Top Smear? Oi!

Oh, guys --how could you?

And you, Captain Slow? I'm always rooting for you, mate!

Top Gear, one of BBC's most popular shows, and the #1 TV program devoted to automobiles, has accomplished another incredible feat: it has made enemies with an entire nation.

On last week's broadcast of the show, the Top Gear guys were supposed to review the new Mastretta, a car designed and produced by industrial designer Daniel Mastretta --who incidentally, was one of the teachers back when I studied design at the Universidad Iberoamericana.

And here's what happened:

See video

...Ouch!

Well, turns out the Mexican ambassador WAS awake during the show, and he did issue a formal complaint against the BBC demanding a formal apology --although not exactly the way Taiwanese animated news imagined it, I presume:

See video

Now I'm a big fan of Top Gear ever since I found the show on the BBC channel we get on Mexican cable. And I know that Jerry, James and the Hamster are always fond of making stereotyping jokes that can border on the offensive. It's part of the program's charm and the informal and even immature manner in which the guys conduct the show; they wouldn't be so successful if they decided to act serious. They are fun because they are outrageous.

But when James May writes the following message on his Twitter account, you know there's something else going on:

Can't believe all these mexicans tweeting. Apart from speedy Gonzales they've given nothing to the world apart from shit food and body odour

Oh, captain my captain...

The news received national attention here, with people who had never heard of Top Gear before complaining and attacking the trio. It was even discussed in the Mexican congress!

In the end the BBC did issue a formal apology to the ambassador, although it used the excuse that it was all part of the typical British humor, and that there was no "vindictiveness" behind what had been said during the show:

"Our own comedians make jokes about the British being terrible cooks and terrible romantics, and we in turn make jokes about the Italians being disorganised and over dramatic, the French being arrogant and the Germans being over-organised," the BBC said. It added that stereotype-based comedy was allowed within BBC guidelines in programmes where the audience knew they could expect it, as was the case with Top Gear. "Whilst it may appear offensive to those who have not watched the programme or who are unfamiliar with its humour, the executive producer has made it clear to the ambassador that that was absolutely not the show's intention," the BBC added.

The problem with stereotype-based humor is that it is something of a win-win situation for the comedian. If you complaint about it you are then accused of having an inferiority complex, and that you "can't take the joke".

And you know what's the worst thing about it? that it's right.

Let me tell you something about Mexicans: feeling offended is something of a national pastime for us. We've been here before countless of times: when an Italian singer named Tiziano Ferro said that she didn't like Mexican women because they all had moustaches --later when Tiziano came out of the closet Mexicans considered it poetic justice... go figure.

There was also all the cruel jokes and personal attacks made when the H1N1 flu virus came out, and many advertising companies or countries took the opportunity to make fun of the same classical stereotype mentioned by the Top Gear presenters. Back in those days many people took the opportunity to say that Mexicans *were* swines; we became the new lepers --something I wrote about here in this little blog.

The thing is, that it's no use attacking stereotypes. There will always be ignorant people who think we all dress with sombreros and sarape, and take the siesta under a cactus. Many tourists are amazed when they get out of the Benito Juárez International Airport, and find out the streets are filled with cars --and not burros!

What are we to do? it occurs to me that there's nothing left but to follow the example of the Tuskegee Airmen.

Back in the days when the American armed forces were still segregated, the African American men who formed the Tuskegee air crew had to work harder, and under far worse conditions than those faced by white men, in order to prove they had the required physical and mental qualifications to become combat pilots. It wasn't easy, and it sure as hell wasn't fair; but the Tuskegee men knew from experience that life never is.

In the end though, their sacrifice paid off, and they became one of the most successful combat units during the war, with bombing units actually demanding to be escorted by the Tuskegee Airmen! After them, no one inside the military dared to question the courage, capacity and patriotism of African Americans. I think this is exactly the path we should follow if we want to erode the insulting stereotypes of laziness and complacency.

And as for the Top Gear guys, if I had been in the place of the Mexican ambassador, I would have played it completely different: instead of demanding an apology, I would have invited them to visit Mexico, so they could have the chance to admire the beauty of our nation's landscapes, and the hospitality of our people.

They would have had the chance to see they had it all wrong --particularly about the food! Because let's be honest here: if Mexican food is nothing but "refried sick" then why is it you can find Mexican restaurants pretty much all around the world?

Now, if you're reading this outside the UK, ask yourself this: how many British restaurants are near your home?

...I rest my case ;)

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BrizDaz's picture
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Thank Heavens we don't have an Aussie sports car for them to review.
They see us a sheep shagging foul-mouthed alcoholics,who wear thongs (flip-flops),because we're too stupid to tie our shoe laces together...and that's just not true,because we don't have sex with sheep...that's the New Zealanders who live here,that do that sort of thing.-)
I wouldn't worry too much about what they say.
Between Aussies,Poms (the English) and Kiwis (New Zealanders),it's almost a national sport to see who can come up with the most insulting insults.
Speaking of English restaurants,there is one in our nieghbourhood named after a dish that's become an English delicacy to English sportsmen who have gotten use to being beaten by the Aussies too many times to count.
It's called SUCK EGGS .-)

thefloppy1's picture
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the HSV Commadore was badged as a Vauxhall. Top Gear team loved it but didn't dwell on it much. 570 horse power that handled like a dream and drove like a real car should drive...

"Life can be whatever you want it to be, as long as you do what your told."
LRF.

red pill junkie's picture
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Thanks, Briz ;)

It's very hypocritical to denounce the guys in Top Gear, because here in Mexico we have a tradition of making fun of Spanish immigrants from Galicia, Cubans or other minority groups. It ain't so fun when YOU are the center of the joke, I guess.

I suppose that one of the problems is not recognizing when the TV presenter is "in character". With someone like Stephen Colbert, you know that all the outrageous jokes he makes are all part of the act.

That said, May's Tweet was way out of line. Maybe it was the result of receiving a gazillion angry Tweets from offended Mexicans, but he should have known better before resorting to an angry reply. But we all make mistakes.

It's not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me...
It's all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

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earthling's picture
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Some of this is just British Humor following the Monty Python style. Nothing is holy, and nothing is serious. At least you can't tell that if its serious or not.

They probably lose track themselves.

----
We are the cat.

red pill junkie's picture
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Add to that the fact that the lines between entertainment and "serious" journalism are getting blurrier and blurrier.

It's not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me...
It's all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

Red Pill Junkie
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Greg's picture
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I was amazed by how close some of the races they had between each other using different modes of transport were. Now, after numerous seasons of finishing seconds apart despite traveling across countries and continents, it's become pretty clear that a lot of Top Gear is heavily fictionalised.

Kind regards,
Greg
-------------------------------------------
You monkeys only think you're running things
@DailyGrail

red pill junkie's picture
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Yeah. Like that race they did in Japan, with Richard and James traveling on the bullet train. The only reason why they lost to Jerry driving a super sports car is because "they got lost" --or maybe because they hate trains and couldn't bear the thought of public transportation being shown as more efficient than cars ;)

It's not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me...
It's all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

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thefloppy1's picture
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seems all good shows start off well until the ratings go through the roof....then the bullshit starts.
Myth Busters were the same. Was a good show once, then became manipulated to hold the ratings war.
Top Gear is going down the same road, people will get sick of the fictionalised events soon enough and the ratings will drop.
I don't believe anything I see or hear on the tube until I can confirm it by other means.
Lets face it, it's all about ratings which equal money, even the news is manipulated for effect to gain the upper hand on the ratings scale.
Seeing is not believing anymore. The tube is good for a bit of fictional entertainment but not much else.

Unless ofcorse you want to get people to part with their hard earned cash, then it's the best tool ever invented.

"Life can be whatever you want it to be, as long as you do what your told."
LRF.

red pill junkie's picture
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Well, it's obvious that many people don't want to see reality when they turn on the telly. They want fiction so they can escape for a few minutes from the drudge of their daily lives.

But the problem with fiction is that in order to work it has to make sense: and that means hiring a good team of writers and producers who know what they are doing.

When people became tired of the weak story-telling, along came the "reality shows". Soon TV producers were delighted to find people were willing to watch complete amateurs performing stunts that no self-respecting guild actor would dare to accept in a contract --and for less money, too!

So now we have very complex and "cross-bred" mixes of Realiteinment and entermentaries. And there's nothing fundamentally wrong with that, because it all comes down to a much larger selection for the viewer to choose from.

The problem comes when people stop telling the difference. And also when people demand to be entertained every. Single. Time.

So once again: I have nothing against Top Gear. Obviously much of the show is fictionalized, and probably the secret behind their popularity is that it's refreshing to see full-grown adults being paid for doing the things we ALL dreamed of when we were kids, and were playing with our Hotwheels toy cars as we pretended they were chased down by our plastic dinosaurs and Star Wars X-Wings at the same time :)

See video

Would that kind of TV presenters be the ideal spokespersons for the whole of Britain before the rest of the world? Er... probably not --but is that not a dream job or what? ;)

It's not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me...
It's all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

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earthling's picture
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Funny thing about their races between cars and another form of transport - the camera crews always beat them there.

----
We are the cat.

red pill junkie's picture
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They are way better than The Stig ;)

It's not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me...
It's all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

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Rick MG's picture
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I dunno, there's a fine line between being funny and being a jerk. Some people just get a kick out of being offensive, and then hide behind the "it's just a joke, don't be so serious" excuse.

BBC wrote:

"stereotype-based comedy was allowed within BBC guidelines in programmes where the audience knew they could expect it... Whilst it may appear offensive to those who have not watched the programme or who are unfamiliar with its humour..."

Right, same with "nigger" at KKK meetings... it just seems offensive because we're unfamiliar with how racist wankers have fun.

~ * ~

@levitatingcat

red pill junkie's picture
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Some people here in Mexico did say or write that, had they referred to people of dark skin or Jewish, that they would have been received a much harder reprimand. I guess Mexicans are still "fair game" :-/

But like I said, it's not like we are completely free of guilt. Back during the last Football World Cup, some Mexican comedians did very crass jokes at the expense of the South Africans --portrayed them as cannibals with a bone on their head, that sort off thing...

It's not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me...
It's all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

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Live's picture
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I believe it's funny because the social attention of it all brings it more justification of being stereotypical. Wait...what?

Sometimes we get what we need instead of what we want.

red pill junkie's picture
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Didn't you mean "social tension"? :P

It's not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me...
It's all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

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Live's picture
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I wrote a long response to your reply, however, my keyboard malfunctioned and deleted almost the entire thing. tl;dr Stereotypes are BS on the wHole /cough.

Sometimes we get what we need instead of what we want.

red pill junkie's picture
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You know, I wrote a little post about prejudice and stereotypes in this blog a while. You can find it here.

Basically, my own personal theory of why stereotypes are so easy to believe, and so difficult to eradicate, it's because our own mind functions on a basis of quick "mental sketches". My evidence that this is the case is the uncanny ability of the human brain to interpret the simplest of cartoon drawings as faces conveying some kind of emotion. That's why emoticons are so popular ;-)

That's why when we meet a person for the first time we first pay atention to the most prominent features of his/her physical appearance: his nose may be slightly bigger than yours, or her lips may be thinner. His eyes might be closer together or her ears rounder. The moment we see someone for the first time our brain is making a mental sketch of that person, using the most prominent differences between that person and yourself as a point of reference; this mental sketch is then filed and stored, ready to be pulled out the moment we need it (i.e. when we meet the same person again, in order to recognize him/her). And obviously, this must have been a very useful feature on ancient times, when recognizing someone as an outsider of the clan/tribe/village could be the difference between life and death. These mental sketches are applied not only on visible physical attributes, but also on cultural ones too, and here's when things get a lot messier. We use the mental sketches to make a quick reference about how someone from another country or religion differs from you (e.g. "The French like to eat cheese", or "Muslims don't eat pork".

The problem is when you fall under the delusion that you over-simplified "mental sketch" is an actual representation of the truth, or that it's based on factual data, when often times stereotypes are being driven by a natural reaction of xenophobia.

But caricature doesn't work without stereotypes. Now, the thing with caricature and cartoons is this: you can tell when the artist's intentions are either to flatter the person being portrayed, or is meant to be insulting.

There's this:

Sinatra by Al Hirschfeld

 

And there's this:

Katie & Tom by John Kricfalusi

 

Both are examples of caricature by means of exaggerating attributes. However, I'm pretty sure that Sinatra wouldn't find much reason to feel offended. Whereas Tom & Katie, well... you decide ;)

It's not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me...
It's all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

Red Pill Junkie
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Live's picture
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You're absolutely right, RPJ. Its niether a good thing or bad thing, simply a thing, and things aren't things without people to call them things. You also hit upon a ridiculous amount of topics in that blog post there, should've called it "Why oh why!!!"

Sometimes we get what we need instead of what we want.

BrizDaz's picture
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I know there is racism in all races around the world to some degree,including my own (Jews).But I find it sometimes amusing,sometimes scary,and sometimes both at the same time,that people will often throw into a conversation with me (a secular Jew)how much they despise Jews.
One guy even told me how much he hates Blacks and Jews (thanks for the tip)and the same guy told me how Hitler did a great job,but it was a pity he didn't finish the job.The funny thing was that the bloke who told me all this wasn't such a bad guy,just an ignorant prick.Another lady I knew for years started to tell me how you couldn't trust the Jews,because they're all evil bastards.Then I just couldn't help myself (maybe because I'm just an evil bastard,and wanted to watch her squirm.-) and said to her "what if I told you I was a Jew?".She looked at me as if I was having her on and said,"You're not.Are you?".When I told her I was,she just said,"...but you're a nice Jew".

My point is that when you blend in to a crowd,like I do to a certain degree.People will tell you the most racist things to your face,about your own race,without even batting an eyelid,because they think that they are talking to one of their own.Where as,if I was black,or Mexican looking,nobody would tell me in a casual conversation how they think all Blacks or Mexicans are evil,can't be trusted,and should all be exterminated.Unless they were deliberately trying to insult me.

Hey...I like a good joke...and that goes for Jewish jokes,too...like anyone else does.It doesn't pay to take life so seriously.But sometimes comedians will go to far and the laugh turns into an insult (like these "Top Gear" guys).And that's when people have to say,OK you're coming up pretty close to the line,maybe even crossing it...now back off.If people,especially the people who they are insulting,don't tell them where that line is,then they will just keep going until it gets real nasty.

Like the kid on "Funniest Home Videos" who whacks his old man in the nuts with a baseball bat,and everybody laughs...and then wonders why he is being punished when he goes one step further and smashes Mum in the boobs with this bat.
Sometimes the joke can go to far,until laughter turns into anger.
But really it's up to the audience to say,"OK the bat in the nuts was funny,but the bat in the boobs is a NO-NO!".

red pill junkie's picture
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It would be funny if people started talking trash about Mexicans in front of me, because frankly I fall pretty much outside what people expect my countrymen to look like —I'm 6'-4" and somewhat fair-skinned— I would then start speaking in Spanish to confuse them ;)

In fact, there was this time when my sister asked me to accompany her to a Jewish cemetery —one of her best friends died— and later she told me that EVERYBODY thought I was a member of their community —I kinda felt proud about that, since I suspect some of my ancestors were Spanish Jews forced to convert into Christianity ;)

Hey...I like a good joke...and that goes for Jewish jokes,too...like anyone else does.It doesn't pay to take life so seriously.But sometimes comedians will go to far and the laugh turns into an insult (like these "Top Gear" guys).And that's when people have to say,OK you're coming up pretty close to the line,maybe even crossing it...now back off.If people,especially the people who they are insulting,don't tell them where that line is,then they will just keep going until it gets real nasty.

I understand what you're saying, and obviously I agree with you in many ways.

Yet at the same time part of me feels that our society needs people that dare to cross those lines once in a while, you know? Because if nobody bothers to cross the lines, then how do you know they're even there?

And maybe those lines are there for reasons that are not good enough to begin with.

Take for instance comedians like George Carlin, or Lenny Bruce:

See video

I mean, now we find the idea of being ARRESTED for telling a vulgar joke completely ridiculous; and yet it's precisely thanks to people like them that we see it this way.

There's also Bill Hicks, an all-time favorite here at TDG:

See video

Or even one of the most radical examples you can find —Andy Kaufman as Tony Clifton:

See video

There was a time when Greg Bishop said something at his Radio Misterioso show; I'm paraphrasing here, but basically it was that society needs people who are in the business of offending people, because sometimes you need to pause and reflect on WHY you're feeling offended.

Obviously it's a very delicate situation, and no one has come up with a cookie-cutter solution —maybe even it's because such cookie-cutter solutions are hard to come by, that some folks resort to leaning to the other extreme of the spectrum: political correctness.

So what's to be done? I guess that in the end we should all follow Uncle Ben's sage advise

See video

It's not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me...
It's all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

Red Pill Junkie
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Inannawhimsey's picture
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Hear! Hear!

All of us, the offended, the offenders, and otherwise, have great power and thus, great responsibility. Let us learn how we actually work and function, so that we can co-create an intentional world where we all engage in the Divine Play.

---------
All that lives is holy, life delights in life.

--William Blake

BrizDaz's picture
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I'm not advocating arrest for telling an offensive or racist joke,because the comedians,or talk show hosts who do cross the line, will be ostracized by the people who help them to earn their living.
Example;Michael Richards (Kramer off "Seinfeld")

http://www.tmz.com/2006/11/20/kramers-ra...

Now,if I was in that nightclub at the time,I would be walking out also.But,there was no need to arrest him,because his career and public standing tanked after this little incident,because it's very hard to convince people that you're anything but racist after spewing forth something like that on stage...as opposed to someone like Mel Gibson (who I still like BTW) who just happens too make a lot of drunken rants,while being arrested by a Jewish cop...plus other babblings at parties and while on the phone,etc.

I always felt deeply embarrassed by the Richards incident,because I always thought he was Jewish...but I'm glad to see that he's not;

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,...

I still suspect Mel has Jewish genes though,because he could easily pass as a Jew with his genetic features.In fact I would lay good money,that if he was to have a DNA test,he and I would have a lot more in common than he would dare to think.-)

P.S. I love George Carlin and Bill Hicks,they're 2 of my all time favourites.

red pill junkie's picture
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You probably know by now just what kind of original idea Ricky Gervais had in mind for the last Golden Globe awards. It's probably a good thing someone convinced him NOT to do it ;)

But it's interesting to see the way society picks some topics as "taboo" and how pervasive they can become. Take for example this little animated clip called "The Pig Farmer".

Now, at this site where it had been posted it created a bit of a controversy because there's a very quick and subtle reference to 9/11, and some folks found that offensive, whereas other folks questioned: just when is it going to be "ok" to make a cultural reference to 9/11?

Like I said, it's a cultural thing; and in that regard it's interesting to point out how much more accepted "black humor" is here in Mexico. I remember that the first jokes about the horrible 1985 earthquake began to appear just a few months after the event! who knows, maybe it's not that surprising from a nation who openly makes fun of death.

It's not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me...
It's all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

Red Pill Junkie
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