For those who don’t know, Jeremy Clarkson is a recently sacked but incredibly popular British television host for BBC megahit Top Gear: a show on all things automobile. Clarkson’s firing was hardly a surprise, as Clarkson’s infractions range from racial remarks to international incidents, the Argentine debacle in which he attempted to cruise the country with a licence plate essentially flipping the Argentinian people off about the Falklands War (a nasty little conflict between the U.K. and Argentina in 1982) being one of the more famous examples. Of course, being sacked actually means very little to Clarkson: in typical “fuck ‘em” fashion, the host is rumoured to be trying to relaunch his career in Australia. Insert your own jokes about the Aussie propensity for racist celebrities here.
When Top Gear rebooted in 2002, the BBC aimed to revitalize a dad’s DIY program, making it informative to the general public by testing cars the average UK citizen might own while criticizing higher end vehicles. After being introduced to the phenomenon by friend and committed TG fan Zach, I binged the first couple of seasons back in first year, and have used a few driving tips back home driving the mean streets of Alberta. I can confirm that mastering a light touch on the brakes is everything in an automatic, and that leaning into turns really does help smooth them out. But towering above the informativity is the program’s nod to showmanship: the sheer force of personality that is Jeremy Fucking Clarkson.
After all, television is meant not to inform but to entertain. As ‘reality’ television programs prove, being obnoxious is really all that’s required to keep a show on airm as the Kardashians have known for years. And if this entertainment comes at a certain cost, say, aspiring to encourage socio-political standards, what of it? TLC permitted endemic poverty and troubling gender expectations to become a punchline with Honey Boo Boo and made a mint. People want their bread and circuses, and will forgive a lot to get them. As a result, shows with content to deliver ‘package’ the information with an attraction or hook.
Enter Clarkson: honest to the point of abrasion, saying exactly what everyone wishes they were able to say in an auto repair shop but who actually knows what he’s talking about. As the show continually upped the ante over the years with more globe-trotting road trip ‘tests’ and ever more expensive cars, the personality of the caustic Clarkson became similarly pronounced. He made annual appearances on other BBC programmes and became a mainstay of the British press for his politically incorrect language and highly unpredictable temperament. The public went crazy for him: viewership increased and the show maintained some of the most consistently high ratings in the BBC canon (and with four channels loaded with content, that’s no small feat). But the public persona grew troubling for the eminent network as incident rates mounted; how much outrage is actually acceptable?
The BBC were forced to answer after Clarkson had a bit of a tiff with TG producer Oisin Tymon, allegedly throwing punches over a lack of heated foodstuffs. Clarkson himself reported the incident to the BBC, who promptly suspended him pending investigation. It was a second yellow card: after repeated incidents, the BBC decreed that Clarkson’s next folly would result in a firing. As the mighty BBC, the historic bastion of British values and decency, cannot be seen to be wishy-washy, Clarkson was summarily sacked. The chain of events seems straightforward, even reasonable. But here’s what’s not so reasonable: Clarkson’s massive global fan base is more invested in Clarkson’s entertainment value than his performance as a human being.
The outrage was incredible: a tank parked out front of the BBC building in protest; petitions garnered hundreds of thousands of signatures; and a general hue and cry was raised. And why not? Shows and networks subsist on the attention of viewers. Is it not in the interest of networks to cater to us slobbering masses, however offensive the results might be? Is it not their duty to cater to our demands? Or has the BBC done a noble thing by trying to raise the tone of programming to promote some fairly basic human respectability, even if consumers are unwilling to do so? Perhaps we are too quick to permit celebrities to slip beneath the standards of humanity we hold for ourselves and others: could Clarkson be an example of an established network doing its part to refuse to allow humanity to deteriorate any further than it already has?
If that’s the case, I don’t know how successful the attempt will be, but I think I can safely assert that the Beeb will feel their well-intentioned arrogance in the ratings next year when their viewers flock to wherever the TG blokes go next. With a cockroach like Clarkson, stamping him out by banishing him to the colonies is merely going to damage the BBC’s bottom line. All for a moral victory that few even seem to value. Sorry, BBC. We’ll take none of your human decency here.
Editor’s note: A previous edition of this article erroneously stated the Falklands War took place in the ’90s; it in fact took place in 1982. We have updated the article and regret the error.