The Portrayal of Big Business in the Movie, You’ve Got Mail
The Portrayal of Big Business in the Movie, You’ve Got Mail.
Power hungry, greedy, over-worked, selfish, cutthroat, ruthless, rushed, big, sterile, and office buildings. These are nouns or adjectives that many people associate with the term big business. Who’s to blame for these stereotypes? Is it the media or big businesses? Countless movies and television shows have either depicted big businesses or big business employees in a negative light. In the movie, You’ve Got Mail, many of these same stereotypes are portrayed throughout the film.
Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) and Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) live and work blocks from each other on New York City’s, Upper West Side. Their lives are practically intertwined. They shop at the same place, frequent the same coffee shop, and even own competing bookstores on the same street. They are both involved in dysfunctional, dating, relationships. Joe has the overly hyper book editor Patricia Eden (Parker Posey), while Kathleen lives with the scholarly newspaper columnist Frank Navasky (Greg Kinnear). Then Joe and Kathleen meet virtually in an over thirties chat room. For safety concerns they keep their identities secret (they’re known only by screen names “NY152” and “Shopgirl”). However, they tell each other everything about their lives, including their private feelings, which slowly turn into affection for one another.
When Joe decides to open a new branch of his “Fox Books” chain, he risks putting Kathleen’s
“Shop Around the Corner” into bankruptcy. Naturally, they become enemies. However, they are still unaware that they are communicating with one another through e-mail. Surely her small, independent business will be lost to the conglomerate with a built in news stand and coffee bar. Meanwhile, over the Internet they agree to meet, to finally reveal each other’s true identities. However, Joe sees Kathleen waiting for him in the restaurant where they agreed to meet; he then puts two and two together. Joe, knowing who his e-mail correspondent is, refuses to confront her. The remainder of the movie Joe is struggling to decide whether or not to get in contact with Kathleen, and tell her his true identity. While, Kathleen is trying to figure out whom her Internet mystery man is?
You’ve Got Mail is directed by Nora Ephron and owned by Warner Brothers Entertainment, which is part of the Time Warner Company. Warner Brothers Entertainment is located at 4000 Warner Boulevard in Burbank, California. Warner Brothers’ owns; Warner Brother Pictures, Warner Brothers Pictures International, Warner Independent Pictures, Warner Brothers Television Group, Warner Brothers Home entertainment Group, Warner Brothers Consumer Products, Warner Brothers International Cinemas, Warner Brothers Studio facilities, and DC Comics. There are even smaller companies that are owned by Warner Brother’s companies; an example of this would be Warner Brothers Television group owns the CW network, Telepictures Production, Warner Horizon Television, Warner Brothers Animation, Warner Brothers Domestic Television Distribution, Warner Brothers Domestic Cable Distribution, and Warner Brothers International Television Distribution. In the year 1990, the Time Warner Company made approximately $677 million dollars. If you factor in seventeen years of inflation, today Time Warner makes anywhere between 800 million to 1 billion dollars a year.
Even though Warner Brothers Entertainment is considered a big business, I believe that this factor has no effect on the big business stereotypes portrayed in the movie, You’ve Got Mail. I believe that these stereotypes in You’ve Got Mail come strictly from the media’s stereotypical portrayal of big business.
From the beginning of You’ve Got Mail, the viewer is bombarded with subtle and blatant, stereotypes of big business. In the beginning scene Frank Navasky is showing his girlfriend,
Kathleen Kelly, a newspaper story about big business employees getting fired for playing solitaire on
their work computers during office hours. This scene insinuates many things. It insinuates how corporation employees are lazy; it could also insinuate that corporation employees are discontented and bored with their jobs.
In another scene a dialog occurs between Joe Fox, a C.E.O. of a chain bookstore, and his assistant, Kevin. During this dialog they agree that the neighborhood will be upset that a “big, bad, chain store,” is opening. Joe Fox’s solution to this observation is, “were going to seduce them with our square footage, and our discounts, and our deep arm chairs, and our cappuccino. They’ll hate us in the beginning but, we’ll get them in the end.” This portrays big business owners as mercenaries. That they will do anything to “seduce” customers into buying their product.
There are multiple stereotypes portrayed in a scene where Joe Fox visits his father and grandfather in their office. The scene opens up with the three men talking about Joe Fox’s father’s soon to be wife, Gillian. You then learn that this will not be his father’s first marriage. When asked why he wants to get married his response is “I don’t know,” then he is asked if it’s because he is in love, he replies “possibly”. His father then explains that he is only marrying Gillian, because they had a child together four years prior. Later on in the conversation Joe Fox tells his father and grandfather that his chain bookstore is putting an independent bookstore out of business. His father replies “aw another independent bites the dust,” his grandfather interjects “on to the next!”
This scene illustrates the two most common stereotypes about big business owners. The first stereotype that is portrayed is big business owners are womanizers. Joe Fox’s father, who is a C.E.O, has had multiple dysfunctional relationships with women, and his attitude throughout the movie suggests that he treats women as sexual objects. Another common stereotype is big businessmen are
mercenaries, and will do anything to get customers to buy their product. Joe Fox, his father, and grandfather joke about how Joe Fox’s chain bookstore is putting small, independent bookstores out of
business; and continue to joke about how they are moving unto other small, independent bookstores.
When Kathleen Kelly contacts local news stations to try and save her business, she attacks Fox
Books. Kathleen, her employees, and her friends call them a “cold, cash, cow” and the “big, bad, wolf.” Kathleen also claims that Joe has compared his store to a price club, and the books in his store to cans of olive oil. She knowingly took his statements out of context to use it to her advantage. While Kathleen is being mercenary during this scene of the movie; she is continually portrayed as the victimized small business owner.
Another negative portrayal is Joe Fox’s girlfriend, Patricia Eden. She is depicted as your stereotypical corporate employee. Throughout the movie she displays selfishness, lack of compassion towards others, she is confined by hectic schedules, stressed, mercenary, and high strung. Even her appearance is that of a corporate employee; business suits, business-like shoes, and severe hair and make-up. She also makes multiple jokes about mistreating her fellow employees. However, in contrast to Patricia is Kathleen Kelly, the independent bookstore owner. Kathleen is depicted as carefree, fun loving, compassionate, selfless, and is loyal to her employees and customers. Her physical appearance is also laid back, her hair cut makes her hair flow, opposed to Patricia’s severe hair style, and she wears comfortable clothing.
After analyzing my research I have drawn the conclusion that the movie, You’ve Got Mail, has negative stereotypes of big business throughout the entirety of the movie. However, I do not believe this is an isolated case. After conducting more research on this issue, I have come to the conclusion that the majority of stereotypes of big businesses in the media, mostly on television, are negative.
A research study conducted by The Media Research Center’s Free Market from 1995-1997, which is around the same time You’ve Got Mail was released, supports the idea that big businesses are portrayed negatively in the media. They found that successful business owners and employees on prime time television are depicted as villains more than members of any other profession or occupation. Also, they are rarely caricatured as trustworthy citizens who contribute to the betterment of society. The researchers continued to discover that big business owners make up 29.2 percent of criminal characters on television, which is more than the portrayal of mobsters or gang members. When they further
researched the issue they discovered that the businessmen who are depicted negatively on television are most often successful at their careers, as was the case in You’ve Got Mail. Joe Fox’s father, was a successful big business owner.
The New York Times wrote an article in 1987 entitled, ‘Bad Guys’ Wear Pin Stripes. This article is about how businessmen are mostly portrayed negatively on prime time television. The businessman is portrayed in the media, mostly on television, at least fourteen times in a week. This portrayal is usually not positive. They are often depicted as murderers, liars, and thieves, and reach their success dishonestly. “Off-screen, there are, of course, business executives who are venal, corrupt, and criminal. But in prime-time television dramas, a full one-third of all business executives are corrupt or criminal, according to George Gerbner, dean of the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania.” Another compelling point they present is that the depiction of businessmen are getting worse, and the television industry is doing nothing to fix it.
Even though this article was written twenty-years ago, I believe that this is still the case today. The new AMC show, Mad Men, which aired this past summer, is about businessmen in the 1960’s. More then half of the businessmen on this show have cheated on their wives, some of them have drug or alcohol problems, and the majority of them have committed illegal acts.
I felt conducting this study was extremely successful. I believe it helped me become more media literate, especially in recognizing the different stereotypes that are portrayed in the media. Before this study I would watch a movie or a television program, and would be completely oblivious to the different stereotypes, the excessive and inappropriate use of violence, sex, and product placement. I believe that in the back of my mind I knew all those negative things were present in television and in movies, I was just simply not taught how to recognize them. However, one of the drawbacks from
becoming media literate is that now I simply cannot just enjoy a movie without thinking; was it really necessary to pan over to that Coca Cola can? Or, why is the African American being made to look
stupid? For example on Wednesdays I watch the television show Gossip Girls, and I’m beginning to notice the blatant and negative stereotypes that are being portrayed of rich kids in New York City.
I cannot help but wonder why the media feels the need to portray ethnicities, occupations, and the different genders, in a stereotypical manner? I don’t think we, as a society, will ever fully know the answer to this question. However, it is important to become media literate so that we can filter out the negative stereotypes the media continues to shove in our faces on a daily basis.
After researching the movie, You’ve Got Mail, I have come to the conclusion that big business is depicted negatively throughout the course of the film. However, by researching studies pertaining to this issue I have found that this is a common stereotype. I have found that more than half of the businessmen portrayed on prime-time television are made out to be villains. Also, the depiction of businessmen has continually gotten worse over the past twenty years, and that the television industry has done nothing about it. I believe that conducting this type of media study to find the different kinds of stereotypes portrayed in the media, is extremely successful. I would use this technique of media research to conduct studies in the future.
1.Basler, Barbara. “Bad Guys Wear Pin Stripes.” 29 January, 1987. The New York Times Company.
2.Noyes, Rich. “Issue Analysis: Big Business vs. Small Business on Prime-Time.” June 1997.
Media Research Center.
3.Star Pulse. 1999-2007.
4.Warner Bros. Studios. 2007.