or, “Concerning Top Gear/The Grand Tour“
I’ve written before about how I would like to share my joy of certain media to other people even though I realize in general such media is not their taste. I wish to share my otaku, as it were, and even if I can’t get people to share it, I hope to at least get them to understand why I enjoy my otaku so much. And then I thought about whether or not this is feasible. People like what they like, right? So I decided to figure out if I could come up with an example in my own life in which someone else successfully got me to understand their otaku even if I didn’t adopt it. And when the show The Grand Tour debuted, I realized I had my example.
I am not a car person, to put it mildly. I’m not even sure what car enthusiasts are called. Motorheads, I think? Gearheads? I bought my first new car, a Honda Civic, over 10 years ago and I’m still driving it. I plan to drive it until the day I find it in my driveway wheels up and a lily laying on the chassis. Like much other pop culture media, I came to Top Gear a few years after it debuted. I think I came in before Hammond’s accident. My friends told me about this crazy car show with these three guys who loved cars but just did crazy things with cars. I remember being told these crazy British guys tried to turn a car into a rocket. Well, not being a car person, I was reluctant to give this show a try. My friends assured me I didn’t have to be a car person to appreciate the trio’s hilarious antics.
So I watched a few episodes of this British car show with three very British hosts – Jeremy Clarkson, the tall old one, James May, the long-haired old one, and Richard Hammond, the young, short one. I was bored during the car testing segments (especially because they obviously featured mostly European cars and my knowledge of those makes and models was even scantier than my knowledge of American cars), mostly bored during the “Car in a reasonably priced car segment” unless the lap was spectacular, but I enjoyed watching the trio try and generally fail to succeed at the car-related challenges put before them. I sought out the early seasons, and the chemistry improved immeasurably when James was brought in. I continued to watch for the sitcom-like hijinks and put up with the car segments.
I realized as I watched, especially in the early seasons, that these three guys were passionate about cars. This was their otaku. They loved cars, lived cars, thought about cars, and had landed their dream job to be allowed to drive some of the most expensive and fastest cars ever made. I also realized, especially in the early seasons, that as passionate as these three guys were about cars, they knew almost next to nothing about how they worked. In a general sense they knew more horsepower was better, more cylinders were better, lighter was better, but why these things were better was a mystery to them. As the seasons continued, all of them learned more about the inner workings of cars and became reasonably competent in minor repairs and eventually successful with major repairs, except for Jeremy, who despite over 20 years on the show, is still pretty much an orangutan with a hammer (to his credit, he seems to be aware of this).
Also as I watched, I learned more about the hosts’ personalities and I theorize the reason the three get along so well (especially since Hammond is at least ten years younger) is because they represent the Freudian archetypes – Richard is the id, Jeremy is the ego, and James is the superego. I gradually got to the point in any given challenge, I could successfully guess which host choose which car without actually seeing them make the choice because their personalities shine through so strongly in their choices. Even though I wasn’t interested in the actual car-testing segments, I learned through osmosis about certain makes and models of cars, general car history, and even car racing history.
So I was watching an episode of The Grand Tour and Jeremy had a segment in which he was testing a Porsche and a BMW. He hadn’t even gotten into the BMW and I knew exactly why it was a terrible car that had no business being created. That’s when I realized I understood their otaku. I didn’t share it, and I don’t always agree with their opinions in general (bicycles are not just for children) but as an outsider looking in, I finally understood their passion about cars if not necessarily why they had that passion. Richard nearly died for his otaku, and he kept going. They’ve all gotten to drive some of the most expensive and powerful cars in the world. They’ve also gotten to drive some of the cheapest cars over hundreds of miles and in terrain such cars had no business to ever be in. I understand the general characteristics of Italian-made cars versus German-made cars versus American-made cars. In that particular episode, I knew why the Porsche was good and this BMW was bad and why it mattered to them so much. For the record, the BMW was bad because a racing cage took up the entire backseat making the car useless as a sedan and the size of the car compromised the available top speed and handling making the car useless as a sports car.
My intention is not to shill for the show, although I do recommend the Top Gear episodes with these three hosts (not the other country versions or the new BBC version) and The Grand Tour. Like I said, I’m not a car person. After watching all the episodes, I’m still not a petrol-head. But I understand that they are petrol-heads and I can share in their joy of their otaku.
But all that said, I still don’t get Jeremy’s devotion to Alfa Romeos.