Wednesday, 9 September 2015

The Spine's Beckham Podcast: What exactly art thou Romeo?

Audio version above. The text below.

There are few good things you can say about international football. FIFA corruption remains a constant source of amusement should you care nothing about the game. Occasionally, a lower team will triumph over one of the bigger football nations or some small symbol of sportsmanship will occur on the field, a gesture of humanity might happen off it. A regular source of warmth usually occurs before the start of the bigger matches. The teams will walk out onto the field, each led by a mascot holding the captain's hand. The mascot will usually be a child given the honour because, in some way, they deserve such an honour. They will have done something, achieved something, or endured something that sets them apart. They are deserving and that's all that matters. The crowd applauds them onto the field and, hopefully, the mascots will feel lifted for a brief span of their often troubled lives.

Last night England played Switzerland at Wembley as part of the qualifying for the 2016 European Chaptionship. It was a special night -- the night Wayne Rooney would become England's most prolific goalscorer -- and the honour of leading out the team was suitably special. So, naturally, the mascot chosen by the FA was a young disadvantaged lad called Romeo.

Looking at him, you might wonder what ails young Romeo but therein lies the surprise. There's nothing much wrong with Romeo. Romeo is just your average thirteen year old male model, recently forced to become the face of Burberry whilst struggling to hold down a place at Arsenal's football academy. Like most boys his age, he has been brought up well, watched over by his godmother, a jobbing actress called Elizabeth Hurley, and a struggling star of cabaret called Sir Elton, who also happens to be his godmother. His home life is the same as any young lad who works hard at school and then rides back to his unassuming little home in California, Dubai or the South of France. His mother is a seamstress who doesn't sew, draw, design, or even make clothes but she knows talented people that do and she makes a humble living taking all the credit... His father works in the advertising industry. Sorry, scratch that. His father is the advertising industry. He sells everything and anything.

Sarcasm, said Doctor Johnson, is the lowest form of wit which is a damn shame. If I knew of a form of humour lower, I'd adopt that instead because, really, there's no depth low enough to go about this. I also know I'll get hell whatever I say  so I might as well get it over with...

Which training ground ball sack at the Football Association thought it wise, acceptable or even fair to allow David Beckham's son to be the England mascot? I know some look at David Beckham as an example of aspiration, success and even excellence but others look on him as a symbol of national decline. They remember Beckham as instrumental in the birth of the 'metrosexual', that strange breed of radically consumerised men who obsess over their appearance and spend a fortune on grooming products. Beckham is the spiritual father of the 'me' generation, the spiritually vacant generation consisting of the self-consumed and the self-oblivious. Beckham was the role model for the feminisation of male culture, marrying extravagantly bad taste (both literally and figuratively) with a flair for the completely vacuous. There were better footballers of his generation -- in fact, quite a few better footballers -- but Beckham was the one the world grew to know because... Well, because...

And therein lies the problem. There really is no reason for the brand Beckham to continue to persist. Beckham doesn't do anything or the things he does are completely unnoteworthy. They're things like arranging for his son to lead the England team out onto the pitch. He has a remarkable capacity for shallow acts. He's there to light torches, point at fireworks, shake a business leader's hand. He wears a suit or poses with a watch or he lounges in his underpants. He steers a speeding motorboat up the Thames during the Olympic opening ceremony, looking so suave and debonair, whilst beneath the dashboard, some poor sod is sweating beneath layers of black clothing as they actually steer the boat via a monitor.

It would be difficult to think of any person so rich, famous or popular who does so much of absolutely no significance. And that is precisely his appeal: Beckham is an almost entire absence of meaning. He's a blank canvas onto which any promoter can project their image. Yet nothing symbolises the sheer banality of Beckham than the moment he opens his voice. Then that vision of the handsome trend-setter comes crashing as the style gives way to the absence of substance. A voice like a broken speaker lodged in a Disneyland duck pours out a series of hackneyed clich├ęs.

It's no wonder that he can so easily arrange these presents for his children. Britain is a nation formed in Beckham's image. His is the ambassador for the sleeve tattoo, the religious groin mural, the buttock rollcall. Yet the truly staggering fact is that this capacity for spectacular insignificance has been passed down to his children, who live their lives as though their accomplishments are behind them and they now have nothing left to prove.

I suppose we should be grateful that this nepotism is bold and obvious. It means I needn't waste my breath to highlight how the country might claim to be egalitarian and a meritocracy but the harsh reality is that all the good jobs have been snapped up by relatives of people who decide who gets the good jobs. Instead of talking about nepotism, I can talk about the Beckham legacy and how the meaningful is turned into the meaningless. A single significant moment has been taken away from some child to whom it would have meant the world. Instead, Romeo Beckham experiences one of many privileges he's enjoyed in his thirteen years; another rarity that will never be experienced by ninety nine dot nine nine percent of the British adult population.

It's not simply unfair or morally wrong. It's more than that. It's the negation of every life affirming spirit you might enjoy. It makes you wonder why you should even get out of bed in the morning. Look upon it and realise that your world really belongs to them. Watch them enjoy it and then you may weep.


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