On last night's edition of Top Gear the show's infamous 'fourth presenter', the Stig, removed his helmet on-camera for the first time in the show's history. Jeremy Clarkson had warned the nation in his Sun column that the programme's proceedings would offer viewers a TV moment so significant that it would, in his words, be like 'Neil Armstrong walking on the corpse of JR Ewing'. Of course Clarkson's tongue was firmly planted in his cheek, but at around 8:30pm the Stig removed his helmet and 'revealed himself' to be none other than F1-goliath and Ferrari poster-boy Michael Schumacher.
Of course this was all in good humour and nothing more than a stunt to make the first episode of this new series of Top Gear special, but the reaction to this 'revelation' has been astonishing. I've seen a lot of astounded, confused and disappointed reactions to the Stig's 'identity' in my Facebook news feed today, and one of the lead items on BBC News features an article in which a BBC spokesperson has had to officially deny that Schumacher was the 'real' Stig, and reassure the public that 'we'd never reveal the Stig's identity'.
Put bluntly, the Stig's identity can never be 'revealed' because 'he' is bigger than anyone who could emerge from beneath 'his' helmet. Top Gear have subtly created a modern myth in the Stig; a creation who actually transcends mere humanity. The Stig, like the Simorgh in Attar's Conference of the Birds, is a creation we all participate in. 'He' is a gestalt, a projection of our expectations. 'His' uniform exists only to make 'him' otherworldly and anonymous, and it is we (well, and Clarkson) who imbue Stig with his 'character'. The Stig is, essentially, like those 'ghost cars' the player can manifest in racing video games, which demonstrate the best route around the track; almost a neutral archetype of perfect driving. Stig, like the idea of 'Christ', is supernatural and transcendental. And decidedly not Michael Schumacher.
Clarkson was right when he said "I'm not sure Michael Schumacher is the Stig". Now stop worrying!