I was schooled in metaphors by three middle aged British blokes who power slide cars around a test track.
How could a car show teach me more about writing? Let me explain what I’m on about.
Top Gear has been a staple of my media diet since I was introduced to it by my friends a few years ago. I had a love of cars before, but this show was a revelation. It wasn’t like other car shows where a tubby mechanic fumbled around with wrenches under an old Chevy in an effort to get it to stop leaking oil all over the pristine studio floor. Top Gear is a whole different machine. You never know what the three hosts Jeremy, James, and Richard will be up to each week. From episodes featuring road trips across Vietnam or Botswana, to cheap car challenges resulting in motorway breakdowns, or simple car reviews on their test track, one thing stays the same, their way with words.
Each of the three hosts express themselves uniquely through the use of metaphor.
Richard Hammond enjoys his mechanical and occasionally earthy. He compares gearboxes to well oiled bolt action rifles and the thunderous sound of a V12 engine to a volcano. His are always fiery, passionate, and occasionally shouted at the top of his lungs.
James May prefers a more subtle and refined approach when making comparisons. Cars to him reflect wine, classical music, and WWII. This all fits for him because he seems to be stuck in a time warp circa the 1970′s.
Finally, we have Jeremy Clarkson who prefers to grab his metaphors by the scruff of the neck and force them into whatever gap in logic he sees fit. This approach would seem a bit heavy-handed or stilted, but his outrageous use of exaggeration only serves to illustrate his point more sharply than any other literary device. Small dogs with a wheeled harnesses for back legs and axe murderers are just a few of his favorite ways to describe any car he’s driving. Here’s just an example he uttered while skidding around a corner of their test track:
“Getting it ’round a corner is like trying to get my wardrobe up a fire escape. It’s very hard work, and it’s hard to see where you’re going.”
It’s a bit silly and obtuse, but somehow it implants itself in your brain and makes complete sense.
Ray Bradbury once said that he became a writer because he constantly thinks in metaphors. Relating two seemingly unreliable things is the best way form an image or convey a feeling to a reader. This being the case, the hosts of Top Gear are no mere television personalities, but also humble writers revealing in a sea of metaphorical possibilites.
After 18 seasons, they’re still torturing metaphors as well as tires and I’d simply like to thank them for one small lesson.
No metaphor is too ridiculous if it makes its point.
Even if it involves a giraffe, laundry detergent, and an electric sunroof.