My nephews introduced me to Top Gear, the BBC show that achieved the astounding feat of making me thoroughly enjoy a show about ... automobiles.

Now the BBC has suspended co-host Jeremy Clarkson after a dust-up with a producer.  Clarkson is no stranger to controversy and has been "warned" about previous behavior.  This was apparently just the last straw for the folks at the BBC.  From the Wikipedia article linked above:

Top Gear has often been criticised for content inside programmes....  Incidents and content ranging from (but not limited to) remarks considered by some viewers to be offensive, promoting irresponsible driving, ridiculing environmental issues, Germans, Mexicans, and Poles, and alleged homophobia have generated complaints.  British comedian and guest of the programme Steve Coogan has criticised the programme, accusing it of lazy, adolescent humour and "casual racism".

Yep, Top Gear can be offensive.  The show where they drive from Miami through the Deep South wasn't funny to me, as it was clear they were going out of their way to promote negative stereotypes about Americans, Floridians, and Southerners.  (Few Floridians, except perhaps those in the Panhandle, consider themselves true Southerners.)  Who in his right mind would drive through Florida in the summer, in a car without air conditioning, and be surprised that he was hot?  And keep harping about it?  What disappointed me the most—though I had suspected it from watching other shows—was that much of the action was clearly staged.  I was certain in this case, because I know something about Florida.  Had I been as knowledgeable about the sites of their other road trips, I'm sure I would have had similar complaints.

Most offensive of all was their attempt to get a 1960's-era Ku Klux Klan response as they drove through Alabama, or maybe it was Mississippi, I don't remember.  They decorated their cars with signs and banners designed to offend their hosts, from in-your-face promotion of homosexuality, to insults to the region's dominant religion and to NASCAR.  (And no, despite some evidence to the contrary, the last two are not the same thing.)  Failing to get the desired, hateful response (they were mostly ignored), they went well off the main roads, and pushed harder, finally provoking a reaction—though I'm not entirely sure that wasn't staged as well.

So yes, sometimes parts of the show are over the top.  And much of the humor is puerile.  But that's the nature of the show.  That's part of what attracts the viewers.  They like the humor and the down-to-earth nature of the characters.  I still enjoy Top Gear—I especially enjoy sharing it with my nephews—and I'm more easily offended than most when it comes to rudeness.  The show is entertaining and informative despite its faults.  And here's the problem I have with its producers:  They know what sells, what the audience likes; they hire a man like Jeremy Clarkson who can pull it off; and when a little heat comes their way, they make him the scapegoat.  They hire someone with rough edges, then self-righteously distance themselves from his lack of polish.  It's like buying an axe and complaining that you hurt yourself trying to shave with it.

Why would I defend rude behavior?  Partly because of the show's good qualities.  Partly because Clarkson's offenses are minor compared with what others get away with.  (Think talk radio, for one thing.)  But mostly because the self-righteous hypocrisy of the BBC's thought police just sickens me.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, March 12, 2015 at 10:22 am | Edit
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I cannot decide if I am more surprised that you are writing about Jeremy Clarkson or that you watch and like "Top Gear". I have not seen it but do watch more British programming than American and your analysis is spot on you do not hire Clarkson not knowing what to expect. He sometimes makes appearances on shows I do enjoy such as "QI", but on a panel his abrasiveness is a bit tempered.

There is one story about him of which I am fond, however. In 2007, data discs containing the banking details of seven million UK families were lost, leading many to fear a rash of identity theft. Clarkson, writing in his "Sunday Times" column, said that he has "never known such a palaver about nothing. The fact is we happily hand over cheques to all sorts of unsavoury people all day long without a moment's thought. We have nothing to fear." He then printed his bank details to prove his point.

Soon thereafter, he found a 500 debit had been made from his account to the British Diabetic Association. Writing in a follow-up column, he said that "the bank cannot find out who did this because of the Data Protection Act and they cannot stop it from happening again [] I was wrong and I have been punished for my mistake." To his further credit, I first heard about this from Clarkson himself; he told the story during an episode of "QI".

This ordeal naturally led to an amusing Clarkson joke that you should appreciate. It took place during "The Big Fat Quiz of the Year" one year. Clarkson was just revealed to be the answer to a question. One of the panelists, Michael McIntyre, addresses the host, Jimmy Carr.

McIntyre: I know his PIN number.
Carr: You know his PIN number?
McIntyre: Yeah.
Carr: What's his PIN number?
McIntyre: It's "NOUGHT. TWO. SIXTY".



Posted by David July on Thursday, March 12, 2015 at 7:46 pm

Nought-two-sixty. I love it. I guess I'm surprising lots of people these days. My sister says she still can't believe I like to watch NCIS. (She does, too—she just didn't think I would.) I couldn't take a steady diet of Top Gear, but I can't anyway, since it requires cable television. A few episodes a year, when we visit the nephews, is just about right.



Posted by SursumCorda on Thursday, March 12, 2015 at 9:05 pm
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