Malaysian Top Gear is stuck in reverse

On my most recent jaunt overseas, I decided to stock up on reading material for several bus and plane rides. Wouldn’t you know it, there’s a Malaysian version of Top Gear -the April 2009 edition as it goes. After all it’s all basically the same content right, with a few local contributions? All was looking pretty good too until some well dressed, shiny domed, sensitive type named Donald Cheah starts the proceedings as editor. Warning: do not read Cheah’s editorials or any writings in confined spaces!

In a rare, infact unprecedented display of solidarity, even my fiance agrees that the following is the most irrelevant and self indulgent editorial in the history of car magazines:

“This is a motoring magazine, I know. But it has to be said that suicide, no matter how galantly potrayed and noble in Seven Pounds should have no place in the real world… I have to say this because I know how influential movies with big names can be, and I know there are quite a number of folks who read this magazine, even the younger susceptible set. So again, suicide, however ‘worthy’ the cause is and will always be wrong. There, I said it.”

It’s almost a moot point that if he cares for the younger, more ‘susceptible’ readers maybe he wouldn’t overtly go out of his way to alienate those who are in a bad place. Let alone waste valuable magazine space with his degrading opinion. I can’t wait until next week when he shares his opinion on gays and abortion. A quick reminder Top Gear, why do people read car mags? For completely NEUTRAL, unopinionated escapist romp in tarmac fantasy-land. That’s why. And with one incredibly arrogant and self indulgent, completely socially irresponsible statement he destroys all that, and any credibility his magazine may have had. It’s bad taste and completely bad form.

To be honest, I am very close to mental health care professionals and have recently experienced a friend’s suicide. Irrespective of both those points, Cheah’s comments are still completely nonconstructive and completely distasteful.

Oh and it gets better. Letter of the month goes to some local boy who tells some sob story about losing his girl on Valentines Day. A letter so pathetic that the writer basically states he wants his letter published to boost his ego. Perhaps this is down to cultural differences, but this was just pathetic. Donald gives him a pep talk and offers him a Teh Tarik (“pull tea” – a Malaysian beverage). So now we’ve gone from judgmental, to the ‘pussification’ (thanks George Carlin) of a car magazine. Not acceptable! Who reads car mags to hear about someone’s hurt feelings?! WHO CARES!

In the next horrid installment, Cheah provides a two page attempt at satirising apartment life in Hong Kong. The only link to cars being that he was sent there to see Top Gear Live. However only manages to mention how great the show was, of course. You can hear the crickets chirp in your head as you get past paragraph 3. It’s er, COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY IRRELEVANT TO MOTORING.

Given that Hammond and May provide great, witty, slightly self deprecating articles that always have a common thread about motoring, this guy gets two pages to gloat about how KL is better than Hong Kong.

Oh and in the piece where he’s actually meant to talk about Top Gear Live, all he mentions is that the shark fin dim sum was great, real champagne was served and you should meet his brother if you’re in town. This is barely an exaggeration.  Oh how I wish it was. And here’s the next installment in the Cheah gloat-fest:

“Hong Kong holds no fascination for me, apart from the great food at almost every corner of any street. It’s just too busy, too crowded, too stifling and too mercenary for my delicate and refined palate.”

This is clearly not the language of the common man, as I’m sure Cheah himself would be the first to point out. But please raise a hand if you think this kind of softness belongs in a tissue box and not in Top Gear Magazine. While the magazine probably things Cheah will attract aspirational advertisers like Boss and Hennessy, 17 year old Matt Hayward wouldn’t buy that magazine again. And 31 year old Matt Hayward can’t stop cringing at gut laughing at once.

Quite literally, Cheah was so bad that I had to buy another issue to see if it was just an off issue. It was worse. Sadly though I have to admit Cheah’s a decent photographer (albeit overseas), but as an editor and journalist, don’t get me started. Two or three guys wrote in (March 2009 issue) saying how the Malaysian photography was sub and par offering suggestions to make it cooler. Cheah simply refutes their suggestions reminding them of the great format the magazine has, then in a pseudo-arrogant-trying-to-be-cool way invites them to do better.

I agree with the guys writing in, insofar that there’s a marked difference in quality between the British sourced and Malaysian sourced photographs. And in believing that the world is truly flat there is no excuse for this. It’s just plain shoddiness. Frankly I think your readers deserve better.

Already this must be the longest blog post put here in a while. I could go on for volumes but why bother? ‘Nuff said. Let’s hope one day our Malaysian brothers and sisters can get a quality, non judgemental car mag without someone trying to float his own celebrity at their expense. Let us hope.

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