Germaine Greer did more than most contestants to expose the dark underbelly of the reality TV format.
It seems only yesterday I was writing about Janet Street-Porter’s decision to head off into the jungle of reality TV and put her intellect on display in the Australian bush among all those loathsome creepy-crawlies.
Well, it WAS yesterday, to all intents and purposes – only last month. Now here we are again, bemused by a distinguished Australian academic’s decision to immerse herself in the suburban nightmare of Big Brother’s Ministry of Posing – and then get the heebie-jeebies after less than a week and do a bunk.
Dr Greer has been a major fixture in the history of feminism and a TV regular ever since her book The Female Eunuch hit the shelves in 1970. Then she was a ravishing young thing, posing sans culottes in Oz magazine, rejecting motherhood (a decision she sadly admits was wrong) and she was definitely the Unlikely One on the current Big Brother series, or was until Queen Ghoul-Stallone appeared. Her inclusion, apart from being a nifty ruse by the producers to derail her one-time daughter-in-law ‘Red’ Brigitte, is another example of the phenomenon of’fame-by-association’ such as certain spouses enjoy – Cherie Blair, Ruth Rogers, Guy Ciccone – and Paul Burrell perfected.
In this context you can hardly blame anyone who’s been in the public eye for whatever reason wanting to use the reality-feature of modern TV to reinvent themselves and give their career a welcome fillip. Germaine appeared to be no exception at first, but the increase in lip-biting was getting painful. Her conclusion at the post-bunk press conference that bullying has become a key element of the show was topical and worth waiting for. Not only has she had time to think about it, she’s experienced it now too, and her comparing the regime in the house to a fascist society suddenly seemed horribly plausible. The weight of conscience gained from allying the ‘contestants’ to individual charities would be enough to keep most TV performers and pop stars in line (I can just hear their PRs: “Go on – it’s just a laugh, dear. Just another week, you can do it…”)
But Germaine Greer is an anarchist, she proudly told us. God forbid she should start telling people what to do, what to ban, and what to watch, but hooray for her watertight analysis that she should at least point out what negative garbage she thinks these programmes are. In that way some people might gain the confidence to shun them or the daring to change them for the better. It might not do any good: reality TV is the most successful ‘cheap’ broadcasting ever produced, and is likely to carry on expanding in its own universe until Big Bonk or some such massive cosmological event brings it to a natural conclusion.
But at least she gave it a try. If it makes you uncomfortable, challenge it. Question the morality which puts the senior at the mercy of the junior for ribaldry’s sake. As Orwell might have put it, never learn to love Big Brother.
Curiously, it was the coiffeur-challenged racing pundit John McCririck who may have put his finger on the bullying aspect of the whole “phenomenon” when he first walked into the Big Brother house last week.
“I went to boarding school from the age of six,” he announced. “Nothing’s too much trouble after that.” Perhaps his cockiness, adopted misogyny and occasional lack of grace are the result of interaction, not with the youthful types in the house, but with some long-hated figures from his past: contemporaries at Harrow, or his prep school 50 years ago, who made little John’s life a misery while imbuing in him the benefits of self-sufficiency, whether he wanted them or not. It reminded me of reports that the Harry Potter films have caused a surge of interest in private boarding schools, whose lengthening waiting lists now flap keenly in the breeze from turrets across the nation.
Of course, there’s little of that sort of thing where Professor Greer comes from, which explains the easy personal equilibrium of many Australians, unaffected by class or history, merely poleaxed by irrelevance. Atypical to the last, I suggest we applaud her because she seems to know what she’s doing.