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.