-THE FILTER –
Be quiet and still for a moment, and listen very hard…you should hear a faint fizzing sound…do you hear it?…shh, listen…that, my friends, is the sound of hundreds of thousands of Mexicans sizzling with anger over the comments made on Top Gear.
The hugely popular and much-loved BBC programme has royally ticked off citizens of Mexico, which happens to be where I lived for two years. Having returned only a year ago, I still have many Mexican friends and devoted readers, many of whom have personally requested that I write a rebuff in their defence.
While reviewing the Mexican-made car the Mastretta, Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond pondered “Why would you want a Mexican car? Cars reflect national characteristics, don’t they? So German cars are very well built and ruthlessly efficient, Italian cars are a bit flamboyant and quick. A Mexican car’s just going to be a lazy, feckless, flatulent, overweight, leaning against a fence asleep, looking at a cactus with a blanket with a hole in the middle of it as a coat.”
Hammond continued, “I’m sorry but just imagine waking up and remembering you’re Mexican.” “It would be brilliant,” fellow presenter Jeremy Clarkson piped up, “because you could just go straight back to sleep again! That’s why we’re not going to get any complaints about this, ‘cos the Mexican Embassy, the ambassador is going to be sitting there with a remote control like this”, at which point he slumped down, closed his eyes and pretended to be asleep, snoring loudly. As if that wasn’t enough, they also described Mexican food as “refried sick with cheese on it”.
In the manner of a trial, then, we will start with the defence of the perpetrators. Top Gear is watched by millions – even me, and I have about as much interest in cars as Clarkson has in my wardrobe. Part of what makes the show so popular is the risky banter, and let the Mexicans be assured they are not the first to be burned. It’s not about xenophobia, it’s about what they can get away with.
Let me paint you a picture of who you’re dealing with here. Clarkson alone has poked fun at more people and groups than he’s had hot dinners, including women, people in prison, Koreans, Malaysians, Germans, poor people, Italians, Chinese people (stating that they “have no souls”), and yes, even the British.
It’s funny because it annoys people.
After Hammond recovered after sustaining a serious head injury, Clarkson asked him “Are you a mental?” and the third presenter James May gave him a tissue “in case he dribbled”. The brain injury charity Headway complained but Hammond didn’t mind, because it’s banter. That’s what friends do if you’re British.
Clarkson even once pointed to elements of a German car that supposedly made it Nazi-like, and said its satellite navigation system goes only to Poland. World War II isn’t a joke in Germany, but in England we laugh about it all the time.
It’s funny because we won.
Clarkson’s views on the world are, without a doubt, right wing and ridiculous – so why do we, liberal as the English generally are, tolerate him? Because he’s an old duffer, just like grandparents who will say things so racist you’d suspect them of terrorism if they weren’t sitting in the corner wetting themselves. He gets away with it because it’s his job to; he’s harmless and has no power to influence anyone with two brain cells to rub together.
Also, it should comfort everyone to know that the whole section has been exposed by The Economist as a scripted publicity stunt. A few controversial statements gets them mentioned in every British newspaper. Unfortunately, they forgot they have a fan base in Mexico, and many have now boycotted the programme in response to the totally scripted tirade. Was it worth it?
As a comedian I engage in risky jokes a lot (and make no mistake, I plan to in this week’s column), but in all fairness to the Mexicans who have shown they are sensitive about having such fun poked at them, they already face searing prejudice from other countries. Also, while no reasonable person really believes that Chinese people have no souls or that Germans really are Nazis, people less intelligent than the Top Gear presenters do still believe ridiculous stereotypes about Mexicans.
Which brings me to my rebuff. The stereotype of Mexicans being lazy is probably the most baseless of them all; aside from the exceptionally irritating spawn of rich kids living off Daddy’s fortune (many of whom will be kidnapped for ransom at some point anyway), the Mexicans are a hardworking people. The many, many, many pictures of Mexicans sleeping you have seen may convince you otherwise.
I must admit, in my two years I saw people sleeping in: a church yard (it was hot), a bar (he was drunk), a bench (he was homeless), during the movie The Matrix (he was part American) and a lot of people take naps during the day – so would you if you worked in desert heat, ate dinner at 10pm, started your nights out at 11:30pm and got home four hours before work started.
The “refried sick”? I couldn’t agree more! The “Mexican” food served in Britain is basically refried sick with plastic cheese on it, because for some reason it’s almost impossible to find green or red mole, tamales, chiles en nogada, tacos al pastor, chicharrones…I could go on but I get depressed comparing amazing authentic cuisine with Old El Paso nonsense and burritos (or “little donkeys”) which originally come from California. Just as we think German wine is bad because they export their rubbish and keep the good stuff in their cellars, we think Mexican food is refried sick because that’s all British imitation cooking could come up with. (You should give a Frenchman an English-made quiche. It’s funny because it makes them cry.)
Every country has stereotypes; if you’re going to take comments personally, I urge you to do so from people who mean them, not grown men who play with cars and make fun of anyone or anything they see. It’s banter, and we all do it – including you! After two years in Mexico surrounded by Americans, I’ll thank you to dispel a few of your own prejudices! Do you have any idea how many times someone said to me “You’re English? Really? But your teeth are straight!” As long as we’re dispelling myths, let me be the first to say…
1. The English DO NOT have tea at 5 o’clock. The English have tea all the live-long day. 5 o’ clock is when we squish ourselves onto a crowded train and travel home from work, thinking about tea.
2. The English are not all hooligans. In fact after a football match we shake hands and sometimes even hug and kiss supporters of the other team to show no hard feelings.
3. The English do not all have bad teeth. Those who do probably just had them knocked crooked after a football match (sometimes the hand shaking gets out of hand).
4. The English are not all polite.
(Ok…that one is true.
5. The English are not all xenophobic, politically incorrect BBC presenters. Those of us who are not do apologise on behalf of those who have caused offence to fantastic and hardworking people with great food, cacti that leak alcohol and nice warm ponchos.
6. The English did not lose the American War of Independence. We let them win. We figured they must be feeling pretty bad about themselves after the embarrassingly salty tea they made at the Boston Tea Party, and thought a bit of independence would give them a confidence boost.
My god, did it work.