A big part of the fun of Top Gear and why I’ve loved the show was for its biting humour. Much like The Colbert Report, I took much of their jokes with an implied wink. They make it very clear that the show is scripted, and many of their jokes are written in advance. Famously, Clarkson was unable to accept an award for best unscripted show because he was busy writing the script for the next episode.
This means that when Hammond goes on a supposed impromptu rant about Mexicans being lazy, we (the fans) don’t read it as racist. The show, and the fictional characters therein, have certain traits. Hammond happens to be exceptionally closed minded to other cultures. We see this time and again when he is relegated to eating nothing but rice when everything else on a car challenge looks too icky to his 5 year old’s palate. HE is the joke, not the South American people. When they buy a car, they must remove it from the cool side of the Cool wall, because merely by owning it, they’ve destroyed its status. They are explicitly telling people, in their own hilarious way, that these are characters are nothing to aspire to.
But there have been signs. There have been signs that these characters are actually Mary Sues. They may not be who these three truly are, but closer than we thought, and more worryingly, is what they wish they could be. If only they could be as selfish in the real world as they are when an army of producers are there to protect them. If only everyone treated them like superstars who could do no wrong.
And this is what saddens me the most about this whole debacle. Not that Top Gear will no longer exist (sorry BBC – I have no faith that you can replicate their success with another set of hosts), but that much like the last few seasons of How I Met Your Mother, the ending has soiled the whole history of the show.
Looking back at earlier episodes, it seems almost impossible to see them as something other than petulant children who want ice cream for dinner and don’t understand what the big deal is with shooting the kid next door with a BB gun. Clarkson is actually portrayed as the most modern out of the 3. Hammond is all about old cars and tractors. May is just a confused old man angered by change in the body of a slightly younger man. Clarkson, on the other hand, actively seeks out unusual experiences, cultures, and thoughts. He then simply dismisses any that doesn’t completely agree with him. People in Argentina have no sense of humour, Indians are dangerous drivers, Americans are all rednecks. He’s allowed to be critical, but is astounded when anyone tries to criticize them.
And that’s the thing. It’s hard to look past the patterns, and they do not tell a flattering story. I feel like I’ve been fooled by the Orangutan. He makes no bones about his sense of entitlement. While promoting his new book – “What could go wrong…” he noted that if the person at issue is him, the answer is “everything, always”. This white, tall, British man, educated by the some of the best private schools in the UK.This man who has survived entire nations taking offence as the BBC comes in again and again to reaffirm support for his antics.
Where is your humility, Jeremy? Where is the recognition of the harm done to you being by your own hand? Could you really expect to be kept on after proving that you are a danger to other employees? Unlike yours, their hands were tied.
And now, the jokes they’ve made for years – long before this unpleasant end – are not funny anymore, and that’s a goddamn shame.