Does the show shape the audience or does the audience shape the show? Does the TV reflect the public or is it a conduit to spread their message? These questions are what many scholars of media struggle to find out the answers to. I however, will not be attempting to answer that, instead I will be looking at one particular sliver of television programming and its audience. As I have said before Top Gear can be a tricky subject as there audience members are in all corners of the globe. But I will endeavor on to see what role the audience plays in Top Gear.
For a majority of Top Gear episodes there is a live studio audience. The studio (and subsequently the track) are located in Dunsfold Park or for us colonials just south of London. There audiences are invited to closely stand around the hosts as they film the episode. They are so close in fact, that often they are in cooperated into the episode as a joke or to answer rhetorical questions to punctuate a point made by the hosts or more specifically Jeremy.
Compositionally we see a few patterns. As I said before in my previous post Top Gear will often put the “most attractive” females towards the front. However Top Gear is a bit of a boys club demographically. Aside from these girls in front we see their boyfriends and a slew of young to middle aged predominantly white predominantly British faces.
What does all this mean? It means that the show has British motoring values. What does that entail? Well there are a few core tenets that British motorists have. For example a long running bit of the show was the Cool Wall was a wall that rated how cool cars were. There were several rules such as Diesel cars aren’t cool, motorcycles aren’t cool, hybrids aren’t cool, Americans cars aren’t cool, and cars driven by either the hosts or footballers are uncool. All the while the Aston Martin DB9 is considered by the wall as the coolest car to ever exist. Seems awfully persuasive for an informative show, prusarmative?
More than likely they were right about the DB9
this is not the kind of footballer we mean
this is the kind of footballer we are talking about
These values that are placed into the show are for the most part shared amongst the three hosts equally. However throughout the series one learns of each hosts particular subset of values and that Jeremy in particular is the dominant force of Top Gear. He often will allude to celebrities of his time such as Mike Rutherford, Michael Schumacher, David Cameron, and many more hail to the middle aged, car savvy, Brit sitting at home. His strong often crass opinions like Donald Trump are the reason he is so popular.
Make Top Gear great again!
This however brings us to the non-live studio audience. As I and Google have both said, Top Gear is watched by millions worldwide. With such a wide range of people watching you are bound to step on some toes . Comments made by the hosts but mostly Jeremy have got them in trouble with the gay community, Germany, Mexico, and most notably Argentina. Due to a bunch of history that you can read about elsewhere anti-British sentiment is high in Argentina. When the team went down to Patagonia the locals misinterpreted the license plate on Jeremy’s car to reference the war what followed was nothing short of a manhunt and a riot by the Argentinian people.
an image from the episo… I’m being told this is the wrong show…
While many of these controversies are genuinely innocent this reminds us of who the audience is. Top Gear appeals to the emotions of each motorist through its narrative of cars review. Whether they are reviewing a car Hammond’s favorite Mustang or James’s favorite Dacia Sandero each host brings forth their own flavor of motoring appealing to many different types of motorheads. But of course it all about our golden boy Jeremy as Jack Whitehall a guest star of the show, said “Jeremy was a father at the prep school that I went to… you (Jeremy) were like the first kind of real silverback, swinging-dicked, alpha male I’d ever set eyes on.” These features have made Jeremey an entity of his own be so influential as to take about 4 million viewers with him when his contract wasn’t renewed with the series. So really you could say that the audience of Top Gear were the audience of Jeremy, sharing his ideals and being swayed by his unique rhetoric.
This use of rhetoric can have financial ramifications for the car industry as well. Car dealers in England reportedly take great interest and purchase more of a certain type of car if it has been featured on the show. Inversely if the show talks bad about a car that particular company might see a slight decline in sales of that particular model. While this has rattled some of the car dealers for average Joe’s and Joanna’s like you and me Top Gear does little to influence their purchases as a car is a big financial investment for most.
There you are we have done as best we can to pull apart the complex idea of the Top Gear audience. The live audience is of course mostly British and mostly male with females in the front to attract more males (similar tactics used in clubs).The audience is used to laugh and punctuate jokes about James’s age or how slow American cars are. The audience at home is diverse and can decode some of the messages in such a way as to be insulted by the show. Jeremy’s dominant personality is mostly to blame for these controversies. It is His personality that has hooked their core audience of motorheads. The narrative rhetoric of the show has the power to sway the sale of a car. Finally in their sub-culture of British motorheads that gas powered, European or Japanese made super cars are the pinnacle of motoring Nirvana.