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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

by Adedamola Onfowokan, Administrive Assistant

Chances are if you’re passionate about cars you’re familiar with the UK Television show TOP GEAR. It is far and away my favorite show on television. The premise is a simple one: 3 middle aged British men span the globe and talk about everything automotive. The shows irreverent sense of humor, the great chemistry of the presenters, their tame racing driver (The Stig) and the wacky scenarios (the group once sailed three cars across the English Channel) are a compelling combination. Couple this with the shows often breathtaking cinematography, and you have a recipe for car nirvana. What does this all have to do with cultural issues you might ask?

During a recent episode, an incident occurred that had me pause in my tracks and sincerely re-evaluate my love for this show. During the news segment of the show, the presenters came upon the topic of a Mexican built sports car. At this point I expected them to address this new automobile with their usual mix of technical savvy, automotive knowledge and humor. What I got instead was an entirely too long thinly veiled cultural assassination of the Mexican culture and people. They were described by one host as “lazy, feckless and flatulent”. They go on to describe Mexican food as “refried sick” and “sick with cheese on it” (sick being a British term for vomit). They went on to mock the Mexican poncho as “a blanket with a hole in the middle” and one host made the statement “just imagine waking up and remembering you’re Mexican”. The final brazen blow came when the hosts proclaimed they would receive no blow back from the Mexican Ambassador to the UK because he would be fast asleep and snoring in front of the television at his embassy. A clip of the above exchange can be viewed here.

The show is no stranger to slightly off color humor and part of its charm is the frankness of the presenters as they discuss cars and how the automobile ties into various cultural aspects of the places they are manufactured. Everything they discuss is always tied back to the cars, but not once during this shocking diatribe did they actually give any specifications or information about this Mexican built sports car. They instead spent that time making a mockery of Mexican people and the Mexican culture. I began to ask myself some questions: Why do these three white male presenters feel so comfortable saying such things on British national television? Is this a cultural norm in the UK? What if the presenters were not all white but a diverse group? Would this exchange still have occurred in the same way?

At the end of the day, the big question I had to ask myself was this: What is the state of cultural competency and discussion in 2011? I understand that these 3 individuals constitute a small sample size but their disdain for the Mexican community was so evident and open so as to be shocking. This type of speech is rampant on the internet where people hide behind a shroud of anonymity but I wasn’t quite expecting this when I sat down to watch the show that day. It caused me to evaluate how I talk about people from other cultures in public and private and I hope reading this causes you to do the same. If your initial reaction was to laugh at their portrayal, I have to ask how you have reacted if it was your Culture getting skewered. It’s something to think about. 

Dammy Onafowokan comes to us from Lagos, Nigeria and is a 
2004 graduate of Liberty and is husband to his wife Michelle and
father to their new daughter Addision. He enjoys graphic design
and cars, both big and small. Visit him on Facebook.

Posted at 3:44 PM | Comments (4)