First published 17th January 2007 on

Surprise surprise: Germaine Greer’s been paid to add her tuppenworth on a reality TV show debate by the Guardian in this charming little article that largely blames Shilpa for being annoying and thus bringing bullying upon herself.,,1992029,00.html

As an annoying person myself, I’d like to object but there doesn’t seem to be a contact address anywhere for Germaine Greer. If anyone has one could they pass it on?

Here’s what I’m tempted to send to the Guardian:

Dear Guardian

I feel I must congratulate Germaine Greer on her latest Guardian article regarding the current Celebrity Big Brother Brouhaha (“Why does everyone hate me?” – 17th January 2007). Having always enjoyed and respected Ms Greer’s  work (whether or not I agreed with the message), I was stunned to discover remarkable new levels of idiocy in this piece. Sadly by responding to the article, I am also exposing myself as a closet viewer of trashy reality television, but c’est la vie.

The article states of Shilpa Shetty that, “Her only motive for parading in front of the other women in the house with whitener on her face was to show what utter hicks they are”. If Ms Greer had been following the programme in more depth she would know that the facial hair bleaching cream (careful, “whitener” could have sinister connotations) took 15 minutes to work. Given a choice between hiding away for 15 minutes in a bathroom (and facing possible mockery and gossip) or brazening it out, and potentially looking slightly less “haughty”, Ms Shetty’s actions seem less laughable than suggested.

The consistent refusal of Jackiey Budden  to pronounce Shilpa’s first name correctly(preferring the handy catch-all moniker “Indian”)  is excused by Ms Greer as Jackiey “has no idea how to spell anything.” I’m not sure which social circles you mix in nowadays Germaine, but in mine people generally learn how to pronounce my name by listening to the way I say it, and asking for guidance if necessary. Despite a Liverpudlian accent I have an astounding capacity to shape my mouth and bring forth the most alien sounds (the letter “h” for example) if need be. With regards accents and pronunciation, occasionally my Southern friends will tease when I pronounce the words “book” or “cook” as it appears they should be, but this is never a sustained attack, and most importantly they are capable of taking any teasing back in good spirit, which seems a slightly different state of affairs to that in the Big Brother House. I also doubt that they spend long periods of time venomously dissecting all my many faults when I’m not around (although I’m sure that some people would be extremely flattered by this level of attention).

Ms Greer’s discussion of Shilpa using domesticity as a tool to present herself as “utterly virtuous” interested me. I’m not sure how well “utterly virtuous” appeals to the Big Brother voting demographic, but had Germaine remained in the house during her stay (where, one recalls, she seemed to be a permanent fixture in the kitchen, preparing  food for the “children” of the house) it would have not been for much longer, even though it was fascinating to watch her in such an out-of-context environment (in a similar sense Ken Russell at the start of this series). However, fans wouldn’t have tuned in for Ms Greer’s recipe for lamingtons alone, and I don’t see Jade, Jo, Danielle or Jack rushing to offer to cook for everybody and garner public brownie points any time soon. I wonder why Germaine feels Shilpa is somehow overstepping the mark and wants to be “seen” to cook. Is it because Miss Shetty, at 31, is not yet considered by Ms Greer to be of an age where she can” legitimately” assume the role of house mother?. Perhaps, like many people, she enjoys cooking and finds it relaxing in a stressful environment. There is no evidence for the statement that “Jermaine and Dirk are wise to her little game”, and one doesn’t expect any to be provided (aside from Ms Greer’s superior insight into the male psyche), but hey why let facts get in the way of a good polemic?

The article justified the undisputed bullying that is occurring nightly on our TV screens because “Big Brother disorients the housemates and disrupts their perceptions so that they become literally unbalanced.” Does this not also apply to Shilpa Shetty? Might she be also in a state of heightened emotions due to having to live in a confined space with people from a different cultural background whilst being constantly observed?

Ms Greer’s attitude towards Shilpa Shetty crying after instances of group bullying appears somewhat unfair. The fact that Shilpa cries following an episode in which she is ganged up upon by a group of women seems less unhinged or cynical than Danielle crying over a photograph of her footballer boyfriend in a location where the cameras can clearly see her or crying because she exposed her breasts during a task (even though she planned to do so).  I bet Germaine didn’t cry after having that photograph taken with all her orifices visible, even though the pose might have been a bit painful).

I agree that as an established  Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty is tough enough to handle herself (and has the annoying traits of over-confidence and fussiness, as well as a sense of fairness, kindness and intelligence), but that does not make a pack of women endlessly haranguing an individual any less bullying or condemnable. Likewise comments such as “Indian” (used in lieu of a name), “lives in a shack”, “She wants to be white…she’s a dog”, “Indians are thin because they can’t cook properly and are always sick” reveal an underlying unpleasant attitude to people of different ethnic backgrounds, that has emerged because bullying is about making someone feel different whereas racism is part of noticing and making assumptions about difference. I feel that the real reason that this bullying is continuing to escalate is that Ms Shetty, unlike the bullies, is maintaining some level of dignity and composure, which they must realise to their horror is placing her ahead of them on the “scoreboard”.

In addition, Ms Shetty is the recipient of “male approval” from the celebrity men remaining in the house, which unfortunately inspires massive envy amongst the less self-assured housemates for whom male interest is still key to their existence. This is their problem, rather than Shilpa’s physical characteristics, which Germaine (somewhat peculiarly) lists, such as “her chandelier earrings, her leaping eyebrows, her mirthless smile, her putty nose”. Whilst I can appreciate Ms Greer’s desire to affiliate herself with the working class Cockney and Liverpudlian elements of this story, I’m sure that she would agree that someone “getting one up on you” is no excuse for throwing a barrage of personal abuse at them (especially regarding their appearance). After all, the well-documented fracas with Suzanne Moore a few years back did Ms Greer no big favours.

I can only assume that Ms Greer remains under some sort of contractual obligation to represent Endemol in the best light possible following her own prematurely abortive stint in the Big Brother House (following which she complained about bullying in the house and the example that it was setting to more impressionable members of society, a stance which she obviously feels wouldn’t be as daring and controversial nowadays).

I look forward to being hugely irritated by Ms Greer’s next hugely pompous yet nonsensical article about reality television.

Regards  etc.