The Power of ‘Meh’ Compels You

I have recently discovered Lovefilm, and I do. Oh God, I do. So last night I settled down to watch The Exorcist.

This old horror classic is pushing forty and looks spectacular for her age, although I had some serious problems with the cut I watched. From what I remembered of The Exorcist, Linda Blair plays the only character who doesn’t smoke like her head is constantly on fire. Everyone else is hitting the ashtrays hard, particularly Chris (Ellen Burstyn) as she becomes increasingly anxious about her daughter’s behaviour. Maybe I’m misremembering, but there’s a particular inadvertant comedy moment when Father Karras runs several laps around a track and stops to spark one up. All that cardio, undone in an instant. May as well do forty five minutes on the treadmill and then inject butter directly into a vein.

Except in this version he doesn’t. Instead he develops a peculiar hand to mouth tic as if he was smoking an invisible cigarette. Even more curiously, Chris appears to have developed an anachronistic e-cig habit.

I’m not even completely sure if they have been snipping away at the smoking scenes, but if they have then that pisses me off more than is strictly reasonable – not because it’s political correctness gone maaaaaaaaaaaaad but because it’s such a fucking insult to the actors’ performance.

One of the many reasons The Exorcist holds up so well is because there just isn’t a bad performance in the whole damn film. It’s a big premise, a big theme, the ultimate Good Vs. Evil showdown. In theory, it’s the kind of theme which more or less invites overacting, yet everyone involved is superbly restrained. Ellen Burstyn manages to convey a world of pain in the way her jaw clenches or her fingers flutter to her lips. The mother-daughter dialogues between her and Linda Blair are tender and astonishingly naturalistic, expertly avoiding the syrupy tone that afflicts so many Hollywood movies whenever a human being under the age of thirteen is on screen. Jason Miller as Father Karras, not even a professional actor, displays naked raw talent and turns in the kind of deep, measured performance that could have turned Pacino green.

And then in the middle of it, you have Linda Blair. Her performance is the thing on which the whole film hangs. And it’s superb. For all she’s vomiting pea soup, masturbating with a crucifix and casting aspersions on people’s mums, she’s still a child – a desperately ill child being devoured from the inside by a demon. There’s a moment before Father Merrin’s death when he’s preparing the holy water and crucifix for another go at the demon and Regan is lying on the bed, green, rotting, demonic to the max, but the sound of her breathing is not the rasp of a demon but the familiar, menthol-scented wheeze of a child with a nasty cold. Absolutely horrifying. This is a girl who can break your heart in two with a snore. She’s just that good.

So if they have been snippy-snippy with the smoking scenes then I’m afraid I’m annoyed. It’s the usual discomfort I feel whenever people attempt revisionism within living memory, combined with irritation that even a frown, a glance, a grimace might be consigned to the cutting room floor because an actor had a cigarette in their mouth. It’s a weird word to use about a movie of which one of the most famous lines is “YOU’RE GOING TO LET JESUS FUCK YOU, FUCK YOU!”, but The Exorcist is too subtle to suffer these cuts. Leave it alone. People smoked back then. We’re not hopeless monkey-see monkey-do creatures who imitate everything we see on film, and besides, it’s an 18 Certificate. Certainly impressionable young kids are going to watch it anyway, because that’s really what 18 Certificate horror films are for, but I really wouldn’t worry about my thirteen year old nephew watching it because it would make him start smoking. I’d be more concerned about the nightmares it would probably induce – that and the improvements to his vocabulary. Although better he watches The Exorcist than Jeremy Clarkson – I will say that.

And while we’re on the subject of Jeremy Clarkson, I had a wonderful idea about Jeremy Clarkson which I’d like to share with you all. It’s something we can all do together and the particular beauty of it is that you don’t have to do much at all. It’s the perfect kind of slacktivism – let’s make 2012 The Official Year of Ignoring Jeremy Clarkson.

Ignoring professional trolls works wonders. If you don’t believe me, remember Ann Coulter? Like many right-wing pundits, Ann was loud, thick, pig-ignorant and lazier than a former governor ofAlaska. She regularly appeared on television in the US and occasionally in the UK whenever Jeremy Paxman needed to practise his sneer, his eyebrow raise and that drawling ‘Yeee-eees’ which unblocks bowels all over Westminster.

Of course, it’s entirely possible than Ann’s slalom ride into irrelevance was largely due to the increasing levels of crazy within the American right, but I have this theory that it was helped along by the tide of political correctness. Ann was (And probably still is) long faced, blonde and skinny in that peculiar dessicated way of female Fox News pundits. There were always the jokes about the size of her Adam’s apple or her hands and it got to a point that even balls-out bad-taste politics blogs like Wonkette were reluctant to talk about her. People were there to laugh at awful politicians, not argue with people who got loud and defensive when you told them that hateful tranny jokes were going the way of the n-word. It just wasn’t worth it. Every Ann Coulter post would inevitably degenerate into such a foul puddle of transphobic slurs that it wasn’t worth making Ann Coulter posts. And so Ann slid sweetly into irrelevance, which is where she rightfully belongs.

But it’s the Olympics this year, and Clarkson is probably already working out what he’s going to say – nice things about how the Mexican running team are lazy, or how all the German athletes have square heads. You know he’s already giggling about how many pearls will be clutched when he blarps out these low-effort racist utterances. The Guardian will predictably shit their pants, the BBC will prod Clarkson into yet another insincere apology and he’ll sit back secure in yet another series and another book deal as everyone’s favourite bucketmouthed right-wing uncle in law.

Well, I’m sorry, but it’s not right. It’s just not right. He was on the telly saying how public sector strikers should be shot and honest day’s work and blah blah blah, so let’s fucking hold him to it. He believes in an honest day’s work? Well, let’s make him do one. Let’s ignore every utterance, every mutter, every pig-ignorant throwaway opinion. Let’s stop reacting with outrage every time Jeremy Clarkson says something terrible and just roll our eyes and go ‘chuh’ instead. See? Very low effort on your part – that’s the beauty of the thing.

Jeremy, on the other hand, has to step up his troll game and start saying more and more appalling things for attention. The worse he gets, the harder we ignore him. Eventually he will be driven to digging out David Blaine’s old perspex box and setting up shop on the Embankment, where he’ll hang out smearing himself in his own excrement and screaming obscenities at passers by. While dressed in full Nazi regalia.

We will ignore him until he either expires from sheer desperation or goes the fuck away. I think it’s only fair. If you want to be professionally repulsive, then by all means carry on, but do it properly. Make an effort. Set up a post-modern one-man perspex Bedlam on Westminster Embankment or fuck off back to the Cotswolds. Take that shit to its illogical conclusion or piss off. Nobody likes an overpaid slacker, Jeremy.

So, tweet it, blog it, Facebook it (if you absolutely must) but make a commitment. Today will be the last day in 2012 that you talk about Jeremy Clarkson.


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