BBC: Those Lazy, Flatulent, Feckless Mexicans
Viewers of the popular BBC program Top Gear are used to the humorous hosts making irreverent remarks. But a few recent comments about Mexicans got the hosts in some well-deserved hot water.
Last week, the show’s hosts were discussing a Mexican sports car that they referred to as the “Mexican Tortilla.”
As the co-hosts and audience laughed along, one of the hosts said:
“Why would you want a Mexican car? Cars reflect national characteristics, don’t they…Mexican cars are just going to be a lazy, feckless, flatulent…leaning against a fence asleep, looking at a cactus with a blanket with a hole in the middle on as a coat.”
“I’m sorry, but imagine waking up and remembering you’re Mexican.”
The Mexican ambassador to Great Britain complained, saying:
“These offensive, xenophobic and humiliating remarks only serve to reinforce negative stereotypes and perpetuate prejudice against Mexico and its people.”
And while the BBC apologized, they did it in that weasel-like, half-hearted “If you were offended” kind of way:
“We are sorry if we have offended some people, but jokes centered on national stereotyping are a part of Top Gear’s humour…Whilst it may appear offensive to those who have not watched the programme or who are unfamiliar with its humour, the executive producer has made it clear to the ambassador that that was absolutely not the show’s intention.”
That statement reads as a classic non-apology, refusing the blame and re-directing toward the offended.
The list of public figures who have caused major damage to their careers based on these types of remarks is almost endless, but includes: former Senate candidate George “Macaca” Allen; former CNN Host Rick Sanchez; former NPR Analyst Juan Williams; former movie star Mel Gibson; former funnyman Michael Richards; formerly-heard radio host Don Imus; former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott; and former White House correspondent Helen Thomas.
I’ll leave it to others to decide for themselves whether they think stereotypical humor is funny. But it has no place in the public square – unless you want to provoke negative press and cause self-inflicted reputational damage.