The politics and non-politics of Jeremy Clarkson

The most disturbing aspect of the affair - apart from, you know, the whole serious assault thing - is how Top Gear supporters have turned it into a political matter. 

 I have to confess I’m a latecomer to the whole Top Gear phenomenon.

Late, as in, only in the last year.

Apparently it is quite popular.

I’d seen the promos, of course, and Jeremy Clarkson had impinged on my consciousness as a slightly out-of-place occasional panellist on QI.

My interest in cars is roughly on the same level as my interest in phrenology -  I have a car as well as a head: both have lumps in, not always where they are supposed to have them, and I have had both driven in to walls at different times of my life.

I’m also not all that sure how either work.

But I’m not likely to watch a programme on lumps in anyone’s heads, unless that programme is particularly good.

What made me watch my first ever episode of Top Gear was exposure to an extraordinarily bitter “comedy” routine by Stewart Lee, which I stumbled across while watching other UK-based stand ups on Youtube.

Lee’s routine is devoid of wit, humour or humanity but it set me wondering: just what was this programme which generated such an amazingly toxic outburst, and why were people finding this sour rant so funny?

Could the programme possibly, I wondered, be as vile as Lee suggested? So I overcame a lifelong indifference to all matters vehicular and went and had a look.

I could see its appeal. Top Gear is kind of a meat pie of tv: enjoyable and unpretentious, not totally lacking nutritional value, but not something you’d want to indulge in more than around once a month or so.

I could see it getting very annoying if exposed with much greater frequency than that.

There is the occasional inspired bit: I’m a cyclist, albeit a wobbly, slow and perspiring one, but I loved the episode Clarkson and his fellow yobbos were commissioned by London’s transport bureaucrats to come up with advertising aimed at making cycling safer.

Their offerings magnificently took the piss out of the more sanctimonious cycling advocates and the film of the Top Gear stars presenting their proposals to the transport bureaucrats was hilarious.

Sorry, fellow cyclists: anything which pulls the metaphorical nostril hairs of humourless, on-a-mission-to-save-the-world officialdom should be applauded.

Parts – quite a lot of parts, actually – of Top Gear are obviously contrived and scripted, and it has to be said Clarkson, along with his co-stars James May and Richard Hammond, are not going to win any BAFTAs for their acting.

In the process, of course, it has become notorious for carefully calculated “offences”. The whole point of these are a televised trolling: they are meant to cause a pavlovian howl from the political correct.

And the politically correct have played their part in Top Gear’s success with gusto.

Just as calls for a ban by guardians of public morals – in New Zealand, Patricia Bartlett, in the United Kingdom, Mary Whitehouse – were guaranteed to boost a programme’s ratings, so the modern, secular, internet-enabled equivalents have helped lift Clarkson and his mates to where they are now.

And then has come the fall. Clarkson is going: the essential facts of the “fracas” which led to his dismissal do not seem in dispute, even if some of the detail is.

Punching a subordinate in the face so hard the subordinate has to be taken to hospital is plain wrong.

The most disturbing aspect of the whole affair – apart from, you know the, whole serious assault thing – is the way supporters of Top Gear have turned it into a political matter.

“They” – those folk who despise the programme for its laddish disrespect for modern politically correct shibboleths - have won, this argument goes.

It is an argument which is wrong, wrong, absolutely brimming over with wrong-ability.

It is fundamentally wrong because it buys in to the most perniciously damaging left wing doctrine of the last half century: the notion that ‘everything is political’.

It is a damaging doctrine, firstly because it enables the interference of state-enabled busybodies into every aspects of life: it is implicitly totalitarian. It elevates politics above all else.

And secondly it allows people to elevate tribal political allegiances over fundamental questions of right and wrong.

Both those are profoundly un-conservative.

Right versus wrong is *always* more important than Right versus Left. 
The follies and bullying behaviour of Clarkson should not entice people who call themselves conservative to argue his case  in such a damagingly un-conservative way.

rhosking@nbr.co.nz

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