What on earth happened to Germaine Greer?

by Diana Wichtel / 09 June, 2018
Germaine Greer in 2017. Photo/Getty Images

Germaine Greer in 2017. Photo/Getty Images

RelatedArticlesModule - Germaine Greer Roseanne Barr

Figures like Germaine Greer and Roseanne Barr who once broke new ground for women have become Jurassic. Diana Wichtel looks into where it all went wrong.

No one ever said change is easy. The roaring of dinosaurs continues over the inexplicable insistence of some broadcasters on speaking te reo. It was also heard when media here reported the vote in Ireland against the feudal policing of women’s bodies almost as if it might be a good thing. And the idea that being white and male has been a relatively privileged position can be hard to grasp unless you are someone who isn’t white and male.

It’s less easy to understand how figures who once broke new ground for women have become so Jurassic. Germaine Greer. Roseanne Barr. Oh dear. Greer, who has written a book about rape, told an audience at the Hay literary festival that some rapes are just bad sex. “We are told it’s one of the most violent crimes in the world – bullshit. Most rape is just lazy, just careless, just insensitive.” But then this is a woman who, back in the 1970s, would do anything for attention, including, according to one account, setting her hair on fire in a restaurant.

Barr likes a headline, too. She once dressed as Hitler and was pictured taking people-shaped cookies out of an oven for a Jewish satirical magazine. Her tweets have long been eye-watering. But she’s outdone herself this time, snatching calamity from the jaws of a high-rating prime-time comeback. She tweeted about a former adviser to President Obama, Valerie Jarrett, suggesting she resembled an ape. Roseanne apologised, but ABC wasn’t having a Barr of it and canned her rebooted sitcom, Roseanne. Here, MediaWorks dropped the show from its on-demand service and announced it won’t be screening again.

It’s an instructive story about the relationship between television and life. In the new series, Barr had become a loud, proud and often obnoxious Trump supporter. But the writers would never have allowed their character to indulge in a prank so baldly racist and deeply unfunny as the Jarrett tweet. The laws of the television universe dictate that sitcom Roseanne may be a “deplorable” but she must remain relatable. Once television comedy might have set out to present a hilariously exaggerated version of reality. Now, like the takeoffs of Trump, the fictional Roseanne is but a pale reflection of the absurd cartoonishness of the real thing.

Roseanne and clan: the show may go on without her.

Roseanne and clan: the show may go on without her.

Of course, @therealroseanne tweeted ill-advised explanations about how the whole mess happened. She blamed tweeting under the influence of Ambien, a sedative that had caused her to act strangely before. She had “cracked eggs on the wall at 2am etc”. The manufacturers, Sanofi, came back with the inspired response that although “all pharmaceutical treatments have side effects, racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medication”.

Crazy. There may be a bit of utu-seeking involved in how things have played out for both Barr and Greer. Life can be tough for a pioneer. Greer was arrested in Auckland in 1972 for saying “bullshit”. She put up with being hailed by Life magazine as the “saucy feminist that even men like”. These days, many women don’t see her as a feminist at all. Told by a BBC interviewer that her views of transgender women might be hurtful, she responded, “People are hurtful to me all the time. Try being an old woman.”

Barr has taken flak over the years for having ambitions that exceeded her acceptable role as a blue-collar “domestic goddess”. Neither arouses a lot of sympathy, but it can seem women are still held to a tougher standard than men. On Roseanne’s malign tweeting, comedian Bill Maher observed, “Racism, conspiracy theories, personal attacks – they were described as abhorrent, bordering on presidential.” Life and art: Roseanne may go on without Roseanne – there’s talk of a spin-off. Whatever happens, it seems like Roseanne is destined to go down in history less as comedy and more as classic tragedy.

This article was first published in the June 16, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

Latest

Bruce Springsteen’s cinematic new album heads into cowboy country
108195 2019-07-22 00:00:00Z Music

Bruce Springsteen’s cinematic new album heads into…

by James Belfield

The stars in the title of Bruce Springsteen’s 19th album aren’t just those shining down on the hardscrabble American lives that have long inhabited...

Read more
What you need to know about your vitamin D levels in winter
108187 2019-07-22 00:00:00Z Health

What you need to know about your vitamin D levels…

by Nicky Pellegrino

Vitamin D is essential for bone health, and exposure to winter sun is a good way to maintain it.

Read more
Humans aren't designed to be happy – so stop trying
108639 2019-07-22 00:00:00Z Psychology

Humans aren't designed to be happy – so stop tryin…

by Rafael Euba

Chasing the happiness dream is a very American concept, exported to the rest of the world through popular culture.

Read more
Kiwi pies filling gap in Chinese market
108684 2019-07-22 00:00:00Z Food

Kiwi pies filling gap in Chinese market

by Siobhan Downes

If you’re ever in China and find yourself hankering for a pie, one Kiwi couple has you covered.

Read more
Bill Ralston: We're in for fireworks if John Banks runs for mayor
108531 2019-07-21 00:00:00Z Politics

Bill Ralston: We're in for fireworks if John Banks…

by Bill Ralston

If John Banks joins Auckland’s mayoral race, there's a chance he could rise from the political dead.

Read more
Once were Anzacs: The epic history of Māori soldiers in WWI
108382 2019-07-21 00:00:00Z History

Once were Anzacs: The epic history of Māori soldie…

by Peter Calder

The role of Māori soldiers in World War I has long been relegated to footnotes, but a major new work by historian Monty Soutar re-examines their...

Read more
The new Lion King lacks the original's claws
108533 2019-07-21 00:00:00Z Movies

The new Lion King lacks the original's claws

by Russell Baillie

A naturalistic remake of the 1994 Disney hit cartoon musical will bring in the dough, but it just doesn't quite work.

Read more
50th moon landing anniversary: New Zealand's forgotten Nasa legend
108468 2019-07-20 00:00:00Z History

50th moon landing anniversary: New Zealand's forgo…

by Peter Griffin

Today marks 50 years since humans landed on the Moon, a feat achieved thanks to Kiwi scientist William Pickering and his team.

Read more