What is reality? How does one define reality? These are questions for a philosophy class but we will ask them here as well as we try to analyze the reality that is displayed in Top Gear. Now that is no small task you may be asking yourself how one make conjecture about the reality represented in a factual television show does. Isn’t what’s being shown unaltered reality? Well like most of our lives it’s not quite that simple. We can tell much about the reality that the producers are trying to present to us by analyzing what they choose to show us.
To begin with let us take a look at who this show is made for. We can start with the safe bet that being a car show, both the intended audience and the actual one are fans of cars. Another safe assumption about the audience is that there are a lot of viewers from the United Kingdom. Season 21 of Top Gear premiered on the BBC2 at 9pm GMT .
If we look at the presenters we can gain a bit more insight as to specificity of the target audience. Jeremy Clarkson was 52, Richard Hammond 43, and James May 53 during the season 21. From this we can somewhat confidently say that the show is Geared (bad pun intended) towards middle age males. However due to the shows quirky nature and global status we know that the demographic is not simply this narrow range of people. Youths also watch the show in droves. In 2014 approximately 1,000,000 adults 15-34 tuned in to watch Top Gear. Google trends shows us that Top gear transcends nations drawing in massive audiences in Czech Republic, South Africa, and The United States.
If we take a look at the début episode of season 21 we can see as couple of dominate ideologies and the groups that are being hailed. The episode is one of the challenge based one’s where the three buy a cheap cars and proceed to do challenges presented by the producers to prove that the hosts are wrong. This episode particularly focuses on the idea that old “hot hatchbacks” are better than new ones. This simultaneously hails two groups of males old and young. Throughout the episode there are constant references to yabos , Text messages, soundtracks of Skillex and Bassnectar, even the Stig or his “teenage cousin” is shown with his pants sagging.
In another sequence of the show we see the three producers on an air field doing numerous irresponsible things that they did in their youth such as Chinese fire drills, tray drifting, and even riding their cars like surf boards. This hail to an 80’s audience is further supported by Hammond when he says “the 80’s were a much better time. Just much better…” Interestingly enough since this is all done a bit satirically it has the inverse effect of attracting youths. When inevitably something goes wrong with Hammonds car it is funny as they were just talking about how great the 80’s were as his 80’s car breaks.
There are also things to be said about the representations of reality by the non-target audiences. It’s no secret that environmental groups and Top Gear have rubbed shoulders before. We get a sense of this tension between the two groups when Jeremey refers to hybrid drivers when doing the news, as not normal. Another group that the show has been in trouble before with is women. Jeremey makes a small remark that shows us of this bias when he says “ it was a montage of stuff that was acceptable in the 80’s that isn’t acceptable anymore… saying to a female co-worker, you look nice today.” These small but important details inform us of who the show is really for and the reality that comes with it. What is intriguing about this little bit of friction between the two groups is that Top Gear in the live studio will actually put all the women to the front of the crowd.
Top gear often invites a celebrity or “star” to the show for an interview and then so they may race on the track to see which star is the fastest. In this episode they had Hugh Bonneville a British actor. During the interview Hugh talks about his up-coming movie The Monuments Men which he tells us is about an English museum curator who worked with the allies in WWII to help convince the Americans not to bomb many historical monuments. This is big for two reasons first is further reinforces the middle age man audiences reality with talk about WWII but it also gives us insight as to how they view us Americans. Nothing is directly said in this episode (however this is not the case for other episodes) but there is a connotation of the stereotype of Americans that is held by most British of us being uncultured.
The final challenge has one of the three of them acting as a yabo trying to get away while the other two act as police trying to stop them. Here critiques of the British police force are represented by the hosts as they satirically put on mustaches and comically failing to apprehend he who is yabo. Jeremey even tells us that everyday 12 police cars wrecked every day. It isn’t explicitly stated in this episode however the show has been known to critique the bureaucracy of the UK. This is likely to reflect the realities of many British.
For Top Gear, one of the most widely viewed informative shows on Earth, it can be difficult to know exactly who is tuning in. When we analysis the show we can say with relative security however that the target audiences are British, male, car enthusiasts. Therefor the reality they present is one catered towards these groups.