Top Gear, produced by the BBC, is the world's most popular automotive series and is said to have 350 million viewers. The program, hosted by Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May, is not just a dry recitation of automobile arcana. It includes bizarre automotive stunts, celebrity interviews, trips to exotic locales, weird races and decidedly unPC banter which gets the hosts into trouble from time to time.
A few examples: The hosts have been accused of environmental damage caused by some of their driving stunts, they've offended various nationalities, joked about brain injury and truck drivers murdering prostitutes, and they've been accused of "homophobia". While filming in the U.S. they carried a dead cow on the roof of a Camaro, flipped off a policeman and were chased out of an Alabama town by rednecks. In the Arctic, Clarkson sipped a gin and tonic as he drove a Toyota Hilux pickup to the North Pole, justifying it by pointing out that he was in international waters.
The BBC has actually defended Top Gear in the past, stating in 2006 that "this is part of the appeal of the show [and] we trust most viewers are familiar enough with the style and tone of the show not to take offence."
Now though, the blokes at Top Gear have offended—the Mexican ambassador!
The episode in question, broadcast on January 30th, 2011, got into offensive territory when discussing the Mastretta MXT, a new Mexican sports car designed by a Mexican (of Italian ancestry), Daniel Mastretti.
Clarkson, Hammond and May refused to take the new car seriously. They used the topic as an opportunity to make fun of Mexicans. You can view the segment yourself, here, and draw your own conclusions. (For the basic write-up on the initial story, see Mexico complains about BBC show's offensive slurs, By Michael Holden, Reuters, February 1, 2011 and We're not like that, insists ambassador after Top Gear's slur on Mexicans (and their cars) as 'lazy, feckless and flatulent', By Paul Revoir, dailymail.co.uk, February 2, 2011).
Specifically, Richard Hammond said:
"Why would you want a Mexican car? Because cars reflect national characteristics don't they? Mexican cars are just going to be lazy, feckless, flatulent, overweight, leaning against a fence asleep looking at a cactus with a blanket with a hole in the middle on as a coat."
I don't agree with Hammond that Mexicans are lazy, although the stereotype of the sleeping Mexican is an old one. The "blanket with the hole in the middle" refers to the jorongo, seen here, although most Americans will be more familiar with the name poncho. As for being overweight…well, according to the OECD Mexico does have a large proportion of overweight people and of obesity (edging out the U.S. and the UK which also have high rates).
Then the blokes at Top Gear started attacking Mexican food. Hammond called it "refried sick [vomit]" while James May said it was "like sick with cheese on it".
Well, we all have our tastes, although it's fair to point out that Mexican cuisine includes a wide diversity of dishes and is enjoyed by millions of non-Mexicans. But if you don't like something, you don't like it.
Hammond joked that "imagine waking up and remembering that you're Mexican", to which Clarkson replied that then you'd just go back to sleep.
Concluding, Jeremy Clarkson said they didn't have to worry about the Mexican ambassador complaining "because at the Mexican embassy the ambassador's going to be sitting there with a remote control like this" (with these words, Clarkson acted as though he were asleep, snoring).
Well, Clarkson was certainly wrong about that! The Mexican ambassador to the United Kingdom, Eduardo Medina-Mora Icaza, sent an official letter of protest. (Here's a photo of Medina-Mora looking very indignant).
"…The presenters of the programme [Clarkson, Hammond and May] resorted to outrageous, vulgar and inexcusable insults to stir bigoted feelings against the Mexican people, their culture as well as their official Representative in the United Kingdom. These offensive, xenophobic, and humiliating remarks only serve to reinforce negative stereotypes and perpetuate prejudice against Mexico and its people…."
(Top Gear Complaint, portal.sre.gob.mx, [pdf]) Jan 31, 2011)
"…the presenters to make a public apology on their programme…I also request the assurances of the BBC that no repetition of last night's shameful conduct will occur. …"
Medina-Mora, by the way, is not a career diplomat. In fact, this is his first diplomatic assignment. He served as Mexico's Attorney General and then as Secretary of Public Safety. It was Medina-Mora who said that
"American law seems absurd to me, because ….the citizens can easily acquire arms. American society lives the consequences of this on a daily basis, and it has begun to be reflected upon as a result of that Korean [Virginia Tech Immigrant Mass Murderer Cho Seung-hui] not long ago."[Mexican Government Vs. Those "Absurd" American Gun Rights, June 20, 2007]
It's been suggested by a columnist in the Mexican media that Medina-Mora's big outcry is to gain attention, of which he has been starved for the past fourteen months. [¿A quién cuida Medina Mora?, El Universal, February 5, 2011] That makes sense.
Another Mexican living in the United Kingdom is suing Top Gear under Britain's Orwellian new Equality Law:
"Iris de la Torre, a jewelery design student in London, is bringing the claim under a new equality law. Her lawyers claim it could cost the BBC £1million in damages. They have demanded the hit BBC1 motoring show is taken off the air and an investigation made into the comments.
"The lawyers, Equal Justice, have previously taken action against Channel 4 over comments about Indian actor Shilpa Shetty, made on Celebrity Big Brother. [See here for that issue]
"….If it goes to court, the case could be the first to be brought under the Equality Act which came into force last year. The law bans anyone providing a 'service to the public' from doing anything that constitutes discrimination."
"Lawrence Davies from Equal Justice told the Guardian: 'These remarks were probably calculated and deliberate to fuel anger and hence boost ratings.
"'The presenters apparently feel that they are fighting a battle against political correctness. However, they are not permitted to use unlawful means to do so and broadcast their racist thoughts. A broadcast is a service and it is unlawful to product racist services.'"[Mexican takes legal action against Top Gear after Hammond calls her nation 'lazy, feckless and flatulent', Daily Mail, February 3, 2011]
Back in Mexico, the reaction to the Top Gear comments was hysterical.
The newspaper El Universal ran a story headed "British Parliament Asks BBC to Apologize to Mexico" (Parlamento Británico Pide a BBC Disculparse con México, February 3, 2011), leading the reader to believe that the entire Parliament voted on the matter. (In fact, six MPs just got together and signed a motion).
Wouldn't a better strategy have been to invite Top Gear to go to Mexico and produce a few shows there, rather than being so offended? They might have even gotten Clarkson, Hammond and May to find some Mexican food they liked.
As for those of us north of the border, the Mexico discussion is being cut from the episode before being broadcast in the U.S. on the BBC America channel. Apparently the Beeb doesn't want Americans exposed to it. (Too late—thanks, YouTube!) [BBC's Mexican wave: Auntie cuts Top Gear's 'outrageous, vulgar and inexcusable' jokes that offended ambassador for U.S. broadcast, February 11, 2011]
Let's put this in perspective. I agree the comments were offensive. But, in the context of Top Gear, they're not that surprising. Do Mexicans believe they are the only nationality that's been ridiculed on the show?
Jeremy Clarkson has said: "We should do a car that's quintessentially German….Give it trafficators that go like this [lifts left arm and then right arm to the side imitating Nazi salute] (laughter) A satnav [satellite navigation system] that only goes to Poland. Und ein fan belt that lasts a thousand years!"
(This joke was actually the subject of deliberations by the BBC's Programme Complaints Committee.)
On a spinoff program, Jeremy Clarkson Meets the Neighbours, he visits Spain, complains about the British having to subsidize the Spanish through the EU, and tries to get out of paying at a toll booth on the grounds that, being British, he's already paid for it, makes fun of the Spanish siesta, calling it Spain's " national sport " and, at the end of the episode, after complaining about fishing subsidies, grabs a box of fish and escapes to France.
Clarkson was accused of making "bigoted and racist" remarks for saying that Hyundai employees at a car show had eaten dog. He suggested that the Perodua Kelisa auto was fabricated by Malaysians in jungles wearing leaves for shoes.
Clarkson also pokes fun at counties in England. He says he drove "fast and recklessly" through Lincolnshire because the county is so boring. He has heaped plenty of ridicule on Norfolk—the county in which many of my ancestors dwelled.
And the ridicule of Mexico in that one episode of Top Gear pales in comparison with the things Clarkson has said over the years about the United States.
According to Clarkson, in the aftermath of Katrina, blacks in New Orleans were attacked by helicopter gunships. And he has said that "America may have given the world the space shuttle and, er, condensed milk, but behind the veneer of civilization most Americans barely have the brains to walk on their back legs".
In this video Clarkson says flat-out that in America, "Everybody's very fat, everybody's very stupid and everybody's very rude".
Wow—where was the outcry over these statements? What did our ambassador do about it? Most Americans never heard about it. And we wouldn't have cared if we had.
There's plenty of Top Gear material available on YouTube. Clarkson is very entertaining, and indeed quite unPC—in a celebrity interview he told Jay Leno that Barack Obama chose his name from Scrabble tiles.
But behind the outrageous hyperbole, Clarkson is essentially a libertarian— he has described the role of government as "building park benches and nothing else"—an enemy of political correctness and a Eurosceptic. And he's questioned mass immigration!
A few Mexican writers did criticize their country's hypocrisy. Check out at some of the things that have been broadcast on Mexican TV: "el Negro Tómas"—Mexicans in blackface imitating Africans—or this comedy show about a black African student in Mexico, with extreme stereotyping, although this time the actor is actually black. Last summer the Mexican TV coverage of the South African World Cup featured actors in blackface and a segment on a news show called "Primitivo".
Just imagine if anything even approaching that appeared in the U.S.!
Bottom line: If you're going to have free speech, you have to accept that people will say things that you don't like or agree with. But the Multicultural Left that has infected the Western world just doesn't want free speech—it wants repression.
Ironic footnote: What about the Mastretta, the new Mexican sports car that provoked this whole frenzy? Well, all the publicity actually helped promote it, increasing visitors to its website from 400 daily to almost 40,000. The company is taking orders in England and is preparing to use it as its distribution center to Europe.
Mastretta—and Mexico—should be saying "Gracias, Top Gear!"
American citizen Allan Wall (email him) recently moved back to the U.S.A. after many years residing in Mexico. In 2005, Allan served a tour of duty in Iraq with the Texas Army National Guard. His VDARE.COM articles are archived here; his Mexidata.info articles are archived here; his News With Views columns are archived here; and his website is here.