The Orgasm Scene in When Harry Met Sally Made No Sense. Now We Know Why.
This is dangerously irresponsible journalism. If all 303 million Americans over the age of eleven read this headline simultaneously, the collective “Huh!?!” emitted would knock the Earth off its axis and send us hurtling into Mr. Sun. Despite the obvious stupidity of the thesis, I, along with at least a half a dozen other Americans, clicked on the article. It’s click bait: a headline either so vague or so dumb we just have to see how stupid the content really is.
But not, alas, to Slate's L.V. Anderson. She writes:
Sally, up to this point in the movie, has been demure and reserved—recall that in the opening scene, she blushes and hesitates when Harry asks her whom she’s had great sex with. Now, all of a sudden, she’s making a spectacle of herself in front of a bunch of strangers. [D.O’T. aside: Let's note that ten years of off-screen character development have ensued between prudish recent college grad and high-maintenance professional woman, during which all sorts of inhibitions have more than likely been discarded.] The orgasm scene is a compelling gag, but it doesn’t seem to jibe with the rest of what we know about Sally.
She is right, though. The fake orgasm does not jibe with the rest of what we know about Sally. But that's actually why it works. It's a surprise, and comedy is dependent upon surprises. Up to this point in the movie, Harry gets almost all of the good lines. Sally's humor is quirky, unintentional, accidental; she has no control of her comic effect on others. Harry on the other had—witty, ironic, sarcastic, always on—is rarely out of control. And then at last, in a crowded diner, as she listens to Harry arrogantly claim he always satisfies his ladies and could easily spot a fake, Sally has had enough. To put him in his place, the uptight prude deviates from character. Deviating from character is what makes both real people and fictional characters interesting.
See what click bait has done? It made me lash out at a perfectly decent person who (one assumes) donates blood hourly. I could further rant about how L.V. Anderson—charitable, kind, philanthropic L.V. Anderson—implies that since Nora Ephron was not in the room when the scene was written, then obviously it the disconnect was inevitable. Which is just totally...
But I’ll stop, your honor, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, my fellow Americans. Ms. Anderson probably meant no harm. She likely spends her free time in soup kitchens. She probably invented the high five, the low five, and the thumbs up. She's a hero, otherwise.
And yet she is not, in fact, a critic. She’s an assistant editor, food writer, a Slate employee called upon to drive traffic. Slate needs roughly 7,000 new articles an hour, about... oh, something! Anything! Controversial if possible!... just to keep up with the Atlantic Wire and Buzzfeed and Reddit. If suckers like me don't take the bait and click, she and her peers are out of jobs.
Obama Has Lost His Credibility—And He May Never Get It Back
When a Man is Bullied, He’s “Not a Man,” When a Woman is Bullied, She’s “Just a Woman”
Weird Animals You Never Knew Existed (DOT: How dare you assume, sir! How dare you!)
The Largest Snake In the World Has Invaded the United States. And It’s Unstoppable.
Each of these headlines was written by a decent, kind person. They probably don’t spit on elderly people for laughs, and if I am implying anything by merely saying “probably,” then I apologize. One just can’t be sure. And none of them—from the exotic animal lister to the guy writing the billionth ‘Obama’s finished!’ op-ed to the esteemed Miss L.V. Anderson herself—not one of them deserves the kind of scathing, semi-coherent disdain I am spewing right now.
But when you cast a line in the water with click bait, you never know what might bite. It could be someone like me: quick to anger, emotionally fragile, and litigious. I seek billions, your honor. Billions of billions of dollars. Only then will I be able to put the pieces of my life back together. Only then will I be able to build a fortress strong enough to protect against the coming mega-snake onslaught, among other weird animals I did not even know existed.