Jeremy Clarkson’s latest episode of failing to engage his brain before opening his mouth, has come at no small cost to the BBC which has been forced to apologise once again for outlandish comments made by Clarkson in front of a live audience. The cost may not be immediate but at some point they have to decide what to do with this man. Not to act could be seen as being selective following the Jonathan Ross/Russell Brand episode and one would expect that they would have to show some degree of consistency in dealing with incidents that could cause them embarrassment if the groundswell of public outrage is sufficient.
Today’s apology from Clarkson lent heavily on an assertion that it was meant to be humorous but even at the time it was obvious that it fell far short of that objective. As most people who either read his columns or watch Top Gear will attest, the humour is “laddish”, public schoolboy giggling at some prank type with a recurring theme that you have to belittle someone to feel superior. In most cases this comes across as part of banter between the hosts of Top Gear with other jibes made at groups of people (truck drivers), nationalities (Mexicans and Americans), and public figures who may or may not appear on the show to return the compliment, for instance John Prescott.
It is nigh impossible to determine the veracity of the apology in the written form and to establish if there is contrition or it was just uttered because it had to be done.
There is little doubt that Clarkson is a bright and intelligent individual who has found the formula to providing, at least up to now, something that a statistically relevant percentage of the population wants to see. Top Gear has risen to new highs of popularity under his stewardship and although not many of the audience can even aspire to drive some of the vehicles shown in the programme, they are prepared to live vicariously through the presenters and enjoy that escapism for an hour every week. Like it or not, the elevation of the presenters in the minds of the audience, can, in certain quarters, lead them to believe much of what they say including some of the more outrageous statements. There is no suggestion that execution squads will seek out public sector workers and act on the utterings of Clarkson but people have done odd things based on celebrity over-exposure. This may be an absolute stretch but it was not long ago that social media was adjudged to have been responsible for inciting riots and even overthrowing governments. Indeed, prosecutions were made in the UK against individuals responsible.
There is, unfortunately, a section of community that think because people are “celebrities” they have something to say. A whole genre of magazines and television programmes has emerged to serve that very need. Politicians in the USA even enlist the help of actors and other personalities to tap into that market. “The One Show” may be guilty of feeding this by eliciting responses about current events from individuals whose responses may not be tempered, moderate or considered.
One can take issue with Clarkson on a number of points:
- Whether you agree or not, the public sector has the right to withdraw its labour. Unfortunately because many of the everyday government functions are affected this tends to draw more ire then normal.
- They do work and are employed, Clarkson also works but the difference in income is somewhat immense. Whether the individuals actually perform is a matter for the employer, in most cases the government or government agencies.
- Most workers have to contribute to pensions, most may have had benefits reduced or had to accept that their plans are not gilt edged. Public sector workers will have to accept that it is inevitable for them. Public sector workers in Wisconsin and Illinois occupied the state capitol buildings over several weeks to protest similar changes in their pension arrangements. Clarkson is disingenuous to suggest that he suffers having to make his own pension arrangements along with other “workers” with whom he has little in common based on annual income.
- Whilst he must buy the same staple items as everyone else the effect of price increases provide no more than a minor irritation as opposed to others who must juggle the budget. Indeed his choice of vehicles and the way he drives them suggests he has more than enough money to burn.
But what of the BBC dilemma?
The BBC has made cuts to be more fiscally responsible and ideally, if they were sticking strictly to principles, they would take the appropriate action against Clarkson. With a magnified focus on license fees the BBC has to look elsewhere to generate income which it does through DVD sales, licensing etc. More and more income is derived from overseas as it expands its brands with channels such as BBC America and sells programmes or rights to them to local channels overseas. The success of Top Gear as well as Strictly Come Dancing in overseas markets will not be ignored by the BBC. In some respects, Clarkson may have the upper hand as Top Gear continues to be popular in the UK and has a huge following in the USA. Spin offs have not been that successful as they try to make an exact copy of the formula but they do not have the chemistry between the local hosts and they look a little embarrassed to say the least.
The BBC must ask itself how long it can ride the Top Gear horse. In watching the Top Gear marathons in the US, it becomes obvious that the formula may be more than a little stale. Many of the segments are juvenile, though they may appear fresh to an emerging group of juveniles, the pranks become old and predictable (are some of these staged or are they just that foolhardy?) and the pantomime exchanges of “oh yes it is, oh not it’s not” regarding the relative merits of a Porsche or a Ferrari lend nothing to the program.
If that income stream has an end in sight, and certainly Clarkson’s outrageous statements over time could hasten that possibility, then the BBC should take the high road and relieve Clarkson of his duties immediately.
I at least can make my own choice and take Top Gear off my DVR scheduler but that doesn’t prevent Clarkson infiltrating my consciousness if the media continue to provide a stage for him.