The Importance of Being Jeremy Clarkson

I wasn’t in the least bit surprised that Jeremy Clarkson was suspended yesterday. It was only a matter of time, given the amount of bad press he has received. However, as a “wannabe petrolhead”, I am not happy that Top Gear won’t be gracing my television screen on Sunday.

Jeremy Clarkson is also like Marmite (see 50 Shades of Marmite post!) You either love him or hate him. Here’s the thing, though. He has never pretended to be anything other than the arrogant, opinionated, offensive oaf that he is, and that’s what I like about him. It’s why I enjoy watching comedians such as Billy Connolly, Frankie Boyle (most of the time) and Denis Leary. Yes, they go a bit close to the knuckle sometimes but I’m fully aware of that when I turn the TV on to watch them and I am also fully aware that I can switch off if I don’t like it.

Whilst I can understand why people may be offended by these characters, especially if they are personally affected by their current insult, I do not believe that they mean any direct offence with what they say. They pick subjects that they feel that they can spin in an amusing way, usually taking stereotypes and making fun of them, often in such a way that it is obvious that they have been said to obtain the laugh rather than portraying a genuine opinion of the orator. These things are said for maximum effect, and let’s face it, people still talk about particular jokes/comments that such-a-body said 5 years ago, whether amused or insulted! Jeremy Clarkson is a clever guy. He knows that everybody is waiting to interpret his words in the most offensive way possible. As an experienced journalist  I would imagine he chooses his words carefully, knowing that he may be teetering on the brink of inviting potential complaints. Whilst he may underestimate the reaction sometimes, he absolutely knows that people will be talking about his latest slur, thus talking about Top Gear and in turn, bumping up his dividends. He also knows that (up to now, at least) he has been valuable enough to the BBC to remain the Top Gear frontman.

No-one can argue that Top Gear isn’t a roaring success. Not everyone likes it (nor should they have to) and plenty of people probably don’t like it because of “that nasty Jeremy Clarkson”.  That is completely and entirely their prerogative. As much as it is my choice to watch Top Gear, it is their choice not to. However, you will often find a number of people who would not watch Top Gear join in the to the tirade of “he’s getting his comeuppance” and “about time they got him off the telly”, which doesn’t seem quite fair, but in the interests of free speech, anyone can have an opinion regardless of whether or not it’s an informed one.

Anyone who watches Top Gear regularly will see Jeremy, Richard and James call each other all the names under the sun and will find it hilarious. They will have recently seen them deliberately pointing out the  comments that are likely to see complaints arrive in the BBC letterbox. They are telling those people who have apparently lost their off switch how they should be insulted and giving them their reason to complain!

I’m not saying that celebrities, whether they be presenters or comedians, should be given a free rein to make insults to people (or nations in Jeremy’s case) but I do think that there are better ways of dealing with it instead of splashing it all over the media and making it into a bigger story than necessary about a comment that was forgotten by 99% of the viewers about 10 seconds after it was said. By all means, get said celebrity to make a public apology but don’t make a mountain out of a molehill! Over the last 48 hours, viewers and readers of the news have been reminded of every single faux-pas that Clarkson has ever made. Is that necessary? I suspect it may be necessary in this case to fill out the reports, seeing as there are very few facts coming out about this latest incident, which has apparently taken the BBC almost a week to take any action.

On Radio Two this morning, Chris Evans pondered why they had felt the need to cancel the remaining shows when they could have been presented by Richard and James (as he assumes it would be had Jeremy been ill). I wonder whether there has been a mutiny by the production staff/presenters so they are unable to actually make the programme. I don’t know.

Whatever the reason, the BBC will be shooting themselves in the foot. As one (if not the) most lucrative programmes the BBC has to offer, they will be bleeding revenue if they cancel Top Gear completely. Not to mention, they will have sincerely upset those people who applied for tickets years ago and have finally got some for this week! That’s before you consider all the stars who wanted to drive a reasonably priced car! (Gary Lineker seems none too pleased at being cancelled!) One thing is for sure; while there will be people who watch Top Gear for the cars, there are many more who watch for the comedy trio that is Jezza, Hamster and Captain Slow, and without that dynamic, I would doubt that Top Gear could be as remotely popular as it is now.

There seems to be more to this story than meets the eye. I know there is an official investigation so the BBC probably wants to keep it under wraps (they like to do that) but perhaps if they had been a bit more discreet about other supposed indiscretions made by Clarkson, this would not be the enormous “breaking news” leading story that it currently is. The three presenters don’t seem overly concerned which seems odd given the circumstances. I do find it bizarre that a number of off-screen incidents have got Clarkson into trouble recently because the press has got hold of the information/footage from somewhere. (Disgruntled production staff, perhaps?)

Conspiracy theories aside, Clarkson may or may not have deserved to be suspended and without knowing all the facts, it would be remiss of me to try to give him some kind of defence for this latest incident without really knowing what actually happened. However, I cannot shake the feeling that this latest slur is an attempt to rid the BBC of Clarkson for good. (The star is not bigger than the network etc.)

Recently, Frankie Boyle wrote a piece about free speech and how careers, such as his own (and a Top Gear presenter is mentioned), are being damaged by the way that these so-called “gaffes” or jokes get reported by the press, particularly in their lack of context to the whole story. Boyle states:

I find it incredibly worrying that we no longer need to hear the actual content of the thing we’re told to be offended by. We hear of people being arrested for tweets without the tweet being reported; comics are blasted for routines that aren’t printed; newspapers hire lip-readers to find something to get offended by at the tennis and then print the resulting f**kfest as asterisks. And who decides whether we should be outraged at something we haven’t seen or heard? The press. Our seething collective Id. None of us would trust a journalist to hold our pint while we went to the bathroom, yet we allow them to be ethical arbiters for the entire culture.

In Boyle’s opinion, the press are looking for an easy story to write with maximum offense to outrage the general public. He also implies that our sense of moral outrage is focusing on these little inanities such as insulting tweets and jokes or bad language (despite its common usage)  in order to avoid more “difficult conversations” and I agree with him to an extent. David Cameron must be over the moon that Jeremy Clarkson is taking the heat off him for a couple of days; I read that Clarkson apologised to Ed Miliband in a tweet because he is taking the attention from him! As I write this blog, I’m hearing on the news that David Cameron has felt the need to comment (probably because a journalist asked him) on what a “huge talent” Clarkson is. (Bringing the attention back to him, perhaps?) There are many other reasons to be morally outraged that are much more important in the grand scheme of things than the potential sacking of a TV presenter and for this story to get this much air time seems ridiculous.

I hope that the BBC do not sack Jeremy Clarkson and I hope that we will get to see Gary Lineker in a reasonably priced car in the near future. However, what I hope for more is that the people who complain about petty celebrity gaffes find their remote controls and also address their moral compass and be passionate about things that actually matter, rather than things that really don’t.