I saw on twitter that Top Gear was doing a segment on cycling. I watched it and really wanted to laugh at it but sadly it wasn’t funny. So you may ask why I am rewarding it with comment. Well: last night’s episode was clearly taking a swing at cyclist, so I just wandered who watches it anyway? Who is it that thinks it is funny to see Clarkson and May saying “F-You” to cyclists?
I wanted to laugh because I have fond memories of watching Top Gear. It used to be a really important show for me. My brothers, Father and I would get together at the weekend and if it was on we would all sit together and watch it. My wife and my sister in law, once lamented that both I and my brother Marcus would just have it on in the back ground seemingly on a loop.
So whilst I would never have claimed to have been interested in cars I did like Top Gear. I found it fun. Fundamentally though (as discussed before: http://bit.ly/1pUz2a5), the format is knackered. It has been going so long that most people could probably script it. In fact I sometimes wander if someone has coded a template on a computer where you just enter the name of the super car and race track at the start and it generates a script automatically. I don’t like watching repeats, because I feel like I am wasting my life: That’s how I now always feel when Top Gear is on. It always seems like you “have seen this one before”. It really saddens me that a once great show has been reduced to the status of wall paper.
You would have to be a spectacularly stupid person to put Top Gear on and still be excited to watch it. Surely no one turns it on and thinks there is a realistic prospect of being informed, or surprised? I don’t mean that to sound harsh. The current format of Top Gear is now 12 years old. There are no comedians I can think of that would be able to withstand the amount of air time this show has had. After a while, stuff just stops being funny. There comes a point when setting caravans on fire is no funnier than being gunged by mister Blobby.
I assume they are aware of this. In the last episode I watched they showed us some activities from the 1980’s i.e. driving around their track, behaving like delinquents, “as they did in the 1980’s”. The implied message was: “Our best days are behind us, so everyone’s best days are behind us”, which is a classic trope of any old man. It is like saying “you should have worked here in the 1990’s; we used to go to the pub at lunch”. The fact is people still go to the pub at lunch: we just don’t invite boring, hard-right wing chauvinists. One of the many advantages of living in the present and not the 80’s is you can use email to surreptitiously organise a trip to the pub without the office knob-head getting wind of it. This seems to be something that has passed Jeremy Clarkson by.
Last night really seemed to be from a different era. There observational joke was that, cyclist read the Guardian or the Independent. Well some do, in transit I might down load a copy on my kindle, but I can’t remember the last time I actually, sat down and read a hardcopy cover to cover as they implied. Even Clarkson’s first joke; “Work harder and you can afford to buy a car.” It’s just from a different, era of gender relationships. In Clarkson’s film: A young fit looking man is working late at the office and closing a deal, so he can afford a car, to get him home, safely, so he can see his child, who says “Daddies home” presumably to their mother who is already at home.
It’s a weird post war, image of a family, similar to the one I grew up in, and Clarkson presumably provided for his family, but doesn’t resemble the one many people are providing for their young children today. More to the point it is a very individualistic take on life. I work hard > I can afford a car > I’m safe. Other people don’t work as hard as me > they don’t get cars > it’s their fault they are not safe.
This ideal of car ownership exists in a vacuum. How does that John Wain-esk father, stay in such good shape? Is he using his money to pay for a gym, so running on a treadmill for hours? Would he rather work, and pay for a car, or work hard and contribute to society and make the world a better place for his children? Perhaps he would rather work less hard, and have that time to spend with his family?
My primary problem, with the view Top Gear put forward was that they were comparing the reality, of cycle commuting, with the fantasy of car ownership. The fact of the matter is that on average, cyclists are fitter, healthier, richer and better educated, than the average for the UK population.
Fundamentally, we all know that the choice isn’t between driving a supercar through empty London streets and rocking up to work smelling of sweat. To contrive that shot artificially, they must have filmed very early on a summer’s morning.
The real choice is between, car ownership, which equates to being: poorer, fatter, more exposed the particulate pollution and therefore heart and lung disease or cycling: being thinner, richer, and free to have a drink before you head home. For us London worker-bees, if you don’t fancy cycling, then your alternative probably isn’t using your car, it’s cramming on the tube.
That in a nut shell is why cycling is gaining traction in London. It is simply a more efficient way for 7 million people to slide past each other and get from where they live to where they work. The only way to keep London growing is to increase the efficiency with which people can move around the city. So better infrastructure will make more people feel safer and happier to use the cheapest, healthiest mode of transport we currently have.
This week Top Gear has picked on cyclists, next time it will be someone else. That is Clarkson’s modes operandie. It looks like it has done everything it is going to do artistically and editorially. Top Gear is in a strait jacket of its own success. They have a very limited ability to experiment and try new things.
Like Homer Simpson and Joey from Friends before him Clarkson can only keep it going by increasing the stupidity of his onscreen persona. In order to court attention they have to throw slings and arrows. Like all shock Jocks, in order to maintain their core they have to alienate more and more people. Eventually, the only people they won’t have upset are your Godfrey Bloom types. They may as well have a segment on the show where they cut to Nigel Farage to say something bone chilling or rude about immigrants.
The real question is are Richard Hammond and James May going to have the courage to bring this thing to an end, or are they going to let their boss “Britain’s Foremost Motoring Journalist”, cement them into their graves beside him as his sidekicks?