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Top Gear, the UK’s favorite show when it comes to insulting Mexicans, is currently facing criticism for its recent December episode from India. While the Indian government called for the BBC to take action on the show, the show’s producers insist that the episode was not offensive at all.

As reported by The Times of India:

“The Top Gear road trip across India was filled with incidents but none of them were an insult to the Indian people or the culture of the country. Our film showed the charm, the beauty, the wealth, the poverty and the idiosyncrasies of India but there’s a vast difference between showing a country, warts and all, and insulting it,” Top Gear said in a statement yesterday.

“It’s simply not the case that we displayed a hostile or superior attitude to our hosts and that’s very clear from the way the presenters can be seen to interact with them along the way. We genuinely loved our time in India and if there were any jokes to be had they were, as ever, reflected back on the presenters rather than the Indian people,” it added.

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Ahh, Jeremy Clarkson. Last year, you offended Mexicans. This year, you go after the largest English-speaking country and one of the most Internet savvy communities in the world: India.

Credit © BBC

Last month, Clarkson and his “Top Gear” band of idiots filmed their wildly popular show in India. And Jeremy was in rare form as The Guardian reports:

During the 90-minute special, which was aired twice over the Christmas break, Clarkson made a string of jokes about the Indian food, clothes, toilets, trains and even the country’s history.

Incidents during the show included Clarkson driving a Jaguar around an Indian slum with a toilet fitted in the boot, and stripping off his trousers in public in front of two Indian dignitaries to show them how to use a trouser press. He joked that he used it to make naan bread.

Now the Indian High Commission has formally lodged a complaint to the BBC. Oops. The Guardian story continues:

“We have received a letter [of complaint] from the Indian high commission,” said a spokeswoman for Top Gear. “We will be responding directly to them in due course”.

The spokeswoman would not elaborate on the exact nature of the complaints, although a report in the Telegraph says that the high commission letter accuses the show of being “tasteless” and breaking a filming deal.

“The programme was replete with cheap jibes, tasteless humour and lacked cultural sensitivity that we expect from the BBC,” the high commission said in its letter, according to the Telegraph. “I write this to convey our deep disappointment over the documentary for its content and the tone of the presentation. You are clearly in breach of the agreement that you had entered into, completely negating our constructive and proactive facilitation.”

According the the Guardian, the UK’s most racists ambassadors—Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May—pulled their tasteless and lazy humor pranks throughout India. Here is just a snippet:

One stunt involved putting banners with seemingly innocuous slogans – such as Eat English Muffins – on the side of trains. However, the banners were strategically placed so that when the trains carriages split a new, offensive, phrase emerged: “Eat English Muff.”

The train banner stunt included one slogan that said “British IT For Your Company” that transformed into the word “Shit For Your Company”.

The BBC initially received 23 complaints about the show, which attracted five million viewers when it first aired on 28 December, although the spokeswoman said on Thursday that this number has now risen to 188.

Once again, “Top Gear” is playing to the lowest common denominator of bad and racist British humor. There is wit and then there is “Top Gear.” The fact that it is still popular only confirms that Clarkson knows his audience: better to offend with bad and lazy jokes than to try and be a bit more witty and intelligent. Controversy is a part of comedy, but only when it is good. Give us Monty Python any time.

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Before I share my latest letter to the BBC regarding the TOP GEAR Mexican controversy, let me try to summarize where this is all at right now:

  • It all started with this.

Well, here is my email which I just sent to the BBC Complaints Department today:

 

TO: Editorial Complaints Unit

BBC

Room 5168

White City

201 Wood Lane

London

W12 7TS

 

FROM: Julio Ricardo Varela

STREET

TOWN STATE ZIP

USA

 

Dear ECU:

I write to express my sincere disappointment in how the BBC handled the now infamous TOP GEAR Mexican segment, where the three hosts of the show, in the name of “parody” and “humour,” created much offense to Mexicans and US Latinos. Unfortunately, I do not accept the response by the show’s producers as appropriate. I am asking that co-hosts Jerry Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May use their massive broadcasting influence and bully pulpit to sincerely acknowledge their lack of wit and humor in the aforementioned segment.

Having reviewed your Editorial Guidelines, I would like to call attention to a few guidelines that I believe were breached by the producers and co-hosts of TOP GEAR:

Section 19: Accountability

19.1.1 The BBC is accountable to its audiences.  Their continuing trust in the BBC is a crucial part of our relationship with them.  We will act in good faith by dealing fairly and openly with them.

19.1.2 We are open in acknowledging mistakes when they are made and encourage a culture of willingness to learn from them.

Section 5: Harm and Offence

The BBC aims to reflect the world as it is, including all aspects of the human experience and the realities of the natural world.  In doing so, we balance our right to broadcast innovative and challenging content, appropriate to each of our services, with our responsibility to protect the vulnerable and avoid unjustifiable offence.

Creative risk-taking is a vital part of the BBC’s mission.  However, in all our output, the greater the risk, the greater the thought, care and planning required to bring creative content to fruition.  We must be sensitive to, and keep in touch with, generally accepted standards as well as our audiences’ expectations of our content, particularly in relation to the protection of children.  Audience expectations of our content usually vary according to the service on which it appears.

When our content includes challenging material that risks offending some of our audience we must always be able to demonstrate a clear editorial purpose, taking account of generally accepted standards, and ensure it is clearly signposted.  Such challenging material may include, but is not limited to, strong language, violence, sex, sexual violence, humiliation, distress, violation of human dignity, and discriminatory treatment or language.

5.4.1 We should judge the suitability of content for our audiences, including children, in relation to the expectations of the likely audience, taking account of the time and day on which it is available, the nature of the service and the nature of the content.
The following questions can help determine whether content will be within the expectations of the audience:

What is the likely composition of the audience, including the likely number and age range of children in the audience taking account of school time, weekends and holidays?  (We should be aware that school holidays are different in different parts of the UK.)

  • Does the talent, slot, title, genre or service carry pre-existing expectations that may be challenged by the content?
  • Has any difficult or challenging content been clearly signposted?
  • Are there any special sensitivities surrounding the slot, for example religious festivals or anniversaries of major events?
  • What is the likely “pull-through audience” (that is, what is the nature of the preceding content and what kind of audience is it likely to attract)?

In my opinion, it is clear that TOP GEAR breached these guidelines. What you say is “parody,” I think is just weak and lazy comedy that lacks intelligence and perpetuates tired and old stereotypes. Statements by your former CEO and former PM Tony Blair would confirm that I am not the only who thinks that TOP GEAR was wrong in broadcasting this offensive segment.

Here is the central point of the argument: you as a company want to global. Once you do that, you actually start broadcasting outside a UK audience, and must follow different audience expectations.

You cannot promote shows globally, profit from them, and then expect to hide behind a very weak and flimsy “lads will be lads” argument. In addition, once the segment was made public on YouTube, all bets were off. Your audience can comment and criticize. And when you BLOCKED the video, you were in fact telling people that they could not comment or share the content with others.

Social media empowers people to do so, and quite frankly, your lack of respect to these comments clearly shows that the BBC, when it comes to TOP GEAR, does not practice what it preaches. It is very likely that in the eyes of the BBC has set two double standards: wildly popular shows like TOP GEAR don’t even get a slap on the wrist, while other less popular shows could be chastised formally for a breach of guidelines. That is how I see it.

TOP GEAR had other options:

  1. Actually use comedy and parody with intelligence and wit, similar to shows like THE DAILY SHOW, THE COLBERT SHOW and others that poke fun at stereotypes with CONTEMPORARY perspectives and not ones that are still stuck in the 1950s and 2) Actually HAD fun with the controversy. Instead, Clarkson’s racist rant in The Sun made it worse, Hammond’s “apology” was a bit more sincere in nature yet lacked a true understanding as to why this segment was offensive to Mexicans and US Latinos, and May didn’t even comment to issue an apology. Why couldn’t the producers have addressed the backlash with real humor? Like bringing in the Mexican ambassador to the show or better, invite Chicharito from Manchester United and act out a public apology on television.
  2. That would have lessened the sting thousands and thousands of Mexicans and US Latinos felt when seeing the segment. But, that would take a different kind of thinking from your company. Instead of directly engaging your brand with these groups, you followed a very traditional response method that no longer applies to the current age of social media and digital content.

Sincerely,

Julio Ricardo Varela

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