Why men love Top Gear
More than just a car show, 'Top Gear' gives the inner petrolhead in all of us a whiff of life in the fast lane
A recent survey asked British men to vote for their dream job. Ahead of the usual suspects -- pilot, spy, professional sportsman -- by far the largest number plumped for 'Top Gear' presenter.
To put it another way, a majority of men in the UK -- and Ireland, too you suspect -- would rather wake up every morning looking like Jeremy Clarkson than David Beckham or Daniel Craig in uber-buff Bond mode.
What is it about 'Top Gear' that exerts such a primal hold on the men's collective imagination?
Yes, the cars are undoubtedly part of the appeal. Beneath our 21st-century, touchy feely veneers, what guy -- po-faced bicycle puritans types aside -- wouldn't wish to whittle away an afternoon racing a Lamborghini against a jet plane?
But come on, 'Top Gear' is hardly that glamorous all the time. Last year, the opening third of one episode was given over to Clarkson whizzing around an aerodrome somewhere in a high performance Vectra. It's hardly scoring the winning goal in the Champions' League, is it?
After all, as a species, the Petrolhead is in gentle, but inexorable decline. And with the recession looking increasingly like the start of something rather than its horrible climax, it isn't as if many of us are in a position to buy two seater Mercs or amphibious landing craft-sized 4x4s.
No, 'Top Gear' speaks to men for reasons at best distantly connected to its subject matter. What's more, it does so at a global level. By some distance the show is BBC's most lucrative export, going down as well in Tennessee, Taiwan and Tirana as in Tunbridge Wells. Some things are universal and Top Gear is apparently one of them.
Let's just say it: the reason guys go puppy eyed for 'Top Gear' is because it appeals to the idiot man-child that exists within us all. Stick a group of men in a room together -- preferably a room with a well provisioned bar and Sky sports subscription -- and watch them regress to the condition of giddy 15-year-olds. Exactly the state of mind, in other words, which Clarkson and company channel so gleefully on 'Top Gear'.
Existing in a fug of permanent arrested adolescence, Team 'Top Gear' are allowed get away with things for which most TV presenters would be jettisoned without delay. Contrast the furore in Britain over Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross' (admittedly indefensible) behaviour towards Andrew Sachs and the collective shoulder shrugging whenever Clarkson lets rip another PC-baiting jibe.
Just this week, Clarkson was embroiled in a row with George Michael after he made some unkind quips about the singer on air. "It's very fast and very, very loud. And then in the corners it will get its tail out more readily than George Michael," said Clarkson by way of passing judgement on the Jaguar XKR-S. When someone posted the offending clip on the pop star's Twitter page, he struck back immediately.
"Good grief Mr Clarkson, I wasn't implying your towering heterosexuality was in question," went Michael's cryptic response. " I had no desire to insult you! But I do now, you pig-ugly homophobic t**t!!!!!"
This, you suspect, is all in a day's slog for Clarkson and Top Gear. Recall the outrage when, largely for giggles, co-presenter Hammond embarked on a racist diatribe against Mexicans.
"Mexican cars are just going to be lazy, feckless, flatulent, leaning against a fence asleep looking at a cactus with a blanket with a hole in the middle on as a coat," he said, prompting Clarkson to quip that he was sure the Mexican ambassador would protest if only he hadn't fallen asleep in front of his TV.
Were 'Top Gear' held to the same standards as everything else on television, such remarks would probably see the offending presenters losing their jobs, or at the least forced into a grovelling climb down. Like errant schoolboys not expected to know better, we are happy to give them a free pass, however.
That's why the job of 'Top Gear' presenter is so alluring. It offers license to behave like a feckless teenager.
And, deep down, what man wouldn't embrace such an opportunity with paws outstretched?
Top Gear, RTE Two, Saturday, 8 pm