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Cheers - AE

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Sticks and stones - UPDATED

I rarely watch Top Gear these days as it's been especially ruined for the Australian audience by a commercial channel that appears to have no idea how to cut it for ads, but I do appreciate the public service they still provide by highlighting offence seekers for the rest of us. This time the professionally offended is the Mexican ambassador to Britain.
Eduardo Medina-Mora has written to the BBC about "insults" made by Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May in the show broadcast in Britain on Sunday.

In a discussion about a Mexican sports car, Hammond said vehicles reflected national characteristics so "Mexican cars are just going to be lazy".
Not his best effort at schoolboy humour, I have to say. I've seen motoring reviews before where a car has been described as lazy so on it's own that could be read as meaning underpowered or perhaps a very relaxed and indulgent ride. A little more context would be... ah.
Reviewing the Mastretta, Hammond said: "Mexican cars are just going to be lazy, feckless, flatulent, overweight, leaning against a fence asleep looking at a cactus with a blanket with a hole in the middle on as a coat."

The presenters then described Mexican food as "sick with cheese on it".

Later in the exchange, Clarkson said "we won't get any complaints about this because the Mexican ambassador's going to be sitting there with a remote control like this" - and he slumped down in his chair and faked a snore.
And that's raised the offence seeking level to DEFCON 1 just fine.
The "outrageous, vulgar and inexcusable insults" risked stirring "bigoted feelings against the Mexican people", the ambassador wrote.
No they don't. Most people take these comments for what they are: schoolboy type banter for cheap laughs. It's to be taken no more seriously than the Stig intros when they say he doesn't understand stairs and once punched a horse to the ground. Or for that matter when they insult people from parts of Britain - I vaguely recall suggestions that people from Norfolk are so backwards they all stop and point when an aircraft flies over and that the West Country is fond of incest. Or some of the abuse they pile on your northern neighbours in the US. Nobody, with the obvious exception of the increasing numbers of professional offence seekers, treats it with any seriousness.

And even if they did risk, what was it again, "stirring bigoted feelings," well so what? Just feelings, man. That's all they are. Someone else's feelings have never done me any harm, and I'm not quite sure I see how they can possibly affect a country much larger, nearly twice as populous and five thousand miles away from the UK. Feelings are as substantial as the breeze and affect someone only as much as they choose to let them. Even if you believe - and personally I doubt that you or any other offence seeker really does - that feelings and thoughts are somehow directly harmful it's still incredibly unlikely to have any effect when the total number of Mexicans most British people have ever met hovers around zero. I'd even bet that a large majority can't even name anyone from Mexico apart from Speedy Gonzales.

So true about the boy bands.

So no, Eduardo, this risks absolutely nothing of any substance happening at all. People are not really going to believe that all Mexicans are fat or lazy or wear blankets or eat sick with cheese on, they're really not. In fact, and in some ways this ought to upset you more, most Brits watching the show probably wouldn't think of Mexicans at all afterwards for the reasons I gave above: it's far away and its people are rarely encountered by the average Brit. Or at least that's what almost certainly would have happened, but of course now a lot of them will be thinking that the Mexican ambassador is thin-skinned and easily upset, and possibly wondering if that is typical instead.

It's just a few words from some middle aged TV presenters on a poky British motoring show, not the fucking end of the world (that's next year, isn't it?). Harden the fuck up.

UPDATE - A point raised by the inestimable Mrs Exile: it really shouldn't be all that difficult for Mexicans to laugh that off when they could simply point out that they were building the largest stone monuments ever at a time when Britons were still constructing huts out of twigs stuck together with shit. I think there may have been some cathedrals as well but I get her point.
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