clickbaitI recently read an opinion piece in the Guardian entitled ‘Lazy homophobia signals the end of the road for Clarkson and co‘. The author criticizes the presenters of Amazon’s ‘The Grand Tour’ for being homophobic, and then blames Amazon for being complicit in that homophobia, as clearly they did little to censor the episode in question. I find this to be another example of self-righteous, click-bait-creating, reactionary nonsense.

Does the drive to achieve readership in the social media age train writers to exaggerate and litter their prose with as many ‘hot button’ topics as possible? Do they genuinely believe what they’re writing? Are they provoking? Have they drunk their own Kool Aid? Are they simply creating a brand for themselves?

The episode in question is the first of a two-part special in Columbia, where Clarkson has chosen a model of Jeep to undertake the journey. May points out to Clarkson that this Jeep was rated in the top ten in the US for LGBT vehicles. Clarkson then (deliberately) conflates LGBT with LBT (a lettuce, bacon, and tomato sandwich, which is usually toasted). He breaks down the acronym, “Lesbian, bacon, transgender..?”

The joke is in confusing two similar acronyms, it is not ridiculing gay people.

I often wonder if this labored objection is similar to how all fundamentalists struggle to find humor in jokes about their culture. For the nine Christians that can joke about Jesus and Christianity, there will be one Christian that cannot. With Islam this ratio seems to be much narrower. LGBT is obviously not a religion, but it is a strong identifier of gay culture, which itself is extraordinarily sophisticated and diverse.

The opinion piece also points out how Will Young objected to the episode, citing the psychological trauma that many closeted suicidal teens face every day. A lot has to be transferred onto the joke to arrive at this connection, as it was clearly not the target of the joke. The comedian, Ricky Gervais, in his latest standup, Humanity, best explains this phenomenon, “People often confuse the subject of the joke with the target.” I don’t think this confusion is always deliberate, but it does two things for the person objecting – first, it creates emotional salience and becomes click bait, second, it’s a reaction to something popular, which allows the reaction to piggyback on the success.

It’s a lazy way to get noticed. It’s also lazy to try and qualify your argument with “I have gay friends” or “I have a friend who happens to be gay” to score points before your argument is even out of the gate – not mention what’s wrong with those sentiments.

Much of the objection might simply come down to personality within the group, perhaps because somebody is a fundamentalist – that is their cultural identifier is sacred and should be immune from even being used in jokes. If immunity is what you crave, then you’re craving a special status, which of course at some point will conflict with notions of equality. The real equality is in having all of the language and culture that defines you out there along with everyone else, all for equal use by everyone. I’m willing to grant that moments in history might necessitate a special status for a transitory period to ensure legal equality and protection from a non-accepting culture, but eventually this has to go once legal equality has been guaranteed.

There is another way to view this scene in ‘The Grand Tour’.

It brought to light that we live in a day and age where we can have a serious poll of the best LGBT vehicles (which validates, rather than degrades), and LGBT is popular enough (because of decades of activism) to be used in a joke and confused with LBT.