Top Gear is racist shit and anyone who likes it is an idiot.
I could start a blogpost like that. That would be the easiest thing in the world to do. But then that would be the kind of crude, moronic stereotyping that I don't like about Top Gear, and what would that make me? Any better than them? No, not at all. I'd simply have been able to stoop down to their level - the level of a pack of chimps shrieking and whooping and baring their teeth over a freshly-cracked-open monkey's skull.
Fuck, there I go again, trying to denigrate people I don't agree with. What does that make me? "Not so easy to occupy the moral high ground when you're taking the piss out of someone and likening them to a wild animal," you'll say. (1) And you'll be right of course. So, just to make things clear. I don't think that I'm any better than anyone who watches Top Gear. I'm not here to judge. (2) I don't watch a lot of TV programmes, but that doesn't mean I look down on people who do watch those programmes. (3) And you may well enjoy that show, and think it's funny, and like it, and everything, and you might be insulted that I think you're like a pack of chimps, you in the Top Gear audience with your I'm The Stig bubblebath or whatever the fuck it is; and I'm not going to win you over that way, am I? No, I jolly well am not. So I mustn't say those things.
So anyway, Steve Coogan wrote a thing saying Top Gear was a bit smelly. Good on Coogan, I say. And I quite like it. It doesn't match the stellar qualities of this Stewart Lee routine (4), obviously, but it's a nice enough piece. And Coogan comes at it from an angle you might not expect - he says he's a big fan of the show, having driven around the Hammerhead and the Gambon and all of that in a reasonably priced car, but that the stuff about Mexicans was a bit over the mark for a Sunday night mass audience TV show. I'm paraphrasing here, but that's the general gist. Coogan doesn't resort to slagging off the Top Gear audience as a pack of chimps, as I did, and good on him; that's why he's rightly celebrated as a comic legend and I'm not. He's mastered nuance, you see. I'm having to blunder on with these boxing gloves on the keyboard. It's not so good. (5)
The danger, of course, in saying that Top Gear is racist shit and that anyone who likes it is an idiot, is that you miss the mark yourself. It's too coarse a generalisation, too broad a brush; instead of gently leading your readers to your desired conclusion, you're pushing them towards it, like they're in a shopping trolley and you're drunkenly tipping it down a flight of steps. They may well not like that approach. They may like a lighter touch. Don't we all?
Besides all of which, Top Gear isn't racist shit. It isn't even shit. It's a programme I quite like sometimes, and dislike at others. The photography and the music and all of that is marvellous to behold; you have to delight at the production values of the car bits. I even like the three farts who present it; I think they're OK, and quite fun as a team. It's not constructed as a serious investigative show, either; you know the bits they do when they're racing each other are just made up, and probably filmed over six months or something, and when they pretend they've set fire to a caravan or got an airship lost, that's all just bollocks for the television. That's fine, I don't mind that. I'm not asking for deep political insight from a triumverate of denim-clad men all doing variations on the same voice talking about cars. Why would I want that? No, as I say, I like Top Gear occasionally. I mean I'll watch it if it's on; I won't hang around on an episode if it's an old one on Dave or something - I'm not weird or anything. But there you are.
Also, calling anything racist, unless it's basically Hitler, automatically undermines you. You become denigrated by your own hyperbole; you are just some bearded lesbian Guardianista yoghurt-weaving sandal-wearing layabout CND troublemaker who smells of wool. That's all you become when you call racism racism, or something short of racism racism. You can't do it nowadays. The politically incorrect brigade will be out to get you, in their battered old spluttering white Transit van with a picture of Richard Littlejohn's weeping penis on the side (6); they will hunt you down and find you, and tell you that it's a cop out to cry racism, or play the racism card.
Besides, there are degrees of racism, or stereotyping, or laziness, or offensiveness. Some people might chuckle away at My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding and use it as the basis to wheel out a hackneyed, unfunny series of stereotypes; but does that make the programme racist in itself? I don't think so. I said over Christmas that Come Fly With Me wasn't racist, but did seem a bit outdated. That's an important distinction to make, because 'racism' or 'racist' is such a hot-button word that it can instantly land you in a world of trouble if you go using it when it's not entirely necessary. There are many more ways in which lazy stuff about Mexicans fall down than by 'racism'.
So, once again, to make it perfectly clear, I don't think that Top Gear is shit, or racist, and I certainly don't think that anyone who likes it is an idiot. I don't think that at all. And there's another, very important, point to make. I do not want it banned. This isn't about freedom of speech. This isn't some dystopian future-now-made-reality in which we're all being told off for thought crimes about celebrity car shows or slagging off female assistant referees. There are thought crimes, and the past Government was particularly assiduous at ensuring they were pursued, but it's not about freedom of speech to question whether three publicly-funded extremely wealthy civil servants in leather jackets should be accountable for not being predictable, lazy and tedious in what they say, especially when it's not very funny. It's not wrong to hope for more quality in terms of content from a premier broadcaster, particularly when, as I've said, the other production values are so high. And no, I don't want Top Gear banned. I don't want people banned from saying things that might offend other people. I don't. At all. But I am allowed my freedom of speech - that pearlescently lovely quality which seems sometimes to me to only to be treasured when talking about anti-PC comments - to say that Top Gear, on this occasion, fell short of the mark. Though I liked the bit with Boris Becker. That's not the same as wanting it to be banned. It really isn't, I promise you (7).
So, the whole first sentence was, as you're now realising, or probably realised a long time ago before you clicked the X in the top right-hand corner (8), just a ruse. A way of getting you to read what I thought about Top Gear, to introduce the idea of the controversial thing being said in order to provoke a response. Then again, it was itself just a throwaway remark, a bit of silliness, a vulgarity - though, I might add, you didn't have to chip in twelve quid a month towards the price of this, not that that should be the benchmark of whether you can be entitled to agree or disagree with something, of course. I don't regret it, but I hope you don't mind me doing it, just to kickstart this whole rambling shambles of a blogpost, which could in all seriousness have been a whole lot shorter, and a whole lot better. But there it is. Top Gear isn't shit, though sometimes it's not as good as it should be; it's not racist, though sometimes it uses lazy language and panders to daft stereotypes; and I don't want it banned, though I'm allowed to say when I think something isn't very good. That's all.
(1) There's a whole world of people who sit around on the internet waiting for the 'Aha, but!' moment to come swinging around. This would be the point at which they would be typing their initial "Aha, but!" response, which would conclude with a flourish and a "Well it just goes to show what a hypocrite you are." And there I would be, forlorn, deposed, defeated, desolated. A ruined man.
(2) That's a lie. I am here to judge, but I must create an argumentative state in which I pass judgement by appearing to balance the evidence equally. In one pan, the idea that Top Gear is racist shit, in the other, the possibility that it might not be. One is, of course, a feather; the other is a Datsun Cherry. It's not a close-run thing. Little in-joke for the petrolheads among you: "Hey, a Datsun Cherry wouldn't weigh much more than a feather!" or "Hey, a Datsun Cherry would be the heaviest thing in the world!" depending on its supposed characteristics. Do you see?
(3) Of course I do.
(4) The copious footnotes will indicate to some of you that I've recently been reading Stewart Lee's latest (excellent) book and have been inspired by the footnotery (and the jokes) therein.
(5) It really isn't. But look, I am carrying on and finishing this thing.
(6) I apologise for introducing Richard Littlejohn's weeping penis into your Sunday afternoon (or whenever you're reading this, it won't be pleasant at any time).
(7) I am secretly (well, not secretly, seeing as I'm telling you here) hoping that some people won't have bothered to read down to this sort of caveat, and will leave a comment saying that I want Top Gear banned. Then it will be me, dear reader, doing that 'Aha, but!' retort. I do look forward to that.
(8) Or if you didn't, thanks for staying with this for so long.