The Brighton blight
For the twenty-fifth anniversary of John Lennon's assassination, last week, the Guardian interviewed a number of celebs to ask, unoriginally, where they were when they heard the news. Among these select few was Julie Burchill, who distinguished herself - in the same way one might distinguish oneself by wetting oneself in public and then shouting about it - with the following encomium to the murdered singer:
I don't remember where I was but I was really pleased he was dead, as he was a wife-beater, gay-basher, anti-Semite and all-round bully-boy.We live in an age where it is frequently considered meritorious to be unpleasant in a calculated, boorish kind of way. An age of talk radio, of Simon Cowell, of Dragon's Den, of nasty contrarian journalists among whom Julie Burchill is among the nastiest. One should, I suppose, get used to this - it is not, one imagines, going to go away - but there is also a virtue in not getting used to it, in maintaining one's ability to be outraged every time, just as one should be outraged every time one sees young people sleeping in shop doorways or rich men complaining that their employees receive pensions that enable them to feel secure.
You have to keep reminding yourself, this is not right, this is not necessary: you have to keep reminding yourself, this is not human. Because once you become inured to it, inured to crassness, inured to ignorance, inured to contempt for your fellow human beings, then in an important way you deny that it matters. For what you do not notice, does not matter. What you are not hurt by, does not matter. What you are not outraged by, cannot be that outrageous.
It's true, of course, that provocaeurs exist in order to provoke: someone like Burchill is an empty vessel who can be filled only with our reactions. Leave them, they're not worth it, speaks the voice of reason. But the voice of reason is too quiet a voice. What enables outrages to happen is not just their commission but their reception: the cynic and the crass may enjoy your outrage, but indifference would be worse. You cannot, perhaps, shout down a loudmouth but nor can you you can smother them with silence. Qui tacet consentit: silence implies consent. When we stay silent, they proceed.
The likes of Julie Burchill create nothing because they care for nothing - save themselves. What, when the likes of Julie Burchill die, will they leave behind - save what they have accumulated? What will there to be said of them when they are dead? I read another piece this week, on the same model, eight celebs all saying what they thought of Bach. It looked just like the earlier piece and for a moment I confused the two: I started looking for Julie Burchill and even after I realised my mistake, I found myself wondering what she would have to say about the man and his demise. It is too easy to imagine.
Bloody German. God-botherer. Too many kids. Sucked up to all those royals. I'm glad the bastard's dead.