Clarkson and entitlement

Word came down from on high yesterday that Jeremy Clarkson, popular/infamous co-host of Top Gear, was being suspended pending an investigation into a "fracas" with a producer. The Internet immediately exploded. As of this writing, there is even a petition for his reinstatement signed by over 400,000 people who have done so without knowing any of the details of the incident in question.That's disturbing, yes, but to my mind it's not as disturbing as what this incident represents. We all know Jeremy Clarkson prides himself on being politically incorrect, and that he apparently has the insensitivity and casual racism of an upper-class British schoolboy (or, for that matter, of a lower-class American one), but the fact that he is also the chief host of the most fantastically successful motoring show in the history of mankind, generating hundreds of millions of pounds in profits annually for the BBC, tends to overshadow that fact. Simply put, he makes too damn much money for the BBC to do anything about him.

At least until now, that is. If in fact he assaulted a producer, he's guilty of a criminal act that will have to be answered for. Unfortunately, when it comes to the wealthy and famous, answering for criminal acts is not something they are generally expected to do.

If you're not completely blind, you've probably noticed that while the law ostensibly applies to everyone, it's the poor who usually have it come down on them the hardest. If you're a young African-American male, you're more likely to serve jail time for, oh, say, getting in a car crash and lying to a policeman than someone like Lindsay Lohan, who skipped her court appearance, jetted off to London, and got sentenced to community service. And we haven't even talked about what happened to the Wall Street crowd in the aftermath of the 2008 crash. Rich and famous? You get a pass.

Because of this inequality, Clarkson undoubtedly isn't too concerned about this latest dust-up. His lastfewtweets seem to reflect this, and his co-presentersdon't appear to be too worried, either. And why should they? First off, Clarkson's not exactly the working-class bloke he'd like you to think he is—he's a neighbor of Prime Minister Cameron, and goes to parties at his house. If the BBC fires Clarkson (although they apparently don't need to, as his contract is up at the end of the month), some other network will snap him up in a heartbeat because of All That Money (and perhaps All Those Connections). And they'd surely want to snag May and Hammond as well.

I've enjoyed Top Gear, and I find Clarkson entertaining and annoying in probably equal measure. But if our global society is to work in the long term, we need to make sure that the law applies to everyone equally. Because if history teaches us anything, it's that in a society where the wealth is increasingly concentrated at the top, the law is partial, and everyone but the rich feel the deck is stacked against them, there will eventually be an explosion. Just ask Louis XVI, Tsar Nikolai II, and Fulgencio Batista, to name but three.

But for now, that's all academic. Clarkson's probably somewhere in England having a pint right about now, watching the telly, and feeling pretty confident that the last three episodes of Top Gear will eventually run, if somewhat delayed.

He's probably right about that. And more's the pity.