Jeremy Clarkson is wrong about offensive humor

Jeremy Clarkson has always been an offensive blowhard, that’s his schtick. However, on last week’s episode of Top Gear, he and his sidekicks Richard Hammond and James May went too far. During the news segment of the show, they brought up the Mastretta MXT, a new sports car intended to be built in Mexico. Instead of discussing the merits of this machine, the trio veered off into a racist attack on Mexicans, calling them lazy, feckless and flatulent. This sort of thing is nothing new for Clarkson who is no stranger to misogyny and political incorrectness, but this time he and his cohorts went way too far.

Since the broadcast Mexican officials have of course called for an apology, but comedian Steve Coogan has penned a brilliant counter-attack on Clarkson in the Guardian.  Coogan calls out Clarkson for attacking groups that he sees as easy targets, in this case Mexicans.  Clarkson doesn’t attack muslims or jews, but those that don’t have large organized groups defending them are in his crosshairs.

The beauty of Top Gear has long been the brilliant cinematography and the interaction between the hosts. Even people that don’t care about cars watch the show and are entertained by antics like the trek through the Amazon jungle, driving across the spine of Africa or the challenge where the trio had to create amphibious vehicles.  There is no shortage of comedic moments in these episodes. Racist attacks and bullying are simply unnecessary and uncalled for.

As Stephen Colbert has demonstrated so deftly over the years, the best comedy comes from speaking truthiness to power, not attacking the powerless. Clarkson provides a lame defense of his jokes with

“there are calls in Britain at the moment for all offensive humour to be banned. But what people don’t realise is that without offence, there can be no jokes.”

However, this is not about offensive humor. There was nothing humorous about what Jezza, Hamster and Captain Slow said last week. There is plenty of truly funny material that is offensive but comedy is best targeted at those sitting at the top of the hill abusing power. The butt of the joke should be the overweight, pompous master being carried aloft, not the impoverished litter bearers.

Attacking those that you perceive as weak only serves to demonstrate your own weakness.

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