The Case Against Clarkson

Earlier this year Jeremy Clarkson received an honorary degree for services to engineering or something. Coming the week after he’d written that he wanted to run over cyclists, presumably because he’s jealous that we use the road more effectively than he, there were calls that he shouldn’t get the award and a thoroughly deserved flanning.

It’s true, the award should be taken off him. But not for the fatwa on cyclists, or the equally dumb comments on environmentalism. No, he should lose the degree because his comments display an appalling lack of understanding of what engineering is, and should be, about.

Engineering is about solving problems, preferably as simply and elegantly as possible. In aesthetic terms a hand built single speed bike is worthy of inclusion in the finest galleries amongst the masters. A Ferrari is that picture of the tennis girl hitching up her skirt.

Levelling the playing field a little, to give cars some chance, the best engineered car of all time has to be the Beetle. There have been more efficient cars, faster cars and (arguably) better looking cars, but none of them is such a simple statement of car-ness in its most basic form (four people and their luggage to their destination as simply and reliably as possible).

Since the Beetle cars have just been getting more complicated. They’re not good, innovative engineering any more. The modern auto designer is little more than a hot rodder, forever fiddling with the details and introducing more gimmicks. It’s very easy, relatively, to build the sort of super car Clarkson salivates over. The real automotive challenge lies with the sorts of vehicles he mocks, hybrids, Smarts and low energy town cars.

What about the Industrial Revolution, that great age Clarkson likes to hark back to. He’d tell you that the machine age couldn’t have started with the sort of health and safety rules that exist nowadays. But that’s a non argument, easily ignored. The Industrial Revolution was about increased efficiency. Cheaper products meant more people could afford them and the quality of life rose. Who, these days, are the greatest proponents of increased efficency? You can bet it’s not Clarkson’s favourite car makers, desperate to sell soft roaders for the school run and condemn a generation to obesity and early heart attacks.

And finally, what would Clarkson’s hero Brunel make of all this. Brunel tackled the problems of the day in the most audacious ways he could imagine. He wouldn’t be chasing diminishing returns with ever more pointless supercars. He’d be building offshore wind farms or solving congestion by hanging monorails above pedestrianised city centres.

Clarkson glorifies past triumphs of engineering, which isn’t such a bad thing. But he can’t recognise great contemporary engineering and belittles the area in which the discipline’s next great achievements will be made. As such he is doing it great harm and should have his honorary degree rescinded.

Technorati tag: ,

0 thoughts on “The Case Against Clarkson

  • City Hippy

    Hi Ian

    Nice one…I wrote a piece about him a while back here

    He is so absurd it makes me laugh.

    I recently emailed his agent challenging him to a debate on CityHippy.

    Needless to say I am still waiting for a reply…will not be holding my breath mate 😉



  • Anonymous

    Clarkson claiming he wants to run over cyclists is just sarcasm, obviously. No one actually believes he wants to kill them. I’m not sure of the situation in the UK, but in large, Canadian cities (where cycling lanes are severely lacking) I do find myself having to check for cyclists all around me. Not all, but some have no respect for motorists, and veer to and fro without looking. I’ve actually seen a cyclist reading a novel while pedalling along a busy street.
    I understand and respect the need to protect the environment, but demonizing Clarkson is completely unfounded. Don’t place him on a high pedestal because he ONLY a journalist. The only people who really pay attention to him are motoring enthusiats, and I can definitively say that no one gives a damn about his political concerns or his antics, we only want to hear what he has to say about cars and nothing more.

  • Ian

    If Clarkson was was just a motoring journalist then he wouldn’t get to write opinion columns for the Sun. He can be amusing, but it’s increasingly been about laughing at him rather than with him. This is because he’s chosen to create the persona of a hypocritical reactionary- ready to complain about anything whilst doing far more damage than the people he moans about.

    Comments about running over cyclists may be sarcasm, but they speak of the disregard he and his readers have for other road users and should be loudly criticised.