What is a boy, and when does a boy become a man? And when is it reasonable to express desire about boys caught in the transition from childhood to adulthood?
Germaine Greer was already a walking controversy when she released her book on the subject The Boy. In it, she highlighted the beauty of young men -“ taking on one of society’s last taboos (for young-looking women have been lusted over for ages).
In a special SBS program showing in early January, Greer argues that young boys in art are true representations of physical beauty in its highest form. Not only that, they have been for centuries.
Greer looks at a series of portraits of boys, finding the moments between childhood and adulthood. In Ancient Greece Apollo was an early example of the universal love of young men -“ with his lack of beard and gold hair.
She also disputes the theory that young men in art were put there by artists with a sexual interest in boys. This is as absurd as to assume that artists paint still lifes because they want to have sex with dead game, or because they’re hungry, she says.
Greer, of course, is a big fan of almost-adult men. She caused a scandal in The Sydney Morning Herald by saying a woman of taste is a pederast -“ boys rather than men.
Later, on Andrew Denton’s Enough Rope last year, with characteristic honesty about the subject she explained, there is a moment in a boy’s life when he is transcendentally beautiful. There was no retraction of her earlier comments. Back then, as now, she did not care whether people believed her interest in young men to be creepy -“ or any more palatable than an old man lusting after a young woman.
You can’t stop the old man staring at the young girl and lusting, she said. What are you going to do -“ tell old men they must be blindfolded?
What is important to me about the Boy is that once upon a time his beauty was understood and celebrated by people of both sexes.
It is this lost appreciation of beauty that Greer disputes. As always, she is both intriguing and infuriating. But, as always, she is worth watching.
Germaine Greer: The Boy will feature in the Masterpiece series on Tuesday 4 January at 10pm.