[Paleopsych] NYT: (and London Times) Germaine Greer's Orwellian Ordeal on 'Big Brother'
checker at panix.com
Thu Jan 20 21:04:58 UTC 2005
Germaine Greer's Orwellian Ordeal on 'Big Brother'
NYT January 20, 2005
By SARAH LYALL
[London TImes pieces follow.]
LONDON, Jan. 19 - Possibly the only thing more surprising
than the news that Germaine Greer - the Australian
feminist, literary scholar and cultural critic - had joined
the cast of the latest "Celebrity Big Brother" series was
what she did when she quit, five days later.
Contestants habitually complain about their experiences on
reality television shows. It is one of the standard
features of the entertainment, like groveling for meals or
getting drunk and falling over. But the complaints are
usually directed at the other participants. As one said
about another in a past season, "If I had stayed in that
house a minute longer, I would have murdered Les."
What made the 65-year-old Ms. Greer's departure last week
so riveting, by contrast, was that her attack was not a
personal whining session, but a blistering cultural and
literary critique of the show that revealed her as perhaps
the only contestant who has ever actually read (or at least
admitted reading) George Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four,"
where the whole notion of Big Brother was born.
Ms. Greer, still best known for her 1970's feminist
manifesto, "The Female Eunuch," compared the show, in which
celebrities are confined together as viewers decide who
goes and who stays, to "a fascist prison camp" where
bullying was encouraged and sensory deprivation used as a
weapon of torture.
"The business of the 'Big Brother' house was to bring about
a state of abjection among the inhabitants," she told
reporters after her departure.
In a furious article in The Sunday Times of London, Ms.
Greer expanded on her theme, complaining that deliberately
poor conditions and the withholding of privileges were
wearing down the weaker contestants, leading them to turn
on one another. When one participant begged to be given
Diet Coke, saying that he could not cope without it, for
instance, the program makers distributed it to the other
cast members and encouraged them to taunt him.
Food in the house was stale and rancid, Ms. Greer said. The
kitchen was filthy and contestants had to share towels and
bathrobes "crawling with bacteria promiscuously collected
from all eight bodies."
Even worse, she said, was the way the program makers would
"lock down" the contestants in their bedrooms when
technicians entered the set, drawing the blinds but leaving
the lights on. During lockdowns, contestants were forbidden
to eat or use the bathroom. A shrill, reverberating alarm
sounded if they tried to doze off.
"As Mussolini's enforcers found, it is easy to break a
prisoner by turning day into night and jumbling their
mealtimes," wrote Ms. Greer, who during the show had urged
her fellow contestants to revolt by stripping and sitting
naked. (No one did.) "It would have served Big Brother
right if housemates had wet their beds and daubed their
walls" with excrement.
To some, it was as if Ms. Greer, alone among the parade of
contestants present and past, had dared finally to mention
the emperor's lack of clothes.
"My personal take on why Greer signed up for 'Big Brother'
was that it was a simple, benevolent decision to try to
help mankind," the critic Caitlin Moran wrote in The Times
of London. "In all the reality shows over the past five
years, we have never, on a single occasion, had anyone even
remotely sane and intelligent on them."
But Ms. Greer's attack offended another Times columnist,
Julie Burchill, a "Big Brother" fan whose article on the
matter carried the headline "My Feminist Hero Has Become a
"It is rather offensive to those who have spent time in
fascist prisons - or even people who have two brain cells
to rub together - to compare a game show to a fascist
prison," Ms. Burchill wrote, accusing Ms. Greer of failing
to understand "the risibly obvious fact that this 'Big
Brother' was not the original oppressive brute, as created
by George Orwell," but rather a "pantomime villain toying
with a few pampered volunteers."
Ms. Greer was certainly the odd one out when she entered
the "Celebrity Big Brother" house along a motley crowd of
has-beens and would-be's, including Brigitte Nielsen, the
Amazonian former wife of Sylvester Stallone; and John
McCririck, the eccentric host of television horse-racing
programs. Mr. McCririck offered a window into his
personality when he said of his wife on the show: "Her
body's sagging, and in truth I'm fed up with her."
Ms. Greer explained that she had joined the show because
she wanted money to help rehabilitate her 125 acres of
Australian rain forest, as well as to "strike a blow for
old ladies." She is said to have received £50,000 ($93,355)
for agreeing to participate. Had she won, she said, she
would have donated the prize money to Buglife, an
invertebrate conservation charity.
Some feminists were upset at what they saw as a betrayal of
the cause and distressed by the undignified spectacle of
the various tasks Ms. Greer had to undergo in order to win
food and privileges: wading through rotting vegetables and
cigarette butts; sitting on a revolving merry-go-round that
made her vomit repeatedly; dressing like a Victorian
"Germaine is one of the icons of my life, but because of
the way culture is, she will now be known for 'Big Brother'
rather than for anything else she's done," said Bonnie
Greer, a co-panelist with Ms. Greer on a television
arts-review program. (The two women are unrelated.)
Ms. Greer has constantly defied expectation and never been
far from the public eye. In 1994 she publicly opened her
house to homeless people, only to discover later that one
of her "guests" had in fact been a reporter for a British
tabloid researching a tell-all article. She has stripped
for magazines, denounced marriage as state-sanctioned
slavery for women, and written with equal fluency about
Shakespeare, the environment and orgasms. She seems
unbothered by the latest fuss.
In her Sunday Times article, she said that she had remained
in the house until she realized that she could not persuade
the other housemates to join her in her planned revolt
against "Big Brother's" bullying thought police.
"It is now up to the British public to decide what should
become of cruelty television," she said, "and to turn their
The Sunday Times [London], 5.1.16
Germaine Greer: Filth!
Germaine Greer, the veteran feminist, reveals why she
quit Big Brother. It wasn't just the degradation, it was the dirt
When Davina McCall asked me in her bright,
overenthusiastic fashion why I called Big Brother a bully, there was not a
hint of irony in the presenter's intelligent brown eyes.
People who have read George Orwell's Nineteen
Eighty-four will already be aware, however, that the whole point of Big
Brother is that he is a bully.
They will also know that the language spoken by Big
Brother's "Inner Party" bureaucracy is called Newspeak. In Davina's
Newspeak, Big Brother is a force for good and the abuses that he designs
are "challenges" - character-building exercises, not degrading ordeals.
Both Kenzie and Lisa, two of my former housemates, can
be heard regularly intoning Big Brother's mantra, "It's all good" - which
is Newspeak for "It's all bad (but we musn't complain)."
The bullying began the day before we entered the Big
Brother house, when the eight of us were sequestered overnight in
different hotels. To keep secret our identities, our rooms had been booked
in the names of employees of Endemol, the company behind Big Brother. My
first taste of Big Brother's incompetence was that I had not been told
about this. The hotel denied all knowledge of any reservation and insisted
on charging the room to my credit card.
Once I succeeded in getting into a room, gangs from the
Endemolian Inner Party arrived to take photographs, ask more and more
intrusive questions and to repack my things in my Big Brother suitcase.
One Endemolian held up each item, scrutinised it and
described it; another wrote down what she said. The only thing to be
confiscated from my bag was my kohl eyebrow pencil, in case I should write
with it. I would be eyebrowless for the duration.
Big Brother allowed us to bring in no electrical
appliances of any kind. An electric shaver would be supplied for the men,
but no hair drier for anyone and no Caprice Ceramic Hair Straightener
either - so Caprice, my former housemate, must be hoping to quit before
her hair does.
I was the second housemate to arrive, after John
McCririck, who had already entertained viewers by bouncing off the walls
as he tried to walk through the set. He told me that he was there only
because he was a failed punter, failed journalist, failed broadcaster and
really needed the money, and my heart went out to him.
I was to become more concerned for him as it became
increasingly obvious that he didn't understand the game and didn't realise
that Big Brother would regularly deceive and disappoint him. And so began
his epic battles, all of them misconceived, against the routine
ill-treatment of the housemates. Again and again he would ask, "What are
they playing at?" Strangely, for an experienced television performer, John
didn't understand just how many cameras and microphones there were around
him and just how much editorial control Endemol had over the way that the
housemates would appear to the watching millions.
Endemol chose to show footage of John asleep with his
hand in his underpants and of him picking large bogies from his nose and
eating them. Equally revealing and embarrassing images of other housemates
would not have gone to air unless Endemol willed it.
What this means is that Endemol has huge scope for
influencing public perception of the housemates, almost to the point of
being able to pick its own winner. I would not be at all surprised to find
some housemates had caveats in their contracts to protect them against the
more humiliating kinds of intrusion. The rest of us had to keep a guard on
our behaviour day and night.
The housemate who understands this best is Caprice
Bourret, who will never allow herself to be seen sleeping or in any
unflattering posture whatsoever. Beneath a soft and yielding exterior lies
stern self-discipline and a will of iron.
The tabloids described the work-out routine she did on
day three as "raunchy"; in truth, it was gruelling and Caprice didn't even
break sweat. As if. Caprice is in the Big Brother house to advertise her
brand of lingerie and swimwear; for her it is a win-win situation. Not
only is she getting a few million quids' worth of free advertising, she is
also being handsomely paid for being there.
As we waited for the next housemates to arrive she told
me she was afraid of Brigitte Nielsen because she was more like a man than
a woman. I was not to see her make such a tactical error again.
Enter Mark Berry, better known as Bez, hero of the Happy
Mondays' 1986 hit single Freaky Dancin', who is fast winning his way into
the nation's heart as people get used to his Manchester dialect.
At first I thought he was going to get up my nose
because he insisted on taking the only upper-level bunk bed: mine. I was a
bit miffed but thought it better to submit. Just as well, because the bed
broke on the first night. Bez is a flyweight; if I'd been sleeping in his
bed, Brigitte, who sleeps underneath, would now be history. The broken bed
followed the general rule of the Big Brother house that everything
supplied for the housemates must be as trashy as possible.
As the days passed I realised that Bez is a man who
makes light of his own pain while showing concern for the pain of others.
He is compassionate without being lugubrious, genuinely well intentioned
and lighthearted to the point of sunniness. This apparently is what
enormous amounts of E can do for a person; unfortunately for the rest of
us E-use is much more likely to result in chronic depression than lifelong
When Brigitte insisted on playing Spin the Bottle and
that all the truth or dare questions be about sex, Bez confessed that he
masturbated three or four times a day.
WHENEVER technicians come onto the set, which is quite
often, the housemates are "locked down", shut in their sleeping quarters
with the blind down. If it's day-time the lights will be left on, and a
cacophonous alarm will be sounded repeatedly if anyone should fall asleep.
Or at least this used to be the case before the unfortunate importation of
Jacqueline Stallone, Brigitte's former mother-in-law, who was still on LA
time and could not be made to stay out of bed for more than an hour or two
at a time.
During lockdown the bathroom and lavatory are also
locked, in case housemates should come face to face with a technician. As
two of the female housemates seemed to have a urinary problem, barring
access to the lavatory resulted in real and completely unentertaining
suffering which might go on for hours. It would have served Big Brother
right if housemates had wet their beds and daubed the walls with shit.
The bathroom and lavatory needed to be locked because
access to the toilet during lock-down was through the bathroom, and the
external bathroom wall is glass, which brings us to Big Brother's
principal bullying tactic: the removal of all privacy. "Big Brother is
watching you" even when you shower, so housemates had to wash their
private parts with their pants on. The alternative was to bleach their
pubic hair in the Jacuzzi, which contained so much chlorine that the towel
Brigitte wore on the first night in lieu of a bathing costume went in blue
and came out pinkish-orange.
The one unseen space in the house is the lavatory, but
even there Big Brother could hear housemates grunting and the splash as
they took a dump. A good example of Big Brother's not-so-unique
combination of cruelty with incompetence is that the external door to the
lavatory had no bolt. Although housemates tried to remember always to
knock, every single one has been surprised on the lavatory several times.
The point of this is either deliberately to disrupt
bowel and bladder function, or it has no point at all. It is moot whether
Big Brother's incompetence is greater than his cruelty or vice versa. The
lavatory had a weak flush and was often blocked. It was more than Big
Brother could do to fix it.
Housemates had been told to "expect the unexpected", but
there is no surprise value in such mundane and insulting squalor, of which
viewers could know nothing unless Caprice decided to do one of her two
lavatory routines. She loves to talk about farting, which she calls
"flagellation". She also becomes strangely excited when she finds a
floater or "log" in the lavatory bowl and runs about looking for someone
Dirt doesn't show up on television. Although the Big
Brother kitchen might look okay, it is anything but. The housemates graze
constantly and the single sink is often full of dishes either weltering in
their own grease or stewing for hours in lukewarm water.
Dirt from the last Big Brother series still lines the
oven. None of the cleaning products in the cupboard is capable of removing
this burnt-on fat or the ancient grime that has accumulated in the gaps
between the floor tiles.
When Big Brother replaced all the ceramic plates with
wooden bowls and spoons for a "medieval court game", the only way to make
these safe would have been to boil them after each use. This was not done.
Some of the bowls are split. The longer they are left in dirty water the
more dangerous they become. Serving food on wood in restaurants is
illegal; in the Big Brother house it is compulsory.
The housemates need a bigger refrigerator. They need
kitchen towels, clingfilm and greaseproof paper. And they need fresh food
daily. Prolonged negotiations resulted, we thought, in Big Brother's
providing fresh milk, but he could never remember to deliver it. When I
left we had been without milk, tea and sugar for 18 hours.
As the refrigerator was too small to hold more than a
day's rations for eight people, we had no option but to keep food,
including cooked food, uncovered on the countertop or in a cupboard so hot
that sweetcorn fermented in an unopened tin.
Even in the refrigerator the food decayed. The mushrooms
I had to make a pasta sauce with were covered with slime; Another dish I
cooked had to be made with fermenting peppers because I thought Brigitte
had asked for them to be replaced. She had forgotten.
ALTHOUGH the janitorial role quickly became mine by
default, I was damned if I was going to ask for everything we needed. Part
of the strategy is to induce each housemate to believe that Big Brother is
his or her sole confidant and friend. My instinctive response was to
withhold as much as humanly possible. I went to the diary room to talk to
Big Brother only when summoned. I'm claustrophobic and the hot red padded
space quickly made me feel sick. I'd been nauseated since the food trial
on day three anyway.
I still don't know how much of the vomiting in the food
trial was visible to the public. There were three vomiters: Bez, Kenzie
and me. Was it cruelty or cock-up that meant that we were all cold and
hungry before beginning the "challenge"? We were ordered into lockdown
just as I was cooking lunch and kept there for more than three hours. We
were already low on blood sugar and soon all of us were shivering
violently. We vomited because we were sat on a revolving merry-go-round
which was rotated at 17rpm or above for 15 minutes.
I won't bore you with what it felt like to vomit
helplessly and repeatedly on prime-time television. Suffice it to say that
the three of us sprayed human bile all over the Big Brother "garden".
Despite the dirt, housemates have no way of washing
clothes, let alone ironing them, so they have no option but to appear
increasingly dishevelled as the ordeal wears on. Furthermore, everyone in
the house is using the same stock of blue towels, which cannot be told
apart, and the same bathrobes. By now both will be crawling with bacteria
promiscuously collected from all eight bodies.
The entertainment value of these entirely avoidable
health hazards is absolutely nil, especially as Big Brother has no
intention of sharing his cock-ups with the public.
Viewers have no way of knowing that the housemates are
all becoming increasingly dehydrated or that because the climate control
system can blast only super-dry heated air, the dry-mouthed, wheezing
housemates keep asking for it to be turned down, which Big Brother
interprets as off. Housemates must either shiver or sweat.
As viewers know, the Big Brother house boasts one double
bedroom and one dormitory; what they may not realise is that both are
supposed to be hermetically sealed at night and supplied by air circulated
through ceiling vents. Lisa l'Anson brought kennel cough with her and
barked through most of the first night and part of every night since. Now
everyone coughs, off and on.
John fought a heroic battle against being forced to
breathe recycled air all night and illegally placed his bag between the
one exterior door and the jamb to let a little fresh air in. This Big
Brother would not allow; when Kenzie obeyed the order to remove the bag,
John insulted him in unforgivable terms. Kenzie quite properly went
ballistic and Big Brother had what he wanted.
If Kenzie had disobeyed the order, it would have been
repeated until it was obeyed. Kenzie doesn't know that viewers are
disappointed that he hasn't apologised; viewers don't know that Kenzie has
nothing to apologise for.
For the infrared cameras to work properly, the bedroom
must be completely dark. When the blind comes down there is not a chink of
natural light. Housemates may not be sure whether it is night or day; they
are allowed no watches.
As Mussolini's enforcers found, it is easy to break a
prisoner by turning day into night and jumbling mealtimes. So severe is
the false night effect that some housemates thought the one clock in the
house was being tampered with and that what seemed to be morning was
actually late afternoon.
BY the end of Nineteen Eighty-four, Winston Smith has
come to love Big Brother. If I was supposed to come to love Lisa or
Brigitte or Caprice, I had little chance. None of them made any attempt at
contact with me or tried to involve me in any of their activities, which
was fine with me.
At one point, when I was sitting alone by the Jacuzzi,
Lisa wandered within earshot. I took the opportunity to apologise for my
ignorance of her brilliant career and asked her to tell me about herself.
For a heartbeat she looked as if she might not be able to resist the
opportunity to talk about her favourite subject, but then she backed away
and said with sweet condescension that normally she'd love to stop and
chat but she really needed to put tiger balm oil on her temples, and off
she went to join the girls.
I have now seen footage of Lisa and Brigitte musing in a
hurt kind of way on why I didn't like them. It shouldn't have come as such
a surprise; there's not a lot to like. Brigitte has a certain kamikaze
charm which is part and parcel of her astonishing selfishness. As far as I
can tell, Lisa has no charm whatsoever.
If Lisa spoke to me at all, it was in dismissive tones
and over her shoulder. She was giving me orders long before the game in
which she was queen and we were all "cortiays", which was the best she
could make of "courtiers".
By the beginning of day three I had been so completely
ostracised from the group of girls that if I entered the space where they
were bonding, they would fall silent or loudly change the subject. If they
had not, I might not have felt as sorry for Brigitte as I did. For in
these gab sessions the girls shared highlights of their lives so far and I
might have known that Brigitte had already willingly surrendered her right
to any shred of dignity or privacy.
Brigitte's has been a strange and mostly ignominious
career which is now reaching its nadir. In a television reality show
called The Surreal Life she was happy to walk about naked and indulge in
public dalliance with the rap star Flavor Flav. Three days after she
entered the Big Brother house, a follow-up programme called Strange Love,
in which Flavor Flav pursues her to Italy in an attempt to win her back,
premiered on the VH1 channel.
Now that I know Brigitte makes a career out of
exhibiting her life on television, I feel a bit of a fool for refusing to
be involved in Endemol's attempt to outflank VH1 by invoking the only
really interesting and faintly classy episode in Brigitte's life, her
brief marriage to Sylvester Stallone two decades ago.
I believed her when she complained that bringing
Stallone's mother into the Big Brother house, as Endemol did last Monday,
would result in newspaper coverage that would jeopardise her position with
regard to custody of her sons in her current divorce from her fourth
If I'd known, I'd have thought that her readiness to get
the bazongas out for the boys in the house would be much more likely to
alienate a divorce court judge than a hostile encounter with a woman who
was briefly her mother-in-law.
Although I was and am sorry for Brigitte, she is quite
right that I don't like her. It's hard to like someone who insists on
taking a handful of spaghetti out of the one 500g pack that you have to
feed eight people, cooks it for herself, seasons it with your second to
last chilli pepper, and then eats half of it and leaves the rest. (There
was pasta that I had cooked on the table, but she preferred her own.) Damn
right I don't like her or her habit of grabbing her store-bought breasts,
banging them together like cymbals and shouting "Hot diggity!" at the top
of her lungs, by way of signifying that she is having a good time.
At no time did Brigitte ever display the least respect
for me, not as a woman, an older woman or even a human being. The guys
were different. They talked to me. They sometimes asked me genuine
questions and would even listen when I replied, if they could. More often,
Lisa or Brigitte would simply interrupt and talk over me. In real life I
wouldn't have let it happen. In the Big Brother house you roll your eyes
and let the viewers decide who is a cow and who isn't.
Kenzie had been afraid that he would be the odd one out
in the house because he was only 19; with his sweetness, simplicity,
mental suppleness and capacity for fun, he'd never be the odd one out
anywhere. The difficulty with Kenzie was to get enough of him. Unlike Lisa
and Brigitte he seldom took centre stage. When he did, unlike them he had
something to say.
Neither Caprice nor Lisa nor Brigitte ever said a witty
thing. Kenzie and Jeremy often did, Jeremy in so deadpan a fashion that
the girls didn't get it. John, on the other hand, invariably laughed at
his own jokes, which were often nasty and seldom funny.
CELEBRITY Big Brother is now a shambles. When Mama
Stallone refused to play the "cortiay" game, the scenario for the
following days fell apart. Deprived of the joy of watching Brigitte warm
the lavatory seat for the woman who made her life a misery 20 years ago,
viewers must be finding life in the house rather flat.
The housemates are still eating with their pestilential
wooden spoons. They have been delivered far more food than they can store,
so botulism will still be stalking the kitchen. Brigitte and her former
mother-in-law were still talking to each other occasionally until Mama was
voted off the show on Friday night - probably a great relief to both of
them. It's all good.
As for myself, what did I learn under the eye of Big
Brother? First, there is no such thing as reality television. Very little
that is seen to happen actually happens and a great deal of what actually
happens remains unseen.
Second, while it is understood that Big Brother is a
bully by definition, the housemates have a choice as to whether to
replicate and amplify his unreasonable and sadistic behaviour. Take the
incident of the Diet Coke. When John said he could not function without
it, Big Brother chose to torment him by denying it to him while offering
it to all the other housemates. Not only did they all drink it but they
taunted John, as children might taunt an unpopular child in the
Did viewers notice that I didn't join in? If the
Endemolian Inner Party had decided to point out my non-compliance, they
would have. As it didn't, they didn't.
As reality television series multiply across the
networks they will become increasingly sadistic and prurient. The only way
forward for ordeal by television is down, which in Newspeak is of course
up, towards maximum exploitation of vulnerable people.
In my estimation both John and Brigitte were vulnerable.
I walked out because I didn't want to be part of their undoing, not
because I was afraid for myself. As long as there was a possibility that
the housemates could be got to revolt against Big Brother, I had a reason
to stay. If they had taken off their microphones, refused to join in the
humiliation of Brigitte and the manipulation of her mother-in-law and told
Big Bugger to go stuff himself, we could have made a difference to the
mindset of the British viewing public - who so enjoyed the anguish and
humiliation of Nicole Appleton in I'm a Celebrity . . . Get Me Out Of
Here! that they voted for her to undergo bush tucker trials five times.
We've watched the rise of bullying at school and the
attempts made to combat it. Big Brother is bullying in all its forms writ
large. It is the politics of the playground projected back to people as
entertainment, and it gives children in particular and people in general
absolutely the wrong idea about what is acceptable behaviour.
It would be pompous to suggest that the proliferation of
ordeal television is actively promoting a bullying culture in Britain
without a lot more work being done on the extent and nature of bullying in
schools and workplaces. But it is now up to the British public to decide
what should become of cruelty television, and to turn their thumbs down.
I went into the Big Brother house to raise money for my
charity and to finance my regeneration work in my Australian rainforest.
If someone else were to offer me a similar amount of money for burying
myself in muck and derision for a few days, I would probably do it again.
What I wouldn't do is be drawn into complicity with the degradation and
humiliation of others who I consider, rightly or wrongly, to be weaker
The Sunday Times [London], 5,1,9
Big Sister takes up an exposed position
The chattering classes are aghast. Whatever made her do it? Why, oh why, is
Germaine Greer demeaning herself as a feminist heroine by appearing on that
ghastly reality show Celebrity Big Brother, with a bunch of contestants whose
brains, my dear, must have the cutting edge of a rotten banana?
One critic confessed to being left shaken at the "shock horror" appearance
last week of the 65-year-old professor of English literature and author of The
Female Eunuch amid the likes of Brigitte Nielsen, the Amazonian former wife of
Sylvester Stallone, the model Caprice and John McCririck, the racing pundit.
Flabbergasted misses the point. The most pertinent question is why Greer
didn't opt for the rival series I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here!, whose
jungle camp is based near her Australian property in Queensland. There, in her
native clime, she could demonstrate her extensive knowledge of plants, cooking,
the rainforest and snakes.
But isn't her appearance on Big Brother's 18-day orgy of bad taste a touch
hypocritical? After all, Greer has written: "Watching Big Brother is about as
dignified as looking through the keyhole in your teenage child's bedroom door."
She added: "Reality TV is not the end of civilisation as we know it; it is
civilisation as we know it."
No one who has studied Greer's form would hold her to that. She has spent
the past 40 years doing the opposite of what was expected of her, no matter how
many U-turns it might entail. Children are a burden, she wrote in The Female
Eunuch. A few years later, she declared they were a joy. Sex is a weapon in the
female struggle against oppression, she asserted. Later she retracted, saying
women might be better off without it.
The former stunner -who counts among her lovers George Best, Martin Amis,
Julian Barnes, Jonathan Aitken, Warren Beatty (whom she apparently found
disappointing) and the late John Peel (who claimed she forced him to have sex)
-now advocates celibacy.
By offering Greer large sums of money to enter the Big Brother house, the
producers evidently expect her to have the same galvanising effect as Janet
Street-Porter in the recent I'm a Celebrity.
She might, with luck, undergo a psychological meltdown like Vanessa Feltz,
the journalist. But the hope is she will unleash some of her lethal verbal
invective. She called Victoria Beckham "a starved carnivore" and described the
writer of her unauthorised biography as "flesh- eating bacteria". In a broadside
addressed to Tony Blair after Cherie suffered a miscarriage, she said: "She's 47
years old, she doesn't practise contraception because she's a Catholic -stay off
Greer reserved her most venomous put-down for Suzanne Moore, her fellow
columnist on The Guardian, after the latter commented on an inaccurate report
that Greer had had a hysterectomy at 25. Greer accused her of having "hair
birds-nested all over the place, f***-me shoes and three inches of fat cleavage
Still, squandering such ammunition on C-list celebrities ranks with mauling
dead sheep. What is really in it for her? Money is important: Greer always
demands top rate so she can finance rainforest rehabilitation on her Australian
estate, although this time her chosen charity is Buglife, the invertebrate
She is also an unashamed exhibitionist. Her late-night performances on
Newsnight Review have failed to reach the masses. Fortunately, her penchant for
grabbing the headlines has allowed her to transcend such restricted forums. Some
of her neighbours in Essex choked when she called on them to embrace an
expansion of Stansted airport. There was also an outcry and accusations of
encouraging paedophilia when she confessed that she loved looking at pictures of
"ravishing" young boys. Sales of her book The Boy soared.
By coincidence, just as a heated national debate began on crime and trespass
in the countryside in 2000, she became front-page news when she was held hostage
in her home by a teenage student who had become obsessed with her, crying
"Mummy, Mummy" until the police arrived.
On another occasion, she invited homeless people to stay in her remote
farmhouse, only for her private life to be exposed by a tabloid news reporter
posing as a tramp.
The Big Brother format encourages guests to strip off and in this
department, too, she has not been reticent. She has exposed herself,
photographically in counter-culture periodicals such as Oz and Suck, and in
memoirs such as her 1990 book Daddy, We Hardly Knew You.
Big Brother's producers must have been delighted when she admitted to
sleeping in the nude, adding: "It's going to be hard to remember to cover my
bits." She will doubtless be glad to repeat her well-chronicled experiences of
lesbian sex, rape, abortion, infertility and menopause.
Which Germaine Greer will emerge when the layers are peeled away? The
harridan with a viperish tongue? ("She is the rudest woman and has no social
graces at all," says a commissioning editor.) Or the captivating university
lecturer? (One of her former students recalls: "She always filled the lecture
hall. She was rigorous, a perfect teacher who never dumbed down but remained
accessible and amusing.") She was born in Melbourne, Australia, in 1939. Her
father, once a dapper sales rep for The Adelaide Advertiser, returned from the
war so aged that his wife failed to recognise him. He was withdrawn and his
daughter despised him as "a lounge lizard, a line-shooter, a jerk". She
dismissed her abusive mother as "a woman who has done nothing but lie on beaches
for 70 years".
She began hatching plans to escape at the age of 12. At the Star of the Sea
convent, she was a tall and precocious girl who took the male parts in school
plays. "We were all sex-struck," she said, "and that's the nuns' fault entirely.
By the age of 18 she was at Melbourne University, well known for carrying a
bag of coloured condoms. However, she was raped "by just the sort of boy my
mother would have liked me to marry".
Moving to Sydney to teach, she joined a bohemian, free-love group before
deciding to study for an MA at Sydney University, where Clive James was a
contemporary. In his memoirs he describes a thinly disguised Greer character as
striding forth "like a Homeric goddess" to deflower him. He escaped and hid
behind a tree.
Thanks to a Commonwealth scholarship, Greer arrived at Newnham College,
Cambridge, in 1964 to do a doctorate on Shakespeare's comedies. She did not find
English men sexy, proclaiming them all "queer or kinky". She told a friend: "You
know what the last pom (I went to bed with) said to me? 'Let's pretend you're
At Cambridge she caused a stir by turning up to receive her PhD in a
microskirt and black stockings. Soon after, she married Paul du Feu, a building
worker with an English degree. Their marriage lasted three weeks, after which du
Feu posed naked for Cosmopolitan.
Greer went to teach at Warwick University and hit the jackpot in 1970 with
The Female Eunuch, which argued that marriage was slavery. It sold 1m copies.
With the royalties she bought a cottage in Tuscany and a five-storey house in
Notting Hill, London, that became a refuge for waifs and strays.
In her 1984 book, Sex and Destiny, she depicted western society as
anti-children, anti-family and sex-obsessed. Seven years later she charted her
menopause in The Change, which irritated some feminists by claiming sex was not
essential for older women.
For all her notoriety, she is a highly respected authority on 17th-century
literature and has always inspired affection -surprisingly, more among the men
she rails against than women.
Once she gave a lecture at Oxford, arguing that the female orgasm was not
only a facet of gender tyranny but was also vastly overrated. A male student
raised his hand. "About that overrated orgasm," he drawled. "Won't you give a
Southern boy another chance?" The speaker was a young Rhodes scholar called Bill
The Times (London)
January 13, 2005, Thursday
My feminist hero has become a rancid bore
by Julie Burchill
Julie Burchill turned down the chance to appear in Celebrity Big Brother and
then watched as her former idol, Germaine Greer, made a fool of herself
"Who is the bigger fool? -the fool, or the fool who follows him?" is a line
from a jumped-up sci-fi film that my husband and I are fond of quoting pompously
at each other when the other implies that one of us has acted in a silly way.
Guaranteed to break the ice and heal any rifts, it also -as I watched the
most recent Celebrity Big Brother -struck me as the only question I'd be
interested in asking early-bathing escapee Germaine Greer when I next see her.
Especially when, a few hours after I'd watched her being sick on a roundabout
after volun tarily wading through manure wearing a colander on her head, she had
the brass-faced nerve to whine: "Every day crazy people write to me -every day I
get a dose of insanity!" Pot, kettle!
Yes, that would definitely be the question. Not "Are you yet in any way
sorry that you so gratuitously insulted my home-girl Suzanne Moore that time
when you said that her hair resembled a bird's nest, she wore f***-me shoes and
that hair dye had rotted her brain, thus furnishing the saddest, most
seat-sniffing sort of man with the very thing he has his wettest, most sexist
dreams about -a catfight?"
(Except it wasn't, as it turned out, because it takes two to make a fight
and my Suze was too much of a lady to respond -not that she needed to, with a
rottweiler like me for a mate, but anyway.) It wouldn't be "Is it true that you
don't think it important for women to have orgasms during sex, and isn't this
because you yourself are as sexlessly sterile as a mule, posing-naked-or-not? In
fact, wasn't all that frantic shagging around you did in the Sixties and
Seventies just a rather tragic decoy?"
And it wouldn't even be "Don't you agree that hypocrisy is the rankest of
the minor vices, combining as it does the sanctity of the pulpit with the stench
of the public toilet?" No, it would definitely be "Who is the fool, etc?" For
having read the pronouncement of Miss Greer on my beloved reality television
"Watching Big Brother is about as dignified as looking through the keyhole into
your teenage child's bedroom door. To do so occasionally would be shameful; to
get hooked on it is downright depraved" -and then witnessing her wretched
performance on the latest Celebrity Big Brother, I can only conclude that not
only is she seven sorts of ocean-going, grade-A, top-flight fool, but that she
is far more foolish than the apparent "fools" on the show.
Even I was surprised at the wisdom of Lisa, the dignity of Caprice (with her
strange albino-Nefertiti beauty, which I "got" for the first time. And she's
Jewish!), the stoicism of Jeremy, the patience of Bez, the eccentricity of
Brigitte -and the sheer ooo-those-eyes gorgeousness of Kenzie, a real star in
the making whose cuteness quotient makes Gareth Gates look like Rik Waller. I
could easily imagine what fun it would be to hang out with them in anything
approaching normal circumstances. But Germaine? When I was a wide-eyed
12-year-old teenybopper, I shoplifted The Female Eunuch and thought that this
must be the cleverest, wittiest, most compassionate woman in the world -and that
an hour in her company would be akin to gorging from an intellectual version of
the Horn of Cornucopia. Now she appears to be the sort of rancid bore who one
would actually leave even a quite lively party to avoid being cornered by.
That she is a woman, and that this is generally a male speciality sport,
says it all about where she has gone wrong in shunning the company of other
women in order to seek the approval of men. Basically, she has turned into one
-a club bore; tellingly, though she and John McCririck started off as opponents,
they began to resemble each other more and more as the senile delinquents of the
house, both of them apparently in that place where old age and infancy blur
He sulked, went silent, cried "I want my milk," and fretted for "Bitty"
sorry, "Booby" -while she, for all her lifelong blabber about sisterhood and
socialism, finally freaked out at having to share a borrowed, toy kitchen with
the helpful Brigitte!
Perhaps, like a lot of academic snobs, GG thought that "TV is for appearing
on, not watching." (When this sort of ponce DOES appear on TV, they invariably
make a right pig's ear of it, and end up being laughed at rather than laughed
with, bless!) If she HAD watched the last Big Brother, she might have seen the
truly amazing Kitten -someone who appeared to have grasped the meaning of being
a "revolutionary" from compulsively studying Rik Mayall's performance in The
Young Ones -and she might have grasped what NOT to do when voluntarily playing a
game for a good deal of money.
Lesson One is that is rather offensive to those who have spent time in
fascist prisons -or even people who have two brain cells to rub together -to
compare a game show to a fascist prison or, as Greer did, a gas chamber; Lesson
Two is that if you talk about "overthrowing Big Brother", as they both did, you
are liable to make both your housemates and the public fear for your mental
health, and your ability to distinguish between fact and fantasy, and to get
yourself voted out PDQ.
It is a source of some amusement to me that the likes of Kitten and Greer
would be exactly the sort of snoot who'd accuse hoi polloi of mistaking soap
actors for the characters they play -yet seemed totally incapable of working out
the risibly obvious fact that this Big Brother was not the original oppressive
brute, as created by George Orwell, but rather a piss-taking pantomime villain
toying with a few pampered volunteers. Only the name's the same ...
In fact, when Germaine cried: "Brigitte, you don't have to warm the toilet
seat any more -this is revolution!' it was the wretched Kitten who seemed to
pose the greater threat to the patriarchal system. The phrase "First as tragedy,
then as farce" came horribly to mind; then GG bolted. But unrepentant and lesson
unlearnt, she was last heard declaiming: "I will find another way to save the
Personally, I think she left because she couldn't live with the fact that
Jackie Stallone's better looking.
On a final note, lest this be mistaken for sour grapes, can I just say that
I was approached by this edition of CBB back in September with promises of "a
substantial sum". Even though, as I've said, I adore reality TV, I turned it
down as I instinctively knew that it was no place for a writer, though for a
showbiz kid participation would be a fine and even wise decision. Why Germaine
did not have the wit to understand such a basic fact I have no idea -well,
actually I have several, but it pains me slightly, even after our "history", to
have to name them.
But, as I say, she picked on my girl first, so hell, here goes. The first is
that she genuinely has lost some of her marvellous marbles and, like an old lady
lifting up her dress and revealing her genitalia to a weeping world, simply does
not understand how loony she looks.
The other, which is even sadder, is that this woman, who once seemed blessed
with the world's biggest BS detector, has spent so long among the arrogant
autistics of academia that she has lost much of the common sense that the
Australian people are as a rule so rich in. She is indeed educated beyond all
instinct and honesty she makes me even more pleased than I usually am with
myself that I left school at 16 -and the only sour grapes involved was the nice
Meursault I sipped at while snickering at Miss Greer's antics nightly.
"You've had a good innings -time to hang up your bat," was the way the
famously terse Clement Attlee used to put it; come, Miss Greer, you have
delighted us long enough! Now give some other old bat a chance.
And don't look at me, for as I said, I know better than to take my high
intelligence downmarket, and be made a fool (or even a fool-who-follows) of.
Should Germaine Greer have appeared in CBB? E-mail debate at thetimes.co.uk
More information about the paleopsych