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TV UK, 10 February

Germaine Greer: from Big Brother to bunny-boiler.

Dolan Cummings

Topics Culture

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I’m not sure whether 30 Minutes: How to Kill a Fox (Channel 4, Saturday at 6pm) was made before or after Germaine Greer’s embarrassing sojourn on Celebrity Big Brother, but in either case it has done little to repair her reputation, even such as it was.

In both programmes, the feminist and professor of English literature has sought to use her celebrity intellectual status in the service of slightly batty causes, funding her own Australian rain forest in the case of Big Brother, and arguing for animal welfare on How to Kill a Fox. Ironically, the battiness of Saturday’s programme is in Greer’s rational approach to an irrational cause. Greer begins by noting that the government’s ban on fox hunting will not save a single fox, and even gives time to huntsmen to argue that trapping and shooting are crueller than hunting with hounds. While she still objects to hunting, Greer argues that the issue is trivial compared with broader animal welfare issues.

Even when it comes to foxes, it is interesting to learn that more are killed every year by a single urban pest controller than all the registered hunts. Greer meets a man in a back alley who kills rats with a hockey stick, and gives a speech about how we prefer to have these sordid tasks performed by others so we don’t have to think about it. Quite true: division of labour, psychological evasion, you decide. Of course, this sort of argument is familiar from debates about eating meat, and Greer gets on to that in no time.

Bizarrely, if not surprisingly, Greer goes back to her friend the huntsman, who complains about the urban masses buying frozen chickens for £1.99 instead of keeping hens in their back gardens like civilised people. Then Greer clubs a couple of rabbits, whom she insists had been having very happy lives under her hedge until then, and takes them into her kitchen for dinner. Greer having been reduced to tears by video footage of the pest controller shooting foxes in a cage, and now triumphantly getting in touch with her inner caveman, this programme has more in common with reality TV than one might have thought.

TV producers’ fondness for batty people has long been evident in arts programming. Think Sister Wendy, think Rolf Harris. Think Boris Johnson. The celebrated washed-up Tory MP and editor of the Spectator presents Turks at the Royal Academy, a survey of the current exhibition of Turkish cultural artefacts (Channel 5, Tuesday at 7.15pm). Johnson’s qualification is that his great grandfather was the interior minister in the government of the last Sultan, who was killed by a mob after signing Ataturk’s arrest warrant, causing his family to flee to Britain. Crikey.

Johnson is also a supporter of Turkish accession to the EU, and the exhibition is an opportunity to explore some of the debates about what it means to be European, and whether that’s compatible with Islam. Looking at bejewelled swords and carpets isn’t necessarily the best way to do that, but Johnson also talks to some interesting types, so that the programme adds up to the kind of characterfully batty affair we have come to expect of Channel 5. Television is fast emerging as the favoured place of asylum for refugees from public life proper, with mixed results.

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