[…]

Jeremy Clarkson courts controversy. It’s no secret. He’s forged a lucrative career for himself out of his capacity to offend. He claims to be a satirist, but he’s not. He’s just not clever enough, and so his infantile attempts to capture the zeitgeist of our social political climate more often than not results in the literary equivalent of someone farting in your face. It’s disgustingly funny at first, but once the pungent smell hits you’d rather not have to look at the felonious arsehole. I’ve always resisted the urge to find him offensive, precisely because I know that is what he trades on, and this makes him ridiculous – a misogynistic caricature like John McCrick, compensating for his lack of talent with clumsy polemic. That doesn’t excuse or dilute his erroneous opinions, but it does make him a repetitive bore.

However, his piece in The Sunday Times today (titled ‘Save the high street – ditch bad service and ugly sales girls’) is worthy of discussion, simply because it illustrates an attitude espoused by a large portion of the male population; that of separating women into two carefully delineated categories. We are either attractive or unattractive. Pretty or ugly. Beauties or a munters, who they would, or they wouldn’t do (not even with yours). We are defined and judged purely on the basis of our physical appearances; the nuances of our personalities are negligible. It’s fair enough that as human beings, men and women alike have a tendency to internally evaluate and fantasise about the ability of another to provide them with sexual gratification or pleasure. As sexually mature people it’s natural for us to be superficially attracted to some people more than to others (and, let’s face it, some men and women are just nice to look at). But whereas women are not particularly vocal about the fact they may find the balding men who ask them out physically repugnant men, like Clarkson, seem to take pleasure in defining some women as unattractive. Moreover, they feel that it is their duty as red-blooded males to make their opinions known, and that said opinions should be considered indisputable facts. It doesn’t matter that no one has asked, or actually cares, what they think; they offer their vitriolic assessments nonetheless.

Clarkson’s article was yet another shat out by the media machine to perpetuate the fear surrounding the continued decline of the national and international economy. According to Clarkson:

Retailers need to understand – and they really don’t – that while there are a great many people, usually those with bosoms, who enjoy mooching about in the shops because it’s safer and less complicated than shagging the gym instructor, the rest – those with zips down the front of their trousers – do not enjoy it much at all and would like the whole process to be over as fast as possible.

As always, he’s waded in as some sort of trouble-shooter, although instead of speculating about the likely effects improved fiscal policies could have on the British economy he suggests that the way to rescue crumbling British consumerism is simple; get rid of ugly sales girls and male (especially gay, apparently) shop assistants (because, of course, only women with good tits and a flawless smile should have the privilege of packaging Clarkson’s shoddy goods):

Finally, and I hope this is helpful, pretty girls cost the same to employ as ugly ones. There’s a shop in St James’s Street, London, called Swaine Adeney Brigg that sells lilac riding crops for £900. I have no use for anything like that but I buy one a week because the assistant is so pretty. In short, nobody likes to be served by a boot-faced crow. Or, and this is for you, PC World, a man in a purple shirt.

The average man could not afford to swan around London and spend £900 on a riding crop (financial crisis, or not) of a weekend lusting after pretty shop assistants while the wife is at home looking after the kids. The vast majority of people in Britain have to work hard just to survive. Satire is only funny when it humorously exposes a social truth, but someone boasting about his or her relative wealth is just tasteless. Yes, sales assistants cost the same to employ no matter what they look like. Presumably the same can be said for television presenters and journalists. I’m no great beauty, but neither is Clarkson. He is not a handsome man. He is not charismatic or generically attractive. So why does he feel able to cast aspersions on a woman’s ability purely because of her physical appearance? Beauty is such a subjective thing, how can Clarkson possibly think it is possible to employ women considered universally attractive? Is this the privilege of the older wealthy man? Does he see everything as saleable, as a product for his convenience, and thus wants top-notch goods made to specification? Something other people will look at and admire? Does Clarkson think that by being served by beautiful shop assistants he will in some way become more attractive himself? That this is a reflection on his attractiveness? That as his hand brushes that of a nubile lovely thing as she passes him his riding crop he will also become sexually desirable by some magical osmotic process? You won’t, Jeremy, and making women marketable commodities won’t change that anymore than it will precipitate an upturn in the economy. Personally, I was much more interested in Clarkson’s trip to Saigon, Vietnam, but unfortunately he was surprisingly tight-penned about it.

Perhaps the most pertinent thing to emanate from Clarkson’s piece is that national newspapers, even during this critical financial time, are still taking money from people to read articles that I wouldn’t consider good enough for my dog to shit on. If The Sunday Times really thought it suitable to publish a piece promoting the relative benefits of having pretty shop assistants as the answer to our country’s economic problems, then as a newspaper it really has no understanding of the devastating consequences the economic catastrophe has had on the population.