TELEVISION / Sixties sister calls the grey army to battle

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The Independent Culture
'NEVER trust anyone over 30,' the Yippie leader Abbie Hoffman once said, a phrase that is positively intoxicating if you are 18 years old but somehow loses its appeal as the years trundle by. Should we trust Germaine Greer, now 53 and hectoring us from a fresh barricade, or should we take her assault on youthism (for Without Walls' series 'Bad Ideas of the 20th Century') as the self-interested moan of a woman who's reached a certain age?

Both, as it turned out; you can always trust her to be thought-provoking or entertaining, and 'self-interested moan' is merely a prejudicial way of saying that she has discovered she is a member of another oppressed majority. 'If the marginalisation of the over-forties is to be reversed, it is the over-forties who must reverse it,' she declared resoundingly towards the end of her entertaining sermon. Not quite the Agincourt speech, I know, but a call to battle all the same.

In truth, she is a bit late arriving on the field of combat, a fact that is unlikely to stop her from behaving as if she was leading the charge all along. Antony Thomas's Viewpoint programmes on mortality last year investigated our obsession with eternal youth more subtly and Richard Ingrams raised the banner for grey power in this country when he launched the Oldie. But it would be a foolish commander who turned away Greer's reinforcements. She showed here that the focused scorn that once hosed down the old fogies of the Establishment could be turned on the cult of youth without a blush.

Some journalists slyly dug through the clippings to find early writings, in order to expose her inconsistency. In doing so they underestimated her canniness. Exhibit One in Greer's case against the Sixties youth movement was . . . one Germaine Greer, filmed behaving badly and damning the consequences. 'I'm going to end up like Janis Joplin,' she slurred, swigging at the Jack Daniels and collapsing backward on the bed. What you saw next was Janis Joplin, or at least a wax dummy, wobbling and jerking in a grotesque simulation of perpetual youth.

It was a characteristically neat cut, evidence of a wit in the programme's construction that went some way to concealing the rambling nature of Greer's essay (there were odd diversions into grandparents' rights and the baleful effect of video games). Part of the problem was that Greer wanted to have her beef and eat it. At one point, perched on a desk in a school uniform, she asked a roomful of sixth formers if they fancied her. There was an abashed silence before she helped them out: 'The answer is NO]'

Like the scene in a beauty parlour in which she insisted that she didn't want to look younger, this was meant to suggest that Greer herself had no problems, she could hack it. Elsewhere, though, she talked of how 'the constant pressure on us not to let ourselves go piles on the guilt'. 'We see only ruin in these faces,' she said later, as the camera panned round a sitting room in an old people's home. Some of 'we' might disagree, actually, but Greer's assumption that she can speak for all is telling. Forget all the other pronouns, this is the authentic voice of the 'me' generation, and it's getting on a bit now. The years have created a weird hybrid, blending the pious self-absorption of the young with the grumpy conviction of the old that everything's gone to the dogs.

In its first series, Between the Lines (BBC 1) pretty much had a monopoly on sardonic, witty depiction of police matters with its setting in the Complaints Investigation Bureau, the policemen who set out to catch policemen. This season it has to stand comparison with the mordant virtues of Cracker but on the evidence of last night's episode, a neatly plotted story about a policeman who murders his wife, it should be fine. What's excellent about the series is its recognition of the muddled, imperfect nature of police work, a world in which justice can be found because someone wants to shirk a boring job, and lost again because they forget to look up at the clock.