Jeremy Clarkson plays up the blowhard schtick, but the recent three-way xeno-fest that targeted Mexico and its Mastretta MXT sports car got James May and Richard Hammond into the act, as well. Picking on the car itself and pointing out its shortcomings are of course fair game, but the wheels came right off the conversation when it flew into the trees at speed. From the mouths of these Briton presenters flowed unbridled cultural stereotypes where they characterized Mexicans as lazy, feckless and flatulent. Controversy, misogyny and political correctness are all well and good, but there’s a line where the jokes cease to be funny, and you start looking like an asshole instead of a satirist or commentator.
Mexican officials have called for an apology, and comedian Steve Coogan has penned a brilliant counter-attack on Clarkson in the Guardian. Coogan calls out Clarkson for attacking groups that he sees as easy targets, instead of Muslims or Jews. It comes off as a calculated effort to say offensive crap without getting too much blowback – note that they say nothing about Jews or Muslims. Imagine the scorching response both of those large, well-organized groups would hit the media with after these three clowns (who happen to have a fantastic car show) shot off their mouths.
The beauty of Top Gear has long been brilliant cinematography and the interaction between the hosts. Even people that don’t care about cars watch the show and are entertained by antics like the trek through the Amazon jungle, driving across the spine of Africa or the challenge where the trio had to create amphibious vehicles. There’s no shortage of comedic moments, so racist attacks and bullying seem unnecessary and uncalled for.
Clarkson provides a lame defense of his jokes with
“there are calls in Britain at the moment for all offensive humour to be banned. But what people don’t realise is that without offence, there can be no jokes.”
There is plenty of truly funny material that is offensive, but comedy is best targeted at those sitting at the top of the hill abusing power. The butt of the joke should be the overweight, pompous master being carried aloft, not the impoverished litter bearers. Attacking those that you perceive as weak only serves to demonstrate your own weakness. If Clarkson wants to joke about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his ancient Peugeot, that’s fair game but the reality is that despite the stereotypes, the Mexicans that manage to get across the border into the U.S. are often among the hardest working people you’ll find anywhere. They work at difficult and dangerous jobs for low pay, just to try to support their families back home.
Top Gear is great and we want to see it continue doing the things it does so well. The Top Gear presenters need to stick to goofy automotive stunts and poking sticks at each other and leave innocent bystanders alone. Besides, three middle aged English guys have a lot of nerve criticizing Mexican food considering the state of most British “cuisine.”
Otherwise, it may be time to call it a day on the best car show ever done.