I SHOULD start with an apology. This is an article about Jeremy
Clarkson. Yes, another one. But stay with me: the irony of this is
not lost on me. I, too, have spent much of the past two weeks
shouting "Can't the media talk about someone else?", yet here I am,
writing a column about him. What I find interesting, however, is
not Mr Clarkson and his allegedly disgruntled violence over a steak
dinner, but us: our reaction to this incident, and the fact that we
find it so endlessly fascinating.
It could be a simple case of journalists enjoying nothing more
than writing about journalists; but most people have forgotten that
Clarkson is a journalist, or that he produces anything at all. The
one-million-plus subscribers to the Bring Back Clarkson online
petition didn't sign it because of his abilities, or his morality,
nor any in-depth arguments; just a photograph of him being bullish
and uncaring - "Jeremy Clarkson": a public property to be
Clarkson the person has blurred with Clarkson the brand. Love
him or hate him, measured in cold, hard cash his value is now
extremely high. The argument about whether or not he should be
forgiven revolves mostly around the fact that more than a million
of us say that we love him for his persona, a persona that is sold
to 214 television channels, and makes an estimated £20 million in
operating profits for the BBC.
Is it any wonder if he has started to believe that his life is
worth more than other members of his species? We have come to
recognise that soldiers, returning from war to the mundanity of the
everyday can find it difficult to switch off the detachment needed
to do their job, but we still expect celebrities to have the
strength of character to critique the system that lauds them.
Celebrity meltdowns are familiar. Individuals in the public eye
often become so used to being gazed at that they stop being able to
And it's too easy for us to make it entirely the problem of the
celebs. Clarkson has 4.38 million Twitter followers hanging on his
every utterance, and millions more who tune in to hear his opinions
about cars, even if they care little about the subject.
The public depends on this master/slave dialectic almost as much
as the celebrity. We are party to the media that sets people up as
consumables who are ultimately disposable. We are party to the
voracious gorging on the soul that, unchecked, results in
individuals being reduced to nothing more than the remains of the
feast; bones to be picked over.
As we face Palm Sunday and God's own experience of celebrity
commodification, with its highs and lows, Christ comes to us, with
beaten body in bread and wine, and offers us the only consumer
culture that can truly satisfy.
The Revd Sally Hitchiner is Chaplain to Brunel University,