[A version of a snarky column I wrote for Metro Now. Am hoping to get as much troll-mail from Meg Ryan fans as I do from lovers of Julia Roberts and Sanjeev Kumar]
Fear of flying is manifest in different ways. There’s the nervousness about the technology involved (despite all the reassurances about aircraft being the safest mode of travel, no one who hasn’t taken a five-year course in aerodynamics will ever understand how the thing can even stay up in the air the way it does); the vaguely Icarian sense that one is defying the Fates by engaging in an activity that man was never intended for; the feeling of complete loss of control, of putting one’s life in the hands of a drunk engineer, a malfunctioning vertical stabilizer (I’ve been reading up on these things) or a brooding pilot who lost at cards the previous evening.
But the most terrifying thought of all, the thought that really chills the soul, is this: if something were to go wrong, one might die while watching a Meg Ryan film. And wouldn't one then be condemned to repeat those final moments through eternity?
I’ve come to think of Ms Ryan as a personal nemesis, for her movies – two, three of them at once – have featured on the in-flight entertainment system of every long-haul plane I’ve been on in the past few years. It’s easy to understand why her films are a wet dream for an airline’s entertainment programmer. In-flight movies must be chosen with care. They should be soft and gooey so as to soothe potentially frayed nerves. There must be no scenes that might unsettle a viewer or ring close to the perceived dangers of the flying experience. For example, a documentary about 9/11 would not be the correct choice. A film about a hijacking or deadly turbulence that rips a plane to shreds would be similarly inappropriate. And as we now know, Richard Branson cameos must be censored lest they should cause passengers to think violent thoughts.
But surely there are alternatives to films that turn you into a blob of sucrose in your seat or make you want to throw the window open and barf into the troposphere. In case you’ve stubbed Meg Ryan out of your memory, she was the archetype of the all-American sweetheart, a Betty Cooper made flesh and blood, the star of numerous “meet cute” romantic comedies such as Prelude to a Kiss, You’ve Got Mail and French Kiss (what kind of person stars in two films with the word “kiss” in the title?). These were movies that caused a cumulative rise in blood-sugar levels in the northern hemisphere through the 1990s, and though some of them weren’t exactly bad, little Meg had the same bland, unthreatening cuteness in all of them – the sort of quality that would appeal to a 14-year-old boy with a poet’s soul, looking for a girl to hold hands with or an ethereal, inaccessible older cousin to heroine-worship from afar. (Okay, so I admit to having had a minor crush on her myself when I saw Sleepless in Seattle at 15, but one grows out of these things, right? Part of the joy of getting older is becoming cynical and world-weary, and less tolerant of people who are uncomplicatedly sweet.)
Such was the unholy wholesomeness of her screen persona that even when she tried to stretch her range by playing a career-savvy smart-Alice (in Against the Ropes) or an alcoholic (When a Man Loves a Woman; one of four Meg Ryan films that had the word “love” in the title) or rocker Jim Morrison’s long-suffering girlfriend (The Doors), all you wanted to do was to pinch her cheeks and feed her a bowl of Cerelac. As the square said to the circle, “Where’s the edge?”
As the passenger said to the air-steward, “Give me whishky, shoda and lotsh of Russ Meyer. Or at least some Rajkumar Kohli.”