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Jeremy Clarkson would have been much better off by just keeping schtum

By Grace Dent

Published 23/04/2015

Opening up: Jeremy Clarkson
Opening up: Jeremy Clarkson

After five long weeks where the general public demanded Jeremy Clarkson explain himself over the Top Gear fisticuffs saga, finally, he did. And then we told him to shut up.

"Never complain, never explain" goes the old adage, denoting the absurdity of trying to appease your enemies. Your friends don't need explanations. Your enemies won't believe them.

Buttoning up and remaining aloof about your conduct will not stop Twitter and the sort of people who start e-petitions harping on.

But then neither will be offering up conciliatory words, or background detail either. As Clarkson found, "opening up" was simply more meat and bones for them to feast upon.

Clarkson admitted to a panic over a possibly cancerous lump in his mouth, to his obsessiveness about work and to his tunnel vision. From anyone else this would have been startlingly honest, but instead it was viewed by many as excuse-making and dishonest.

One of Clarkson's biggest problems, I can't help but think, is that he's become something writer James Bartholomew brilliantly identified last week - "a virtue signaller". That is, a cultural figure, or happening, which it's vital to pepper conversations with strong abhorrence towards in order to signify moral cleanliness.

Nigel Farage, Page 3, fossil fuels, bankers and so on were some suggestions of things unfeasible to be simply neutral on. Bartholomew suggested, in fact, it is better for one's reputation to be spotted tweeting strong views against Ukip, than say, getting off one's backside and cooking for an elderly neighbour.

I can't help but agree with this and I'll argue that Clarkson is the great behemoth which all virtuous soldiers must be seen to battle. This isn't bad going for him, keeping in mind he is by and large just some daft bloke with a curly mullet who made a male-orientated TV show for lovers of Lamborghinis.

My main feelings on reading Clarkson's explanation of the events with the producer Oisin Tymon were how behind almost every violent incident - in pubs and workplaces the length of Britain - there must be stories and cumulative effects like this at their root. Nothing is an excuse or a "get off free" card for hitting another person. Neither is it our job to forgive Clarkson, anyway, as Tymon was the victim here.

But Clarkson's words reminded me that violent outbursts are so rarely about one human being simply adoring the feeling of hitting another one's skin. The punches and slaps, which courtrooms hear about and sentence on all day long, are the worthless endgame of emotional distress, loss, low self-esteem, old painful recordings from childhood being replayed, exhaustion, voicelessness and misery.

Violence is never the answer to any of this, but it certainly might seem the answer in the 30 seconds leading up to landing a punch. To be truly virtuous is to try to understand this, even if the person landing the punch is wholly unlikable, or even if at one point in 2007 they tied a dead cow to a Chevy Camaro, or were chased from Argentina.

Instead, right now, there is no room for redemption, or a smattering of empathy for Clarkson. He should, it seems, go and sit on the naughty step and stay schtum about the crippling emotional detritus of divorce, or how a man feels when he loses his mother.

So, ironically, the most famous man's man in Britain has opened up about black feelings. But we're all too busy trumpeting our virtues to listen.

Belfast Telegraph

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