Thursday, 8 December 2011

Jeremy Clarkson: Why Does He Say These Things?

Jeremy Clarkson created a bit of a kerfuffle at the beginning of the month, on the BBC programme called The One Show.

For those who do not know what The One Show is, here is a link. It is aired on the BBC every day of the week in the evening, around 19.00 hours. I watch it very rarely these days. I watched it when it first started airing, which was a few years ago. It was a dull programme featuring pointless topical reports (rising water levels in Rutland Waters) and interviews with non-entities. The programme was presented by a prematurely greying corpulent man with a face like a baked potato, and a thin woman who spoke in Irish accent (probably because she was Irish).

The corpulent man with a face like a baked potato had the air of someone who had decided, probably around the time he grew pubes, that he was a catch and was not prepared to let go of the mistaken notion despite the mounting evidence to the contrary. The woman who spoke with Irish accent, for reasons best known to her (but others could guess at), had decided to accentuate the Potato Head’s grandiose delusion by responding to every lame comment he made as if he was the greatest wit since Groucho Marx. Then the Potato Head left the programme and ‘defected’ to the rival ITV.  I think he now fronts its sports programme, where he makes similar lame comments as the ones he used to make on The One Show, which are not funny in the least. His co-presenter, the woman who spoke in Irish accent, left The One Show soon after the Potato Head left the show, and I remember reading somewhere that that was because the two of them were having it off. The Potato Head also divorced his wife, I think. (I guess I could google these two to find out whether all of this is correct, but I am not interested really in these two—despite the hundreds of words I have wasted on them so far—; the person I want to write about, and I shall come to him in due course, is Jeremy Clarkson. Besides, life is too short to find out about what P-listed celebrities on British television get up to in their sordid little lives. As a further aside, I think it is a good ploy to start anything about which you are ignorant but want to be dismissive with the words ‘Life is too short . .’. When you use these words, you are conveying that while you accept you are pig-ignorant about the subject matter, you are ignorant by choice. There are more interesting or pressing matters clamouring for your attention and they take priority over the subject matter you are choosing to be ignorant about, because it is not important.)

Anyway, back to The One Show. The show is now fronted by another man (who, from certain angles has a passing resemblance, I think, to the monkeys in the extremely addictive on-line game on my mobile called Angry Birds—Rio) and a woman who does not speak in Irish accent and has a bit more flesh on her than the woman who spoke in Irish accent.

Now to Jeremy Clarkson. He is a British Journalist and television presenter. He is a man, I should think, in his fifties (although you wouldn’t think so looking at his face; he has—there is no kinder way of saying this—not aged well, probably as a  result of spending too much time in the sun for his television programme). He is about six foot tall, has a beer gut, and he hails from Doncaster. He is not a sight for the sore eyes (or stomachs) and his insistence on wearing crumpled jeans and jackets (which are tight below his armpits) is unfortunate.

What we have established so far is: (a) Clarkson comes from the part of British isles where I wouldn’t have thought there are many who are members of Mensa; (b) he is not pretty; and (c) he has roughly the same relationship to style as a bald man has to a comb.

Yet this man of below average looks and physiognomy that betrays his partiality to lager (and pies), is one of the most successful (ipso facto richest) broadcaster, presenter, and journalist in the UK today.

How has Clarkson managed it? For a start, he is white and male, which are always good things to have under your belt if you want to be successful in Britain. Mind, being white and male do not guarantee success that would make others green, but it helps.

There may be other reasons that can explain Clarkson’s success. He probably thinks, as many successful people delude themselves, that he deserves his success and has worked very hard for it. Others might think he is one of those on whom Lady Luck has smiled.

There is no doubt that Clarkson is a forceful presence on the television programme he co-presents with two other blokes. (That one of the other two looks like a hamster and will probably need a ladder to reach the breast level of any woman who is not a dwarf, and the other who sports shoulder length hair which would have been absolutely perfect for him if he were a slim young adult and not a middle-aged bloke with a tired, puffy face, helps.) The television programme Clarkson presents is called Top Gear, which, as the imaginative title suggests, is about cars. I have never been able to bring myself to watch any of the Top Gear programmes from beginning to end, although I know blokes (usually single men who wouldn’t get laid in a women’s prison with a handful of pardon papers) who are addicted to this programme. I used to know a guy who used to tape these programmes and on Sundays watched them one after another the whole afternoon. I mean, if the sight of middle aged men (none good looking) going into raptures about, I don’t know, Nissan Sunny ZX coupe or a Lotus Turbo SE sends you into raptures then this programme is your ticket. If on the other hand you hold the view that middle aged men (none good looking) talking in a faux-macho manner (calling Audi Quattro, a turbo-motherf**ker) is indescribably sad, then give this programme a miss. That said on the few occasions when I saw part of the programme, I thought Clarkson managed to look the most impressive and witty of the three presenters (which, it might be argued, is not that difficult when the other two presenters have the personalities of a washing machine and oratorical skills of a dishwasher).

Jeremy Clarkson, I am happy to confirm, is one of the presenters of an immensely popular car programme on the BBC.

He is also an entertaining writer. He used to write—probably still does—weekly columns for The Sunday Times. It is these columns which made me admire Clarkson (although not so much that I would pay £ 2 every week to access the Times website). Clarkson is a witty writer. His view point is almost always right of the centre and contrarian. The humour relies heavily on figures of speech such as hyperbole (liberal), irony (heavy), sarcasm (frequent), paradox (ditto) and litote (occasional). He has pet hates and dislikes which he expresses in a funny, if stereotypical, manner: French are cowards, Germans are humourless, Americans are fat and simple, Russians are unscrupulous etcetera. These columns have been published as compilations and some of them have gone on to become bestsellers in the UK.

The image that Clarkson has—perhaps he has deliberately cultivated it—is of a grouchy curmudgeon who is griping all the time about anything and everything. His brand of humour is sour.

Earlier this month Clarkson was on The One Show, where he was asked his views about the public sector workers who were striking on that day.

A brief background to the strike is as follows. Britain, like the rest of European countries, is in the midst of the worst recession since the last worst recession. The recession was brought about by the greed of Bankers and the insistence of the great British Public on living beyond its means for years. The government’s coffers are emptying, and the British Chancellor, George Osborne (who always looks as if he is a couple of hundred bowel motions behind the game), in-between his hectic schedule of skiing holidays in Switzerland (where he spent £17,000 in ten days) and summer vacations in San Francisco (we are all in this together, remember?), has decided that the public sector will pay. The government has proposed sweeping changes in the salaries and pensions of the public sector workers. Needless to say that the public sector workers are not happy about it, and, at te beginning of this month, heeding calls from their union, more than 2/3rd of the public sector workers went on strike.

It was this strike about which Clarkson was asked his view on The One Show.

Clarkson said that he would have the striking workers shot in front of their families. This was followed by a typical Clarkson type rant about the ‘gold plated’ pensions of the public sector workers. He left no one in doubt that he disapproved of the striking workers, although he was prepared to see the positive side of the strike. (The roads were empty so that he could drive his car very fast on the empty streets). In the same programme, he also expressed his annoyance at people who kill themselves by jumping in front of trains and delaying those on the trains (who presumably want to live).

The presenters looked visibly startled and uneasy as Clarkson ranted. Which suggests that either they were not informed by the producers what Clarkson was going to say or they are very good actors. Because, as Clarkson clarified to the Times (as quoted in the Guardian), his comments were not off the cuff. Before the programme he had had a meeting with the producers of the programme, going over the topics they wanted him to speak on, and he had given them an idea what he was going to say (he says).

There was a furore over Clarkson’s remarks. The public sector workers were not pleased and the BBC was flooded with four thousand complaints (three thousand and ninety nine of them probably from Dave Prentis). Prentis, general secretary of Unison, the union that gave the clarion call to strike, was beside himself with rage. He felt that Clarkson’s comments were ‘revolting’, ‘totally outrageous’, and ‘cannot be tolerated’.  (Of course these comments were outrageous and provocative and calculated to cause upset. That’s what Clarkson does. He can give a master class in being outrageous. He can start his own MBA in being egregious. The man is a wind-up merchant.)

Prentis demanded that Clarkson be sacked by the BBC and revealed that the union was seeking legal advice about what further action they could take against Clarkson and the BBC and whether his comments should be referred to the police. Prentis went on to suggest that if any children were watching the programme they could have been ‘scarred and upset by his [Clarkson’s] aggressive statements’.

I do not know whether Prentis contacted the Police about Clarkson’s ‘outrageous’ comments. Since we have not heard anything on the matter (so far), I assume that common sense has prevailed or else Prentis did contact the Police and was asked to go for a walk and find sex elsewhere. I should also doubt very much that there are young children all over the country waking up screaming in the middle of night, complaining of nightmares in which a fat, balding, middle aged man is shooting people in front of their families. I cannot believe that any children watched The One Show in the first place. In fact I cannot believe anyone between the ages of one to hundred would willingly watch The One Show which a crap programme.

Jeremy Clarkson, uncharacteristically, issued an apology, clarifying (to dolts deficient in humour) that he was joking when he made those comments. I believe Clarkson was almost telling the truth. I think he was making a point, using crude humour. That’s his style—to make jokes and comments that have the subtlety of a panzer. Sometimes it works; on this occasion it did not. That is the risk you take when you make crude jokes and ‘outrageous statements’. You run the risk of offending people.

It is beyond the scope of this post to go into the moral rights and wrongs of public sector workers going on strike (although that is not because I can’t make up my mind about it; I may not have any talent, but I have tons of opinion. I should say here that I know a few people who work in the public sector; they do very difficult jobs and I have always been impressed by their dedication and enthusiasm. Not everyone working in the public sector is a ‘Waste Disposal Strategic Advisor’ or ‘Volunteers Programme Coordinator'. Many have proper jobs, far more valuable than the useless jobs of the greedy toads in the Private Sector). Dave Prentis and his friends need to take a chill-pill, though. Clarkson’s comments need to be ignored. The other Dave (Cameron) got it right (for a change) when he said that Clarkson’s comments were silly. It is not worth taking them (or Clarkson) seriously. He probably does not take them (or himself) seriously.