Jeremy Clarkson is in a long tradition of licensed Bad Boys (and Girls)- people who break the rules of polite society and behave in a way that we condemn while at the same time envying their freedom. Think Ricky Gervais’ insults, Miley Cyrus' twerking or Justin Bieber's... oh, too much to list.
Some businesses make their name in this way too- French Connection calling themselves FCUK, Hollisters allegedly only hiring 'beautiful people' or Benetton running shocking images on posters.
So, Clarkson can make outrageous comments about cars or insulting remarks about other nationalities and we smile. Especially when he accompanies it with that British favourite, self deprecation- along the lines of ‘I’m just a silly child in the overweight body of a middle aged man’. This is all so much public persona. Whether Clarkson is really like that isn’t relevant.
Make no mistake people like Clarkson are not real rebels, in the sense that they’re not people who are dangerous to society. There is an understanding that they can only rebel within certain parameters. That's why, when they go too far, we rein them in. In Clarkson's case, going too far was hitting a colleague in the workplace.
I wonder if the million plus people who signed an online petition really think talented people can be excused violence in the workspace or, now that the details have emerged, are they rapidly backtracking, like David Cameron?
Having said that, careers are not so easily finished as once was the case. For quite a few people, their own pleasure or profit is more important than the behaviour of the person supplying it. Footballers can bite their opponents or use racist language but carry on playing as long as they are scoring goals. It will be interesting to see who is prepared to hire someone who has a record of abusing colleagues.
So Clarkson will continue but his platform on Channel 4 or Sky or wherever will never be as great as it was on the BBC and will soon slip into relative obscurity as new bad boys take his place. This need not be the final chapter of his career. To get back to the mainstream, he only has to do one thing. Show contrition.
If we love self deprecation, we love the repentant sinner even more. A public apology, an admission he was wrong, an agreement that he deserved to be sacked and a promise that he won’t do it again- and Jeremy Clarkson will be back at the top in no time.
It’s the advice we marketing people always give to businesses who have done something wrong. And what is Jeremy Clarkson if not a very successful business?