Valentine’s Day 2019: Cupid, Computers, and Cinema

Valentine’s Day 2019: Cupid, Computers, and Cinema

Valentine’s Day is a lot of things to a lot of people. It may be a romantic dinner for two without the kids, a celebration with single friends in the form of an Anti‐Valentine’s Day party, or a day of swiping right on dating apps. For little kids, it is handing out valentines with pictures of their favourite cartoon heroes. For my sister, it is mourning the loss of Conversation Hearts. For my wife and I, it will be a few hours looking at famous works of impressionist artists from the industrial age. If you don’t have plans, you may find yourself falling back to snuggling up on the couch and watching a romantic comedy. The RomCom has been with us forever and is currently undergoing a revitalization thanks to Netflix. Since the RomCom is my favourite genre, I thought I’d look at some of my favourite movies to see just how well they stand up to modern technology.

When I think of technology as a key component of a RomCom, I immediately think of You’ve Got Mail, a classic Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan film. This movie appealed to me because I was 16 years old and spending a lot of time on services like PowWow by Tribal Voice, ICQ, and IRC, communicating with people that were local to me. The movie worked because online communication and email were hugely popular. It came out at a time when everyone who was using a computer wrote letters. Pen and paper had transitioned directly to the online world and we communicated via long form written word. Today, email is considered by many to be a burden. I often get responses from family members weeks later that include comments like, “Oh, I had email that wasn’t spam.” or “Why didn’t you just text me?” So, would You’ve Got Mail work in today’s world? Today, it would probably have to be titled, Someone Swiped Right. Even the business world has abandoned Email as the communication standard for platforms like HipChat, Microsoft Teams, and Slack.

The other flaw with You’ve Got Mail 2019 would be the anonymity of it all. If you’re communicating with someone, you’re obviously going to toss their screenname into a search engine and see what results come up. At some point, somewhere, they will have posted with clues about their identity. “Creeping” on social media has become a skillset that people have become so proud to have that I wouldn’t be surprised if the post‐millennial generation puts it on their resume. You’ve Got Mail is easy to pick on though. It was designed with technology in mind and that technology has simply fallen behind. Let’s think about other movies that don’t utilize technology in the same way to see how our modern “conveniences” would impact their plotlines.

One RomCom that I find interesting from a shifting technology perspective is Overboard. Depending on your age, you might picture one of two things – Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell in one of the greatest movie one sheets ever or Anna Faris and Eugenio Derbez in a very mediocre one sheet. Overboard was released in 1987 and remade in 2018 with the gender‐roles reversed. The concept is simple: a rich person gets amnesia after falling overboard and someone they were mean to decides to trick them into maintaining their home and taking care of their kids. That’s right, this RomCom starts as a story of kidnapping and indentured servitude. 

In 1987, it wasn’t much of a stretch conceptually. Most people didn’t pay a lot of attention to random rich people if they didn’t draw attention to themselves, and Goldie Hawn’s character was rather reserved compared to Eugenio Derbez in the remake. Without social media, her disappearance wouldn’t have been news. In a world of Kardashians, however, someone like Eugenio Derbez’s character would be all over social media. He’d be instantly recognizable and the odds of him going missing are slim to nil. Add in facial recognition and reverse image searches and “accidentally” going missing doesn’t happen. The Internet collectively loves a mystery, look at the sleuthing that happened around the Netflix series Making a Murderer. A more recent example comes from this past weekend. Here in Toronto, a woman threw a chair off a balcony at traffic below and the video is everywhere. It surfaced on the Toronto subreddit and made every local media website within minutes. Within hours it was on national news and, by 5PM, when I watched Philip DeFranco’s show it was on there. News spread so rapidly that accidental disappearances like this, especially for someone famous (or infamous), are highly unlikely.

Another film that I think would struggle today is my favourite RomCom, Serendipity, staring John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale. In 2001, the Internet was still a bit of a geeky thing. It was occupied by gamers, researchers, and unhappy students hoping to find a book report. Social media wasn’t around yet and the average young person was using ICQ, AIM, or MSN to chat with friends. People still exchanged phone numbers by writing them down or telling them to the other person and that is the premise of this movie.  As our two leads go to exchange phone numbers, a gust of window blows the number away, and superstition kicks in. Today, someone would enter their number directly into your phone or ask for your number and text you so that you had theirs. So the entire movie is destroyed right there.

If you assume for a second that a they actually did exchange numbers on paper, there’s no way that they are waiting years to find each other again. They ate at Serendipity 3 in the film. My wife and I made a trip to New York simply to eat at the restaurant based on the film. I can assure you that our social media is filled with pictures from that day and that everyone around us was also instagramming their meals. There’s no way that one of them didn’t take a picture of their dessert and share it on social media if the film were remade today.  At the end of the day, if nothing else worked, a simple post on Twitter or Reddit of “ISO my soulmate. We met at Bloomingdales today buying gloves, afterward we shared dessert at Serendipity 3. Plz Share” would possibly yield results.

At the end of the day, RomComs don’t have to be believable. Which is when a Hallmark Channel original commercial comes on, I go “aww” and my wife says, “Really?!?” Having an element of realism, however, keeps us intrigued. It’s why we see movies now about dating apps, cat phishing, and other real‐world risks. Thankfully, I’ve been married for more than a decade and this Valentine’s Day, I’m grateful for that. For everyone who’s single today, keep in mind the decisions you make with regards to social media and publicly available data. Cat phishing, “creeping” (stalking), and reverse image searches are all very real. You may not want to use the same photo for your public Facebook profile that you use for your Tinder profile. You may not want to make those timestamped posts about which restaurants you’ve visited and what meals you ate. The world becomes just a little bit creepier when you consider how much information a stranger can find. We all want to live in a RomCom world, but when you look at the things they do in those romantic comedies, they make for pretty undesirable behaviour in the real world.

Posted by Tyler Reguly on Feb 14, 2019

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