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:
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:
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 ;)