Wednesday, October 04, 2006

my way code

not for the first time, I find myself completely at odds with the national mood. if I found it hard, at the time, to share in the hysteria or even shed a tear at the high-speed demise of the sad, cheating, doe-eyed wife of the sad, cheating, hangdog heir to the throne, I've found it much harder, now, to share in the hand-wringing tabloid concern for the health of a mildly endearing but otherwise unremarkable TV presenter who happens to have survived another high-speed car crash.

obviously, whenever anything happens to one of their own, the BBC tends to make a big deal of it. but this has gone way beyond the usual tragic loss of cameraman shot whilst filming the invasion of a minor middle east oil-producing nation - this has touched the raw nerve of the sleb-slobbering nation in a peculiarly mawkish way. it's as if this guy actually mattered in a sense greater than being a decent husband and father, which, possibly (it must be true because the TV says it's so) is the case .

Top Gear is the flagship marketing tool of the autophile lobby: its primal appeal operates at the level of massaging the hurt feelings of the driver of the beamer who's been overtaken by a skoda and then been flashed by a speed camera. its main premise is that cars - especially very fast, very expensive cars - are things of beauty, excitement, and fundamental satisfaction, and that anyone who disagrees is a killjoy. 'killjoy' is a word the Top Gear fraternity uses a lot. its main presenter - Jeremy Clarkson, whose presenter personna is a bilious cross between Terry Wogan and Anne Robinson - has become a minor deity in the brotherhood of car worship, his droll comparisons of one piece of motile metal over another elevated to the cult rhetorical status of a latterday Pepys or Pope. unutterably smug, he nevertheless does manage to exert a certain sort of self-deprecating world-weary charm that slightly sugars the pill of his regular weekly message - that cars are wonderful, wonderful things, and that anyone who disagrees is a boring killjoy. a - boring - killjoy.

Clarkson has several cronies - boring straight men (and a token female) to his jovial bullying routine, whose sideshow bob antics are never permitted to overshadow his own krusticentric performances.

it was one of these who nearly managed to kill himself.

what qualifications do you need to go as fast as possible in a jet-powered car? what's the sum total of required skills to 1) point the thing down the runway 2) ignite the burners, then 3) steer straight until the fuel runs out? piece of piss. a hamster could do it. well, almost. courage, you say? bullshit, I say. you're confusing courage and adolescent bravado. any fourteen-year-old would give his (or, sometimes, her) eye-teeth to do it.

the older we get, the more cautious - that's just the way it works: the longer we've been alive, the more chances we've had to assess the risks (of the various leaps of faith, acts of mercy, expressions of desire, contempt, commitment, or disinterest that appear to us as options at one time or other), and, the more chances we've had to experience the consequences (to others - our loved ones and friends - as well as to ourselves) of taking those risks, the less inclined we become to take them. on balance, the pain involved in suffering the consequences of a risk taken and ending in disaster tends to trump the potential pleasure of its ending in a result: the blindingly obvious fact that we're all mortal doesn't, in fact, become blindingly obvious until well past our teens (when, obviously, it's just not true), when, if we're lucky, we've actually had the chance to look death in the face, and, once having done so, choose not to do so again. probably. arguably, indeed, to choose to risk your life more than once in the pursuit of, well, anything, really, can only indicate one thing - that you've lost sight of something essential to your survival - the ability to learn from experience.

that we have lost it - or something related to it - is evidenced by the fantastic surge in the popularity of danger-related package tours. no longer is the world-tour of white-knuckle rides enough - packages that bring our flabby padded bodies eyeball-to-eyeball with sharks, white water and big number g-forces are selling like hot cakes. we can't get too much of that adrenaline rush.

pansies, all of them, of course. wimps and pattiecakes. it's all about fat wallets and crash-cages and fail-safe backup systems and full insurance. any idiot with a spare couple of million can hitch a ride up to the space station now. ditto the sorry index of current soi-disant adventurers and explorers - survival packs brimming with satellite phones and GPS, back-up rescue helicopters keeping their engines warm, and the camera crew hovering discreetly out of sight.

what it's all about, this fascination with the thrill, this absorption in the tedious-but-compelling escapades of the jet-powered croc-wrestling slebs, is the futile stuffing with vicarious sensation of the hole in all our souls that's all that's left of one of the defining aspects of our humanity: the old, old instinct for survival, at whatever cost, has become a folk-memory, something that's so rarely called upon that, like the vestigial tail, it's all but disappeared from our repertoire of experience. the all-consuming physical paroxysm of the fight-or-flight reflex is just the somatic residue of that oldest of instincts. several hundred thousand years of cultural evolution has translated that crucial (if we are to believe that survival is crucial) relationship between terror and action into something else, a web of somethings that itself came to crystallise, long ago, into the proto-religious ceremonies and rituals from which all art evolved.

in the absence of the priests' effective adjuducation between the arbitrary terrors of the universe and our own sense of hapless impotence when confronted with them, we have chosen to anoint these clowns (who desperately want the job, let's not forget - this isn't some sort of punishment) with the holy water of superstition, appointing them as lightning-conductors of the contingent bolt from the blue that, regardless, will continue to strike at random, as it always has. and when, perchance, the clown does earth a strike, the proper reaction, rather than this incontinent burble of misplaced concern and sympathy for the family, should be to tick the box [there but for the grace of god ...] and replace him as fast as possible.

1 comment:

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