Why Top Gear may be the most dangerous TV program on the planet

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It’s time to ask a few questions about the BBC’s re-launch of Top Gear in a post-COP21 world. Top Gear has achieved the status of a cult show, and is one of the most widely, watched television programmes on the planet. It also happens to make a considerable amount of money for the BBC.

The problem is that this light and laddish offering is hugely influential and no doubt the auto and oil industries are not unhappy to see their products on it. It’s effectively a vast free advert for the vehicle and oil industries.

The elephant in the studio is that the oil and vehicle industries are precisely those that need to be transformed for the sake of the earth and its inhabitants. The days of mindless petrol-headery should be numbered but the BBC doesn’t seem to have noticed.

But in fact the BBC knows all this. The Corporation puts out some splendid environmental programmes. And precisely because of that, there is a weird disconnect going on at Bush House. A programme is aired one day on how fossil fuels are changing the climate and then on another day Top Gear comes across as if the climate crisis didn’t exist. Frankly, Aunty Beeb sometimes doesn’t seem to know which planet she’s living on.

Jeremy Clarkson has gone, but not before he took the Mickey out of environmentalism and electric cars. According to George Monbiot of the Guardian his tactics in criticising electric vehicles were simply dishonest. His article paints a damning picture of an organisation which doesn’t observe its own ethical code.

It will be very interesting to see if Top Gear changes its tune under its new anchor Matt LeBlanc. The car companies, oil people and petrol-heads will be hoping it doesn’t change. Wiser heads will be looking for a more critical offering. If it’s not forthcoming it will be high time to hold the BBC to  account.

Chris Chatteris is a freelance journalist based in South Africa.  

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  • Beat Odermatt

    I am sure that most people are able to differentiate between a programme like Top Gear and environmental realities. People do watch Western movies but will not end up buying a gun and a horse. I am sure that most people (not all) can enjoy watching an entertaining TV show without having their behaviour changed. There is a need for TV programmes where people can switch off the brain and just have fun. Almost all advertising is promoting buying new goods and services, if needed or not and as such may “cause environmental harm”.

    • Alastair Leith

      i think you make good points. Then again don’t underestimate the time and effort the advertising industry put into ‘normalising’ behaviours and attitudes on their clients behalf. Show enough people drinking coke in the office on TV enough times and hey-ho now it’s cool to drink coke in the office, you didn’t even notice the shift, right?

      It’s probably less the behaviours from this show but more the attitudes where they are doing product placement for a reason (small cars are for wimps and sissies, energy efficiency sux, driving a power well made car makes me a power well made person). For this reason Beeb would do well to just sell it off to a commercial station in the UK.

      • Beat Odermatt

        I agree in some ways but slick advertising has always been an effective way of making the stupid getting rid of their hard earned dollars faster. I am sure that the majority of people can differentiate between spin and reality. We have alcohol advertising to children during the day dressed up as sporting events. A lot more people are getting killing from the impact of alcohol then watching a petrol head show.

        • Alastair Leith

          Well you could compare it with Nazi propaganda too and therefore conclude it’s all harmless fun. I’d agree sports advertising for alcohol only servers to provided a defence against any future public health efforts to challenge attitudes to binge drinking, and consumption of alcohol in general.

          It comes down to taste, and you’ve expressed a taste for a show that mocks what it would (and does) refer to ‘political correctness’ (however a straw-man that proposition might be) and the modern attitudes towards cars that preclude a rev-head meritocracy. So the show stands to stake a pole in landscape of popular culture for that sort of thing and maintain the rage against a tidal wave of sand coming to dump on ego-ladder consumptive behaviour patterns.

          Sometimes i think the fervour of some Climate Change denialists is related to the fact it’s an area of counter-reform you’re still ‘allowed’ to be pig headed about. So successful have denialists been that Climate Change is a much avoided topic in polite conversation and social small talk, certainly amongst non-politically aligned groups because there’s always someone who will make the conversation very unpleasant very quickly. denialsits usually make sure than can cite more (cherry-picked) stats than the average punter and so carry the day with sheer will of determination.

          you can’t get away with being a male chauvinist pig, or a out-and-out racist (though booing Adam Goodes in WA seemed legit in polite society), or any number of gender, race or sexual orientation stereotypes these days. so it’s almost the outlet of last resort if you want to remain unreconstructed in a self absorbed attitude of defiance.

          • Beat Odermatt

            We have enough people trying to tell us what to say, what to watch and what to think. If the political correctness Gestapo cannot get their way then they bring out their slogan artillery by calling people racists, Nazis, Xenophobia sufferers etc. I don’t care if people watch programs which are silly to the bone. Freedom and liberty remain far more important than the views of a few hypocrites.

          • Alastair Leith

            are you sure we have enough do gooders? by what metric do we measure them, and how do we determine their efficacy, what thresholds are we to set for their activity and what other activities must we balance that against?

            who was questioning the legality of such programs anyhow (a straw-man fallacy to add to your name calling)? the author seems to be questioning the appropriateness of BBC producing and screening it as the national broadcaster in UK — one of the leading national broadcasters in the world it must be acknowledged thanks in no small part to it’s ‘natural history’ division since the 70s.

          • Beat Odermatt

            If you don’t like a program you are permitted to switch it off and watch something else. Nobody tells you what to watch. There are more brain deadening reality shows on TV for you to watch.

          • Alastair Leith

            Beat, you’d probably want to look up the definition of “ban” if you are commenting on what I or the author here has said. That Blokes World show was never banned and as far as I know it’s still on TV, doesn’t make it good show for the 21st century and prime time viewing though. Or are you suggesting we ban critiques of knuckle-dragging TV shows?

          • Beat Odermatt

            No, the do-gooders are really good entertainment in their own way. There is nothing which cannot be cut to pieces and “analysed” to find something bad. Most people are caring and love to have fun. Most people are educated and can differentiate between spin and fact. Most people are NOT racist and xenophobic and treat other people with the dignity they deserve. Most people do care for others and are environmentally aware. Do people have a right to watch senseless rubbish on TV? Top Gear is not better or worth then a huge range of senseless TV programmes. There is a big difference between entertainment and education.

          • Beat Odermatt

            Nazis were skilled in banning anything which did not fit their community standards. It seems many are trying to do the same today.

  • Chris Fraser

    EVs can be just as glamorous as a typical Top Gear car. Maybe not so noisy, but definitely faster, more luxurious, and more easily controlled, less environmentally damaging, with longer service intervals, and more efficient to run …

    • Alastair Leith

      yeah nah, they aren’t watching.

      • Beat Odermatt

        and what is the problem?

  • Miles Harding

    I would be more inclined to say the motoring press in general.

    Lug-heads like Jeremy Clarkson are essentially parroting the wider motoring press’ belief that EVs can never be relevant until they will go 500km and fill in less than 5 minutes.
    (Pretty much the exact opposite of the opinion held by any EV driver)

    It’s interesting to note that acutual high end buyers have responded by choosing Tesla over BMW, VW-AUDI and Mercedes in large numbers, outselling the S-Class, A-8 and 7-series in many markets.

    In Australia, Tesla has succeeded in doing this without (any?) paid advertising, although they do have a secret weapon: They sell in Australia for roughly what it costs to import, licence and support the vehicles — a refreshing change to the cynical luxury gouge perpetrated by the existing ICE dealers.

    • JeffJL


      Do any of the EVs sold in Australia have any marketing budget to your knowledge?

      • Miles Harding

        We don’t see very much in the press. Neither Mitsubishi nor Nissan are actively importing battery EVs at persent(1), so their sales are zero.
        Even the GM volt, which is a credible EV, isn’t being made in Right hand drive by GM at present, so holden is no longer selling them.

        I suspect that the only company actively promoting an EV at present is BMW, although Mitsubishi has been trying to sell the PHEV outlander with limited success beacuse of the price(2).

        The total number of EVs on australian roads is likely near to 2500 at present, or 0.02% of the total vehicle fleet of about 13 million. Of these, Teslas now make up the largest group at about 400 across the nation.
        At least, with such a low starting point, there’s a lot of scope to sell more EVs, with 10 doublings needed to make a significant portion of the fleet(3).

        (1) This is likely the result of the independent dealership model where the individual dealers order only the cars they think they can sell. It is not a good starting point for real innovation or disruption.

        (2) The 2016 phev retails for $49,990 versus $33,990 for the petrol 4wd version. They are working to reduce the price, but I think their advertising also works against them. The phev Outlander goes through a lot more fuel that the claimed 1.9l/100km also, all of the EV fuel economy strickers I’ve seen have defied any plausible arithmetic to arrive at the numbers shown.

        (3) Australia, with its total lack of srategic reserves and little domestic supply, will be partticularly vulnerable to oil shocks for a long time.

        A question we should all be asking is how long the current low oil price and easy supply may last as it bankrupts the high cost producers and suppresses exploration and development of the few remaining reserves.

        • JeffJL

          Thanks for the (almost article) reply Miles. As a LEAF owner myself I was not aware of it through advertising prior to buying and I have not seen any since buying.
          I really do appreciate you spending the time to reply with so much detail.

  • david_fta

    Elsewhere we read: Tesla dominates large luxury car market in US

    With all torque available from 0 rpm will suffice, I’d say Top Gear will be singing EV’s praises – so I wouldn’t worry.

  • Gyrogordini

    Top Gear – with or without JC and the lads – is pure theatre, don’t get bogged in reality Tv thinking. I am as green a ev/car fan as possible, but I thoroughly enjoy the TG affront to good taste, common sense and non-PC buffoonery. I am sure that the lads’ new Amazon ‘Not TG’ show will have its tasteless moments, but bring it on – we need the light relief from all the gloom and despair.

    • Beat Odermatt

      I agree. It is great fun and I still believe in 100%renewable energy.

  • Tim Bastable

    unfortunately,it’s new anchor isn’t Matt Le Blanc – it’s Chris Evans – DJ, Massive petrol head and personal friend of Clarkeson’s – other co – presenters include ex formula one racing team owner Eddie Jordan and German racing driver Sabine Schmitz. I’m doubtful it will be particularly green –

  • Smurf1976

    This sort of thing is what puts people off the whole “green” idea in the first place. Unnecessary rules and restrictions simply because something does not conform to some ideal.

    There’s nothing wrong with some entertainment, and that’s exactly what TG is as anyone who has ever watched the show knows full well. It’s not a factual or educational program about what sort of car you ought to buy. It’s entertainment which just happens to involve a car theme although the entertainment aspect is the dominant one there with the cars being little more than a prop really.

    I’ve watched TG and I’ve watched movies where someone gets murdered. Thus far I’ve felt no inclination to buy a Veyron or shoot someone.

    • Beat Odermatt

      Well said!

  • Phil

    Are any of these car reviewers actual long term owners ? They don’t seem to understand , care about or even mention cost of ownership issues affecting everyday buyers of ICE technology.They may “touch” on reliability , but that is generally covered by manufacturer warranties , albeit the consumer is somewhat inconvenienced by the result.

    As a prime example the entire passenger motor vehicle industry has Issues of common Rail diesels in Australia with premature and major cost engine component failures of $5 to $15k. These are NOT covered by warranty and occur far more often than you could imagine.

    Why ? , well this is due the 3-5 micron factory fitted fuel filter being clogged prematurely due numerous diesel fuel issues that would fill a book.Yet many in the industry say installing 30 micron PRE filters to avoid such damage is a waste of money. Additionally carbon buildup can be a real engine clogging issue causing damage.

    One thing for certain the EV battery pack warranties will experience no such issues as long as the correct charger is used as any “unclean” voltages can be smoothed out.

    It can be a world of pain in the diesel world with fuel contaminants , and the need for clean air and oil as well to avoid additional service costs that exceed the cost of a brand new small car.

    Meanwhile battery packs , electric drive trains and electric vehicle costs can only go down , not up. Unfortunately tyre costs will likely keep on rising.

  • newnodm

    The real Top Gear will be on Amazon.