Ask anyone for a listing of the classic romantic comedies which might be a must-watch and Sleepless in Seattle will at all times make the list. All of our mothers and grandmas swooned over widower Tom Hanks and wished they may very well be Meg Ryan, falling in love on the Empire State Building. Despite the rabid fanbase, the 1993 Nora Ephron hit shows just how toxic a parasocial relationship will be. I mean, should we actually be rewarding Meg Ryan’s intense stalking? Short answer: sure.
Need a reminder of this classic? At the start of Sleepless in Seattle, we see Tom Hanks’ Sam moving from Chicago to Seattle as a way for him and his 8-year-old son Jonah to have a fresh start after his wife died. He just desires to get away so there are not any more reminders of the wife and mother that they miss so dearly.
Enter the talk radio segment. Jonah calls a chat radio helpline to see if anyone might help his dad discover a girlfriend. He sees how sad his dad is, and the way he’s getting no sleep, so he asks for help from a mostly predatory talk show host. True to form, the host gets Sam on the phone and bleeds him dry of all his heartache and emotion. As expected, the phone lines light up with scores of ladies who wish to take Sam simply because he showed just a little emotion over the airwaves.
That’s where things get just a little sticky. Meg Ryan’s Annie is listening to this whole thing all the best way from Baltimore, Maryland. Like the remainder of the ladies glued to their radios, she’s immediately fawning over our good pal Sam. She’s already engaged to perennially allergic-to-everything Walter, but does that stop her from concocting elaborate plans to win Sam’s heart? That’s a giant NOPE.
What follows is a masterclass in stalking. Annie uses her connections on the newspaper to search out Sam’s address in Seattle. She hires a non-public detective to follow him and take pictures. She then flies all of the strategy to Washington to stare him down while almost getting smeared across the pavement because she just needed to do her stalking while standing in the course of a busy road.
While stalking is nothing we haven’t all discussed before, there’s something else hidden here that’s super relevant in 2022: The parasocial relationship.
Parasocial relationships occur when someone feels a connection to a star or other public figure. That public figure shows a curated look into their lives and their fans feel as in the event that they are “friends” due to it. In Sleepless in Seattle, Annie is one among many ladies who hear one 15-minute radio segment and fall in love with a person she doesn’t know.
They feel like they know him because he appeared to bare his soul for a moment, but they don’t really know him. That’s the danger with parasocial relationships: Fans can feel like they’ve an actual relationship with someone when it’s really only one-way. Just like Sam had no idea who Annie was, Paul Rudd has no idea who you’re. (Sorry.)
In 2022, the risks of parasocial relationships are much more prevalent. With smartphones in our pockets and apps like TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube, we see much more of our favourite actors, musicians, and influencers. Fans will discover where their favorite YouTubers live and just show up at their houses. Actors will likely be stalked and sometimes murdered.
All this to say: parasocial relationships are not any joke. Meg Ryan’s Annie falling in love with Tom Hanks’ Sam shows how easy it might occur. And the proven fact that her plan to lure him and his son to the Empire State Building works they usually find yourself hand-in-hand? It may very well be the proof a weirdo must justify their obsession. Still, will we penalize Sleepless in Seattle for it? Do we admonish the stalking and the inappropriate fan relationship, relegating this rom-com classic to the dumpster of forgotten movies? Or will we find it irresistible for what it truly is: A fantasy that shows how vital it’s to search out someone who makes your heart race while you finally brush hands?
Let’s leave the conclusion to Meg Ryan and Rosie O’Donnell’s characters toward the top of the movie:
Annie: Is this crazy?
Becky: No, that’s the weirdest thing about it.