The Sunday Soapbox – The Top Gear Debacle

Disclaimer from the editors: We usually stay away from politics, as they are utterly boring, so this is a one off for the Sunday Soapbox. We’ll go back to our inane pop-culture bullshit in the next edition.

What a strange week has been, but it’s February and what better way to start the shortest (and strangest) month of the year with a controversy?

You probably heard about the whole thing about Top Gear and Mexico. As a Mexican with a sense of humour (yes, we do exist), I can only say this: not all of us got our panties in a twist about this, and yes, we can laugh about ourselves.

But still, I’m angry.

Why? Well, it seems a very vocal part of Mexican society can’t laugh at themselves. They can dish it out, but they can’t take it.

The result? What started as one of the usual comments from Top Gear (I’m not defending them) has now become one of the biggest news in Mexican newspapers and the issue of the day in social networks (some Facebook statuses are bordering in xenophobia).

Why? I really don’t know. It think it’s a non-issue forced into becoming an issue. The show always has had that type of humour, why complain now?

The thing is the whole thing stinks, and sadly, it’s more on our side, Mexico.

How can we, as Mexicans, take offence to a couple of stereotypes while we ourselves use them?

Let me explain a few things about our quirks as Mexicans. We have a sort of hate-love relationship with being Mexicans (you probably will get this as you read this). We are proud and shout and kick and belittle everyone who isn’t a Mexican Cabrón (a Mexican Badass). What makes you a “cabrón”? You cheat (your significant other, the police, the government, everyone), you lie, you always take the biggest slice and you do the minimum expecting maximum results.

And if you’re not a “cabrón”, then what do you are? You are called a ‘puto’ (a gay slur, really). To this very day it is still being used, especially at football matches. Kids in playground say it and it’s accepted. No one gets sued. It’s as common as punctuation. And we say those three dudes from Top Gear are racists? Bullshit.

I know we are never going to change and continue to use both “cabrón” and “puto” on a daily basis. If we are using stereotypes and slurs, again, how dare we take offence when someone does exactly the same?

It is a little grim to be a Mexican, but also, we have a sense of humour. Or had, until the joke is on us. You see, the nature of quite a few jokes in Mexico is very blokey (therefore, very un-PC) and when our neighbours in the North enter into a Moral Panic about anything, we just laughed at those “pinches gringos”.

But when the joke is on us? We complain bitterly, thump our chests and promise revenge upon that “extraño enemigo” (the foreigner). How many times has this happened? Well, for starters, every four years, our national football team shows how overpaid they are by being as useless as our Senate (who, incidentally, wanted to get iPads on the taxpayers money). Then there’s more serious stuff, like the big Swine Flu scare, where everyone in Mexico panicked, prayed to all Saints they could think of and still, to this very day, fear (for evidence, check how many restaurants in Mexico City still have that horrid alcohol-based gel.)

How many times have we, Mexico, made fun of Americans for being “paranoid” and a “bunch of sheep”? Countless. And how many times have we got our comeuppance for it? Swine Flu is the biggest example I can think of.

Last July, during the World Cup, Ponchito, a comedian that’s been festering way too long on TV, made a couple of sketches with people in black face, spears and the stereotypical African Village. This was played for laughs. The Americans complained (source). We laughed at them for not taking a joke, saying that it was “parody” (source – In Spanish only). Now that the joke is on us, we cry foul?

Don’t believe me that it was in national television? Click on this video. From the 00:30 mark onwards, it shows you how the stereotypes flung by Top Gear have NOTHING on the ones we fling in Mexican TV.

That clip is from 2010. Blackface stereotype in a typical village setting. You okay with that, Mexico? Still want to complain about Top Gear when we still pull that shit on National Television during the World Cup, where high ratings are guaranteed?

What moral ground do we, as Mexicans, have to decry “racism” when our own TV companies (Televisa and TV Azteca) are filled with stereotypes making fun of gay and lesbian people, Asian people, black people, Americans and even ourselves? How can we say that we are being discriminated against when the word describing part of our ancestry (“indio”) is used as an insult for people being “daft” or “thick”?

Again, I’m not defending Top Gear, as their humour can get excessive, but it’s the way they are and frankly, it’s no biggie in comparison to the shit being flung on our own television.

So why am I writing this? Why am I contributing to make this non-issue into an issue, contributing to this rather Kafkian show?

Well, because I’m angry. No, I’m not angry at Top Gear nor at the BBC. I’m angry at everyone in my country that’s getting up in arms about this. If we (and I include myself) took this same energy and level of indignity we are aiming at Jeremy Clarkson and cohorts and instead aimed it at our Senate (who barely work a month per year, if that), at our President (done enough damage yet, sir?), at our Banks (and their filibustering ways), at our corrupt businessmen and really, at ourselves for being so indifferent and passive all these years, then, by golly, we wouldn’t be the joke of a lot of people and if we were, at least we would take it as what it was: a joke.

Because we could brush it off, knowing we are doing fine. But no, since we are in one of the lowest moments of our history as a country, we are touch and go. Anything upsets us. And it shows.

Yes, it was a tad too harsh and even Jeremy Clarkson has admitted to this. Yes, it was about a stereotype (something that is the staple humour of Top Gear). No, it doesn’t affect us in any permanent way.

Why?

Easy. Ask yourself this: Does anything that Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond or James May say now or in the future affect my life as a Mexican or my sense of self? No. Does Speedy Gonzalez (or his cousin, Lento Rodriguez) offend me so much that my spirit is crushed? No. Does being called a “beaner” or “lettuce picker” by a couple of lads at a Pub affect me? No.

Then what affects me, as a Mexican? Having one of the most expensive (and generally monopoly like – source, source, source) and horrible to deal with (source) mobile networks in the world. Being one of the countries with higher incidents of Diabetes, so, also one of the fattest (source, source, source, source). Having an all out Drug War that’s tearing us apart (too many sources). Having absolutely no good candidates for the next presidential election (screw the lot). Having a gorging mammoth of an oil monopoly (an insecure one, too – source, source) driving us into the ground (source). Ramping up prices in electricity, water and gas. The price of food skyrocketing (source). Heck, even the so-loved lime increased its price massively in December 2010 (source, source ).

All of that REALLY affects us in Mexico. But we chose to complain about three blokes on TV? Really?

And what about Eduardo Medina Mora Icaza, the ambassador who started all of this? Would he have complained had Jeremy Clarkson not said: “Mexican ambassador would be sleeping in front of the television so wouldn’t be able to muster a protest” (source). As a Mexican, I think that’s what really got him angry. It is what would’ve made me angry too. We don’t like to be reminded we are not doing our jobs properly.

Why doesn’t Eduardo Medina Mora Icaza complain about the changes in Immigration Laws in the UK, specifically, the proposed dissolution of the Poststudy Work Scheme (PSW), which has been marked for closing in April of this year? What is the ambassador doing besides spitting his dummy when a joke from a program he probably is a fan of (he was watching it, yes?) offends him? Is this what us, Mexican taxpayers, are getting for our money? Him shouting at Top Gear? I shouted when they sacked the Stig and I don’t get any money nor press coverage. Nor a free iPad (like our “honorables legisladores” got – source. source)

But really, what was important this week in Mexico? Shootouts in Guadalajara (source, source), San Luis Potosí, Monterrey (source), money being thrown carelessly by the owner of a monopoly (source), jobs being lost, our president promising in Davos that violence will decrease (source), companies getting the hell out or going bust. Hell, the whole situation in Egypt is affecting us (source).

And did we, Mexicans, start a massive outcry about ANY of these subjects? No, we just shrugged our shoulders and said “ni pedo”. But, oh heavens, Top Gear makes a joke about our “holy institution” of food? ¡Mexicanos al grito de guerra! Defend our honour! Remember our Mexican Heroes! All of them! Make some noise!

That’s what really angers me: the apathy we have and how our anger is just being misdirected towards that “extraño enemigo” (a group of foreigners) instead of being directed to all those sneaky politicians who’d rather shout about defending our “national identity” being tarnished, when they, themselves, killed it, along with our dreams and hopes of a better future.

So please, fellow Mexicans, be angry, defend yourselves, stand up for whatever you believe in, but first: read about what’s going in your country (I read it here in the UK and frankly, I’m getting sicker and sicker), get some perspective (we all need to do so) and understand that you need to scrutinise and see who the real enemy is in here, and no, it’s not a trio of English comedians talking smack.

A few extra notes:

  • Of course James May will say Mexican food is like “sick with cheese on it”. Have you ever tried the Mexican food in England? No wonder I’m considering going vegan.
  • To be fair, most of the “Mexican food” you get in England is Tex Mex stuff (which I do enjoy, sometimes), but the quality of the ingredients results in your taste buds being offended.
  • Anyone notice that there are no actual comments about Mastretta’s design? Will any criticism of him in the future be biased because of this whole incident? I mean, this review from 2008 is not very positive. I really hope the Mastretta team ironed out any details and if the car takes any criticisms, they take them as that and not as a slight.
  • Honestly, I hope the car does fine, as there’s quite a bit of good designers on Mexico waiting for a chance.
  • You know? We Mexicans are a sensitive lot as we’ve been stepped upon for a while. First by the Aztecs, those big bullies who were such arseholes they managed to unite the other tribes into allying with the Spanish and getting us conquered. Then the Spanish Conquistadors, taking everything and leaving us with a few crops, horses and a few STDs. Then, by anyone we had a war against and lost to them (especially the Americans, we love losing to them). Then, abused by a paternalistic dictatorship for more than 70 years (namely, the PRI party, whose evil fingers are in every single political parties’ arses until today).
  • I personally am a spiteful being, so this whole tirade comes off as hypocritical, really. But said contradiction proves that I’m still very Mexican, yay!
  • For what it’s worth: I like Top Gear and I’ll keep watching it. It’s a hell lot more entertaining than Telenovelas (soap operas), Los Simuladores and El Pantera.
  • I do get British Humour. It’s the product of a misspent youth watching Doctor Who, Mr. Bean, The Goodies and Monty Python.
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6 thoughts on “The Sunday Soapbox – The Top Gear Debacle

  1. Nota del Editor:

    No estamos defendiendo el programa de Top Gear, pero estamos haciendo énfasis en:

    1) Nuestra televisión tiene los mismos (o peores) estereotipos. El que se lleva, se aguanta.

    2) Hay cosas mucho más urgentes de las cuáles quejarnos. Abran el periódico, cualquier periódico en el que confien, y verán a lo que me refiero.

  2. Editor’s note:

    We are not defending Top Gear, but we are talking about:

    1) Our Mexican TV channels (TV Azteca and Televisa) have the same (or worse stereotypes). We dish it out, we should be able to take it.

    2) There’s a plethora of more urgent things to complain about. Open any newspaper you trust and see what I mean.

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