – July 16, 2012) an American educator, author, businessman, and keynote speaker.
    Unlike Norah Ephron, Meg Ryan or Tom Hanks, his name means nothing to me, but I hope that nugget of information helps because I enjoyed your writing.
    “Give a little grace to those who drive you crazy, and know that noble intentions can truly hide behind brutish behaviors.” So impeccably articulate.

  3. Grandma Gauch says:

    Oh Mason just catching up on your blog..I find I’m one of those who loved everyone of the before mentioned movies..Maybe it’s just a silly way to escape the present crazy times..

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