Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Pie in the face for a dangerous buffoon

The automobile laconically runs down pedestrians. It gnaws into the side of a barn or else, grinning, it flies down a slope. It can't be blamed for anything. Its conscience is... clear... It only fulfillls its destiny. It is destined to wipe out the world.
from Russian writer Ilya Ehrenburg's, The Life of the Automobile, published in 1929.

Worldwide three quarters of a million people are killed every year on the roads. More people between five and 44 die in car crashes in the Third World than are killed by any single disease. 3,508 people were killed in road accidents in 2003 in the UK, and 33,707 were seriously injured. 171 of those killed were children. Since 1899 motor vehicles have killed over 2.5 million Americans, and permanently injured 43 million.

The Humane Society estimates that more than one million animals are killed every day on US roads. It has been estimated that motor vehicles kill more animals than the fur trade and animal experimentation industry combined, and more deer than deer hunters.

Despite these appalling statistics BBC TV continues to broadcast a prime time motoring programme aimed at young people called Top Gear. The programme is presented by media personality Jeremy Clarkson.

Lobbying group Transport 2000 recently accused Top Gear of:

- Glamorising speed and failing to make the connection with danger on the roads.
- Encouraging an obsession with unnecessarily powerful and heavily polluting cars.
- Through using Jeremy Clarkson as presenter, with his distinctive image, encouraging a ‘yobbish’ attitude on the road.
- Not focussing on responsible driving, ‘greener’ cars, road safety or the need to cut car journeys
- Using ‘macho’ themes of speed and power, and failing to cover the interests of women

Until two years ago I was forced to drive around 25,000 miles a year on business, I even had a BMW at one time. I then took the decision to opt out of that sort of motoring madness. For the last two decades I have also been a high mileage cyclist. My cycling experience includes Europe and the US, and I now commute by bike whenever I can, covering several thousand miles a year using pedal power.

I have seen the carnage on the roads. I have seen the young people die because they are encouraged to drive beyond their capabilities. I consider Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson to be a prime candidate for Public Enemy Number One in the UK. Recent Clarkson public outbursts have included calling for motorcyclists to be decapitated with cheesewire and to be shot in the face, and a declaration that he wants to run cyclists down in his car.

I was therefore delighted, no let's be honest, I was over the moon to read the following story this week:

Pie In The Face For Clarkson At Degree Ceremony

Broadcaster Jeremy Clarkson has been hit in the face with a custard pie at a degree ceremony. The outspoken Top Gear presenter was at Oxford Brookes University to collect an honorary degree in recognition of his "passion for engineering". But the decision has proved to be controversial, and protesters, including members of Oxford's Green Party, assembled outside the presentation dressed in Clarkson's trademark tight jeans and wigs.

Security was tight and police outnumbered the the protesters, who waved banners reading On Yer Bike Clarkson at the gates. But one woman managed to gain access to a media call after the degree ceremony. She dashed out in front of the television cameras and, as Mr Clarkson posed in his cap and gown, removed what appeared to be a custard pie from a wrapped-up newspaper and hit him full in the face (see photo). The startled presenter maintained his cool, quipped "good shot" and posed for a few more pictures before beating his retreat.

The pie was thrown by protester Denise Lock, who said Clarkson "makes a living out of offending people. While other universities are rewarding the likes of Nelson Mandela, Brookes is rolling out the carpet for a dangerous buffoon."

Mr Clarkson has been criticised for engaging in stunts such as driving a 4x4 through an environmentally-sensitive peat bog in Scotland and inciting people to break the law by hiding mobile phone use while driving.

Speaking before the assault, he defended his record on environmental issues, saying: "I do have a disregard for the environment. I think the world can look after itself and we should enjoy it as best we can."

Nearly 3,000 people signed an online petition against Clarkson receiving the honorary degree. ....................

And I thought that the art of student protest died after our anti-Vietnam activities in 1968. Please can someone award the esteemed Ms. Lock an Honorary Doctorate pronto (preferably a proper Oxford college)?

And can we then move on to stopping the BBC spending a fair chunk of their annual £3 billion ($5.5 billion) income on dangerous drivel like Top Gear?

And if anyone asks what has this got to do with music?- the automobile has wiped out some huge talent in our world as well. Legendary horn player Dennis Brain was killed while driving his Triumph sports car in 1957. He was just 36. Bass player of the Bill Evans Trio, Scott LaFaro died ten days after the classic Village Vanguard sessions in a road accident. He was just 25. In 1968 the multi-talented Swedish jazz pianist Jan Johansson, who made his reputation with the classic album Jazz på svenska (Jazz in Swedish), was killed in a car crash on his way to a church concert in Jönköping, Sweden. He was just 37.

The main statistical sources for this post were Divorce Your Car by Katie Alvord, and Bike Cult by David B. Perry. I've also driven around more than half a million miles since passing my test in 1968 - the year of those Vietnam protests.

If you enjoyed this post take an overgrown path to Keeping up with Lance Armstrong

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

In the world of opera, the Swedish administrator Goeran Gentele was killed in an automobile accident in July, 1972, a few weeks after he had succeeded Rudolf Bing as the general director of the Metropolitan Opera in New York. That date could be considered the beginning of a time of troubles in New York musical life.

Anonymous said...

Another musical victim of one of the worst fatal car crashes in the UK recently (see http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/hampshire/4234966.stm ) was Ian Ledsham, organist, choirmaster and organiser of training courses for UK music librarians.

Anonymous said...

Puccini owned several automobiles and motor yachts, and he barely survived one of the first car crashes in Italy, on February 25, 1903. He had to stop composing for eight months, and he was only able to finally complete Madame Butterfly at the end of that year.

Pliable said...

A reader sent in this excellent link to Speedophiles - Child Killers on the Loose

SimonT said...

Hear, hear. Jeremy Clarkson is an obnoxious menace, as are cars in general. They're destroying the planet. Well done for getting on yer bike.

Hucbald said...

Hmmm. I just can't get behind this "anti-automobile" sentiment at all. Let's face it, life is 100% terminal: Everybody dies. Sure, prudence must be exercised in the operation of motor vehicles, but from my perspective, the small-L libertarian perspective, "I would rather deal with the problems attending too high a degree of freedom, than with the problems attending too little of a degree of it", to paraphrase Thomas Jefferson by memory.

And yeah, I have a gigantic four-door, full-sized, V8-powered American pickup truck and two BMW motorcycles. As long as I can afford to buy them, insure them, and fuel them, I really don't see how it's any business of anybody else's if I drive them and ride them however much I want.

Of course, I live in the middle of a vast tract of the US desert southwest, not the crowded environs of the UK or Europe. We actually, you know, USE trucks out here.

If you want to live a vehicle-free life, I have no problem with that. I just think begrudging others the freedom to drive is misguided.

Pliable said...

Hucbald, I am not 'anti-automobile. I still drive one out of necessity, although I cycle whenever I can.

What I am against is young people in particular being killed, and maimed, needlessly. Just as one example six people were killed in
a recent UK road crash. Five were under 25. The sixth was father of one of the young people, and was an organist, choirmaster and organiser of training courses for UK music librarians.

That kind of waste is what made me write the piece. Not any rabid anti-automobile motive.

On a lighter note I cycled into Norwich, my nearest city, this morning. Only 15 mile round-trip, but not the most pleasant ride.

I was so pleased with the saving on fuel and parking I bought no less than 4 CDs!

Bach Cello Suites played on viola de gamba by Paolo Pandolfo (2 CDs)
Obrecht Missa Caput
Haydn Harmoniemesse

I reckon I made a net loss on that trip!

Anonymous said...

Everyone is entitled to an opinion, so I respect the fact that there are those of you who believe cars only kill baby foxes and slowly destroy the planet each day. But as a car lover myself, I have to say that it is a bit silly to think this way. Yes, I do admit that cars do cause some pollution, but the vast majority of that pollution is caused by pre-1980s automobiles. Also, deaths caused by automobile accidents are caused by wreckless drivers; idiots if you prefer. As much as I love cars and driving fast, I remain sensible on the road and save my desire for speed for track days with some good friends.
But come on. You can't tell me that a Ferrari or a Maserati isn't an awesome site to behold. They are works of art and the stuff of dreams of any young boy or girl. No one dreams of owning a bicycle; a car just fulfills an inner desire that simply cannot be explained. 'They pollute' you say? Not really. All modern cars meet emission regulations, it really boils down to a matter of how much fuel they use. So a Porsche Carrera GT is really no more dangerous that a Toyota Prius.
And Clarkson. Well as I said, everyone is entitled to an opinion, even the very opinionated. It is naive and unfair to assume that Top Gear is pro-killing the environment and all for driving wrecklessly. It is just as unfair as calling all environmentalists "gay" or "bitchy."
Finally, I have to say: if the environment is so important to those protestors, why do they waste their time throwing pies in Mr Clarkson's face? Shouldn't they have spent their time recycling or planting trees? Just and utter waste of what was a lovely pie.

Pliable said...

I can only echo the sentiment above that deaths caused by automobile accidents are caused by wreckless drivers; idiots if you prefer.

That's why I wrote a piece about Jeremy Clarkson.

Anonymous said...

Hang on, the composer Ernest Chausson was killed in a bicycle accident on his estate in 1899. Therefore bikes should be banned too.

Pliable said...

I was waiting for the Chausson one to come up.

I can trump it by recalling that Charles Alkan died when a massive bookcase toppled over on him. So the next step is to ban books....

Not wanting to spoil a good story, but scholarship indicates the Alkan story is apocryphal, and he died of natural causes.

Anonymous said...

And then there is Lully whose death resulted from infection after he smashed his foot with his conducting "baton". Certainly now is the time to ban both the baton and the orchestra as dangerous to health and safety.

Pliable said...

From George Monbiot's Guardian column 20th December 2005.

"If the only way of getting their [the government's] attention," he told the readers of the Sun in 2002, "is to destroy the tools that pay for their junkets and their new wallpaper, then so be it. I wish the people from Mad all the very best."

In February this year, he suggested that speed cameras might be "filled ... with insulating foam that sets rock hard". After the London bombings in July, he observed that "many commuters are now switching to bicycles ... can I offer five handy hints to those setting out on a bike for the first time. 1. Do not cruise through red lights. Because if I'm coming the other way, I will run you down, for fun. 2. Do not pull up at junctions in front of a line of traffic. Because if I'm behind you, I will set off at normal speed and you will be crushed under my wheels ... "

Andrew Coates said...

I can scarcely believe this drivel. I hate to break it to you, but Clarkson has a point when he says "the world can look after itself". More to the point, you cannot defeat nature. If nature decides to wipe humanity off the face of the earth, so be it. No matter how green you are, you will not prevent it. Beating your little green drum saying we should ban everything and never enjoy ourselves will not save the earth. The Sun is getting hotter. This is not caused by global warming. Global warming is the result. Modern cars are surprisingly efficient, offering performance, reliability and efficiency more than ever before. Granted SUV's are silly things, status symbols for the genital-impaired and those vulnerable to marketing hype. But if consumers choose to spend the money they have worked for buying and paying for all the extra fuel, that is their right. I personally love driving and riding, both motorcycles and bicycles. I also enjoy a good hike. Like it or not, we have the freedom to choose how we wish to amuse, entertain, and transport ourselves. If you would bother to pay attention to the entire concept of Top Gear, you would realize that above all, it is presented in good humour. And Clarkson's "yobbish" viewpoints are in fact regularly balanced by co-host James May, who is well known for his championing of "Christian and gentlemanly motoring", and his view that the quest for horsepower should more often than not take a back seat to a balanced chassis, a TR-6 with the top down and a pleasent meander through the countryside. I can understand why this fact slipped past you, busy as you likely were finding whatever piece of personal freedom you wish to ban next. I personally enjoy my right to drive my car, eat a fast food burger, drink a Starbucks coffee, peruse the latest art exhibition, spend a day at the local shooting range, read a book, take a driving tour through wine country, or whatever else I chooose to do in my free time, and no one will prevent me from continuing this.

And don't start prattling on about buses and public transport and the like. I drive a diesel, so my monthly fuel bill costs less than a bus pass, what would be a 45 minute commute on the bus takes me 10, and by taking the side roads I can avoid the traffic jams caused by all the buses crawling along and stopping every 20 yards. Granted, in some major cities public transport can be useful - When in Vancouver I often take the Skytrain downtown as it is a 30 minute ride and takes me to within 50 yards of my favorite pub. I choose to utilize that which serves me best.

And I wish someone would fill up speed cameras with foam. Or cement. Or bowel secretions. Their sole purpose is to generate revenue. In fact, it has been the reported experience of many British police departments that speed cameras have had virtually no effect whatsoever on the frequency of speeding offences. In fact, the trends show the number of offences is actually rising. Want to know why? If you see a cop car, you check your speed and slow down. If you don't see a cop car, you tend to get a false sense of invulnerability, which suits the coffers of the governments behind the camera movement beautifully. Far more dangerous issues are inattentive drivers (studies show that the slower you drive, the more likley you are to make mistakes behind the wheel), running stop signs and red lights, tailgating, improper use of signals and traffic lanes, etc. ad infinitum.

Your diatribe about Clarkson "hiding his cell phone when driving" are again taken out of context and show you do not pay attention to the series. He has, in fact, stated that he uses his hands-free mobile when driving. Again, in your rush to paint him as some environmental/traffic safety antichrist you have only displayed your own lack of research.

And trying to ban Top Gear or whatever else you gets you seething with the green anti-choice rage may be tougher than you think - the latest estimates put Top Gear's global audience as high as 1 billion viewers, surprising the BBC and Top Gear producers alike. And I can see why every time I watch it. I love cars. It is a brilliant show. And I feel sorry for those who watch and just don't get it...

Anonymous said...

The audience figures for Top Gear quoted in the last comment certainly are impressive.

There was a similarly large audience for public executions before tastes moved on to other forms of entertainment.

Anonymous said...

By the way did you realise that everything is killing the planet. Including you spending your pointless hours on your computer writing comments about stuff you cant change. Planet killer you. Go for a run.


3000 people signing a petition ha.

Ray said...

O dear,

Does the naughty man support something you don't like? Diddums.

Whether you like it or not EVERYTHING humans do has an impact on the environment. So unless you are going to go live in a cave somewhere I suggest you find a way to make things better.

Frankly I like Top Gear, I like Jeremy Clarkson & I am a Greenie as well.

Deary me, I'm probably a traitor to the cause.

Ed Fortune said...

Clarkson isn't an idiot. He's also, actually quite green.

If you bother to watch the show, it consisently discusses the 'greeness'. Yes, it mocks hippies. It mocks everyone. Even the French.

If you bother to watch it, it's saying things like: "Public transport is a better option unless you've a £5million supercar".

He is pro-technological solution over pro-abstinence. But yet they mocked the Prius. Why? Because it's crap engineering.