Top Gear Goes From Zero to Racist in Under Two Minutes

By Arturo R. García

Top Gear, the long-running British auto review show, is built upon a foundation of “guy talk.” But an outburst by the show’s three hosts this week once again crossed the line from mildly boorish to positively unnerving, this time prompting a political response.

The incident occurred during Sunday’s episode, when the trio – Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May (above l-r) – turned a review of a Mexican sports car into an exercise in racist “banter” about the country and its’ people. Video and transcript are under the cut.


Update: The BBC has been trying to shut the video down, but here’s a version with Spanish subtitles:

And here’s a transcript of the segment:

James May: Have you ever wanted a Mexican sports car?
Jeremy Clarkson: Yes, I have!
JM: It’s good news, because there is one, and here it is [points to display] and it’s called the Tortilla.
JC: It is not – it is not called the Tortilla! What is it?
JM: I can’t remember, it’s something a bit …
JC: So you just made up the name, then, there you go.
JM: I’d forgotten, sorry
Richard Hammond: Why would you want a Mexican car? ‘Cause cars reflect national characteristics. So German cars are sort of very [unintelligible] and Italian cars, a bit flamboyant and quick. Mexican cars just gonna be lazy, feckless, flatulent, overweight, leaning against a fence asleep looking at a cactus with a blanket with a hole in the middle on as a coat.
JM: It is interesting because, they can’t do food, the Mexicans, can they? ‘Cause it’s all like sick with cheese on it.
RH: Refried sick!
JM: Yeah, refried sick.
JC: How much is this Mexican sports car?
JH: The refried Mexican sports car is 33 thousand pounds.
JC: That isn’t enough. It isn’t enough because somebody’s paid for that to be developed and it’s gotta be shipped. That’s 800 quid to the car right there.
JM: You say that, though, but they do say in their blurb it’s got rack-and-pinion steering.
RH: Wow, it’s got steering!
RH: I’m sorry, but just imagine waking up and remembering you’re Mexican.
JC: It’d be brilliant! It’d be brilliant ’cause you could just go straight back to sleep again.
RH: ‘That’s all I’m gonna do all day.’
JC: That’s why we’re not gonna get any complaints about this – ’cause the Mexican embassy, the ambassador’s gonna be sitting there with a remote control like this. [Clarkson slumps in his seat and starts "snoring."] They won’t complain. It’s fine!

In fact, the Mexican ambassador to the United Kingdom, Eduardo Medina-Mora Icaza, called Clarkson’s bluff, writing to the BBC to demand a public apology from Clarkson and his cohorts. From Icaza’s letter, as quoted in The Guardian:

The presenters of the programme resorted to outrageous, vulgar and inexcusable insults to stir bigoted feelings against the Mexican people, their culture as well as their official representative in the United Kingdom …

These offensive, xenophobic and humiliating remarks serve only to reinforce negative stereotypes and perpetuate prejudice against Mexico and its people.

Having caught the show off and on over the years, what bothered me the most about this bit was that it really seemed different from many of their usual chats. Clarkson, in particular, will rip on cars from other European countries, but it’s at least presented in a more jovial manner, and directed at the auto makers, not their nationality. But the car was an afterthought here, and Hammond’s line about “remembering you’re Mexican” was delivered with a disturbing amount of flair. (SPOILERS for Mr. Hammond: I remember that every day, and it doesn’t get in the way of my workday.)

Moreover, this incident continues a recent trend of foot-in-mouth incidents for the show, and Clarkson in particular. Last year, he was chided by a British blind-person’s group for calling then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown “a one-eyed Scottish idiot” at a stage show in Australia. And two years ago, he had the remarkably bad idea of making a joke about lorry drivers killing prostitutes not long after a forklift driver was convicted in the murder of five prostitutes.

A BBC spokesperson told The Guardian it will respond directly to the ambassador regarding the matter.