Stay at home, everything’s wrong

Jeremy Clarkson sparks new controversy in Argentina
Jeremy Clarkson sparks new controversy in Argentina

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Top Gear isn’t your ordinary motoring programme.

Ordinary motoring programmes teach you how to get optimum fuel economy from your Honda and entertain you with moderate defensive driving techniques (before plastering a Health and Safety warning in your face). Ordinary motoring programmes do not get the local populace to pelt their crew with rocks by driving a car in a certain South American country whose plates allegedly refer to a war in 1982.

The instinctive reaction to this debacle is to take the side of the Argentineans and pelt the Top Gear team with Ofcom rocks. For many, Top Gear stopped existing in the realm of the acceptable about eighteen seasons ago. The show attracts a typical vocabulary of complaints – irreverent, pointlessly provocative, has-beens, and, of course, politically incorrect.

But have you noticed how bad we are at defining ‘political correctness’? In the mid twentieth century, the English speaking world decided that segregationist laws and attitudes towards  a) non-Caucasian races and b) those with disabilities was no longer in good political grace. For centuries these people had suffered various atrocities borne out of an impression of supremacy.  The progressive world decided they deserved better treatment; that we should make effort not to offend those whom we have wronged. This should be the essence of political correctness.

Yet, what we are being vigilantes for today is not political incorrectness. Putting Top Gear under siege in this ridiculous witch hunt against anything with the slightest potential to offend is, firstly, a waste of everyone’s time. It provides a convenient breeding ground for gossip journalism and diverts far too much attention away from issues worth paying attention to. Secondly – and more damningly – political correctness gone mad suffocates artistic talent – particularly comedic talent. This doesn’t just affect fresh faces vying to break through. Even veteran acts such as Monty Python have been ‘willingly’ forced to censor the lyrics to such songs as ‘I like Chinese’. A song ruined? Yes.

This is not to say that Top Gear has a clean political correctness record. Eight years ago, the crew caused uproar in Alabama over displaying pro-LGBT slogans on their cars as they drove through the conservative state. More recently, the presenters attracted considerable complaint over comments made about Mexico.  However, what these two controversies have in common is that they were both done to amuse. With a casualty of a thousand soldiers and civilians, the Falklands War (to which the plates H982FKL supposedly refer) is hardly a topic for comedy. It is not a joke in bad taste – it is not a joke at all.

It is such a shame that Top Gear’s track record has led to stringent scrutiny and a tendency to accuse them of wrongdoing without duly considering the situation. It’s also a shame that our misinformed concept of political correctness is murdering comedic talent. I would include some choice comments about the Daily Mail, but it wouldn’t be politically correct to offend fellow journalists, would it?

 

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