The Gayness of Top Gun: Feel The Need

topgun The Gayness of Top Gun: Feel The Need

Frankly, we could watch a few more hours of Baldwin chew­ing the scenery as Pacino and Hader flab­ber­gas­ted that the pro­du­cers don’t under­stand how “gay” their script is: “I say, ‘Ice Man’s on my tail, he’s com­ing hard.’ I lit­er­ally said that to a bath­room attend­ant last night.”

(I’d like to embed here a clip of the fake Top Gun 25th Anniversary audi­tion tape sketch from SNL with Alec Baldwin as Al Pacino and Harvey Fierstein as Hader that HuffPo is high-fiving in the quote above, but Hulu blocks non-US IP addresses.)

Curious how the ‘gay­ness’ of Top Gun is now part of con­ven­tional wis­dom and a shared joke. It cer­tainly wasn’t at the time.

Hard to believe, but in the 80s Top Gunstar­ring the young, tarty Tom Cruise (the Cristiano Ronaldo of his day), with its top­less vol­ley­ball scenes (to the strains of ‘Playing With the Boys’), linger­ing locker-room scenes, boy-on-boy cent­ral love-story (Iceman and Maverick’s aer­ial sex scenes are much hot­ter than any­thing going on with Kelly McGillis, who has since come out as les­bian) — and awash with enough baby oil and hair gel to sink an air­craft car­rier — was gen­er­ally seen as the epi­tome of het­ero­sexual virility.

And even nearly a dec­ade later in 1994, when I devoted a whole chapter in my first book Male Impersonators to explain­ing the homo­erot­ics of that out­rageous movie, plenty of people still wouldn’t have Top Gun’s het­ero­sexu­al­ity impugned.

Later the same year Quentin Tarantino made a cameo appear­ance in the movie Sleep With Me, essen­tially mak­ing the same argu­ment, Toby Young, then editor of The Modern Review and Tarantino fan­boy, was moved to write a long essay in the The Sunday Times defend­ing his favour­ite movie’s het­ero­sexu­al­ity from Simpson and Tarantino’s filthy calumnies.

Mr Young’s clinch­ing argu­ment? Top Gun HAD to be straight because he’d watched it twenty times – and he’s straight.

But now that every­one and his mother thinks Top Gun — and Tom Cruise — gay, I’m no longer quite so sure.…

In fact, what I told Mr Young in 1994 when he rang me for a quote for his piece was this: “Of course Top Gun isn’t a ‘gay movie’ — but it’s clearly, flag­rantly not a straight one either.” I think I’ll stick with that.

Perhaps we’re all more know­ing now. Perhaps more people are clued-up about homo­erot­ics. Perhaps it’s down to the Interweb mak­ing all the ‘incrim­in­at­ing’ clips always avail­able. Perhaps it’s all my fault. Though I sus­pect it’s more a case of the past being a for­eign coun­try — so ‘gay­ness’ can be safely pro­jec­ted onto some­thing in the past, even if it was once what hun­dreds of mil­lions of straight young men saw as the very epi­tome of aspir­a­tional heterosexuality.

I’d bet­ter end there as I’m off to the movies — to see Warrior.

 Tip: DAKrolak

Mission Impossible 4: The Führer’s Trousers

948 valkyrie 1230159290 Mission Impossible 4: The Fuhrers Trousers

Your mis­sion, should you choose to accept it, is to blow up the Twentieth Century’s most infam­ous evil genius in his heav­ily for­ti­fied bunker in the East, escape alive and then fly back to Berlin where you will lead a coup, nego­ti­ate an armistice with the Allies and save Germany from total destruc­tion and eternal igno­miny. Oh, and also save your own repu­ta­tion which has recently sunk to near Hitlerite levels.

This plot will self-destruct in five seconds.…

I finally got around to see­ing Missy Impossible IV the other night, the one dir­ec­ted by Bryan Singer with the art-house name: Valkyrie. Although it has by far the most improb­able plot — because of course it’s based on real events — and this mis­sion is, we all know (at least those of us who are not American High School stu­dents) destined to spec­tac­u­lar fail­ure, for me this is prob­ably the most watch­able product of Tom Cruise’s James Bond knock-off Mission Impossible vehicle. And I’m someone who always finds Mr Cruise watch­able — even if I like to say unpleas­ant things about him.

Of course, Valkyrie is not offi­cially part of the MI fran­chise, but in terms of the way it presents itself it doesn’t pre­tend too hard not to be. The cred­its tell us that Tom Cruise is cast as Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, the leader of the abort­ive 1944 July Bomb Plot against Hitler, but Mr Cruise is big­ger than Hitler, let alone some German aristo officer who tried and failed to knock him off. Hence Claus von Stauffenberg is mostly just another, mid-Twentieth cen­tury, Prussian look for Mr Cruise’s morality-in-action-hero per­sona, while the twi­light of the Nazi régime and the last des­per­ate attempt by Germans to over­throw their crazy Führer is just another exotic cine­matic back­drop for his pho­to­genic looks.

The poster for the film also looks like it’s advert­ising the latest MI (Mr Cruise lead­ing his ‘team’ into the villain’s lair). Even the theme music is the same. In the film Mr Cruise names the secret coup plot ‘Valkyrie’ after listen­ing to the thrill­ing, high-energy string intro to Wagner’s ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ — which sounds remark­ably sim­ilar to the open­ing of the MI theme tune.

But Tom Cruise van­ity vehicle or no, Valkyrie throws up some inter­est­ing themes. It opens by show­ing us on screen the text of the per­sonal oath that all mem­bers of the Wehrmacht had to swear to Adolf Hitler from 1934 onwards:

I swear by God this sac­red oath that I shall render uncon­di­tional obed­i­ence to Adolf Hitler, the Führer of the German Reich and people, supreme com­mander of the armed forces, and that I shall at all times be ready, as a brave sol­dier, to give my life for this oath.’

The oath, which of course the July Bomb plot­ters were all flag­rantly break­ing, was one of the favour­ite reas­ons often given by German sol­diers after the war was lost as to why they con­tin­ued fight­ing to the bit­ter end. Regardless, it was cer­tainly one of the reas­ons why the plot­ters had to kill Hitler — and the main reason why their fail­ure doomed them.

The movie is built on the premise that the ‘brave sol­diers’ are the ones who tried to kill the Führer, know­ing that, as Eddie Izzard (per­haps play­ing a bargain-basement Philip Hoffman play­ing a German staff officer) puts it to Mr Cruise in a men’s room: ‘the SS will pull you apart like warm bread’. We spend much of the movie look­ing for­wards to this cli­max, but alas, in the final reel, Cruise man­ages to get him­self shot before the SS arrive.

Odd to think though that what essen­tially was a ‘til-death-do-us part’ mar­riage vow that every German sol­dier had to make to Hitler came about largely as a res­ult of the murder of homo­sexual SA leader Ernst Rohm and much of the rest of SA lead­er­ship dur­ing the Night of the Long Knives in 1934, the first extra-judicial killings by the Nazi régime, jus­ti­fied shrilly by Goebbels — who of all the Nazi lead­er­ship was genu­inely, pas­sion­ately,  devoted to Hitler — rail­ing about the ‘degen­er­acy’ of the SA lead­er­ship and claim­ing, falsely, that they were plan­ning a coup. (Rohm, much more socially rad­ical than Hitler, did though want the SA to replace the Wehrmacht — in part because he saw it as being run by counter-revolutionary aris­to­crats like Stauffenberg. The Wehrmacht was so grate­ful to Hitler for back­ing them and elim­in­at­ing Rohm they were happy to pledge alleigance to him after President Hindenburg’s death the fol­low­ing year, effect­ively mak­ing Hitler dictator.)

But then, Valkyrie is a heav­ily homoso­cial movie with some dis­tinctly homo­erotic over­tones: almost every­one in it apart from a couple of tele­phone oper­at­ors and Stauffenberg’s long-distance wife, is male and the romantic interest in the movie is provided by the spec­tac­u­larly cute and devoted young blond male aide de camps resplen­dent in tailored Hugo Boss uni­forms that all the gen­er­als have tag­ging along, includ­ing Mr Cruise (his lad played by Brit Northerner Jamie Parker ). In the open­ing scene of the movie, Cruise is badly wounded in North Africa try­ing to save a young sol­dier; at the end Parker vol­un­tar­ily puts him­self between the fir­ing squad and Mr Cruise — facing him in death. And also mean­ing that Cruise sees Parker’s hand­some face instead of the muzzles of the fir­ing squad. This, the film seems to sug­gest, is the right kind of male sol­dierly devo­tion. Devotion to ugly evil old Hitler the wrong kind.

Even more than most Hollywood films Valkyrie is extremely fet­ish­istic, openly rev­el­ling in the ‘sex­i­ness’ of German Second World War uni­forms (thanks to Hugo Boss, every­one in Second World War re-enactment soci­et­ies wants to be the Germans). Perhaps this is because the sub­ject here for once is ‘good’ Germans. ‘Real life’ though can be even more absurd than Hollywood: the actual Stauffenberg decided to assas­sin­ate Hitler him­self after a pre­vi­ous assas­sin lost his nerve dur­ing an inspec­tion by Hitler of… new uniforms.

The key assas­sin­a­tion attempt scene at the Wolf’s Lair is uniform-related in the movie: in order to get some pri­vacy to arm his briefcase bomb, Cruise asks one of Hitler’s flun­keys ‘Do you have any­where I can change?’ show­ing a tiny shav­ing cut blood­stain on his crisp starched white shirt-collar (we saw him delib­er­ately nick­ing his neck earlier). All in all, you can’t help but think it a ter­rible shame that the Red Army was going to arrive at Berlin the fol­low­ing year and get everyone’s uni­forms very dirty indeed.

Most of the other lead act­ors in Valkyrie are British. Perhaps to lend a sense of Old World classi­ness to the pro­ceed­ings that Mr Cruise, as an all-American, clean cut, apple-pie, auto­erotic action hero isn’t able to — shouldn’t do . Or per­haps because they’re cheap. Whatever they cost, their faces lend char­ac­ter and cred­ib­il­ity, and per­haps even a little Shakespearean grav­itas (though per­haps not Eddie Izzard). Tom Wilkinson puts in a par­tic­u­larly seasoned per­form­ance as General Fromm, whose oppor­tun­istic vacil­la­tion helped seal the coup’s fate (he also played a cor­rupt East End Godfather in Guy Ritchie’s latest homoso­cial and even-more-bumming-obsessed-than-usual gang­ster movie Rocknrolla.) But Mr Cruise looks strangely out of place amidst all this — less like the altru­istic Prussian officer than one of the British luv­vies’ American male escort.

valkyrie31 Mission Impossible 4: The Fuhrers Trousers

Valkyrie man­ages to play a little with Mr Cruise’s own celebrity and global nar­ciss­ism (which today’s audi­ence of course iden­ti­fies with). It places much emphasis on Stauffenberg’s miss­ing right hand, two fin­gers on his left hand and his left eye in North Africa, almost present­ing this as the reason for his join­ing the res­ist­ance. Stauffenberg was a born war­rior from a long line of war­ri­ors so he prob­ably was less con­cerned with his wounds than we are: this motif only really res­on­ates because it’s Tom Cruise, the most fam­ous and recog­nis­able actor in the world, one of the most offi­cially desir­able men in the world, whose entire film career from Risky Business onwards has been based on his heroic determ­in­a­tion to see him­self as a sex-object – and make you see it too.

The fre­quent close-ups on Cruise’s eye-patch and glass eye which he keeps in a sil­ver box also seem to ref­er­ence Minority Report, where he goes through an agon­ising eye-swap pro­cess so he can escape arrest. Apparently, Mr Cruise was attrac­ted to the role of Stauffenberg because of what he saw as the resemb­lance of his pro­file to that of the war­rior aristocrat.

In fact, any sim­il­ar­it­ies there are between the two men’s pro­files only throws into greater relief the diss­mil­ar­it­ies — both in terms of their appear­ances and their char­ac­ter. At 46, Cruise often looks younger than 37-year-old Stauffenberg did in 1944 because look­ing forever boy­ish is Cruise’s job — it cer­tainly wasn’t Stauffenberg’s. Most obvi­ously of all, the dif­fer­ence between their pro­files is that Mr Cruise is demotic, whereas Stauffenberg is aris­to­cratic. Put another way, Mr Cruise has a much big­ger schnozzle.

stauffenberg and cruise Mission Impossible 4: The Fuhrers Trousers

I do have one major com­plaint about the film, how­ever. One of the greatest com­edy moments of the Twentieth Century is miss­ing. A scene sadly uncap­tured on film at the time which would in itself almost jus­tify mak­ing this movie (though prob­ably not the mass exe­cu­tion of the plot­ters and much of the non-Communist German res­ist­ance). While he him­self was left largely unscathed by the attempt on his life by Stauffenberg, Herr Hitler’s apparel was less for­tu­nate. The bomb blew off the Führer’s trousers leav­ing him unce­re­mo­ni­ously debagged.

hitlers trousers post bomb 165x300 Mission Impossible 4: The Fuhrers Trousers

Now that Risky Business, with its career-making dancing-in-your-underwear-on-the-sofa scene is over a quarter of a cen­tury old, I bet Mr Cruise wishes that he could achieve that effect more often.

 

Thanks to Pedro for insist­ing I watch this film.

Matt Damon: Sexy or Twaspy?

matt damon Matt Damon: Sexy or Twaspy?

Matt Damon is the ‘Sexiest Man Alive’, accord­ing to People magazine.

Perhaps it’s time to cruise the graveyard.

I don’t mean to be cruel — hon­est — but Matt is preppy, not sexy. The two things are not neces­sar­ily ant­ag­on­istic, gran­ted. But in Matt they are.

Yes, I know, it’s ‘all a mat­ter of taste’. But my taste is the right one. OK?

It’s true I’ve never quite for­given him for the film that launched his career, the intensely irrit­at­ing ‘Good Will Hunting’ in which Damon, an Ivy League drop-out, plays a maths-genius jan­itor — at an Ivy League col­lege (and makes us sit at the feet of Robin Williams talk­ing through a full beard for two hours). But then, why should I? He wrote it.

So here’s a list of entirely object­ive reas­ons why he isn’t the Sexiest Man Alive:

  • He has too many teeth for a human and reminds me of ‘American Werewolf in London’ when he smiles, and not in a good way
  • His nose is much too big, espe­cially in pro­file when it takes up most of the widescreen
  • His chin is big­ger than Jay Leno’s
  • His body is just there, like a trick you scored at the end of the night before the lights came on
  • He has mildly, wryly inter­est­ing lips, but they look like they have been trans­planted from someone else’s mouth; pos­sibly a house­wife from Knots Landing
  • He has nice blue eyes, but they look like they’re by the same man­u­fac­turer who makes GI Joe’s
  • He has facial time­share going on with Mark Wahlberg — but Wahlberg seems to wear it bet­ter and cuter

When he arrived on the scene all those years ago, Matt’s greatest phys­ical asset was simply that he was bland and young and twinky/WASPy (twaspy, any­one?). Now that he’s no longer so young (he’s 37) his flaws are pre­dom­in­at­ing, as they do (and I should know). But some­how without turn­ing him into an adult or even a ‘char­ac­ter’ — even when he plays a middle-aged father, with lots of latex, as in the later scenes of ‘The Good Shepherd’.

Like most of his gen­er­a­tion of male Hollywood act­ors, includ­ing Brad Pitt, Keanu Reeves, and his buddy Ben Affleck, Matt’s essen­tially a cruis­ette — a Tom Cruise clone. An All-American nar­ciss­istic male film star that never grows up because a) we don’t know what a man is any more, and b) the brand must go on forever and be forever desir­able. Cruise’s stel­lar and sus­tained suc­cess from the mid 80s onwards meant that the male Hollywood leads that came after him would be fash­ioned in his mini­ature image. (Damon’s actual height, like penis-size on dat­ing sites, is some­thing of a con­tested issue: it seems to be some­where between 5’9″ and 5’11″ — I sup­pose it all depends on where you meas­ure from).

But unlike Tom, cruis­ette Matt doesn’t have blue-collar cred­ib­il­ity, his nar­ciss­ism isn’t aspir­a­tional — and has never quite matched Cruise’s high-wattage on-screen tarti­ness. Perhaps because he didn’t have to strive as much as Cruise, he’s soberly pro­fes­sional. Though of course, this helps make the cruis­ette more pal­at­able to some than the wacky Scientologist original.

As for his act­ing — yes, we finally get to that — it’s true that Matt’s bet­ter than most of his Hollywood con­tem­por­ar­ies, but that doesn’t make him sexy. This is Hollywood, after all. Acting is what you do when all else fails. Besides, Matt’s best at roles like The Talented Mr Ripley and his Mission Impossible/James Bond vehicle The Bourne Identity – play­ing a man who has no iden­tity. That’s far too close to the truth of mod­ern mas­culin­ity to be ‘sexy’. Interesting, yes. Shaggable? I’ll text you later.…

Perhaps what people — or People – find ‘sexy’ about Damon, apart of course from his suc­cess, is his on-screen mas­ochistic streak, as wide as his many-toothed smile. In the Bourne films his char­ac­ter dis­plays an almost insa­ti­able appet­ite to be tor­tured and humi­li­ated and treated like meat — which per­haps stems from his need to find out who he is at any cost, his psycho-reprogramming by his CIA Bad Daddies, or per­haps his need to please us, the audi­ence (Who is Bourne? Why, he’s our punk!).

Admittedly, I too derive some pleas­ure from see­ing preppy Matty, adrift in Europe like some Ivy League Gap Year stu­dent who’s mis­laid his pass­port, get it, both ends. But it’s not very erotic. It’s just revenge.

The re-booting of the James Bond fran­chise last year with Daniel Craig in the lead role was strongly influ­enced by the suc­cess of the Bourne films, which of course were them­selves an updat­ing of the Bond concept. (Craig’s Bond is, in post­mod­ern stylee, a copy of a copy of a copy.)

But Craig’s on-screen mas­ochism is as filthy and sexy as Damon’s is anti­sep­tic­ally, twaspily clean-cut. Bond has a tight fore­skin; Bourne has Wintergreen-flavoured scar tissue.

America — meet David Beckham

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(The Guardian, 13 July, 2007)

America, meet David Beckham. America, meet The Metrosexual.

You’re going to be see­ing even more of both.

As most of the world already knows, today Becks is proudly ‘unveiled’ by LA Galaxy on their home turf. Brand Becks, the ulti­mate met­ro­sexual who trans­formed him­self from a tal­en­ted pro­fes­sional soccer-player with a cute smile into global me-dia, is the not-so-secret weapon in their cam­paign to seduce America into open­ing its arms, legs — and, most import­antly, wal­lets — to that obscure ver­sion of foot­ball played without crash hel­mets, Frankenstein pad­ding or artil­lery bar­rages by the rest of the world.

In case you can’t wait for the unveil­ing, you can find a selec­tion of ador­able pho­tos of Ken Doll David ‘taken’ from every deli­cious angle in his new strip in The Times of London. Or coquet­tishly meet­ing your gaze on the cover of Sports posh becks pose America   meet David BeckhamIllustrated, on a red car­pet. Or stripped to the waist on a car bon­net on the cover of ‘W’ magazine flex­ing his tits and tatts in trousers that appear to be pulling them­selves off. Oh, and that ex-ex Spice Girl wife of his is some­where in the pic­ture too.

And, of course, you can always catch Brand Beckham endors­ing major brands like Motorola and Nike. Or is it the other way around?

Spice Boy Becks is the total com­mod­ity who has totally com­mod­i­fied him­self — and turned soc­cer into his per­sonal bill­board. ESPN, the chan­nel tele­vis­ing Beck’s first game in his LA Galaxy strip on 21 July have arranged for an extra TV cam­era to feast solely on David for the dur­a­tion of the entire game, lest we miss any pre­cious moment of his spor­no­graphic body in motion — as well as mak­ing sure that they get their money’s worth. Who said that foot­ball was a game of two teams of eleven men? Or two halves? Becks is all that you could need and all that you could want. The Alpha and Omega of soccer.

ESPN are already air­ing an ad pro­mot­ing the match in which Becks leaves a heart­broken Europe for an ecstatic US, with the Beatles’ ‘Hello Goodbye’ as the soundtrack — ref­er­en­cing a pre­vi­ous ‘Brit’ inva­sion. Some are already talk­ing about ‘Beckmania’. The Beatles may have been big­ger than Jesus, but Becks is big­ger than soc­cer (which is why all those lengthy art­icles debat­ing whether he will or won’t make soc­cer pop­u­lar in the US some­what miss the point).

And after all, in the Sixties the Mop Tops suc­cess­fully expor­ted pop music back to the US, the coun­try of its birth, hav­ing taken it fur­ther and trans­formed it into some­thing even more sale­able. Becks in the Noughties is export­ing met­ro­sexu­al­ity back to the US, and in fact to the very town, which, in the Fifties, came up with the pro­to­type for it in the delect­able, Cinemascoped form of Marlon Brando, Monty Clift, James Dean, and Elvis Presley.

It was also the US that pro­duced pos­sibly the first metro sports star in the form of Seventies NFL star Joe Namath, dubbed ‘Broadway Joe’, an aes­thet­ic­ally inclined quar­ter­back who advert­ised shav­ing cream and… panty­hose. But once he retired, America pre­ten­ded he had never happened — leav­ing the field open to dandy for­eign play­ers like David Beckham.

America and Hollywood, so long at the cut­ting edge of com­modi­fy­ing mas­culin­ity, have fallen far behind. America is today con­flic­ted, fear­ful and hypo­crit­ical about one of its greatest inven­tions: the medi­ated, male sex object. Speedos, the per­fect ‘pack­age’ for the male body and Beckham’s favour­ite beach­wear, are all but banned on US shores because they are seen as ‘gay’. Which, appar­ently, is still the worst thing you can accuse a man of in the US — and the reason why the US, unlike the UK, exper­i­enced a back­lash against met­ro­sexu­al­ity, albeit a men-dacious one.

American mas­culin­ity des­per­ately needs some tarty tips on how to tart it out more. Enter Becks, the tarti­est tart in Tart-Town who rel­ishes being seen as ‘gay’ — and also rel­ishes being seen by gays (‘because they have good taste’). What’s more, he’s a jock not an actor.

Which reminds me, per­haps Becks will offer some friendly advice to his new Scientologist neigh­bour Tom Cruise. Cruise, the All-American Dream Boy gone wrong, who once wooed the world by dan­cing in his under­wear on a sofa in his 80s film ‘Risky Business’, but now jumps up and down on chat show sofas (while President Bush jumps up and down on Iraq), needs Becks more than Becks needs Cruise, who is now glob­ally much less pop­u­lar than Becks.

However much Becks may deny movie star aspir­a­tions, his Hollywood career has already begun.

Copyright Mark Simpson 2007

Beckham the virus goes to Hollywood

So Beckham, the über-metrosexual, the pho­to­genic English ath­lete who trans­figured him­self from mere pro­fes­sional soc­cer player into global me-dia, is leav­ing Real Madrid Football Club, his home for the past three years, and is now head­ing for the City of Signs.

becks 2 Beckham the virus goes to Hollywood

Beckham became a Hollywood foot­baller years ago (around about the time of ‘Beckham the virus’, pos­ted below).  Certainly his bosses at Real Madrid seem to have found Becks more style than substance.

But in a met­ro­sexu­al­ised world style is almost everything now.  Even and espe­cially in the world of men’s sports. This is why his lack-lustre per­form­ance on the pitch dur­ing his time in Spain didn’t pre­vent his agent land­ing him a $1M a week salary at Los Angeles Galaxy — the biggest world sports deal ever.

Galaxy, like Real, have paid a hefty premium for Beckham’s unri­valled mer­chand­ising power. Galaxy also believe, to the tune of a mil­lion bucks a week, that Beckham can seduce America, so long peev­ishly res­ist­ant to the sweaty, clean-limbed — and increas­ingly coquet­tish - charms of soc­cer, and ‘open up’ a spec­tac­u­larly luc­rat­ive new young male mar­ket in the US.

Whether or not he suc­ceeds, America had bet­ter get ready for a little more soc­cer and a lot more met­ro­sexu­al­ity and Sporno. It was back in 2002 that the US was intro­duced to met­ro­sexu­al­ity and its poster-boy, David Beckham (by, erm, me: ‘Meet the met­ro­sexual’), and look what happened then.  With Becks actu­ally resid­ing and play­ing in the US the res­ults could be climactic.

beckham j Beckham the virus goes to Hollywood

America and Hollywood, so long at the cut­ting edge of com­modi­fy­ing mas­culin­ity, have fallen so far behind much of the rest of the world since the 1990s. Incredible as it may sound, American mas­culin­ity needs some tarty tips on how to tart it out more. Enter Becks, the tarti­est tart in Tart-Town.

This is why Beck’s friend­ship with Hollywood’s box-office king/queen Tom Cruise is more than just another foot­baller going celebrity chum­ming.  Cruise, the all-American Dream-boy gone wrong, needs Becks more than Becks needs Cruise who is now glob­ally rather less pop­u­lar than Becks.  Because this is about media power rather than polit­ical or mil­it­ary power, that’s to say the New Power, it’s the inverse rela­tion­ship of Bush and Blair.

Britain mean­while will envi­ously and resent­fully watch his every move reflec­ted across the pond, and start to feel like it’s miss­ing out.  And then Becks, cur­rently out of favour here, partly because of last year’s World Cup dis­aster but mostly because we don’t for­give him for mov­ing to Spain three years ago, will be back in vogue.

We Brits are fickle like that.

 —-

becks 3 Beckham the virus goes to HollywoodBECKHAM, THE VIRUS

He’s one of the most fam­ous humans who has ever lived — even though he’s not that cute, not that smart and not that great a soc­cer player.

By Mark Simpson

[Originally appeared Salon, June 28, 2003)

It ha(n’t been like this since the death of Diana. Britain has been suf­fer­ing from a national nervous break­down ever since David Beckham, hand­some icon of the Manchester United soc­cer team, announced last week that he was leav­ing to play for Real Madrid.

The Sun, the best-selling UK tabloid, set up a Beckham “grief helpline” and claims it has been swamped with calls from dis­tressed fans. One caller said he was con­sid­er­ing sui­cide, while sev­eral con­fessed that they were so upset they couldn’t per­form in bed. A man who has “Beckham” tat­tooed on his arm threatened to cut if off. “I cried myself to sleep after hear­ing the awful news,” said grand­mother Mary Richards, age 85. A London cabby, ever the voice of reason, asked, “Has the world gone mad? He’s only a foot­baller!” But he was mis­taken. A foot­baller is now the least of what David Beckham is.

In the era of soc­cer that will come to be known as B.B. — Before Beckham — the sport was a team game. What mattered was the club, the team and the player in that order. Then in the mid-1990s, David Beckham — or “Becks” as he is known in that famil­iar, affec­tion­ately fore­shortened form with which the British like to address their work­ing class her­oes — came along, flicked his (then) Diana-style blond fringe and changed the face of soc­cer. It wasn’t his legendary right foot that altered the game, but his pho­to­genic face — and the fact that he used it to become one of the most recog­niz­able, richest and valu­able ath­letes in the world, receiv­ing a salary of $8 mil­lion per year, earn­ing at least $17 mil­lion more in endorse­ments and com­mand­ing a record trans­fer fee for his move to Real Madrid of $41.6 million.

Beckham’s greatest value is his cros­sover appeal — he interests not only those who have no interest in the club for which he plays, but those who have no interest in soc­cer. He is the most recog­nized sports­man in Asia, where soc­cer is still rel­at­ively new. Possibly only Buddha him­self is bet­ter known — though Beckham is catch­ing up there too: In Thailand someone has already fash­ioned a golden “Becks” Buddha. He’s even man­aged to interest Americans, for God’s sakes. The 27-year-old, tongue-tied, sur­pris­ingly shy working-class boy from London’s East End has suc­ceeded in turn­ing the mass, global sport of soc­cer into a mass, global pro­mo­tional vehicle for him­self, repro­du­cing his image in count­less coun­tries. He has turned him­self into a soc­cer virus, one that has infec­ted the media, rep­lic­at­ing him every­where, all over the world, end­lessly, mak­ing him one of the most fam­ous men that has ever lived.

David Beckham, in other words, is a superbrand.

In recog­ni­tion of this, Becks was the first foot­baller ever to receive “image rights” — pay­ment for the earn­ing poten­tial his image provided his club — and got them, to the tune of $33,300 a week. In fact, image rights were the main issue at stake in the record-busting six weeks of con­tract rene­go­ti­ations he had with Manchester United last year; his worth as a player was agreed at $116,500 a week almost imme­di­ately. Then there’s that $17 mil­lion a year for endors­ing such brands as Castrol, Brylcreem, Coca Cola, Vodafone, Marks & Spencer and Adidas. And Becks just keeps get­ting big­ger. His trusty law­yers have already registered his name for products as vari­ous as per­fumes, deodor­ants, jew­elry, purses, dolls and, oh yes, soc­cer jer­seys. Such is the power of the Beckham brand that it’s hoped it can res­cue the for­tunes of Marks & Spencer’s cloth­ing (a high-end British chain that has become a byword for “dowdy”).

But alas, the brand couldn’t save murdered Suffolk girls Holly and Jessica, poignantly pic­tured last year in police posters in match­ing rep­licas of his No. 7 red shirt. When it was still hoped that they might be run­aways, the man him­self made a broad­cast appeal for their return. There was the Becks, eer­ily right at the heart of the nation’s hopes and fears again.

a becks festeja htop Beckham the virus goes to HollywoodBeckham has even man­aged to brand a numeral — 7 — the num­ber on his soc­cer jer­sey. A clause in his Manchester United con­tract guar­an­teed him No. 7, he has 7 tat­tooed in Roman numer­als on his right fore­arm, his black Ferrari’s regis­tra­tion plate is “D7 DVB,” and his Marks and Spencer’s cloth­ing line is branded “DB07.” He even queues at No. 7 check­out when he goes shop­ping. This is often inter­preted as a sign of his super­sti­tious­ness, but is more an indic­a­tion of his very rational grasp of the magic of brand­ing. (He may, how­ever, have to settle for the num­ber 77 when he moves to Real Madrid, as the coveted 7 is already taken by Spanish super­star Raul.)

But some­how, Beckham has not yet become a vic­tim of his own suc­cess and has man­aged to remain offi­cially “cool.” Europe’s largest sur­vey into “cool” recently found that Beckham was the “coolest” male, accord­ing to both young women and men. Beckham’s status can be attrib­uted to his diva-esque ver­sat­il­ity and his super­brand power: “Like Madonna he is very ver­sat­ile and able to rad­ic­ally change his image but not ali­en­ate his audi­ence,” says pro­fessor Carl Rohde, head of the Dutch “cool hunt­ing” firm Signs of the Time. “He remains authen­tic.” Each time he goes to the hairdresser’s and has a restyle — which is alarm­ingly often — he ends up on the cover of every tabloid in Britain. In other words, whatever Becks does, how­ever he wears his hair or his clothes — or, cru­cially, whatever product he endorses — he is say­ing, as Rohde puts it, “this is just another aspect of me, David Beckham. Please love me.” And, it goes without say­ing, buy me. And mil­lions do.

Becks’ greatest sales suc­cess, how­ever, was actu­ally on the foot­ball field — though less with the ball than with the cam­era. He’s the most fam­ous foot­baller in the world, and con­sidered by mil­lions to be one of the greatest foot­ballers of all time, but argu­ably he’s not even a world-class player. A very fine one, to be sure, but not nearly the foot­baller we are sup­posed to think he is — not nearly the foot­baller we want to think he is. Sport, you might ima­gine, is the one area of con­tem­por­ary life where hype can’t win, where res­ults, at the end of the day, are everything. But Beckham has dis­proved that, has van­quished that, and rep­res­ents the tri­umph of P.R. over … well, everything. His con­tri­bu­tion to Manchester United was debat­able. On foot­balling skills alone, he is argu­ably not worthy of play­ing for the English national team, let alone being its cap­tain. However, in the last dec­ade soc­cer has become part of show busi­ness and advertising.

beckham Beckham the virus goes to HollywoodBeckham is a hybrid of pop music and foot­ball, the Spice Girl of soc­cer — hence his mar­riage to one. He is — indis­put­ably — the cap­tain of a new gen­er­a­tion of pho­to­genic, pop-tastic young foot­balling lad­dies that added boy-band value to the mer­chand­ising and media pro­file of soc­cer clubs in the 1990s.

Beckham’s foot­balling forte is free kicks. This is entirely appro­pri­ate, since these are, after all, among the most indi­vidu­al­istic — and aes­thetic — moments in soc­cer. Unlike a goal, with a free kick there’s no one passing to you, no one to share the glory with. Instead there’s prac­tic­ally a spot­light and a drum roll. And how he kicks! “Goldenballs” (as his wife, Victoria, aka Posh Spice, reportedly likes to call him) has impress­ive accur­acy and his range is breath­tak­ing — along with his fam­ous “bend­ing” tra­ject­ory, his kicks also have style and grace. Long arms out­stretched à la Fred Astaire, wrists bent del­ic­ately upward, for­ward leg angled, and then — con­tact — and a power­ful, pre­cise, eleg­ant thwump! and follow-through. An Englishman shouldn’t kick a ball like this. This is the way that Latins kick the ball. Beckham doesn’t just rep­res­ent the aes­thet­i­ciz­a­tion of soc­cer that has occurred in a media-tised world — he is the aes­thet­i­ciz­a­tion of it. Like his silly hair­dos, like his “arty” tat­toos, like the extraordin­ar­ily elab­or­ate post-goal cel­eb­ra­tions he prac­tices with the crowd, almost everything he does on the field is designed to remind you that No. 7 is any­thing but a number.

Off the soc­cer field Becks is able to use clothes and accessor­ies to draw atten­tion to him­self. And does he. The Versace suits, the sarong, and the sequined track suit that opened the Commonwealth Games dazzled TV audi­ences and con­fused some for­eign view­ers who still thought the queen of England was a middle-aged woman. Essentially, Beckham’s visual style is “glam” — more Suede than Oasis (with a bit of con­tem­por­ary R&B pop promo thrown in). And like glam rock, which was a British working-class style run­ning riot in the dec­ade of his birth, the 1970s, Beckham, the son of Leytonstone pro­let­ari­ans, has a clear image of him­self as working-class roy­alty, the new People’s Princess (though his “super­brand” power has as yet been unable to sell us his wife, who, post-Spice Girls, remains unpop­u­lar and unsuc­cess­ful). Hence his wed­ding took place in a castle; at the recep­tion after­ward Posh and Becks were ensconced in match­ing His ‘n’ Hers thrones, and their Hertfordshire home was dubbed “Beckingham Palace” by the tabloids.

Soccer, like pop music, is one of the few ways the British are per­mit­ted any suc­cess — it is, after all, some­thing both manual and aris­to­cratic at the same time. Becks the foot­ball pop star rep­res­ents and advert­ises a mater­i­al­istic aspir­a­tion­al­ism that doesn’t appear bourgeois.

Beckham’s tat­toos — a lit­eral form of brand­ing — seem to epi­tom­ize this. What were once badges of male working-class iden­tity are now ways of advert­ising the unique Becks brand. “Although it hurts to have them done, they’re there forever and so are the feel­ings behind them,” Becks has explained. But these are not the kind of “Mum & Dad Always” tat­toos his plumber dad and his mates might have had. The huge, shaven-headed, open-armed, “guard­ian angel” with an alarm­ingly well-packed loin­cloth on his back looks more than a little like him­self with a Jesus com­plex. Beneath, in gothic let­ter­ing, is his son’s name: Brooklyn. Once his uni­form comes off at the end of a match — as it usu­ally does, and before any­one else’s — the tat­toos help him to stand out instantly, and mean that he is never naked: He’s always wear­ing some­thing designer.

becks the virus Beckham the virus goes to HollywoodBecks clearly enjoys get­ting his tits out for the lads and lasses — and oil­ing them up for the cover of Esquire and other lad­die mags. While he may look strangely under­nour­ished and fra­gile in a soc­cer uni­form, as if his ghoul­ishly skinny wife has been tak­ing away his fries, and all those injur­ies sug­gest he’s some­what brittle, stripped down he looks as lithe and strong as a pan­ther. He doesn’t drink, he doesn’t smoke, he doesn’t do drugs. His body is a temple — to his own self-image — which he never ceases worshipping.

There is how­ever a sub­missive pho­to­philia to Becks. A cer­tain passiv­ity or even mas­ochism about his dis­plays for the cam­era, which seem to say “I’m here for you.” Hence per­haps the fond­ness for those Christ-like/James Dean-like poses with arms out­stretched (the cover of Esquire had him “cru­ci­fied” on the Cross of St. George). Even those free kicks seem to have the lop­ing icon­o­graphy of “Giant” or Calvary about them.  Truth be told, Becks is there for him, but it’s a nice thought nonetheless.

To some he is already a god — lit­er­ally. In addi­tion to the Thai Becks Buddha, a pair of Indian artists have painted him as Shiva, the Hindu god of destruc­tion. In the Far East, andro­gyny is seen as a fea­ture of god­head — and so it has here in the West as well since the Rolling Stones. As Becks tells us him­self: “I’m not scared of my fem­in­ine side and I think quite a lot of the things I do come from that side of my char­ac­ter. People have poin­ted that out as if it’s a cri­ti­cism, but it doesn’t bother me.” It’s as if when he was a teen­ager he looked at those grainy black-and-white ‘80s girl­ish bed­room shrine posters of smooth-skinned doe-ish male mod­els hold­ing babies and thought: I’d like to be like that when I grow up. Becks is the poster boy of what I have termed else­where met­ro­sexu­al­ity. His hero/role-model status com­bined with his out-of-the-closet nar­ciss­ism and love of shop­ping and fash­ion and appar­ent indif­fer­ence to being thought of as “fag­goty” means that for cor­por­a­tions he is a price­lessly potent vec­tor for per­suad­ing mil­lions, if not bil­lions, of young men around the world to express them­selves “fear­lessly,” to be “indi­vidu­als” — by wear­ing exactly what he wears. Beckham is the über-metrosexual, not just because he rams met­ro­sexu­al­ity down the throats of those men churl­ish enough to remain ret­ro­sexual and refuse to pluck their eye­brows, but also because he is a sports­man, a man of sub­stance — a “real” man — who wishes to dis­ap­pear into sur­fa­ce­ness in order to become ubi­quit­ous — to become me-dia. Becks is The One, and slightly bet­ter look­ing than Keanu — but, be warned, he’s work­ing for the Matrix.

Ultimately, though, it is his desire that makes him the super­brand that he is. Beckham has suc­ceeded where pre­vi­ous British soc­cer her­oes you’ve never heard of, such as George Best, Alan Shearer and Eric Cantona — a Frenchman who played for Manchester United and is John the Baptist to Beck’s Christ — have failed, and has become a truly global star. Partly because the world has changed but mostly because they didn’t want it as much as he did. Becks is trans­par­ently so much more needy — more needy than almost any of us is. The pub­lic, quite rightly, only lets itself love com­pletely those who clearly depend on that love, because they don’t want to be rejec­ted. Beckham’s need­i­ness is lit­er­ally bot­tom­less. Like his image, it grows with what it feeds on. He’ll never reject our gaze.

It’s there in his hungry face. He isn’t actu­ally that attract­ive. Blasphemy! No really, his face doesn’t have a proper sym­metry. His mouth is frog­like and bash­fully off-center. But what is attract­ive, or at least hyp­not­iz­ing in a demo­cratic kinda way, which is to say media­genic, is his neurotic-but-ordinary desire to be beau­ti­ful, and to use all the tech­no­logy and voo­doo of con­sumer cul­ture and fame to achieve this. His appar­ent lack of an inner life, his sub­missive, high-pitched 14-year-old-boy voice that no one listens to, his beguil­ing blank­ness, only emphas­ize his suc­cess, his power­ful­ness in a world of super­fi­ci­al­ity. That oddly flat-but-friendly gaze that peers out from bill­boards and behind Police sunglasses looks to beckham g Beckham the virus goes to Hollywoodmil­lions like the nearest thing to god­li­ness in a god­less world. People fall in love not with him — who knows what Beckham is really like, or cares — but with his mul­ti­me­dia need­i­ness, his trans­mit­ted “viral” desire, which seems to spread and rep­lic­ate itself every­where, endors­ing mul­tiple products. Becks’ desire, via the giant shared toi­let handle of advert­ising, infects us, inhab­its us and becomes our own.

The British for their part, even those call­ing tabloid papers in tears to declare their lives ruined now that Beckham is mov­ing to Real Madrid, will sur­vive shar­ing him with the Spanish for a few years. After all, they’re already proudly shar­ing him with most of the rest of the world — and bask­ing in his reflec­ted glory. No one buys our pop music any more; our “Britpop” prime min­is­ter, Tony Blair, post-Iraq, is widely regarded abroad as a scoun­drel; our roy­als, post Diana, are a dreary bunch of sods (even her sainted son William is begin­ning to lose some of his Spencer spark and glow to the tired, horsey blood of his “German” dad and grandmama); and our national soc­cer squad has dif­fi­culty beat­ing coun­tries with a pop­u­la­tion smal­ler than Southampton.

But “our Becks” on the other, per­fectly man­i­cured hand, is some­thing British the world seems to actu­ally want. Badly.

 

Copyright Mark Simpson 2003

This essay is col­lec­ted in Metrosexy: A 21st Century Self-Love Story.