Tuesday 10 March 2015

The Meaning of Jeremy Clarkson

Jeremy Clarkson has been suspended by the BBC for an alleged "fracas" with a producer for Top Gear. Innocent until proven otherwise and all that, but it does come after years of nudge, nudge, wink, wink racism and associated vicious stupidity. Needless to say, I don't particularly like him and avoid his shows like the plague. Yet Top Gear and his contrived alpha male personage is popular and millions tune in every week for fast cars and funny haha cheeky banter. Far be it for me to stop them.

Yet in the celebrity firmament Clarkson occupies something of a unique position. There aren't many out-and-out right wing celebs knocking about in a culture where a paper-thin veneer of leftyism is usually de rigeur. And he also trades on this too. He says what he thinks, won't be cowed by the PC brigade, and is not afraid to acknowledge that he shares the dodgy bigoted views of some of his fans. He's the carefully constructed maverick, the outsider whose huge BBC salary, media appearances, and member of the Chipping Norton set who's anything but. Reminds you of any other faux anti-establishment media personality?

In fact, the parallels with Nigel Farage are quite striking. Then again, one right wing demagogue is interchangeable with another. It's all about saying the unsayable, of cocking a snook to a largely imaginary lefty establishment, of rubbishing climate change because we sometimes still get snow, etc. etc. But what Clarkson shares above all with Farage is less a man-of-the-people thing - the media commentators keep getting that one wrong - but as someone primarily middle aged men can relate to. As most working class blokes during their lives have come across a gaffer who showed his workers a grudging respect and gave it to them straight, as per NF, Clarkson has been middle aged since Top Gear first broadcast in the late 80s. He's not so much what they call these days 'a lad' and more a down-at-heel playboy. You know the sort. Could never be bothered to get married. Always seemed to have a new sporty motor. Owned his own home. Boast about his womanising down the pub. Clarkson isn't any of these things, of course. He's a happily married got-lucky journo, but the hair (as was), the jeans (oh my life, the jeans), and the swagger evoke a personality millions of people can place in their social circle.

His politics too have a certain coherence about them. In the mid-80s, Mike Dreher, another terribly tedious but oh-so-anti-establishment hard right populist founded the Motorist Party of Switzerland. This before climate change was widely accepted by scientists and politicians, Dreher campaigned against conservation measures and denounced claims about acid rain. Like the kippers today, the acceptance of scientific evidence was not his strong suit. The Motorist Party also wanted speed limits raised on the country's roads, especially on motorways so they could let rip. It was so-called libertarianism before the internet made libertarianism a thing. You can see how car ownership is a handy condenser (and propagator) of this kind of politics. Cars give drivers freedom to roam. The road is their domain to push the motor to its limits, of being free from all authority in one's enclosed four-wheel personal space. Bikes, pedestrians, buses, they all get in the way and should be kept off the roads. Nothing should interfere with the right to drive.

This ideology of the road also underpins (traditionally American) lifestyles, and is not-so-subtly promoted by Top Gear itself. Clarkson could be Dreher too - he doesn't like cyclists, thinks the state is too nannying, and rejects climate change because it threatens his inalienable right to tear arse around the world in growling, gas-guzzling, CO2 emitting monsters. He is a living, breathing middle finger to anyone who wants to make the world a half-decent place to live in, and instantiation of all that is petty, small-minded, and selfish. Unfortunately, a not inconsiderable minority of voters habitually relate to this stuff.

That is why Clarkson is so potent. He bridges the gap between political mindset and social circle familiarity. When you think about it, Clarkson is perhaps the ideal celebrity replacement for Farage should the great leader come unstuck in South Thanet. What an awful thought. If that's the case, Save Clarkson!


Speedy said...

He's a bully.

On the other hand I think people can relate to his act of "saying the unsayable" in a broadcasting culture that, as you acknowledge, is pc.

The same applies to Farrage - when politicians are afraid to say or stand for anything, at least he seems to.

That doesn't mean you have to agree with them, but it does help explain why they exist. Of course your view is that this is all a myth, but it is worth reflecting how say 30 years ago their views would have not only been mainstream they would be unexceptional. The fact is that they are still mainstream but now exceptional - dissent has been suppressed via the "revolution through the organs". Not an exact fit of course, but not far off. Now where will it lead?

Anonymous said...

I wonder how many people have been killed on the roads due to Top Gear's promotion of car culture?

I think it is one of the most irresponsible TV shows in history.

Min your language, for example, may have offended but at least its heart was the the right place (of sorts).

asquith said...

I know whose "contribution" this "debate" stands in need of, Dan Ware? Has anyone asked his opinion on the issue?