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Belligerent broadcasting, male anti-authoritarianism and anti-environmentalism: the case of Top Gear (BBC, 2002–2015)

Drake, Philip and Smith, Angela (2016) Belligerent broadcasting, male anti-authoritarianism and anti-environmentalism: the case of Top Gear (BBC, 2002–2015). Environmental Communication, 10 (6). pp. 689-703. ISSN 1752-4032

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Abstract

This article considers the format and cultural politics of the hugely successful UK television program Top Gear (BBC 2002–2015). It analyzes how—through its presenting team—it constructed an informal address predicated around anti-authoritarian or contrarian banter and protest masculinity. Regular targets for Top Gear presenter’s protest—curtailed by broadcast guidelines in terms of gender and ethnicity—are deflected onto the “soft” targets of government legislation on environmental issues or various forms of regulation “red tape. Repeated references to speed cameras, central London congestion charges and “excessive” signage are all anti-authoritarian, libertarian discourses delivered through a comedic form of performance address. Thus, the BBC’s primary response to complaints made about this program was to defend the program’s political views as being part of the humor. The article draws on critical discourse analysis and conversation analysis to consider how the program licensed a particular form of engagement that helped it to deflect criticisms, and considers the limits to such discursive positioning. We conclude by examining the controversies that finally led, in 2015, to the removal of the main presenter, Jeremy Clarkson, and the ending of this version of the program through the departure of the team to an on-demand online television service.

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