Jeremy Clarkson’s n-word apology
Opinion: The Movement for Jocular Insularity is getting out of hand
Screen grabbed image from Jeremy Clarkson’s Twitter feed @JeremyClarkson of the Top Gear presenter begging fans for their forgiveness after he said he “wishes to God” that his attempts to cover up a racist word during filming for Top Gear had been better. Photograph: Jeremy Clarkson/PA
This week, forces from within the British establishment made moves to silence a troublesome, unpredictable – but stubbornly popular – avatar of resistance. Many felt a satisfactory accommodation had been made with Jerry and his followers. But it seems there are still those who sweat to see him silenced.
No, you haven’t spotted a typo above. We are indulging in a spot of hilarious comic misdirection. This week, after various skirmishes following disobliging remarks about Mexico, India and Norfolk, Clarkson looked to have been filmed uttering a racist epithet.
The Daily Mirror thundered: “Under fire Jeremy Clarkson last night sparked a new racism row after he was caught using the n-word while filming for Top Gear.”
The bad news for Clarkson’s many enemies is that the story is not quite so straightforward as the Mirror pretends. Over the last 48 hours, journalists, punters and BBC executives have, we assume, been poring over the recording with the obsessive concentration Gene Hackman employed in Francis Ford Coppola’s surveillance classic The Conversation.
If (understandably enough) you can’t be bothered to dig up the recording online here’s what happened. The shag- headed libertarian gasbag finds himself unable to decide between some sort of Toyota and another sort of Subaru.
He then recites the troublesome children’s rhyme – used, somewhat shockingly, without apology in my lifetime, that begins: “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe”. When he gets to the offensive section, his voice drops into an almost unintelligible murmur that, according to your interpretation, could be viewed as embarrassed, evasive or mischievous.
We weren’t indulging in hyperbole when we drew comparisons with The Conversation. The Mirror really did hire “audio forensic experts” to tell us what we all know. The muttered section contains the phrase “catch a ni**er by the toe”.
That Clarkson effectively bleeped his own line suggested an awareness of the phrase’s ugly potency. Usually one to laugh away criticism, Jeremy has, this time, dropped his facetious tone. For the first time in his career, he issued a full and unqualified apology. “I’m sitting here begging your forgiveness for the fact my efforts obviously weren’t quite good enough,” he said.
The problem, of course, is that Jeremy has previous form in this area. If a nicer institution such as, say, Michael Palin, had been caught in such an infelicity (unlikely, it must be said) the Mirror would have paused before pushing home the knife. But it is only a few weeks since, on a Top Gear special set in Burma, Clarkson appeared to cheekily slip in a racist term for an Asian person. He has “joked” about lorry drivers killing prostitutes. He has delivered quips about the supposed indolence of Mexicans. Should you want more, be aware that “Top Gear Controversies” has a Wikipedia page all of its own.
“As you sow, so shall you reap,” the Epistles tell us.
Reactionary newspaper columnists are forever telling us that the political correctness mob has castrated the English language. Just this week, a commentator at the bottom of Daily Telegraph article on a proposed film version of Dad’s Army, managed to get angry about a version of the project that existed only his own head. “The remake will be full of ethnic minorities, PC language and will have sympathy for the Germans,” Chris from Guildford fumed. Clarkson himself pretends to live in constant terror of BBC’s thought police.
So how does he get away with it? He’s just too powerful. The sombre fact is that Clarkson is among the most influential cultural entities at large in the UK. A recent report on BBC’s Newsnight on the imagined “influx” of Romanian immigrants asked two young Romanians what might draw them to the UK.
The woman mentioned Harry Potter. The man cited Top Gear. His bestselling collections of tubthumping journalism are translated into all major languages. (Polish readers will be aware that Wiat Wedug Clarksona translates as The World According to Clarkson).
Don’t waste your time, Ian McEwan. Put away your watercolours, David Hockney. The outer world now cherishes Britain for an imagined juvenile wizard and an apparently genuine right-wing, automotive blowhard.
Ever the ironist, Clarkson seems to question just how real “Jeremy Clarkson” is. “I don’t believe what I write, any more than you believe what you say,” he once told Alastair Campbell. Yet the appeal of warm- ale, mid-grade xenophobia is genuine enough. In a few weeks, Nigel Farage, a Clarksonian if ever there were one, looks set to lead the United Kingdom Independence Party to victory in the Euro elections.
The Movement for Jocular Insularity is getting out of hand and the Daily Mirror will require a sharper silver bullet to kill off its chief werewolf. This is Wiat Wedug Clarksona.