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Why you can’t cancel Jeremy Clarkson

Jeremy Clarkson’s world is crashing all around him. What began with a crude joke about Meghan Markle in his Sun column a few weeks ago has developed into a delirious media storm.

Clarkson made the same joke about Markle four years ago, albeit from the opposite position. Yet social attitudes have shifted since then, and “abusing a woman of colour” is no longer acceptable, as one critic put it. The TV presenter could lose a lucrative contract with Amazon, and his apology has been rejected by Markle. A statement made by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex accused Clarkson of spreading hate, conspiracy theories and misogyny.

Clarkson has spent his entire career attracting and enduring rage for his controversial comments and jokes. In a 2008 segment on Top Gear, he said, while driving a lorry, “This is a hard job and I’m not just saying this to win favour with lorry drivers: change gear; change gear; change gear; check your mirrors; murder a prostitute.” Ofcom rejected complaints against him in that instance because of its context in an exaggerated joke. Three years later Clarkson apologised after saying that he’d have 31,000 striking public sector workers “shot… in front of their families”.

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But this is the first time he has truly caved. While some have suggested that Clarkson’s lengthy Instagram apology was motivated by the fear that he would never work in television again, I suspect that the likely cause was his own daughter Emily lambasting his Sun column. Public criticism always cuts harder when it comes from those you love.

It may be the case that Clarkson really is done this time. A textbook cancellation. But it is unlikely that he will truly disappear.


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