What a chance you've missed, Germaine

Participating in a reality TV show did me a lot of good. I have stopped being quite such an insufferable snob
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The Independent Online

She may have spent too much time talking to plants, walking the dogs or marking dissertations. She may not have realised the mind-numbing nature of what passes for conversation these days, preferring the calm and considered life of academia to that of wine bar chit-chat. I don't imagine she was an avid viewer of Celebrity Detox or even Celebrity Wife Swap, confining her own television appearances to the cosy world of intellectual put-downs on the Late Review, where cultural gurus like Mark Lawson and Tony Parsons exchange knowing badinage on the merits of Proust and Pina Bausch.

She may have spent too much time talking to plants, walking the dogs or marking dissertations. She may not have realised the mind-numbing nature of what passes for conversation these days, preferring the calm and considered life of academia to that of wine bar chit-chat. I don't imagine she was an avid viewer of Celebrity Detox or even Celebrity Wife Swap, confining her own television appearances to the cosy world of intellectual put-downs on the Late Review, where cultural gurus like Mark Lawson and Tony Parsons exchange knowing badinage on the merits of Proust and Pina Bausch.

Now the world's most famous feminist found herself part of a circus that included group yoga, warmed toilet seats and debates on the merits of nose picking. Not to mention the added frisson of a medieval theme - I can't believe the author of the Female Eunuch ever thought she'd have to wear a wimple to fry breakfast. Watching Germaine Greer come up with the feeblest set of excuses imaginable after her surprise walk from Big Brother was a depressing sight.

I felt like rushing up to Elstree, giving the troubled woman a big hug, and reminding her that, at the end of the day, she'd been participating in mass-media entertainment for a big, fat fee, nothing more and nothing less. The night before, the show had peaked at 4.9 million viewers, an astonishing 21 per cent audience share. It is the most watched programme on Channel 4so far this year.

On a day when the press was full of the joyful news that a group of young British men were going to be released from one of the most inhuman prison camps in the civilised world after a shamefully long time, the sight of the obese and thoroughly charmless John McCririck sulking because he wasn't allowed a can of Diet Coke was truly pathetic. And for Germaine to talk of "bullying" was just risible.

The whole point of programmes like I'm a Celebrity and Big Brother are that the public can enjoy the ritual humiliation of the famous from the comfort of their very own sofas. Surely the woman didn't think she was taking part in a controlled social experiment to determine whether women or men are best in confined environments? And to whinge on about Big Brother being a "bully" was like telling the audience that Tony Blair is a sophisticated media player - in other words, stating the unnecessarily obvious.

Then there was her extraordinary statement about being pushed about because staple foods like milk were only delivered after a long wait. Germaine, my dear, you are taking part in a highly structured, extremely expensive piece of live television - the idea is to get an audience at home tuning in for as long as possible. It is game theory at its most arcane. Making the inmates wait for essentials, perform complicated tasks for food and endure silly competitions to win luxuries is all part of the fun. Trouble is, you failed to see that you were just a player in an unfolding drama.

Watching Germaine describe the programme as degrading was salutary. It showed she hadn't ever watched a single episode at any length or thought about it. Then there were her moans that everyone involved had an "agenda" - of course, why else would they be participating? Caprice wants to sell her underwear range, Bez needs a new car, Kenzie's got to try and get his group back in the charts and John McCririck's just scared of being axed.

Big Brother is a two-way deal - you get paid big bucks, you get maximum exposure - but you have to deliver entertainment 24 x 7. When Germaine expressed sympathy on her departure for the others (John over his lack of fizzy drinks and Brigitte because of the arrival of the mother-in-law from hell) I was even more unimpressed.

Didn't she realise that everyone in a reality TV show is busy playing a part and acting up to the cameras like crazy? Quite often, it is a role they decided on long before they stepped over the threshold. An hour after her departure, John had ended his silence and was chatting away, "sulks" banished. He'd scored a victory with Germaine's humiliating exit.

Before she signed the deal to participate in Big Brother, Germaine would have had many meetings with the producers. She would have been given plenty of information about how the show was to be conducted, given tapes of previous series, and had a medical examination and the offer of psychiatric counselling both before and during the programme, as well as when she left. If she, or any of the people, were upset by events, they can talk to a therapist during their incarceration in total confidence (it is not recorded) at any time.

What Germaine found hardest to deal with, just as I did in the Australian rainforest, was the absence of silence, the sheer wall of wittering that surrounds you - there's nothing that makes you feel quite so old as the knowledge that your companions can chat happily about trainers, scrambled eggs or farting for hours at a time. They live their lives through TV, the movies, DVDs and radio. Their idea of a book is Harry Potter or the latest self-help manual. They probably think inner space is a new storage unit from Ikea and female circumcision a new set of Pilates movements to tighten your pelvic floor muscles.

Germaine emerges from this sad episode as someone who is cross with themselves for failing a challenge they thought they could stroll through. After all, she's taught troublesome students, dealt with a stalker with dignity, lectured around the world and written books that have inspired a generation of women. So sticking out a couple of weeks in a house in Elstree under the glare of hidden cameras must have seemed a task she felt more than capable of coping with.

I found the first three days of my confinement unbearable, but I thought my way into the groove, busying myself with cooking and not moaning too much about stupid tasks. I was under no illusions why I had been chosen to take part in I'm a Celeb, which was to draw out of my co-internees whatever the programme makers wanted. There were times when I felt humiliated, I didn't like wearing fancy dress, singing songs and reading out letters from loved ones, but I thrived on all the competitive challenges and adored cooking.

Participating in a reality television show did me a lot of good. Through it, I have talked to more ordinary people than ever before. I have stopped being quite such an insufferable snob, and I have seen what pleasure some of my ranting and Burrell-baiting gave to other middle-aged women. I've lost count of the number of people who have thanked me for entertaining them. Which is why I am sorry that Germaine proved to be so feeble; by packing her bag, she's denied herself a chance to learn a lot about human behaviour and perhaps to show us a more human, caring, side of her personality than ever will emerge on elitist arts programmes.

Communication drives our society, and she, more than most people, is more than capable of engaging with women right across the social spectrum. By absenting herself from a prime-time entertainment show, she's retreated to the moral high ground - and not done herself any favours. Sometimes, being middle class is an easy option and she's thrown away the chance to air some important issues to a captive audience. I'm sorry she wasn't as tough as I thought.

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