So the Beeb were blowing their own trumpet again, nothing new there then. But had I heard that correctly? Had the announcer actually said fighting stereotypes or had my late-night chamomile cup of tea been tampered with?
Don’t ask me why but I instantly thought of the BBC’s Top Gear programme and its trio of towel-flicking, blokey presenters. For some reason every time I see Messrs Clarkson, May and Hammond I can’t help but think of Status Quo roadies. Perhaps it’s the double denim, white trainers, paunches and general obesity. Or more likely it’s just the anachronistic crassness or opinions that would make Bernard Manning seem like a paragon of liberal virtue and moderation.
Fighting stereotypes…the phrase hung around in my head. As causes come they don’t get much nobler than that. And what a comforting thought to know that at the helm of this fight is the good old BBC. And yet…I had a niggle, a little niggle but a niggle nonetheless.
Wait a minute, hadn’t BBC2’s flagship motoring programme Top Gear got into hot water a few years back for dismissing Mexicans as nothing more than a bunch of feckless, flatulent, back-stabbers? The BBC were quick to defend the programme – a huge money-spinner for the corporation in terms of international rights – taking some pains to explain and justify what it termed the show’s ‘irreverence.’
And that, as it turns out, is just the tip of a very large iceberg, a very large, irreverent iceberg.
There was plenty more stereotyping – sorry irreverence – where that had come from. The boys from Status Quo (irreverence, remember?) exceled themselves when offending the residents of the US state of Alabama back in 2009 by driving automobiles daubed with slogans such as ‘Man Love Rules ok’ and ‘NASCAR sucks.’ Hilarious.
More recently the tiresome trio turned their ‘irreverence’ on Argentinians. I steeled myself. What slogans would these mischievous little tykes daub on their cars this time? 'Llama Lovers?' 'Maradona is Gay, ok?' The possibilities were endless. Offensive yes, but not quite offensive enough for Clarkson and his cronies it seems.
They went one better. No childish scrawlings this time; this time they ‘found’ a number plate, H982 FKL. A not so subtle reference to the 1982 Falklands conflict. Bingo! You could almost see Hammond’s sniggers, hear Clarkson’s sneers.
The Falklands war was not that long ago, wounds still run deep in Argentina. If you had lost a loved one in the conflict – and many Argentinians did - one can only imagine what it must feel like to be bated by a crass mob of British TV people (29 not including the three presenters) intent on getting a cheap laugh at any cost. A mob supported – and generously so by the BBC.
Okay so let’s imagine for one moment that you actually find this deliberate act of provocation funny. Let’s imagine that it’s just three plonkers and a crew of cronies having a bit of harmless fun. By the same token, presumably there wouldn’t be any harm then in taking this wacky brand of irreverence to say, Top Gear Poland?
Presumably BBC paymasters would be more than happy to allow Clarkson, Hammond and May to drive around the streets of Warsaw taunting those whose relatives had died in the concentration camps of Sobibor or Auschwitz? I mean I’m assuming that if our three roguish Quo roadies turned up driving battered old Trabants with number plates such as AUSWTZ 45 or SBIBOR 44 then such stunts would be quite acceptable to corporation apparatchiks. Just a bit of harmless fun. For God's sake where’s your sense of humour? Where’s your irreverence?
So why allow them to taunt Argentinians? Are the Americas fair game for provocation? Are some animals indeed more equal than others? Some cultures more equal than others?
Rolling into town with all the bluster, arrogance and insensitivity of a Ryanair stag party, this bunch of BBC pets appear to think that South Americans simply don’t matter. Just a bunch of flatulent, banana republic, donkey-riding dagos, ripe for parody and exploitation, right boys?
What is really shocking though is that these offensive little forays into foreign territories are not the product of some renegade independent production company, one hell bent on gaining cheap and fleeting publicity. Top Gear is an in-house production of, you’ve guessed it, the good old BBC.
But hang on a sec, surely this can’t be the same BBC that strives to promote fairness and equal opportunities? The same BBC that promotes political correctness with all the zeal of a Spanish inquisitor? But wouldn’t such glaring double-standards be simply intolerable? At the very best grossly hypocritical?
It would appear (Pause) not (said in Clarkson voice)
Because In the cosy corridors of the BBC, some people are indeed more equal than others. Not so long ago – 2009 – to be precise, Strictly Come Dancing’s Anton Du Beck – one of the channel’s most pampered pets - referred to dance partner Laila Rouass as a ‘paki’, which was bad enough, but worse still escaped any kind of sanction other than a (mildly) slapped wrist.
But woe betide if your name happens to be Carol Thatcher, who around the same time as Du Beck made his blatantly racist comment, found herself in hot water for referring to a tennis player as a ‘golliwog’. While Du Beck remained on the BBC payroll, Thatcher was immediately shown the door. Apparently Thatcher’s remark had not been ‘jokey’ enough. Not irreverent enough, presumably.
But in the interests of ‘equality’ and ‘fairness’ surely if Mexicans and Argentinians are fair game, why not let Clarkson and his cronies have a laugh at the expense of say the Afro-Caribbean, Jewish or the Muslim communities?
Let’s send Clarkson and co into Pakistan or even better Iraq. And let them customise their cars with anti-Muslim slogans. How about ‘Allah sucks,’ or ‘Mohammad did man sex.’ I can see it now, the Top Gear goons driving around the streets of Baghdad. What a hoot! Clarkson, May and Hammond could all sport comedy Muslim beards too. I wonder how far they would get…
Top Gear Baghdad will of course never happen, because like all bullies Clarkson and his Top Gear mob are ultimately little more than cowards. South Americans are not an ethnic minority and therefore do not appear on the ubiquitous Equal Opportunity forms so beloved of organisations like the BBC. Hence they don’t matter. But they should matter, according to the BBC’s own Equal Opps policy which states:
"The BBC is committed to equal opportunities for all, irrespective of race, colour, creed, ethnic or national origins, gender, marital status, sexuality, disability or age."
Bravo! Equal opportunities and fair treatment to all then. Er, well not quite, not unless you happen to hail from the Americas, or unless your surname happens to be Thatcher. But Mr Singh from India, why that’s a different matter altogether.
Public school bully boy Clarkson is reputedly paid a whopping £12 million pounds to pedal his brand of offensive stereotyping – sorry, irreverence - around the world. Hold on, according to that announcer the BBC spends ‘thousands of pounds fighting stereotypes.’ That’s what he said. Something’s not hanging right here…
You have to laugh. While the corporation spends its thousands of pounds 'fighting stereotypes,' they are also spending £12 million promoting the very thing they claim to be at war with! I guess that’s what you call a paradox.
And on that bombshell….