Like the effects of a massive rock dropped into The Pond, the ‘fracas’ furore ripples have reached all the way to the shores of the USA – as far as Illinois to be precise – and we find that even Bill Crittenden of the Crittenden Automotive Library has an opinion: I’ve defended Jeremy Clarkson through most of his foibles. He is, at heart, a comedian. People forget this because he was a comedian on an automotive program. Top Gear is about half comedy, half seriousness, and even the serious information is often presented in a funny way. It is to automotive television what The Daily Show is to [American] news.
So when he mocks Mexico or BBC policy or the Germanness of new Minis or jokes about truckers murdering prostitutes (my gosh, the “Controversy” section of his Wikipedia profile is long!), it should be taken as humor. Failing at that, as jokes often do, these comments should at least not be taken seriously.
I did, however, think that his humor went over the line in the Burma bridge-building episode of Top Gear when he said “there’s a slope on it,” an obvious reference to the angle of the bridge to anyone who doesn’t know that the word “slope” is a very racist way to refer to Asians. As there was an Asian man walking across the bridge at the time, the double meaning was clear.
But I defended him at the time. I couldn’t defend his crap joke, but I could point out the lack of seriousness with which it should be taken…
“It fell flat as a joke (as does almost all comedy where privileged whites mock people of color), but I’m not going to categorize Jeremy Clarkson in with the likes of Confederate-flag waving, n-word throwing white supremacists, nor is he even on the level of the guy who tells me he’s “never buying a gook car,” with actual anger in his voice at the thought of Chinese cars on American roads. Jeremy’s just a comedian that had a groaner of a tasteless joke…
Nor does this need to be another international incident. Jeremy Clarkson is not the Ambassador to Thailand, he’s not the Prime Minister, Top Gear isn’t the evening news and his level of seriousness on television is more Carrot Top than Lord Attenborough.” (Quote from Bill’s own piece on the Burma Special).
People really missed this when, in an attempt to mock the BBC’s equal time policy he said, “Frankly, I’d have them all shot. I would take them outside and execute them in front of their families. I mean, how dare they go on strike when they have these gilt-edged pensions that are going to be guaranteed while the rest of us have to work for a living?” Of course, most short clips and news articles focused on the first two sentences, a few more the entire “rant,” and a tiny few the preceding line, “we have to balance this though, because this is the BBC.” He was mocking the opposition, but you’d never know that from the regular news coverage.
He had, by that point in his career, lost the benefit of the doubt. I can see in the news coverage how some people saw a growing unfairness in their coverage of his incidents. But where most people would realize when they’re under the microscope, Jeremy plowed on, undaunted, racking up an enormous list of regrettable incidents for the serious people at the BBC.
That’s pretty courageous as far as comedians go.
But then this “fracas” thing happened. He went beyond words and punched someone. That’s when it stops being funny and crossed a line from “controversial” into whatever the British equivalent is of “assault and battery.” That goes beyond a mere firing, that often results in an arrest!
I can see, in the anti-Clarkson media coverage, how it looks like the people who have wanted to fire him for the better part of a decade finally found something he couldn’t talk his way out of, but honestly, anyone who hits their boss at work should expect to be fired, regardless of prior incidents, work record, or how much money they bring in. And anyone taking a swing should expect to be fired.
Ultimately, if you take away every other incident he’s been involved in, the comedy or seriousness of his work, and the torches & pitchforks media coverage of him, you’re still left with Jeremy Clarkson punching one of his bosses. Regardless of any common written “no tolerance” for workplace violence policy on record that they may have been bound to, the BBC did what it had to do, what any other sensible company or government agency would do.
The decision was made by people who have more on their minds than watching snarky Ferrari reviews on Sunday nights. They have to consider the overall well being of a company with over 20,000 employees and serves as the voice of a nation of over 64 million people. These people have to consider the legal and morale issues of letting someone be exempt from the consequences of punching a producer because they bring in viewers. These decision makers know the value of Top Gear, that it’s one of their most well-known programs but it only accounts for a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the BBC’s overall revenue (just 27% of the BBC Worldwide division’s 2012-2013 revenue came from five major properties, among which Top Gear was just one*). Their decision felt inevitable to me, and I would have been shocked had they done any less.
I’ll miss the show, too. Even if they find a new presenter, or all new presenters, it will never be the same. I know this from watching American Top Gear, which is a lot of fun but in a very different way. I understand people are upset over losing a beloved part of their lives. Life was just a little easier to bear knowing a new Top Gear season was on and a new episode was less than a week away.
But if you’re looking for someone to blame for the loss of Top Gear as we all grew to love it, if you’re looking for someone to blame for the job losses and money losses for the BBC in the safe assumption that the new presenters fail to draw the audience that Clarkson-Hammond-May did, the only person that can be legitimately blamed is the person who couldn’t control themselves and threw the punch.
For nothing more than a steak dinner, Jeremy Clarkson has ruined so many Sunday evenings and likely gotten a lot of people at the BBC laid off over the coming years.
I now find that I can’t defend him any more.
Owner, The Crittenden Automotive Library @ CarsAndRacingStuff.com
* from the BBC page at Wikipedia.