I feel like I’m a bit late to the party here, but as the saying goes: better late than never. And perhaps it was less about my inability to be on the ball and more because I needed to take it all in, I needed to not just fly off the handle and offer up the first thought that crossed my mind as soon as I heard about the whole Clarkson-punched-a-producer news bit. I may as well tell you what that exact thought was: “Sounds about right. I bet they cooked this up for the ratings.”
Picturing the oversized, usually crabby Clarkson decking someone because they brought him all the red M&Ms when he clearly asked for only the blue ones wasn’t beyond the realm of reality based on what us, the viewing public (and let’s be honest, adoring fans) know about the infamous Top Gear host.
And I’d not have been alone in that assumption and initial knee-jerk reaction, and it’s clear I wasn’t as such rumours and opinions circulated all over the internet as soon as the news broke.
However, a week after it all went down and now that the final decision to not renew Clarkson’s contract for Top Gear has come straight from the BBC (and you can read the full news piece here), I’ve had time to read varying news reports, blogs, Facebook posts, Tweets, and rants to really piece together what I think about this whole situation.
First, I want to say that it’s clear the BBC struggled with this decision. They realize what an asset he is as a presenter, as an icon, as an international celebrity in all his harshness. Director General, Tony Hall, recognizes Clarkson’s contributions to the BBC and to Top Gear, and also acknowledges that this decision could be detrimental. This was not a knee-jerk reaction from the BBC, as Clarkson’s was with Tymon…
Jeremy Clarkson has always been the big, bad, balding buffoon we all loved to hate. I believe he’s even called himself that on a few occasions. When I had the incredible opportunity to speak with Richard Hammond on the telephone (side bar: he called me while sitting in front of his fireplace at his home enjoying a cup of tea… it was lovely) one of my questions for him was this: “Is it actually as difficult to work with Jeremy Clarkson as you all make it out to be?”
His unequivocal and no-BS answer was, yes.
And I believed him.
Here’s the thing; I don’t think Jeremy Clarkson is a very nice person. I don’t think I’d like to have a conversation with him in passing, and I sure as hell wouldn’t want to be the reporter trying to interview him (one more side bar: I was offered the chance to try and make that work and I refused -- I know I don’t have the lady balls for that). I think he’s made a career out of being the “bad guy” and has, in essence, taken on that persona even if he hadn’t meant to.
The world needs villains. We need to balance the good for some reason. We need to have a struggle, a push and a pull. Clarkson offered that push to the Hamster’s pull (and May, well, he’s just there for a clerical break between the two on occasion). While some herald Clarkson’s suspension and now firing as a glorious moment in broadcast history, as a victory for all the little guys who’ve ever been bullied or picked on, I want all of you to pick up Clarkson’s books/columns and read them. Read them all.
After you’ve made your way through nearly two decades of writing, come back and tell me you hate Clarkson as much as you do; tell me you want him to never grace your television again; tell me you never want to hear his opinion again; tell me you hope he never utters another suggestion or random observation. You’d not be able to.
In all his seeming ignorance and underhanded, racist, critical comments and observations there is a brilliance. It’s this underdog persona of his that’s kept Top Gear going for as long as it has. It’s this that’s made the original UK version the most popular of any Top Gear to surface. It’s this that’s caused his cohosts to state they’d not continue without him.
Of course, I don’t condone the violence Clarkson showed producer Oisin Tymon, and if it were my son who’d been punched in the face by a lofty, loud-mouthed, arrogant television star I’d be the first to shout “SACK HIM” at the top of my lungs. That was a horrendous decision on Clarkson’s part, and I don’t excuse his actions. However, we’re also human, we fault, we repent, we forgive, and we move on.
That’s what makes us different from the animals: Instead of mauling the pack member who decided to nip at someone’s face, we step back, discuss the situation and deal with it rationally -- at least we’re supposed to.
Obviously, Top Gear as we know it was bound to come to an end eventually. Careers end, people pass on, budgets run dry, these are facts of media outlets/shows the world over. However, when it comes to such an abrupt halt as it has in this case, that’s when it’s extra disheartening, and (let’s be honest) a little sad.
So, do I think Clarkson deserves another chance? I do. We need villains. I’ll eagerly await his next project (because he’ll surely have one). And, of course, us regular, Joe Schmo automotive journalists the world over need someone in our careers to look up to -- and, unfortunately, we all know Hammond’s just not tall enough for that.