‘Meg Ryan Fall’ Is the Best Time of the Year. Of Course the Internet is Ruining It.

Photo Illustration by Erin O'Flynn/The Daily Beast/Shutterstock, Columbia Pictures and Warner Bros.
Photo Illustration by Erin O'Flynn/The Daily Beast/Shutterstock, Columbia Pictures and Warner Bros.

I turn on my computer. I wait impatiently as it boots up. I go online, and my breath catches in my chest—until I hear three little words: “Meg Ryan Fall.”

As true devotees of the Meg Ryan Fall movement will undoubtedly note, this is a play on a line from Nora Ephron’s Youve Got Mail. Alongside When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle, Youve Got Mail is one of Ephron's three Meg Ryan rom-coms to have inspired the yearly trend we now know as either “Nora Ephron Season” or, more commonly, Meg Ryan Fall.

<div class="inline-image__credit">Snap/Shutterstock</div>

I like to think that I am one of the earliest adopters of Meg Ryan Fall. I have vivid memories of autumn 2012: I throw on my favorite wool coat, plug my headphones into my iPod Nano, and strut dreamily around my university campus as the uplifting chords of “Dreams” by The Cranberries lull me into the fantasy that, like Meg, I too am living in Ephron's leafy, cheery version of the Upper West Side. The world is full of possibilities: Maybe I’ll grab a freshly made bagel from the friendly neighborhood bagel shop. Maybe I’ll fill my tote bag with fresh vegetables from the outdoor market. Maybe I’ll bump into the love of my life in line at the local coffee shop. Naturally, I chose to ignore the not-very-aesthetic Starbucks product placement in Ephron’s movie.

Fast forward a decade, and there's a new version of Meg Ryan Fall—and it’s everywhere. And by everywhere, I mean it’s all over social media. For the past few Septembers, my Twitter timeline has transformed into a sea of images from Ephron’s Meg Ryan movies: cozy-Meg, wrapped up in chunky knitwear, errand-Meg holding a pumpkin and a tote bag, stylish-Meg strolling through a golden, autumnal Central Park. On TikTok, the hashtag has over 600 million views and features hundreds of videos of girls showcasing their best Meg Ryan looks, each set to the jazzy tones of Harry Connick Jr. or dialogue from her iconic movies.

This year promises to be no different. “I can smell it,” one woman tweeted alongside a picture of a turtleneck-wearing Meg in When Harry Met Sally. “It's almost Nora season.”

Now seen as an extension of the Megan Thee Stallion-anointed Hot Girl Summer, Meg Ryan Fall hinges around the aesthetic of Ephron’s late-’80s, early-’90s rom-coms. All wool tailored trousers, structured blazers, leather Oxfords, and oversized knitwear set against a hazy backdrop of the burnt oranges and reds of autumn in New York. The visual signifiers are crucial to this contemporary iteration of Meg Ryan Fall; it’s all about having that perfect look for social media.

In theory, I love the idea of Meg Ryan Fall becoming a trend. In theory, I wholeheartedly support every single video of a girl wearing a vintage blazer and mouthing along to Sally’s New Year's Eve speech, and every single tweet with the same four pictures of fall-time Meg. But this year, as another few months of Meg Ryan Fall quickly approach, I can’t help but feel that the trend inspired by my beloved season is hollow.

As is the case with most online trends, Meg Ryan Fall has begun to lose its whimsical charm. Thanks to the internet, it has been reduced into yet another quirky aesthetic. “It is simply the most recent iteration of the same phenomenon the internet likes to discuss every single year: white people being annoyingly obsessed with autumn,” reads one Vox piece from last year. Ultimately, the writer argues, Meg Ryan Fall serves only to drive consumption. Aspiring to look like this very specific version of Meg Ryan requires more khaki trousers! More fall-themed decor! More pumpkin spice lattes!

<div class="inline-image__credit">TriStar Pictures</div>
TriStar Pictures

But in focusing on recreating purely the aesthetic vibe of Ephron’s Meg Ryan rom-coms, the emotional significance gets lost. Of course, this is not to say that prancing around every autumn to a soundtrack of the Cranberries and Harry Connick Jr. is a deeply meaningful endeavor; I am not that deluded. However, for me, the concept of Meg Ryan Fall still means something beyond looking a certain way. For me, evoking the spirit of Meg Ryan each autumn is about more than repeating her best knitwear and trouser combos or tucking my turtleneck into my high-waisted jeans. It is about capturing the feeling that Ephron's movies left me with.

As Rachel Syme notes in a recent New Yorker piece about the director’s legacy, the real appeal of her Ryan-starring rom-com trilogy lies not merely in the iconography, but also in the brilliance of the writing and in the wordplay itself. “Transforming Ephron into a cuddly heroine,” Syme writes, “a figure of mood and atmosphere, obscures the artist whose interest, above all, was in verbal precision.” In other words, Nora Ephron is not merely a vibe—yet Meg Ryan Fall is starting to turn her into one.

Life, Death, and Everything Is Copy: Nora Ephron’s Final, Most Revealing Lessons

I'm not trying to be a snob: I get it. I get the impulse to dive headfirst into the Ephron look. I have done it, and will probably continue to do it, myself. After all, Ephron made fall look divine. Aside from all the simple cardigans and loose trousers and neutral colors, her take on autumn was one of local fall fairs, quaint street-side markets, and friendly neighborhood businesses.

“I lead a small life—well, valuable, but small,” says Ryan’s character, Kathleen, in Youve Got Mail, with a sad sigh. Today, however, it is this small, valuable life that so many of us are missing. And so, we think, maybe throwing on a thicker wool sweater and filming ourselves styling it for TikTok will help us feel closer to that charming, whimsical world captured by Ephron.

<div class="inline-image__credit">Moviestore/Shutterstock</div>

The irony, of course, is that this runs counter to what makes her movies so charming and comforting. They affect us the way that they do precisely because they exist in a completely separate universe to that of ours—of TikTok and Twitter and Hot Girl Summer.

In When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle, the internet is nothing more than a vague, futuristic idea. By Youve Got Mail, we find ourselves in the final years of the pre-digital age. It is an internet of dial-up sounds, clunky desktops, AOL inboxes and pixelated icons. It's a world where the greatest online threat is a Solitaire addiction; online dating is an anomaly that happens only in chat rooms; characters ask each other without any irony, “Are you online?”

In Ephron’s movies, Meg Ryan got to experience a fall that was hopeful, friendly, and, perhaps most importantly, blissfully offline. And while the Ephron-Ryan version of the world may all be a nostalgic, rose-tinted fiction, I can’t help but embrace it every fall. But this year? I might try to avoid posting about it.

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