Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Clarkson, Hammond and the Other Guy: The Show "Top Gear" as a Revolutionary Force for Change in China ("because how hard can it be?")

For a long time I've been a fan of Top Gear. I watched it back in the 90's when Jeremy was stuck with a bunch of other co-presenters and every week he'd regale me with his likes and dislikes in the auto world with his quintessential self-deprecating British whit. Of all the presenters I liked his segments the most. There was both an honesty and a connection with the cars he was reviewing, which continues to this day, and he seemed to be a general character which on television is a rarity in our hypersensitive politically correct world. Language, I have always felt, is used proportionately to one's passion for a subject, and his descriptions and loquaciousness in those cars could easily put Merriam-Websters to shame.

My own mother who is not a 'gear-head' and has no affinity for cars what-so-ever would watch it with me and chime in her two-cents about why a particular ride was her favorite based on his experiences and ramblings. I can remember recently on a rerun of the newer show a Ferrari F40 was matched up against one of my all time favorites, a Porsche 911 (the 959 model) and she began complaining about how ugly Ferrari's have been ever since (with the exception of the 355 of course) and how composed and well proportioned the Porsche appeared. "If I had to pick between the two, of course I'd choose the 6 cylinder boxer engine over a V8. That stupid Ferrari is only one mile faster than the Porsche!" she'd exclaim. All this from a woman who's never remembered her own daughter's birthday.

I wasn't living in England when the show was cancelled but it returned in the early naughts and is now the most watched television show on the planet. I love their cheap car challenges. I love how Clarkson and his two new co-presenters would have no reason to even be in the same air-space except that random chance brought them together. The three of them on camera are about as comfortable together as one might be meeting your parents at an orgy. They seem to be a group of presenters selected by committee that made all the odd-fitting pieces of a contraption somehow work and fit together. Normally 'group-think' doesn't work but here it works superbly because I'm sick of seeing the news (or any other show for that matter) and you see a character or reporter that you know is there because some image consultant somewhere said "we need the hot blonde because male viewers responded more positively 39% of the time." They all seem to speak their minds and love cars that exist in a range of prices. None of them comes off as particularly bright so it's truly impossible to accuse them of snobbery when they're behind the wheel of a vehicle I'll never be able to afford. I've loved their journeys to the far reaches of the planet, often with a vehicle I wouldn't be caught dead in but one they bond with so much over the course of the episode you begin to get misty when they say goodbye at the end of the show. It's strange to even say it, but they would make great leaders, right?

Revolutionary leaders and the heads of one party states throughout history have often come from ordinary backgrounds and have always looked like water heater salesman. That was always the point, that was always why they were successful. If you're going to stir some trouble for the establishment it helps if you were as plain and pasty looking as Hitler was. Mao always seemed to have the enthusiasm of baked cabbage in every photograph I've ever seen him in, and I'm sorry but no one would ever catch Franco walking out of a Dolce & Gabbana holding a cup from Starbucks. Norman Mailer once said that "the vanity of dictators is always that they are half attractive and half ugly (with the exception of Mussolini)." Truer words have never been said and they find a lot of resonance when applied to the Top Gear crew, too.

Recently I had an epiphany. Why can't we get the three of them to lead a revolution in China? Another not-too-clever smallish gentleman did exactly that some years ago and then followed up the conquest of his country with largest massacre of his own countrymen this planet has ever seen with his aptly named "Great Leap Forward." In the words of Clarkson, "how hard can it be?" We've already established the reasons for their wide appeal so they shouldn't have any problems being popular in China. Hammond of course might have some issues with the food but as future dictators they can change that, and with three of them it should be a third of the work, right?

I began thinking about some of their cross country challenges over the years and noticed a bit of a pattern. Two seasons ago they drove across the Ukraine (starting in Crimea ironically enough) which only weeks after airing was then invaded by Russia. In another episode they landed in Baghdad and proceeded to drive across Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Turkey and Israel. If anyone has read the news lately this is exactly where ISIS has been doing it's dirty work in the name of religion and Obama has recently vowed to turn into a glowing glass parking lot. They've been to the U.S. several times and even registered their disgust with the state of New Orleans one year after Ivan in an episode. They've driven across Spain, a nation that has somehow seemed to be perpetually on the edge of slipping into oblivion for the last six years due to either their massive youth unemployment or because Catalonia now wants independence. They've driven across Bolivia which is just around the corner from Urguary, a country who's president donates 90% of his salary to the poor every year. Okay I'm reaching a little on that last one but they have been to Burma/Myanmar and I haven't heard a peep from that country in a while.

Wherever these three jackasses go trouble seems to be not-too-far behind. They should do an episode in China! They've already done a half episode there which they spent catching up on some of the awful cars the Chinese have either managed to ripoff from other manufacturers or have bodged together themselves. How about a cross-country road trip in three £1,500 vehicles? They can visit all the ghost towns of China (which they've already done in Spain), see the Three Gorges Dam, a project so monumental in scale it's actually slowed the rotation of the earth, and maybe pay their respects at Tienanmen Square.

For the second time in my life the establishment in China has been getting a well deserved kick in the nuts. It's been a subject that has always been close to my heart. Sure I was young the first time it happened, but I remember. When my family returned to Toronto many years later my mother was teaching English as a second language to adults and was amazed to find so many of her students who were from China fled for the lives to Canada because almost all were directly involved with the events there. Others in her class who were "indirectly connected" to those events still fled for their lives because neighbors, cousins, or even old acquaintances were organizers and therefore by the transitive property meant they too must somehow be involved.

I think the single greatest lesson I learned in high-school was self determination. A people have the right to choose their elected leaders, even if your only choices are a bloke who went to school at Cambridge named John Jackson and his opponent who went to Oxford named Jack Johnson. Nobody selected those idiots to represent you, a bloated government and a breakdown in the meaning of community and social standards lead them to be your representatives. But I got a choice of whom I voted for, that's the beauty of a parliamentary system. People in Hong Kong right now are protesting that they don't. Their leaders are being hand picked by the junta on the mainland with sympathies that are well known to be biased towards the forced one party integration system the Communist Party of China so proudly stands for. I've been moved by all the photos I've seen of young people and pray their Secret Service isn't also looking at them also and trying to figure out who they are. In the past they've fled to Canada and elsewhere so if worst comes to worst, hopefully they will again. My father was a hippy and stood for the social disorder that existed in the 60's and it gives me warm fuzzies inside when I see the exact same thing happening now in China.

Hong Kong is a special entity in China since it was a British territory that was turned over to  China in 1997. That's amazing when you think of it. A small seed of democracy and free thought when all around it was "great leaps forward" and "cultural revolutions." Because of the United Kingdom's historic connection to Hong Kong I think it's very important that they encourage the protestors right to free speech and elected representatives. I hope this time they succeed. My thoughts and prayers are with my brave brothers and sisters in the financial district of Hong Kong.

Jakob Richardson © 2014