This week, presenters of Amazon Prime show The Grand Tour (a follow-on from British cult classic Top Gear) have come under fire for their use of homophobic jokes and comments after the latest episode based in Columbia caused an online backlash. But is it really a big deal?
In the episode in question, Jeremy Clarkson is seen driving a Jeep, which Richard Hammond and James May suggest that it is a ‘gay’ car. Hammond then details the makeover Clarkson should get to ‘match’ the allegedly stereo-typically gay car, which included moisturising, wearing some “nice chaps, suede but ventilated at the back” and complimenting his pink shirt.
The comments prompted an angry response from gay pop singer, social activist and podcast personality Will Young, who launched into a furious tirade on twitter.
This isn’t the first time that stars of the show have been criticised for homophobia; in 2016, Hammond responded to a remark about a Magnum ice cream by stating “I don’t eat ice cream. It’s something to do with being straight.” The remark prompted frustration from LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall, and criticism online.
If you have never experienced homophobic abuse, then the fact that these comments are being talked about at all may be baffling to you. You could be forgiven for thinking that the statements are harmless, that some jokes based on outdated stereotypes aren’t anything to get angry about. Of course, if these jokes happened in a social vacuum, then they may be excusable. Or at the very least, they’d be not worth mentioning at all.
But the simple fact is that these jokes do not happen in a vacuum.
They were written, spoken, edited and cleared for viewing in the same world that saw Empire star Jussie Smollett violently attacked because of his race and sexuality yesterday. The same world in which currently, at least 40 gay men sit in a detention camp in Chechnya after a ‘gay purge’ of their people.
If Will Young’s reaction to the remarks seemed extreme to you, that’s okay. Chances are that you grew up in the same quietly homophobic society that I did, where criticism of non-straight people can be seen all around you from childhood. Especially, in the media gay people have spent a long time being accepted as normal in the media we consume.
When this sort of language and behaviour is normalised, it leads to the normalisation of other, more harmful things. In a study carried out by Stonewall, it was revealed that 21% of LGBTQ+ people have been attacked in the last year. This figure doubles when looking solely at attacks on trans people. The question here has to be asked; where are they learning this bias from?
Of course, the blame for these attacks should not be put on The Grand Tour hosts. The comments are not violent in particular, but what they are is ignorant, and they only work to normalise the stereotyping of LGBTQ+ people. By mocking queer people, Hammond, Clarkson and May are excluding them from their content. They are assuming that gay people do not exist in their social vacuum.
While LGBTQ+ people are still being victimised, attacked, bullied and killed across the world for things they cannot change, any ignorant comment on a TV show should very much be criticised.