Tobold's Blog
Friday, November 01, 2013
Pornography and Top Gear

When people hear the word "pornography", they usually think of the sort that has a lot of naked flesh. But not all depiction of naked flesh is pornographic, it could also be art, and making the distinction is notoriously difficult. Even a US Supreme Court judge said: "I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it."

If unlike that judge we want to attempt a definition of what is pornographic, we might consider how it is about showing men's fantasies, things that men like watching because they consider them unattainable in real life. That very much includes showing men behaving badly, without fear of consequences. And if you take such a definition of pornography, you could also think about whether pornography really needs naked flesh. What if we take a different men's fantasy than sex and show it in such a pornographic style? And that in a nutshell is what in my opinion Top Gear is. The UK version, not the lame US version which is boring exactly because it *isn't* so pornographic.

Top Gear has three middle-aged men as presenters, average blokes with no discernible skills, the kind the middle-aged male viewer can identify with. And then these guys go and drive the unattainable cars only rock stars and soccer stars can afford. They drive them round a track to see how much smoke they produce with the tires and perform similar crazy stunts (of course those are all fakes, performed by professional drivers with the film cut to suggest that it was the middle-aged bloke driving). And the guys are allowed to do and say pretty much anything they want, extremely politically un-correct. They make xenophobic jokes, use lots of extreme stereo-types, and generally behave badly, e.g. set on fire the Christmas presents they don't like.

Just like pornography that is very much fun to watch. At least if you don't tend to get upset about people who aren't politically correct. And unlike pornography you can get away with watching Top Gear on the living room TV, with nobody minding that you are watching a car show. There is a running gag in the show where a few confused souls who actually think Top Gear is a car review show demand reviews of regular cars. That usually ends with some stunt, like Top Gear "reviewing" the regular car's performance in driving at high speed through a shopping mall, or off a ferry ramp into the ocean.

I've been watching Top Gear on the BBC iPlayer on my iPad. As the show is full of running gags and strange conventions you only understand if you watch several episodes in sequence, it is actually an ideal show for TV on demand.

It is actually a well-known metaphor by now to use 'porn' in a variety of contexts. For example, cooking programs can be described as 'food porn' (and to reverse the metaphor, I suppose the pretty presenter can be called 'icing on the cake')!
I object to the definition of pornography including "men's fantasies". While certainly not all porn is, shall we say, equal opportunity, women can and do regularly enjoy porn.
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