20 Mar 2015

Jeremy Clarkson and the outrage industry

As a close (female) friend once remarked “I just love Top Gear – except for the little boring bits about cars.”

And that’s the point, the family light entertainment/comedy/travel show which Top Gear had become wasn’t about cars at all – it was about being globally politically incorrect, badly behaved, and casually insulting about Johnny Foreigner in a world where so many get so uptight about all three. Bonza!!!21_clarkson_w
In short, Top Gear was UKIP TV – before the party even arrived on the national stage – except with more cash and better gags.

It became a weird national safety-valve allowing Clarkson to sound off like millions want to, but can’t now because they fear everything from Twitter hysteria through to an industrial tribunal via some unsmiling HR robot who never saw the funny side.

So it was Men Behaving Badly and One Man Really, forget cars – that’s what people liked.

In an age when rock stars, sport stars (except football) indeed stars of all sorts and political stars most of all are essentially dulled by walls of PR and PC flummery – Clarkson and Top Gear stood out.

Misbehaviour was the whole point. Auntie tolerated it nervously and creamed off the money from the global cash-cow this shouty, insulting, expensive panto had become.

That’s why Nigel Farage has done so well in the polls – he’s a political Clarkson – he never quite received the PC/PR memo and very many people adore that in these times when above all else everyone in public life is terrified of actually saying what they feel. He’s to politics what Clarkson is to the telly.

The instantaneously, precious world of easily-offended social media heightens all this of course.

Being offensive: this is what Clarkson was for. He personally and the show generally.

The entire charade of course has long become increasingly hackneyed, ever more scripted and contrived to create offence at all cost editorially and allow Clarkson a stage to do it personally with the oh-so-scripted faux upsets with two other presenters who  increasingly only exist to set Clarkson up to Clarksonise.

So off to India they went to find ways of being insensitive, boorish and yes pretty funny about Indians and their culture.

Off to the USA to – unusually this – extract the Michael from southern rednecks unable to countenance the concept of being gay. Let’s face it: hilarious.

Thus a show pretending to be about cars goes to Argentina and bangs on as hard as possible about the Falklands War until finally, at last, hooray, they managed to create a row and could blow it all up into more ho-ho headlines.

You see the momentum here? Doing Men Behaving Badly thing and getting found out and apologising and then saying “I’m no racist” is all part of the game, the brand.

However, momentum means acceleration and the gathering of pace and impact damage come the crash. Inevitably Clarkson would come up against the BBC which quite properly has to protect staff.

The alleged victim in this case was a colleague of Clarkson who is not mega wealthy; not in the Cameron-Brooks Chipping Norton set; not powerful; not famous and apparently not able to fight back which is possibly why Clarkson felt able to do what he’s widely reported to have done.

Funny that, not.

Unfortunately for Clarkson the apparently powerless one did fight back and exercise his right not to be treated in the way he was.

That principle is worth protecting more I suggest than a once-entertaining show which is well-past its sell-by-date.

Not that Clarkson need worry. In a TV game long on milking ideas way beyond their value, pitifully short on originality and utterly terrified of anything genuinely challenging, Clarkson, May and Hammond will have producers lining up to pay millions more for produce that has essentially gone off.

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