FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Top Gear in the Soup

by

Jeremy Clarkson has attempted, through a supposedly fearless indifference, to cultivate a persona that bucks squeamish political correctness and sanitised language.  In a world where the studio is populated by worried lawyers and agitated accountants, television and radio have invariably become rather dull pursuits. In a sense, a program like Top Gear, and Clarkson’s moments of faux irritation, are astonishingly mild rejections of the movement.

Then came The Daily Mirror and its canine-like digging, with a bit of amateur sleuthing that obtained old footage of a take for Top Gear in which Clarkson recites the beginning of the children’s nursery rhyme “eeny, meeny, miny, moe”.  He is then caught apparently mumbling “Catch a nigger by his toe”, though the prosecution brief on that is uncertain.

The responses have been, in the main, electrifyingly unsympathetic.  Aliya Mohammed[1], chief executive of Race Equality First, smelled legal action and decided to turn the spotlight on the BBC.  “How many racist comments will the BBC allow from the presenter?”  Downing Street condemned the use of the word. (Has the quality of debate plummeted that far?)  The BBC, very much on the back foot, had to come out with a statement that, “We have made it absolutely clear to him, the standards of the BBC expects on air and off.  We have left him in no doubt about how seriously we view this.”

Musa Okwonga[2], writing in The New Statesman (May 3), could barely contain himself, even if he was “going to leave this Jeremy Clarkson thing alone.  Really, I was.  I had a lot of laundry to do, and I hadn’t eaten yet.”  He conceded to Clarkson being brilliant, but he did not require any racist trimmings via “finely calibrated jibes”.

The righteous have certainly had a happy hunting season of late, with the BBC knee-deep in a tawdry, licentious legacy of notable employees who couldn’t quite keep their hands to themselves.  The ghost of Jimmy Savile stalks its studios and production teams.  Its corporeal manifestation is Operation YewTree, which has to date only attained one conviction – that of publicist Max Clifford. Moral outrage is, however, everywhere.

What we see, in the scolding nature of such a reaction, is not that Clarkson was a particularly good boy (he was playing, in fact, the tenured broadcasting twit), but the desperation to find something in the archive of old footage to incriminate him for a slip.  This is hardly a gold star for casual racism – its not even clear that Clarkson was intentionally pitching that old line about the ‘n’ word in eeney, meeny, which, of course, has been cleansed of its historical context.  Then, commentators and language constables have been straining to hear what exactly he was saying, as if to suggest that he just might have fallen into an act of racial offense.

As Clarkson himself has asserted, he regards the word as loathsome. There were several takes, and he had been concerned which one seemed more appropriate. By his own admission, he might have done more.  He might well have avoided it altogether, though such toe-stepping with language can become debilitating.  His video[3] explaining this is hybrid perversion – the non-apologist who apologised better than anyone.

Indeed, Top Gear is painfully scripted, directed and crafted, at times even an act of constipated control.  “It’s clear to even an ignorant ingénue as myself,” wrote Clarissa Tan for the Spectator[4], “that large parts of it – the banter, the races, the speed laps, the celebrity interviews – are rehearsed, or at least planned, beforehand.  Nobody watches Top Gear for its verisimilitude or because it brings us closer to real life.”

Such linguistic care, such caution, the sort that verges on stupidity, has played out in the revision of literary classics for modern audiences supposedly incapable of historical reference and unsavoury chapters.  Presumably, naughty language doesn’t sell.  The new edition of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, released at the end of 2010, was excised of any reference to “nigger”[5], suggesting that sanitising history is one way of not telling it. The fact that the nursery rhyme cited by Clark remains told in a sugared form is, if not a greater violence, than certainly something close to it.

Then there is the man himself. When all arguments are done, there he is, smug in thought and execution.  But he is hardly the hellraiser he might want some to think.  He doesn’t keel over in interviews.  He doesn’t turn up with a bottle of vodka and urinate on irritating guests.  He seems content to hold to the avian water on set – unless its scripted.  There is nothing of the Oliver Reed here – no chance that he is going to impress you with a feat of eating live gold fish or putting his plonker on the table.  Clarkson has tried hard to give the impression otherwise, but this attempt at contrived fury is hardly edifying for any of the parties.

As Marina Hyde of The Guardian[6] has suggested, disliking Clark has become a matter of convenience for progressives, a sort of “reflexive revulsion” touted as a badge of honour. It has revealed a poverty of debate – a non-debate, in a sense, one without proportion.  “Behold the endless entrenching of positions,” she laments.

With all that said and done, it seems that Clarkson has been retained. As a comment doing the rounds on social media went, “Jeremy Clarkson is to the BBC what a bag of Revels is to a theatre: frivolous and completely without talent, but necessary.”  A bit harsh, but that will do.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
December 09, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nasty As They Wanna Be
Henry Giroux
Trump’s Second Gilded Age: Overcoming the Rule of Billionaires and Militarists
Andrew Levine
Trump’s Chumps: Victims of the Old Bait and Switch
Erin McCarley
American Nazis and the Fight for US History
Lewis Lapham
Hostile Takeover
Joshua Frank
This Week at CounterPunch: More Hollow Smears and Baseless Accusations
Paul Street
The Democrats Do Their Job, Again
Vijay Prashad
The Cuban Revolution: Defying Imperialism From Its Backyard
Michael Hudson - Sharmini Peries
Orwellian Economics
Mark Ames
The Anonymous Blacklist Promoted by the Washington Post Has Apparent Ties to Ukrainian Fascism and CIA Spying
Yoav Litvin
Resist or Conform: Lessons in Fortitude and Weakness From the Israeli Left
Conn Hallinan
India & Pakistan: the Unthinkable
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Nativism on the Left – A Realer Smith
Joshua Sperber
Trump in the Age of Identity Politics
Brandy Baker
Jill Stein Sees Russia From Her House
Katheryne Schulz
Report from Santiago de Cuba: Celebrating Fidel’s Rebellious Life
Nelson Valdes
Fidel and the Good People
Norman Solomon
McCarthy’s Smiling Ghost: Democrats Point the Finger at Russia
Renee Parsons
The Snowflake Nation and Trump on Immigration
Margaret Kimberley
Black Fear of Trump
Michael J. Sainato
A Pruitt Running Through It: Trump Kills Nearly Useless EPA With Nomination of Oil Industry Hack
Ron Jacobs
Surviving Hate and Death—The AIDS Crisis in 1980s USA
David Swanson
Virginia’s Constitution Needs Improving
Louis Proyect
Narcos and the Story of Colombia’s Unhappiness
Paul Atwood
War Has Been, is, and Will be the American Way of Life…Unless?
John Wight
Syria and the Bodyguard of Lies
Richard Hardigan
Anti-Semitism Awareness Act: Senate Bill Criminalizes Criticism of Israel
Kathy Kelly
See How We Live
David Macaray
Trump Picks his Secretary of Labor. Ho-Hum.
Howard Lisnoff
Interview with a Political Organizer
Yves Engler
BDS and Anti-Semitism
Martha Durkee-Neuman
Millennial Organizers Want to See An Intersectional Understanding Of Gun Violence
Adam Parsons
Home Truths About the Climate Emergency
Brian Cloughley
The Decline and Fall of Britain
Eamonn Fingleton
U.S. China Policy: Is Obama Schizoid?
Graham Peebles
Worldwide Air Pollution is Making us Ill
Joseph Natoli
Fake News is Subjective?
Andre Vltchek
Tough-Talking Philippine President Duterte
Binoy Kampmark
Total Surveillance: Snooping in the United Kingdom
Guillermo R. Gil
Vivirse la película: Willful Opposition to the Fiscal Control Board in Puerto Rico
Patrick Bond
South Africa’s Junk Credit Rating was Avoided, But at the Cost of Junk Analysis
Clancy Sigal
Investigate the Protesters! A Trial Balloon Filled With Poison Gas
Charles R. Larson
Review:  Helon Habila’s The Chibok Girls: the Boko Haram Kidnappings and Islamist Militancy in Nigeria
December 08, 2016
John W. Whitehead
Power to the People: John Lennon’s Legacy Lives On
Mike Whitney
Rolling Back the Empire: Washington’s Proxy-Army Faces Decisive Defeat in Aleppo
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail