Sunday 25 August 2019

TV review: Contrarian feminist has choice words for Beyoncé and #MeToo

An incorrigible contrarian: Greer was scathing about many actresses at the Oscars
An incorrigible contrarian: Greer was scathing about many actresses at the Oscars

John Boland

Germaine Bloody Greer (BBC2). Those were my exact words as I sat down to watch this profile of Australia's most famous feminist, so it was nice of the title to capture my exasperated anticipation so precisely.

Not that this incorrigible contrarian usually calls herself a feminist, and many feminists don't call her that, either, especially after her recent pronouncement that rape sentences were often too severe, given that what was deemed to be rape was often just careless or clumsy sex, whatever that meant.

The film began with reminders of the statements (mostly from The Female Eunuch) that brought her to the world's attention in the early 1970s - most famously her contention that "women have very little idea how much men hate them" - but went on to portray a woman more complex and interesting than the creator of such arrestingly dubious rallying cries.

We saw this lanky, imperious Australian in her glamorous heyday, and she was undeniably impressive as she laid waste to nervous male interviewers and nonchalantly saw off embattled dinosaurs like Norman Mailer in public debate.

However, we also saw her more poignantly as someone who's now almost 80, lives a seemingly precarious and lonely existence in rural Essex and is currently seeking housing along the Thames that doesn't necessitate stairs.

But she hasn't lost her hunger either for battle or for headlines, undercutting her admiration for Beyoncé by asking: "Why does she always have to be fucking naked and have her tits fucking hanging out?" The earnestly righteous #MeToo actresses on Oscar night also had "their tits hanging out", and as for #MeToo's ambitions to change the male/female world: "It's all bollocks, none of it's going to happen". Oh, do say what you think, Germaine.

Tommy Bowe meant what he said when he decided to retire from playing rugby, and in Tommy Bowe: The End Game (RTÉ1), this brilliant, though injury-beset winger, sought advice from other sports people on how to manage the transition.

Bowe was getting out "because I can't do it anymore", while former winning athlete Derval O'Rourke came to realise "I'm just not that hungry anymore".

Champion jockey AP McCoy acknowledged that "you miss the adulation" and warned that "it ain't ever going to be the same", but also pointed out that sports stars "don't live in the real world" and confessed that, in the terms of that real world, "I've never done a day's work in my life".

The programme was interesting and Bowe an engaging presenter/interviewer, but he never addressed the basic question of how he might occupy the rest of his life. Had he a rugby-coaching career in mind? Or in rugby punditry? Or in anything else? Search me because the programme never told.

His wife might have had something to say on this crucial family matter, but she was only glimpsed fleetingly in the background of one shot, so we never found out.

Lords and Ladles (RTÉ1) is back for a new season, though don't ask me why. This forelock-tugging twaddle fawns all over country mansions and the posh people who own them while pretending to be offering historical, social and culinary insights.

Three distinguished chefs, who surely have better things to be doing, take part in this charade whereby one of them goes foraging for food, another cooks it and the third politely chats up the owners. This week they were in Clonalis House, Co Roscommon (home, no less, of "the descendants of the last high kings"), and Paul Flynn was doing the polite chatting, Derry Clarke was helping to catch the trout, while Catherine Fulvio was boiling venison in marsh grass.

Have you ever eaten venison boiled in marsh grass? No, and neither has anyone else outside of the 14th century in Roscommon, so why were we being asked to watch it being cooked and consumed by a party of diners at the programme's end?

Did I mention that Lords and Ladles is an hour long? I could have sworn it was more.

Social history was conveyed much more interestingly in Suffragettes with Lucy Worsley (BBC1), the presenter keeping her twee mannerisms to a minimum while telling, and sometimes participating in, an engrossing and sometimes horrifying story.

What some of these early 20th-century activists did in the cause of winning women's right to vote was far more extreme and violent than is popularly assumed, but what the Establishment saw fit to do to them was shocking, including molestation, sexual assault and barbaric forced-feeding techniques for those who went on hunger strike.

Someday the Grenfell tower horror of a year ago will become social history, too, but not yet, as Ben Anthony's hard-to-watch 90-minute documentary, Grenfell (BBC1), powerfully proved.

There were testimonies here from those who escaped the inferno and grim phone footage from the night, too. I viewed it just after reading Andrew O'Hagan's lengthy, compelling and damning piece on the disaster in the current edition of the London Review of Books.

Poldark (BBC1) returned with Ross and his rippling muscles stepping out of the sea wearing nothing but a pair of skin-coloured clingy underpants. Is there no male #MeToo movement to express outrage at this demeaning objectification of men's bodies?

"I'm still here", were Ross's first words to Demelza, who was waiting on the beach.

"And I", she replied.

But for how long, given all the shenanigans both of them were up to last season, and not with each other as I recall.

But do you know what, I think I've had enough of broody Ross and sultry Demelza. They were great value for a season or two, but enough is enough, isn't it?

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