Top Gear's latest ad boldly goes where the 1950s went, like, all that time ago

The ADgenda: this week's most offensive advert.

For a show striving towards boldly going where no man has gone before on four wheels, Top Gear’s latest advert has gone where many men have gone before – 1950s gender stereotypes. In the newest trailer, the men are shown getting up to their usual manly antics revving through mud and knocking giant balls around while the women, inexplicably reminiscent of a housewife stereotype, whine about the mess the boys have made of their clothes. Meanwhile, a young and pretty woman is polishing the Stig’s helmet. And suddenly all the gender stereotypes the media has been gently edging away from for decades are blown back in our faces.

Top Gear hasn’t been the greatest feminist advocate, it’s true. Jeremy Clarkson’s presence alone is enough to burn straight through to the “banter” hashtag on twitter. But there’s something about how unsurprising this is as a Top Gear advert that makes it so much more surprising. Of course the excitement of rallies and rugby would be contrasted with mundane womanly housework. Of course there would be a pretty girl to show how cool they are and how uncool women over 30 are. And, of course, its fans would advise a “sense of humour transplant” to anybody criticising a single frame of the show;  under Lorraine Candy’s article in the Daily Mail is scrawled a plethora of attacks guarding their beloved show from the cruel hand of a “dried-up old feminist”. But we could probably use a few dried-up old feminists scrubbing the misogynism out of the trio’s muddy reputations. 

Instead of desensitising ourselves into a “sense of humour” bland enough to find misogynism funny, maybe The Boys should work on the absolute minimum requirement of sensitivity that it takes to avoid association with the #everydaysexism tag. It doesn’t take that much out of you, I swear. 

Photograph: Getty Images
Getty
Show Hide image

The deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.