Top Gear Racism and a nice cup of tea.

Good Morning World,

Hey, I’ve started a Blog! Go Me!

I thought I would start off with something non-controversial and non-topical – ‘casual racism’ on Top Gear. Heh. Play it safe eh Dave?

You will see from the links below that Clarkson et al have dropped a(nother) clanger by more than implying that Mexicans are lazy. You will also see a ‘robust’ response from Steve Coogan.

You can read for yourself what was said, and Coogan’s response. This is my repsonse:

My main fear is that, in the noble cause of not causing offence, we ‘tone down’ our output to a point where we’re back in the 1950’s again (without the casual sexism). I don’t think I want to live in a world (country) where tv is toned down and controlled to such an extent that we end up with 24 hour streaming blandness akin to daytime television. You can only watch so many One Show items on the rise of the modern allotment, or the baby giraffe born at Whipsnade, before you want a bit more ‘grit’ in your diet.

Being lectured on comedy by Steve Coogan is a bit like taking a lesson on fast driving by Clarkson – In theory, they know their subject, however you can’t help feeling there are a considerable number of more qualified people that could do a better job. And am I being cycnical to consider that the Coogmeister, for all his past success, might be jumping on a bandwagon to elevate his own waning profile (#cough#Saxondale) on the back of a wildly successful show? . Comedy is an art, and art is subjective. The main test you can give to the art of comedy is simply ‘is it funny?’. The proof is laughter. So did the audience laugh at the comments on Top Gear? – you bet they did. Were they a sympathetic (even sycophantic) audience? – of course they were. Deuce then, in my book.

The thrust of the argument was not so much ‘was it funny?’ (because actually Steve, it was, in parts, but a bit ‘ranty’ to tell the truth), but was it offensive?
Well, I have to lean on my ‘progress’ argument here. In 2011, if we can’t, no, strike that, aren’t allowed to poke fun at some national stereotypes then that is in fact an arm of comedy lost. Not a good thing. Nor in fact perhaps a bad thing. But a thing nonetheless. The human brain is developed to stereotype. It filters, summarises and extrapolates on a second-by-second basis. I am a thirty-something British male acountant. Am I a wild, extrovert risk-taker? I am not. Do I wear glasses and drive a silver German car? Indeed I do. Do I speak in a mildly sleep-inducing monotone and indulge in hobbies that sound exciting (playing the guitar, motor racing, playing poker) but only really dabble in the shallow-end of them, to appear more risky and interesting than I otherwise am? Yes. Yes. And Yes. I have a three bed semi in the suburbs and enjoy a nice cup of tea for Christ’s sake. All that’s missing is the bowler hat. Yes, I am a walking sterotype. So poke fun. It’s ok. I (we) can take it. It’s 2011, not 1950. We are not so fragile. Sticks and Stones, Mr C. If there’s something I know as a Brit (another stereotype coming up) it’s that one of the few remaining things we have left to be proud of is our Sense Of Humour.

A few other points – will we be suing anyone for using the term ‘man flu’ in the future, because I’m offended by that. Oh actually, no, because I understand that it’s harmless and amusing banter. However, in a court of law, it suddenly appears to be a sexist term, because when you dryly regurgitate an offhand comment, or worse, present it in written form, it suddenly becomes Very Serious. “Can I draw you attention to exhibit “A”, M’lud, and I quote………a sheet with a hole in it” (did you laugh? Did you? You racist…).  And we’re all off to the Headmasters office again. FFS. Can we get off the pious bus and chill out a bit? Secondly, I was not aware that Top Gear was a live show. Mostly because it isn’t. I can’t help the feeling (again) that Coogan has singled out the high profile presenters to gain media exposure (#ahem#monkeys) rather than the culpable Director and Producer who let the show go out (#cough#organgrinders). Thirdly, who exactly is whipping up this minor storm? (actually, I’m contributing to it in a very minor way but still…). Is it the people that would love to see a(nother) high-profile sacking or withdrawal of a major show because………….THAT’S A STORY THAT WOULD SELL NEWSPAPERS. Then we could have a follow-up piece on the decline of the BBC and moral society in general. Wahooooo! I can almost hear the Editors salivating as I type. And another entertaining and popular show will have in effect been publicly lynched by the (competing?) tabloid press. Fourth, consider if unknown to you, I had secreted a hidden microphone in your clothes all this week. Then played snippets of your conversations back to various people who I think may find your comments offensive. Can you honeslty say you haven’t done much worse this week? This month? If I relayed your comments in written form back to your boss, would they be impressed? If the thought of this does not give you a slight cold shiver, then you may well be the next Messiah. As for the rest of us, there is a word. And it begins with ‘H’. Rhymes with bipocritt…

I am not for a moment saying we should be at liberty to cause offence in the name of comedy. Not at all. However, a lot of comedy is about offence. A lot of bland comedy is about awkwardness (#ahem#Coogan, #splutter#Gervais) , which to my palate is as different as vindaloo is to porridge (the starchy breakfast, not the absolutely excellent Ronnie Barker sitcom, which no doubt caused offence in it’s time, glorifying the criminal fraternity and all that…). Coogan can take the moral high ground (tickets still for sale for upcoming tour – joking) but sometimes you just want the PC brigade to get stuffed. Just switch off. Go and polish your halo. We’re sick of it.

The acid test of ‘is it funny’ is actually very easy with a live audience. In fact I was at the Glee club a week ago, and you know that when one of the acts goes a bit too far over the line…there will not be laughter. There will be ‘oooooooohhhhhhh’. And they will know they have transgressed. And will back off. Partly, it’s just with tv there is a much bigger audience, so you’re much more likley to offend. And we at the BBC take every complaint Seriously. Even though it’s from 10 people, out of an audience of c7M. Only one of whom is actually Mexican and actually offended (for which actually yes, a personal apology is completely appropriate – in fact if anyone reading this is in any way offended by my views, then I also apologise, we are none of us perfect). Five of whom specifally tuned in to get offended so they could vent about something.

The final argument is protecting the name of the upstanding BBC (Godblesshersole). Well, the BBC exists in 2011 as well, the same timeframe as us all. If, like the Monarchy, it refuses to keep pace with actual real life, it will perish. It will dilute. It will be as bland as an Accountant’s living room (boom-tish!). It’s viewing figures will drop (no, of course popular consent is not a mandate to cause offence…remember it’s 2011 though…). They will lose the vast generation that is currently under 40 to social media, online edginess/freedom of speech and live comedy (WHICH IS OFTEN HUGELY OFFENSIVE! GASP!). Possibly not a good thing. Or a bad thing. Just another thing. And incidentally the BBC is owned by us. It is us. If Top Gear were so offensive no-one would watch. However it is a massively successful, long-running and incidentally a huge money-spinner of a show for the Corporation. But I guess we can’t judge a show just by it’s viewing figures. Just as we shouldn’t judge the quality of a comedian just by the number of Baftas they’ve collected.

I naively like to think that as time advances, so do we. We become more sophisticated. We communicate better. We certainly have better methods of communicating. We’re using one such method right now. I can forsee a time when tv producers are so scared of complaints that viewers will turn to the unregulated media of the internet to get their fix. Sick of ‘reality’ shows. Sick of gameshows. Sick of cooking shows. No political correctness needed here in cyberspace. No nanny state. Actually, not true, we are still able to slander in cyberspace and be prosecuted for it, so I choose my words fairly carefully. However, I am free here to cause offence…Here is the last bastian of freedom of speech.

^And this is what it looks like^.

So if you will excuse me, I will shortly be joining an Irish and a Scottish friend of mine in the local boozer. Hopefully, we’ll all arrive at the same time…

http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2011/feb/05/steve-coogan-top-gear-jeremy-clarkson-mexicans
http://www.guardian.co.uk/tv-and-radio/2011/feb/05/top-gear-offensive-steve-coogan?intcmp=239

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