Jeremy Clarkson is a celebrity, and a cunt, and like most celebrity cunts he has a large number of detractors and supporters.
Using the chicken and egg analogy and or theorem, you can spend endless hours arguing whether Clarkson is a celebrity because he’s a cunt, or is he a cunt because he’s a celebrity? In the end it doesn’t matter. Clarkson rightly lost his job, and, as predictable as seventeen year old goths congregating in a city centre on a Saturday, he’ll soon be back on television.
To his detractors that outcome may not seem fair, but you’re partly responsible for maintaining the popularity of his anachronistic caricature of smug entitlement. It’s become trendy to hate someone like Clarkson. He knows that anyone who unashamedly and arrogantly flaunts the right to use their wealth on disposable luxuries in a time of austerity for ‘the common’ will induce ire. Being the face of a programme that primarily focuses on a generic symbol associated with excess wealth – six figure super cars – makes it inevitable.
This meant that if Clarkson sensed Top Gear’s formula of destroying caravans, having nonsensical races and challenges, and him making orgasmic noises while testing out the latest £180,000 Aston Martin was beginning to be viewed as the tiresome dirge it is, he could revert to increasingly boorish behaviour and acts. After all, he could always rely on the predictability of a pious backlash to change the conversation.
Despite his political affinities and his recent behaviour, I recall occasions from years ago where Clarkson was insightfully witty on his chosen subject, without being trite, formulaic or having to wince through the agonising spectacle of a middle aged man trying to be a laddish bore. In the early nineties he did a series of programmes about motoring conventions in other countries. These managed to combine humour with astute observations. By focusing on motoring, which is an integral part of how many a culture functions, you actually got a genuine flavour of what these places were like, when the generic holiday shows airing at that time so often failed to. The episode that focused on Vietnam was his best offering. He imagined how slightly overweight arrogant Australians holidaying there would revel in how cheap the beer is, discovered the joys of riding a moped amid chaos, empathetically bemoaned that the locals were once forced to drive communist relics, and back then watching him suffer through driving a dreadful Soviet jeep on a pothole ridden road still carried amusement, probably because it still amused him.
That was then, and this is now, and now the appeal of his act is purely vicarious. Most people know they’ll never be as wealthy as he is, or behave the way he does or say what he does in public, but in some recess we’ve all visualised an alternate reality to suit ourselves. However, it’s sad that for some being more like Jeremy Clarkson, or being allowed to behave like him, is desirable. That’s some meagre shit.
We should remember that Clarkson is only a medium. Central to his popularity is the belief that wealth and fame ensures social mobility, and that this gives us more freedom. In certain contexts it does provide advantages, like not having to work for a living, but Clarkson’s temporary decline reaffirms there are boundaries for everyone, and that punctures a key ruse of capitalist aspiration. Not even wealth and fame can transcend the stigma associated with cuntish behaviour. No fun!
But let’s give Clarkson some credit here. Like him or not, he’s clearly a smart man, and he’s played this woeful paradigm beautifully.
Being a professional cynic with my heart firmly in it, Clarkson’s motivations for reporting himself are clear. In light of the recent events involving Rolf Harris, Stuart Hall and Jimmy Saville, and the impact that’s had on the BBC’s reputation, it certainly made it easier for the BBC to justify ‘releasing’ him, even if it was for something considerably less severe and grotesque. Clarkson’s contract was expiring, and with it having not been renewed, despite Top Gear’s huge popularity, he likely felt unappreciated. I’m sure anyone in his position would. Essentially Clarkson will have parlayed his own discontent and the BBC’s tentative responses and choices to its deteriorating public image into a bidding war for his services on the free market (appropriately, as he’s a Thatcherite), and, as a Brucie Bonus, he’ll get to avoid accusations of abandoning the BBC just to make more money.
Let’s remember that for many people in his echelon it’s all about the pride and gratification gleaned from validation. Money is of course an essential strand of that, as it denotes how much someone or something else values you. As Clarkson’s a very wealthy man I’d suggest it’s mainly now about being wanted. He needs to have his ego caressed, and that means being valued for the brand he’s built, that being him and the way he is. How events have unfolded has validated his decision. The core of his support has been reinvigorated, and this confirms that Top Gear isn’t the brand, he is. Wherever he migrates to, the viewers will follow.
We all hold people in public life, particularly entertainers, to a selective standard. For example, when listening to his music, it suits me to ignore the possibility that Michael Jackson may have been paedophile. If you derive pleasure from something, it’s not the sort of thing you want to dwell on. I’ll also freely admit that if someone told me I shouldn’t listen to Michael Jackson’s music because he might’ve been a nonce, I would tell them to fuck off, without hesitation.
So let’s accept that some people enjoy Clarkson behaving like a dickhead. It’s their prerogative if they’re prepared to ignore casual racism, and Clarkson giving producers a black-eye, as it suits their purview to see him remain on television. But let’s not assume that they’re condoning or supporting his views in the process, it isn’t that simple.
Some have employed the counter-argument that the reaction to what Clarkson did is indicative of a culture that’s become soft. Well, there was an un-proportional reaction by some of his detractors (any excuse), considering what actually happened. He isn’t some surreal ideologue trying to insight racial or sectarian hatred. He’s not a predatory nonce that was knowingly given free reign by a political establishment, he’s an embittered, insecure and flaky television presenter who probably felt he wasn’t being valued enough, and so he lashed out at someone he felt was directly responsible for that and for harming ‘his’ show and brand.
But the whole debate isn’t really about violence or bullying. It’s about fairness, of how we all should be expected to behave towards work colleges. Those defending what Clarkson did using the ‘it wasn’t that bad’, and that ‘the BBC’s punishment was too severe’ stance, are being hypocritical and myopic. Say they, me or you were to go into work and belt someone, for anything, let alone something trivial, say just because they didn’t hold the canteen door open for you, would any of us be allowed to see out the rest of our contract. What do you reckon?
So my suggestion to those who believed he shouldn’t have been sacked, go on, do what he did, then get back to me.
But I reckon you won’t and you needn’t bother anyway. Jeremy Clarkson will be back on television, so some will again get the opportunity to believe in something they’re not quite prepared to be and in a form of aspiration that doesn’t exist, others will object to the whole artifice of it, but for entirely the wrong reasons, and the rest won’t be arsed. So, as you were.
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