Monday, 1 August 2011

Disablism on Top Gear

I like cars.  In fact, I think it's fair to say that most people who know me have at least an inkling that there is a part of my heart devoted to all things with wheels that go brum.

I feed this love with websites, magazines (although only occasionally...have you seen how much they cost?) and television.  As a non-sky subscriber, my choice of car related television is relatively small.  I love the BTCC, and do watch F1, but my love of cars is not really about speed as such.  I enjoy design, tech, culture and all the other little things that combine to create the deified concept of 'car' in my heart.  Television programmes dealing with cars outside of motorsport are even fewer, though.  In fact, it's fair to say there are only two - Fifth Gear and Top Gear.

Fifth Gear tried to become Top Gear minus the clever photography.  That put me off and I stopped watching ('though I must say, things have improved from what I saw recently).  Top Gear has always been less about 'cars' than I'd like.  But this has got worse over the years, and increasingly they have courted controversy to gain ratings and the kind of rep sort by 13 year olds in a 'not as rough as they think it is' secondary school.

For my sins, I have drawn Deborah into this world of idiocy and she has borne it with grace and perseverance.  She has even done her best not to roll her eyes and throw things at the television.

But last night things changed.

This series I've been increasingly fighting the draw to watch the programme but this has been made difficult.  They featured the Eagle Speedster and re-engineered Jensen Interceptor (two of my favourite vehicles of all time) forcing me to watch at least two episodes.  Last night featured a test of two electric vehicles (Nissan Leaf and Peugeot iOn).  I am also a fan of these vehicles, but knew already the report would be flawed.  It was.  I'm tempted to list the flaws, but honestly my correct information will not change the damage done by Clarkson.  He claims that no one pays attention to him because of his bufoonish ways.  Rubbish.  People take his word for gospel.  I've already seen people quoting five year battery life etc.  Damage is done and I can't change a thing.

But this is damage that can be defended by the huge car companies who supplied them the vehicles.  It can be defended by the large number of people who actually drive electric.  Indeed, there are already a lot of messages on twitter and the internet in general explaining how an attack on the electric car was shrouded by faux impartiality.

In comparison to this, however, I've only seen a couple of references to their use of two disabled parking bays in said piece about electric vehicles.  Picture me lying down on the sofa, my feet in Deb's lap.  I was quietly grumbling about the inaccuracies of their maths etc.  And then boom.  Jaws hit the carpet.  They didn't?  They did!  How?  Why??

Four disabled parking bays, prominently displaying the markings.  I don't know if it's just my imagination (I can't check the programme at the moment as I'm away from a stable broadband connection) but I can even remember the angle of the shot emphasising the wheelchair logo.

Obviously this was a potentially illegal act.  But even if this is the case, it's never 'just' that.  It's an attack upon the vulnerable.  And that's something which more and more has been a staple of their 'humour' (which the BBC has been so quick to defend).

In trying to get Deb to watch the programme, I explained that Top Gear, though insulting of many people, was actually quite pro disability.  They'd featured a blind chap driving the reasonably priced car around the track.  They'd talked to a disabled driver at the Nurburgring.  I'm not sure I can think of any other examples...but you know, that's not bad, right?

But no.  Not only do they use the disabled parking bays, in summing up with 'electric cars don't work', the camera tracks across to the mobility scooter driving along beside them.

Deborah recently wrote about the challenges of using mobility scooters whilst holding hands.  In it she wrote that around here we have very little negative attention.  After writing this, we had a 'humourous' comment or two aimed at us by a man with all the brains and charm of...well...Jeremy Clarkson.  And this shot of the cars and the scooter was much the same thing.  It was a snigger.  These things just don't work.  Rolling their eyes.  And I'm sick of it.

After the segment finished, we turned off the television.  Over the years I have watched every episode of the 'new' format Top Gear.  I will not watch another episode ever again.

So this morning I decided to write this blog post.  Deborah's writing one of her own at the same time.  But when I went online to see what the response had been, what did I find had been the final segment of the programme?


Yes folks, they were featuring proper cripples.  War heroes.  Men who laugh in the face of access.  And these heroes were going to undertake the Dakar Rally.

If you think I'm being silly here...that maybe this story offsets the harm done with their snide anti-disability messages in the electric car piece...then take a look at this message lifted from a random forum;

"The nature of their injuries is horrific and if you missed the programme tonight then make a point of watching a repeat of these astonishing, heroic men overcoming injuries that would render lesser men hopeless cripples."

The message of pathetic cripple vs heroic cripple has been solidified.  If you're not attempting the Dakar Rally having been physically disabled in defence of your country, then you're a hopeless cripple.  A parking bay is really just enabling decrepitude.  If you want to access M&S to buy a new set of undies, try travelling across Argentina and Chile first, eh?  Just as the misinformation about electric cars has been spread far and wide, so the misinformation about what it is to be a 'good' cripple has spread.  And we don't have a huge car company to defend us.