[DISCLAIMER: This will sound like a think piece because it is one. But stay tuned— I have some fun things to say about where Top Gear should go at the end. Trust me, they're fun.]
Today is an important turning point in Automotive journalism. Jeremy Clarkson's actions, and the response from fans, have been an embarrassment not only to Jezza himself, but to the petrolhead world as a whole. We need to take serious stock of the values of our community, the way we treat one another, and, most importantly, the degree of inclusivity that we project.
It is time to make changes to the level of diversity in the petrolhead world. I do not have statistics available to me (because I'm writing this in class and because I doubt the exist to begin with), but having interacted with numerous wings of the auto journalism world, I can tell that it is largely white and male. You will say that this is the result of self-selection, that it is just a coincidence that we are the main demographic that is interested in cars. But the lack of diversity provides for an unfortunate breeding ground for insensitivity. Just we lament the close-mindedness of forums that focus on one model (or even one generation of one model! looking at you Fox-body bros), we need to make sure that voices aside from those we agree with are heard.Clarkson's comments towards a minority member of his crew, no matter what his private apology may have looked like, were a disgrace to a community that has the potential to be open, inclusive and friendly to all.
But what is even more difficult to swallow is the way that the community as a whole reacted. Members of the petrolhead community, no doubt influenced by their role models, the central figures in this corner of the journalism world, rushed to his defense even when the extent of the allegations against him had come to light. This behavior by members of a community that has been so important to me was heartbreaking. It reflected an imitation of the same insensitivity that Clarkson had routinely displayed. But it does not occur in a vacuum. In order to make sure that our community is open and accepting, significant changes need to be made.
Much of this article so far has focused on the makeup of the community itself. But, in order to make a meaningful impact on the community as a whole, we need to think critically about who leads that community and what kind of influence they have on it. Given the events of the past few days, I think that it is time we think about how we can choose our leadership so that our community becomes one that we want to see. And I think that should start from the very, er, Top Gear.
With the inevitable demise of Top Gear as we know it, we should be looking at ways to diversify the group of presenters. This is not at all to say that we should be changing the focus of the show away from cars, because I believe we can preserve that while also making the show bring a more diverse group into the fold. By taking the stage of the most-watched [mostly] non-fiction show on earth to show the potential of a more diverse petrolhead community, we could make a significant change of the better, demonstrating that this community is open and sensitive to all.
A new Top Gear that opens up its cadre of presenters of people of color and women would be able to bring love of cars, car culture, and the petrolhead community to groups who previously couldn't see themselves being part of it. It would expand the appeal of the show without continuing to dumb it down with silly scripted nonsense. Most importantly, though, it would slowly change the way we talk about minorities in our community, which has clearly become an issue that neither we nor the role models we choose are able to do properly. With a set of presenters that demonstrate the possibility of a broad, open, and sensitive petrolhead community, the car world will be seen as having an open door to all, breaking down stereotypes about our world that are either not true or regrettably true.
Who should be on this diversified Top Gear cast? More than 80 commenters on here seem to agree with me that a crew consisting of Idris Elba, Rowan Atkinson, and Jodie Kidd (along with 'ring legend Sabine Schmitz as Stig) could be just one possibility. All four of them are vetted car nuts and come from vastly different worlds. Yet they could all hold their own presenting on the cars we know and love. Sure, it won't be the goofy show we have loved for years, the one that got me hooked on cars, but it could be for new generations. Generations that expect the faces they see everywhere, either of different gender or ethnicity, represented properly in the world around them. Generations that will need to be shown just how meaningful and good the auto community should be.
Granted, it could be said that filling these gaps in our community in this manner might be considered what Jeremy once called "box-ticking," but it really isn't for the sake of hiring minorities alone. It's about the image of our community in the eyes of the world, and it's about the degree to which we hold ourselves accountable for patterns of insensitivity.
If the world continues to see the petrolhead community as a group that places sensitivity to difference in the back seat, it will get even harder to share what we know and love with the people we know and love. And that's what we should keep in mind.
lead image: satnavsystems.com