Outrage at suicide remarks from controversial star
Only days after getting in trouble for an ill-judged joke, Jeremy Clarkson is back in the news: this time for making ‘tasteless’ remarks about suicide. Are angry commentators overreacting?
‘At the end of a day where Britain has seen some of its biggest strikes,’ said BBC presenter Matt Baker, ‘what we need is someone calm and level-headed.’
‘Yep,’ his co-presenter chimed in, jokingly. ‘A guest with balanced, uncontroversial opinions, who makes great effort not to offend.’ What they had, was Jeremy Clarkson a TV star and newspaper columnist who is, notoriously, one of the most provocative men in Britain.
Within minutes, he had lived up to his reputation. That day, thousands of nurses, teachers and other public sector workers had been on strike, protesting over cuts to pensions. Clarkson’s view: ‘Frankly, I’d have them all shot!’
There was nervous laughter from the audience as he continued: ‘I would take them outside and execute them in front of their families. I mean how dare they go on strike?’
The complaints were soon flooding in. Within a day, an extraordinary 21,000 people had written to the BBC to express their outrage. Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour Party, called the remarks ‘disgraceful and disgusting.’ Dave Prentis, the leader of one of the striking unions, went even further, calling on the BBC to sack Clarkson and saying that he would take ‘urgent legal advice’ on whether there might be grounds for further action.
Clarkson and the BBC both quickly issued apologies but, just when it looked like the whole affair might blow over, a new storm broke over the TV star’s weekly column in The Sun newspaper. In Saturday’s edition, Clarkson wrote an ‘exceptionally tasteless’ piece about people who commit suicide on railways. Criticising suicide victims as ‘selfish’, he called for train-drivers who hit suicidal people to just keep on driving, leaving the bodies to be eaten by animals. That way at least, he said, everyone would still get to work on time.
Again, the reaction has been fast and furious. ‘This is a man who really doesn’t understand what he is talking about,’ said one mental health professional, accusing him of trivialising suicide and mocking the dead. A left-wing comedian called Clarkson a ‘crypto-fascist’ and said she was ashamed to even be from the same country as him.
But others urged restraint. Jeremy Clarkson’s jokes are not to everyone’s taste, they argued, but the principle of free speech means he must be allowed to make them. And some shrewd observers spotted another reason for not taking Clarkson’s provocative bait: the whole point of his latest TV appearances has been to get publicity for his latest DVD. This, they pointed out, is a man who lives by creating controversy. By overreacting to his latest rant, outraged commentators are just playing into his hands.
- Is Jeremy Clarkson funny or foolish?
- Is it ever okay to say offensive things if you are joking?
- Some people called for Clarkson to be prosecuted over his comments. Should any kinds of speech be illegal? Write a law or laws on speech that you think should be enacted nationally.
- What is humour, and why does it often come with controversy? Write a short article exploring the links between the two.
Some People Say...
“Clarkson’s comments were an incitement to violence. He should be locked up.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- This isn’t the first time Clarkson has been in trouble is it?
- Not at all. Over the course of his hugely successful TV career, Clarkson has offended almost everyone there is to offend, from women to special needs children to the entire nation of Mexico.
- Yes. He compared Mexican food to ‘sick with cheese on it.’ But Clarkson isn’t the only one to play a dangerous game with his humour.
- Who are the other offenders then?
- Ricky Gervais and Jimmy Carr have both been in trouble recently for making offensive jokes about Down’s Syndrome. Further back, Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand got into terrible trouble for ‘prank-calling’ British actor Andrew Sachs and leaving lewd messages about his granddaughter on his answering machine.
- Jeremy Clarkson
- Fifty-one-year-old Jeremy Clarkson is one of British TV’s highest paid stars. He presents the BBC motoring show Top Gear, and writes a weekly column for The Sun. He is famous for his outspoken conservative views and is friends with Prime Minister David Cameron.
- Last week saw Britain’s largest public sector strikes in three decades, with protest marches in cities across the nation. Teachers, health workers and civil servants were among the groups who stopped work for the day to protest against cuts to their pensions and a raising of the retirement age.
- A crypto-fascist is a secret fascist. The word comes from the Greek kruptos, meaning ‘hidden’, and is related to words like ‘cryptic’ (mysterious) and ‘cryptography’ (the study of codes).