The Death of Laddism

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Hammond, Clarkson and Mays, matey synchronicity

Headlines tried to outdo each other in banality. Television transmitted endless loops of Clarkson in various poses, getting inside his car, driving his car, getting out of his car, riding his bicycle, smoking another ciggy waiting for news of the inevitable.

The Guardian went mental publishing three columns and two news reports a day, ‘BBC Meets to Decide  When to Meet over Clarkson’ and kept up the feverous interest until the inevitable arrived and Clarkson, et al, was out of the BBC for clocking his producer.

Whichever way you turned there was a photograph of Clarkson’s lined and pouched face looking lugubriously askance, and smoking a fag. Nevertheless, I regard his departure from Top Gear as an indication the end of brutish, callow Laddism is gaining pace.

An over-stretched elastic band

Top Gear under Clarkson was a good thirty minute car programme stretched to fifty-five minutes. That left half its length filled with ephemera or plain rubbish. Over all its series you could argue sixty per cent of its content was awful. It pandered to young men who see cars as fantasies. Attend car meets and you will meet them in their fast cars, polishing queens with few exceptions. When viewers complained Clarkson reminded them the programme content was his to devise.

There were some genuinely funny moments interviewing celebrities; sentimental moments remembering long-lost unreliable British sports cars underneath Union Jacks, ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ played over and over again; good informative editions such as the years of Saab, and entertainment watching celebrities tackle a race track, average drivers in an average car. Praise is also due for a lot of ground-breaking, superb fast-car-on-the-move photography with added dramatic music.

Yet, in the end it was sound and fury amounting to nothing. Three fast-aging teenagers and a lot of smashing of caravans linger in the memory. As Sunday evening chewing gum for the eyes it was half-decent.

The real world of cars.

It was full of sly right-wing crapology (carpology?) there to give the BBC an excuse to claim the BBC catered for all political attitudes, not only bolshie left-wing reporters and filmmakers. As such, it dominated car programmes for too long, to such an extent few of a different kind were commissioned while Top Gear ruled the goggle box. That was our loss.

Car makers run government policy, get vast sums in ‘welfare’ investment, taxpayers money not spent on resurfacing roads, are almost the entire GDP of small countries, dictate what we will drive rather than what would be better designed for the modern age, cover up accidents and deaths caused by unsafe, badly engineered vehicles, have union agitators for better conditions removed or shot, (see Ford and support of Argentinian Junta) and pollute the planet. On top of all that are the oil companies. They too are able to change government policy. Their bosses tell us how to vote. The ugly side of automotive love and profit was never represented by Top Gear.

Whilst there is every good reason Top Gear should exist so should other types of car programmes. That situation is easing now.

The dominance of popularity

To take the wind out of his critic’s sails Clarkson remarked the show was an entertainment that happened to have cars in it. Fine. But its influence blocked alternatives. Producers ran shy of commissioning competing car programmes. Alternatives have begun to appear, but unless jokey with lots of meaningless banter they can seem second-best to Top Gear when in fact they are superior in content, properly informative.

Top Gear magazine is not much better. It sells more copies than all other automotive rags put together but is almost unreadable, visually cluttered in layout and print font, and textually in its throw-away content of car critique. Adverts break up what clarity of presentation exists.

The three caballeros

Hammond took the role of enthusiastic, effervescent schoolboy always ready to have a go; James May the plodding introspective philosopher, eternally capable of offering a greater intelligence than the show allowed him to express, and indeed in his own subsequent television series proved he was; Clarkson was the one who had a quick smoke behind the playground toilets, a belligerent bully. He was smart. He crafted the non-insulting insult.

And he was also a jerk. Ridiculing female presenters as incompatible with car shows has taken years to overthrow. Suggesting public sector striking workers should be taken out and executed in front of their families was crass in the extreme. (See Ford and Argentinian Junta.) Was that part of his shtick? I think we got the real Clarkson every time. His need to stay in the headlines by making outrageous comment was his undoing. In the end, it was always going to be Clarkson who broke up the trio by a selfish, undisciplined act. Perhaps he knew his time was over, suicide by public antagonism. The producer he thumped will not regain his lost authority, no matter where he moves to next.

All in all, the programme needs a new format. Top Gear is another aspect of television as hamburger and hot dog stall – fast food that does you little nutritional good and probably harm if taken too often.

Laddism and good taste

The ascent of Clarkson and Top Gear ran parallel with a fundamental collapse in social sensibilities and the rise of social media conceived as private clubs where anybody could say anything about anyone. Laddism had arrived big time. Insulting your best friend, or telling a  complete stranger he is a knob-end (repeated by the intelligent Mays of Clarkson) was the banter of the moment. “You can give it but can’t take it’ rang out across the land.

Women, let men do the driving!

When it came to exploiting women, automotive periodicals were the worst manifestations, where girls who hung around boys who hung around cars all day were asked if they ‘spat or swallowed,’ and every car and motorbike magazine had a scantily clad female arranged over bonnet, saddle and handlebars. Some still do. Car companies cannot break the habit at auto shows. Nor can F1 racing throw its hands up in horror, not with its troupes of attendant ‘pit babes.’ Still, if seeking a wealthy racing driver as husband F1 is as good a place to start looking as any.

Folding magazines

Viz, an often scabrous comic folded. It never quite attained satire. MaxPower encouraged adolescents to spend all their money on over-the-top after-market gadgets and body additions to their mass-produced cars in a futile attempt to appear individual and noisy. It was one-long automotive Saturday binge and barf, sexist as hell. It hated women. It folded.

Loaded, one of the titles synonymous with the mid-1990s lads’ mag boom, is to close after 21 years. Loaded was once a top ten leading title in a booming sector, with sales of a reputed 350,000 plus only ten years ago. In recent years the rise of the internet has seen sales plummet.

The magazine’s past is not exactly littered with ethical owners. Simian Publishing, the current owners, acquired the title from Paul Baxendale-Walker, a wealthy businessman who made his loot directing and occasionally starring in his own pornographic films. The company he used was, Blue Publishing, now in administration. Before that it was owned by Vitality Publishing which got into serious debt. Vitality owned a string of laddish magazines: Superbike being one.

Incidentally, the internet petition seeking signatures to keep Clarkson in Top Gear, almost one million I am told, had very few women sign it. I wonder why?

The rot sets in

The rot began in 2009, Bauer shut down the monthly Arena after 22 years. In the same year the enterprising Dennis Publishing closed Maxim after 14 years. And Conservative politician, Michael Heseltine, saw his Haymarket Publications profits fall away a second time. There were obvious reasons his magazines fell out of popularity. They alienated the intelligent reader and went for uneducated youth.

The weekly Autocar is one of several car magazines Haymarket publishes, a place where new cars are promoted, particularly fast sports cars, duffers given less attention. It is well on its way to becoming a website only. No Robert Maxwell to bail him out, Heseltine sold off his main offices. All of those magazines once the preserve of the serious driver and mechanic altered direction to catch adolescent boy racer with little expertise in vehicle design and maintenance but a ton of arrogant opinion. That at a time when pensioner numbers throughout the United Kingdom are increasing.

Nothing lasts forever, especially crap comedians

The emergence of foul-mouthed stand up comics – fine, if you think that boosts humour – arrived at about the same time as Top Gear gained a prime-time slot. Like Top Gear presenters, the comedy of most stand ups rarely sustains anything intelligent, most are puerile. Stand ups monopolise television and radio; every show, panel show, game show, competition, or documentary, must have a stand up to front it. Three is better, laddish banter for a large fee, but far cheaper than original drama, good natural history programmes, or anything about art.

As for the Top Gear trio, they could be very funny in how they addressed each other, but just as cringe worthy when acting the fools – watch their epic failure at being clowning actors and stunt drivers on the Sweeney edition, a case of the Three sub-Stooges.

Standing room only

Two things perplexed me. How the producers managed to keep all those members of the audience standing for hours every edition, in rehearsal and recording, never offered a seat. And how the pretty girls managed to be at the front of the crowd nearest the cameras.

And then the penny dropped. No elderly people.

The show was for the lads. Cool, like. Know what I mean, mate?

Post Script:

The show was resurrected in 2016 led by radio chatterbox Chris Evans because he owns some expensive Ferraris cars, though he knows little about automobiles generally. Why would anybody watch a car show because Evans was chief presenter?

The original quartet of Clarkson, Mays, Hammond and their hardnosed producer Andy Wilman accepted megabucks to make a pastiche show for Netflix.

Since going off screen Top Gear’s competitor car show, Fifth Gear has improved immeasurably, learning a lot from TG photography techniques, and presented by a trio of knowledgeable car drivers and writers.

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12 Responses to The Death of Laddism

  1. I don’t personally care for Range Rovers, Gb; even less most of those behind the wheel of them. Please don’t tell me you drive one! 😉
    Truthfully though, I feel it’s a long time since Top Gear came anywhere close to being a serious car programme and as you say, perhaps its demise will open a window of opportunity for an adult programme on the subject (adult meant in its proper context!) Twenty years ago, I used to partake of Loaded myself but in time, I tired of the format as it became increasingly shallow and peurile. I guess that had as much to do with my own intellectual development too.

  2. Grouse Beater says:

    I drive a Smart car, and an 18 year-old battered, left-hand drive, two-door RAV4, with 147,000 miles on the clock bought for the US equivalent of £500. It cost the same to ship it to Embra.

    Like me, it leads an eventful life having seen three continents. 🙂

  3. Wuffing Dug says:

    Thank you Grouse Beater, enjoyed reading that. I stopped watching top gear when they did the England v Germany rubbish.

    Once my eyes were opened I found the show and it’s ‘presenters’ absolutely repulsive and I can’t bear them to this day.

    I hope we will gain control over broadcasting soon so we can make a good car show. Used to hate it when that tube Clarkson trvialised the engineering effort that goes into vehicle design. Wouldn’t want an old school fuddy-duddy show but a bit of balance would be good…

    Those three warmers were too far over on the wrong side of the twat spectrum.

    The rav 4 – Japanese cars – legendary reliability. Especially Toyota, Honda and Subaru. On my fist Subaru just now after 4 superb Honda’s. Had a BMW for a number of years. Nice car but not reliable – electrical gremlins and rwd is a nightmare in winter.

  4. Grouse Beater says:

    You’re not the first to tell me their BMW was unreliable. And costly to repair. German car makers are adept at covering faults and giving an impression of Teutonic durability. Porsche term their faults recall, as ‘quality inspections.’

  5. Wee Jonny says:

    Excellent again GB.
    I haven’t watched TG for years. I used to love it but then it occurred to me that near every episode was a repeat of the last.
    Three seemingly manly men would horse a super car roond a track and then as soon as a (Bonny) female was on the show they’d act like they were 5 year old bairns.

    Then you’d have the lazy racist comments about a car being too German, too French and then that wee rant they had about cars being like Mexicans. I mean WTF does that even mean – too German, too French!!!

    The Mexican crap was the very first time I sent in a complaint to the Beeb.

    Then the pish about Alfa Romeo’s!!! Every time they had an Alfa on they’d rip it to shreads then say how much they loved Alfa’s. (Talk bad aboot mi wife – fine. Talk bad aboot Alfa’s – no effin way 😉

  6. Grouse Beater says:

    I like your last remark!
    I never understood how all the English is best attitude was tolerated. It really grated. With the exception of Ariel Motor Company that makes the Atom, almost every ‘British’ car manufacturer is foreign owned. That means for the most part profits go elsewhere.

  7. Wee Jonny says:

    Yip. The English is best attitude was loved be the Rule Englitannia Club.

  8. donald says:

    I am still a bit drunk on the high truth content in your writing GB , but I cant resist a bit of follow up once I have stopped guffawing . You know you shouldn’t but you cant help yourself.
    To me cars are an ugly outdated technology that I have to put up with because Hydrogen has been successfully suppressed by the oil companies for way to long . So when I saw the dick himself shooting up a Prius with his splattering tool of come and get it , I knew then that I was witnessing public masturbation of the most puerile kind imaginable .
    But the tragedy so well instilled in the great British public is reliving past glory with a dash of derring do, based on well crafted myths repackaged by spin merchants and their ho’s in front of the camera . Twas always thus . Auntie Beeb has mastitis . Her udders creek and drag through the mud to the milking shed where they are sucked dry by grown up boys . Transmission over , its serious garage time and a compliant mistress accepts a flogging while dressed in mag wheels and fluffy dice . Page three for the spotty majority .

    Fetch me a bucket .

  9. Grouse Beater says:

    🙂 I cycled a lot when young, but couldn’t face Edinburgh’s hills these days, certainly not on a hailstone stung blustery winter’s night.

  10. donald says:

    Me too . Fixed up my old mans racer . Still manage to get on my bike to keep up a bit of fitness . As long as our heads and hearts keep up a brisk pace through the storms, that’s
    the main thing. That’s the pace I enjoy more now im getting on in years .
    I live in a green valley but my heart lies in the high places away from the madness.
    I remember how my heart leaped out of my chest the first time I saw the rocky mountains.
    The British isles were to small and crowded when I left home . Tried going back but…..

    What burns me is corporate greed and the incestuous families that drive it . They poison the simplest joys and steal the land from those who love it most for the pleasure of those who understand it least.
    Then they insult your intelligence with presenters like Clarkson promising boys own jollies for immature wallies . Here’s the formula for any aspiring TV show pilot . Indulge the ego’s of the spineless and offer them a vicarious thrill with a celeb in a humble ‘one of us’ type car . Common bond ,shared experience. The pacifier that’s keeps them sucking on the teet of mother propaganda for life. Bastards have it all figured out .

    I took the long high road and came back to a madhouse where incest was THE generation Game . Intensive farmings got nothing on these guys , though you can be sure the same people own those too.
    Sorry to rant on GB , but your incisive writing gets me fired up .

  11. Grouse Beater says:

    Getting fired up is fine. Honing it to precision is wiser. I see the press and pundits are still saying England subsidises Scotland. They just can’t control their colonial instincts.

  12. donald says:

    Point well taken . There is, as you rightly infer, another colonial instinct that works even more effectively and that is driving people to despair and reactionary madness. Then you can label them terrorists or worse . Even in their own country defending their own homes and rights!

    The labels come thick and fast when you dare to question the lies. Racist , conspiracy nut , anti semite and so on. Throw enough s*** and some of it will stick.

    I cant say I did not enjoy top gear up to a point . We all have that need to unwind into light comedy/infotainment . But its when you are lulled that you are most vulnerable. laughter is acceptance . Its how men of power seduce the young and hijack their creativity. And that’s a shame because I love to laugh with my guard down. The kings fool is his most useful tool.

    I come from a family of engineers , aerospace ,etc . Tech is in my blood and its a heady mix . BUT , and this is where I give James May credit , the man admitted that petro tech is outdated and we should be piloting mag lev’s . I have witnessed in broad daylight at low level the marvel of that technology so long withheld . Hydrogen fuel cells have been around a lot longer than most people realize too. The secret of the p51 mustangs long range was a hydrogen fuel cell supplementing its fuel supply, harvesting moisture/static electricity from the air . RJ Mitchell was developing that tech with my family. We handed it to the yanks on a platter to buy their ‘support’. We were in fact already using it.

    Yes, its all madness, war. Nobody wins. But when the lines are drawn do you stand and fight for what you believe is right ? Many shades of grey between black and white .

    ‘First learn how to use this! Then I will teach you how to use this.’

    The greatest tragedy is knowing that sometimes you are forced to play a part to confine the worst case scenario.

    The Spartans have a saying re subsidies. ‘Go bail and face ruin’. They take your wealth then lend it back at interest with a gun at your head . That’s the definition of tyranny in a nutshell.

    Two families , much alike in dignity………..

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