Racism at The BBC: “Top Gear” Hosts Castigated for Derogatory Remarks Against Mexicans
I was tipped off about this controversy by a Filipino American gay friend who lives in Britain and has dual citizenship. After I read about these guys and their show, the whole thing didn’t surprise me. What chills me is the giggly response of the studio audience to all that mess.
In fact, I had wondered why it took so long for this kind of thing to resurface. There’s an element in Britain that still refuses to change, sorta like the Red States versus Blue States thing here at home. We saw it as early as the 1970s, when a show called All in the Family debuted in the United States. It was based, in part, on a sit-com from the U.K. called Till Death Us Do Part. To this element, immigrants, blacks, gays, people who live in London, are anathema to the way so-called real–meaning white–Britons really live.
Plus, the BBC has been under increasing pressure to turn a profit by appealing to the lowest possible denominator, that is, becoming yet another imitator of the Murdoch Empire/News Corporation. The venerable Beeb may be the home of Poirot, Are You Being Served, As Time Goes By, and the latest, Downton Abbey, but it is not what we think what Britons are.
At face value, Top Gear is just another reality show, but this time, it’s about guys who like very fast cars, and who like having rallies with the newest wheels on the block. They critique the cars and their performance with a live studio audience. There are occasional humorous stunt films that involve nearly unheard-of feats like a bus leaping over some motorcycles or something. Get it? The hosts are three middle-aged, paunchy white guys: Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May.
Unfortunately, the hosts got way too lippy during the last episode. It wasn’t the first time, though. For example, the BBC Trust criticized them for drinking gin and tonics while executing stunts two years ago, something that could possibly encourage the driving-while-drunk crowd.
Reviewing the Mexican-made Mastretta MXT sports car, presenter Richard Hammond said: “Why would you want a Mexican car, because cars reflect national characteristics… Mexican cars are just going to be lazy, feckless, flatulent, overweight, leaning against a fence, asleep, looking at a cactus with a blanket with a hole in the middle on as a coat.”
Earlier, fellow presenter James May joked that he couldn’t remember the name of the car but suggested it should be called the “Tortilla.” He then described Mexican food as “refried sick.”
“Just imagine waking up and remembering you’re Mexican?” added Hammond.
“It’d be brilliant because you could just go straight back to sleep all day,” said co-presenter Jeremy Clarkson. He then joked that the show wouldn’t receive a complaint from the Mexican Embassy because the ambassador would be sitting in front of the television snoring.
Something like this would appeal to some of the anti-Latino immigrant forces here in the U.S. Talk about dirty hands across the ocean.
Since the broadcast on January 30, there has been a firestorm of protest from Mexicans and from Mexican officialdom. From the Mexican ambassador to Britain, His Excellency Eduardo Medina-Mora Icaza, who by the way was watching that show, along with millions of his compatriots several thousand miles away and also living in Europe and elsewhere. To a Mexican woman who filed a test suit against the hosts and the show for discrimination. Imagine how this is playing in Central and South America. Or in the U.S. Don’t even believe that all Latinos are thinking, well, they’re not talking about us, they’re talking about those Mexicans. People know what’s up. Substitute any Spanish-speaking immigrant or labor class under the NAFTA or any other economic treaty into what these guys originally said, and it would piss off everybody south of our border.
But the BBC’s tepid response has garnered criticism as well. It seems that because of the show’s high ratings and plunging ad revenue during these times, the cash-strapped Beeb is willing to step up for these guys, however gingerly. (Apparently, showing high class entertainment hasn’t been as economically sound.) U.K. comedian Steve Coogan, though, thinks that a line has been crossed. And he’s a fan of the show.
OK, guys, I’ve got some great ideas for your next show. Jeremy, why not have James describe some kosher food as looking like “sick with cheese on it”? No? Thought not. Even better, why not describe some Islamic fundamentalists as lazy and feckless?
Feel the silence. They’re all pretty well organised these days, aren’t they, those groups? Better stick to those that are least problematic.
Old people? Special needs? I know – Mexicans! There aren’t enough of them to be troublesome, no celebrities to be upset. And most of them are miles and miles away.
The BBC’s initial mealy-mouthed apology was pitiful. It cited the more benign rivalry that exists between European nations (ah, those arrogant French, over-organised Germans), and in doing so neatly sidestepped one hugely important fact – ethnicity. All the examples it uses to legitimise this hateful rubbish are relatively prosperous countries full of white people. How about if the Lads had described Africans as lazy, feckless etc? Or Pakistanis?
What’s more, this was all spouted by the presenters on one of the BBC’s most successful programmes, with ratings that could only fail to impress Simon Cowell (very fast lap time). Forget the World Service; overseas, Top Gear is more frequently the public face of the BBC.
The Beeb’s hand-wringing suggested tolerance of casual racism, arguably the most sinister kind. It’s easy to spot the ones with the burning crosses. Besides, there is not a shred of truth in Top Gear’s “comic” stereotype. I can tell you from my own experience, living in the US, Mexicans work themselves to the bone doing all the dirty thankless jobs that the white middle-class natives won’t do.
What makes it worse is that the Lads wear this offensive behaviour as a badge of pride, pleased that they have annoyed those whom they regard, in another lazy stereotype, as sandal-wearing vegans with beards and no sense of humour.
Clarkson accused the Mexicans of having no sense of humour in his column in The Sun.
He also quoted jokes about various nations – including Britain – to tailor his argument.
“…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,” he wrote.
Despite earlier apologising for the show’s ‘feckless’ comments, the loudmouth host then ended the column with his own joke about Mexicans.
“Mexico doesn’t have an Olympic team… because anyone who can run, jump or swim is already across the border,” The Daily Mail quoted him from his column.
He added that ‘at one point on Wednesday we were receiving 200 complaints from Mexico every minute’.
The schmuck may have been understating the size of the complaints.
The Sun, by the way, is a Murdoch tabloid. So Clarkson’s swelling the flames rather than trying to tamp them down? That’s going to make things infinitely worse. Oh, it may not be evident now, but it will be later, for him and his co-hosts. And for Americans: we don’t need more of this kind of programming, no matter if it is a reality show. I think reality shows–cheap, but known to be phony and pithy–bring down IQs. Freshness has long since vanished from these kinds of shows. There are more victims of these shows, which are guaranteed to give anyone 15 minutes of notoriety. Entertainment shouldn’t ever get this low. Bad enough we still have the likes of Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh on the air waves, on this side of the pond, getting away with murder, with their media shows supposedly masquerading as free speech and public intellectualism.
There was a time when BBC2’s biggest hit was great telly even for those of us who find cars about as interesting as accountancy. But now middle-aged adolescents Clarkson, May and the little guy are trading on past glories. Rehashing their rubbish road trips… while trying far too hard not to be politically correct.
It was rank amateurism to screen such a strikingly unfunny stream of juvenile prejudice. For which the Beeb had to apologise.
What a sad episode…
No, not sad. Dangerous.