Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Why the Establishment Loves Jeremy Clarkson

Petrolheads everywhere, sob into your empty oil cans. For Top Gear is, as was, no more. The verdict couldn't have been anything else. Whatever you might think about Jeremy Clarkson, which in my case is not a lot, it was impossible even for him to cling on to his job after a 20 minute tirade, followed by a 30 second assault - all because a steak dinner wasn't available. At a stroke, Clarkson became a demi-god to babymen everywhere but cost him a prestige job and an international audience numbering in the tens of millions.

We know why Clarkson is feted by so many, but what I'm more interested in are the displays of solidarity from his establishment friends. Expense-fiddling Maria Miller blames the BBC for not dealing with "its larger than life characters" properly, as if somehow it is responsible for Clarkson's punching out a member of staff. "How stupid can BBC be in firing Jeremy Clarkson? Funny man with great expertise and huge following" tweeted Rupert Murdoch; "The BBC is like a distant planet. Alien and out of touch” scrawled Katie Hopkins in her Sun column last week, and Dave: "I hope this can be sorted out because it [Top Gear] is a great programme and he is a great talent." By far the most egregious example comes from our good friend Louise Mensch, professional ex-MP, gobshite, and cheerleader for all that is rancid. Here's a petard. Go hoist yourself with it, Lou:

What a risible spectacle. Is there a better demonstration of how deeply the view that laws and everyday common decency doesn't apply to them runs among the entitled, hypocritical, and monied imbeciles clustering like coprophilic flies around Clarkson's person?

Why though? Is it because the conservative establishment, whose raison d'etre is continued political dominance, are simply falling over themselves to help out a mate? Yes. And no. Clarkson's establishment creds are very well-established, and nothing extra needs adding to that. There is something else that has left them deeply anxious, and it's this: they're losing. Conservatism as it stands now is time-limited and on its way out. Even if by an awful miracle they pull off a general election win, the decline will continue unabated. Dave's calling time on his premiership presumptuously, the EU referendum, UKIP, and jockeying for life after Dave will ensure that a moderate, centre right makeover some are pleading for is not happening any time soon.

As their movement is in slow-mo collapse, so their cultural bastions are crumbling. Sure, in many ways the neoliberal charge Thatcher led in the 1980s is deeply embedded in the social fabric. Her attempt, shamefully aided and abetted in the Blair years, to encourage a cost/benefit homo economicus as everyone's default mental apparatus, is still with us. It took a generation to bed down, and will probably take just as long to root out. Their moment of triumph is also the occasion of their historical defeat. It has become dislocated from the Conservative project. In successfully encouraging Britain's wage and salary slaves to look to anything but collective organisation based on class for salvation, increasingly large numbers merely treat work as a means to an end, an inconvenience to be got over with as quickly as possible so one can live. As the crisis posed capital by an unruly labour movement is resolved, so another starts to open around the legitimation of work itself. Hence why 1970's-style radical workplace economism has comparatively little purchase, but likewise why the Tories and so-called Tory values have a hard time cutting through - particularly with younger cohorts.

Traditional family values, no. The mapping of Britishness onto whiteness, no. Overt stupidity and bigotry, no. Mean-spiritedness, increasingly not. The union itself, increasingly shaky. If we wish to flatter it, it's telling that conservative intellectual firepower is all concentrated in the declining Tory press whose readership tends to be middle-aged-to-elderly. Apart from occasional stabs at tabloid telly, usually to rile up antipathy toward a powerless minority or those in receipt of benefits, our heavily mediatised cultural landscape is almost a no-go zone for conservative figures. Clarkson stands out because he is part of a dying breed. There are few, if any, that command the genuinely wide following he does, and this is why the conservative establishment are squealing like a pig recently parted with its knackers. Their cultural standard bearers are dropping off the TV schedules and commanding zero following out there. When celebrities do come out as Tory supporters, like Gary Barlow did, they're pilloried. Alternatively, there's nothing at all wrong with burnishing one's lefty, social justice creds a la Paloma Faith. The cling to Clarkson because, increasingly, he's the only "non-political" figure they've got putting across their tedious, small-minded commonsense. They instinctively feel their Gramsci even if the left does not.

I'm sure Clarkson will wash up with his hangers on elsewhere. He is bankable, after all. Nevertheless, to be edged out of what probably remains the most trusted and well-respected broadcasting institution in the world is a significant devaluation of whatever collective cultural capital the conservative side of things have left.


Robert said...

Clarkson's got form; he had a punch up with Piers Morgan although in that case with an even bigger wanker.

Ken said...

All well said, but I'm not convinced by your 'straight talking gaffer' explanation of Clarkson's popularity. I know the type, I've worked under that kind of foreman and line manager, and Clarkson doesn't remind me of them. And it doesn't account for why I (not at all a petrolhead) like Clarkson's onscreen persona.

I think a better explanation was provided by some Tory columnist who referenced Orwell's essay 'The Art of Donald McGill'.

No matter how seriously you take, say, road safety, social equality or climate change, the fact is that the demands of dealing with them -- and the endless self-righteous nagging and guilt-tripping about them, which is the currently favoured way of popularising them -- are a drag. Part of you, and by no means the worst part, always rebels.

And that part inwardly cheers at someone who sticks two fingers up at them.

Phil said...

You've got it mixed up, Ken. Clarkson, like Farage, have a certain popularity because (mainly) men of a certain age can relate to them both. It's Farage who's the straight-talking gaffer. And Clarkson, well, he's the bloke who never married and spent his cash on nice cars and chasing women.

I agree with your second part though.

Alex Ross said...

In a small way it has been quite fun observing the explosive reactions of Clarkson obsessives and anti-BBC fanatics to the decision…they’ve all been behaving like petulant, bad losers – in the face of an entirely common sense decision by a public institution which ought not to tolerate workplace violence, bullying and harassment of any type….

Times ed. this morning read like Murdoch himself could have penned it – rambling, incoherent, only managing a very unconvincing “throat clearing” mention of the issue of violence and bullying in workplaces whilst then vehemently attacking the BBC for not making exceptions for the enormous talent (Yes!! Really!!) of Clarkson…Contemptuous, elitist drivel which operates on an entirely different plane to how the majority of working people expect they should be treated in the workplace.

BCFG said...

I think you are viewing this through the prism of neo liberal centre left politics with far left social liberal concerns from in for good measure. So for you, a slight shift in support from centre right to centre left represents some profound move away from conservatism!

The fact is that Britain is now a largely petty bourgeois nation, and wherever there is a huge petty bourgeois conservatism is alive and well (no matter how many tranny videos you can watch on the internet)! I actually a trend toward more ‘conservative’ values in recent years, whether this is sustainable will depend on the economy stupid!

The real victims of demographics have been the left, who don’t seem to have noticed that the actively conscious working class have largely disappeared from these shores.

PS In my experience Top Gear is very popular among women. Never watched it myself.

Anonymous said...

A few years ago I recruited a small team, a man and woman in their early twenties and a woman her late thirties. All intelligent and left leaning and socially liberal; Top Gear was their common ground.
Your condescension to its viewers grates.

Ken said...

You're right Phil, I did get your Farage and Clarkson analyses mixed up.

Mind you, it's easy to get these two chancers mixed up.

Which brings a thought. Farage has said he'll stand down as leader if UKIP fails to gain any seats and Labour doesn't promise an EU referendum.

What if Clarkson got Farage's old job, and Farage got Clarkson's?

Phil said...

There is no condescension, Anon. Coming from a Top Gear-watching family myself ...

The point is Top Gear attracts a very wide audience. It's an entertaining programme. Yet there is a core to that audience who not only enjoy the programme, but also identify with Clarkson. That's what I'm interested in and what I addressed in the previous post. This, as you'll know from reading the post carefully, is about why the establishment cling to him.

Phil said...

That's too awful a prospect to contemplate, Ken. Though to be fair to Clarkson, I'm pretty sure his chummy chummy with the Chipping Norton set would make him Tory party bound should he dip his toe into politics.