“Everybody else had their gods,” comic book artist Jack Kirby observed, “what are ours? What is the shape of our society in the form of myth and legend?”
His answer took the form of Galactus and his fallen angel The Silver Surfer. If the question were asked today, the answer I think would be David Beckham.
David Beckham is the great idol of our society. In the decade just gone his name was the third most googled search term. In the world. But the myth of David Beckham has little to do with the man himself – at the advent of his England career he could barely jabber his way through an interview. He is an unassuming, softly-spoken man who builds castles out of Lego in his spare time and who has suffered from asthma since childhood.
Yet Beckham’s insignia is embossed on jewellery, it adorns men’s grooming products and helps sell sports clothing. You can look like Beckham, buy shoes that help you move like Beckham. He even has a fragrance so that you smell like him too. Footballers at work smell like sweat, mud
and churned up grass. If you added red wine, they’d look and smell like the model in a Percil advert.Beckham’s image has undeniably has the whiff of mythology.
Greek soldiers probably smelt much the same as footballers, although one imagines they showered slightly less. Yet their names still dominate mythology. In our imagination their deeds are glorified and put into HD widescreen action with surround sound. And so were Beckham’s.
His website displays one picture (Beckham, the dormant soldier) and one video. In the latter, close ups of each tendon of Beckham’s body plummet towards our view in a crescendo of unbridled masculinity. Every flex is the hero arming itself for war, physical prowess and flawless human design at its peak. His warrior persona was literalised in a 2006 Pepsi advert, in which Beckham saves a town from totalitarianism, using only a football and leathers.
But this Beckham has an Achilles tendon – sportsmen have an expiry date. Over the summer Fabio Capello announced the end of Beckham’s international career. The arrow is truly lodged in his heel. Beckham needs to become a new hero, the society that built him needs to recast him in a new shape.
In an interview with Jonathan Ross, Beckham talked tenderly about his aspirations to continue his work helping soldiers in Afghanistan.
Beckham can no longer be the sportsman idol Pepsi and EA want him to be. But in the decline of his sporting career he can be something more. Like Batman, he can no longer be the hero we want. But maybe he can be the hero we need.