If this sounds like Karl Marx's version of wage labor to you, forget it. Nothing could be further from the truth. Instead of the proletariat selling their bodies to the capitalists, it is the capitalist entrepreneur who sells his body to the avaricious proletariat in the digital format so desired. It is a fair transaction, transparent and honest. A legitimate exchange along well-defined utility curves.
Of course, David Beckham did not invent this idea. The concept is explained beautifully in Chapter 1 of Robert Grant's Contemporary Strategy Analysis, the standard strategy textbook in many MBA programs. Grant gives three examples of "Person as Product", based on three individuals who developed successful strategies. One of the three is Madonna. Madonna, according to Grant, has for several decades managed her "self" with remarkable skill. She has continually reinvented her image and her music to meet market demands; she has used her "personal" life to promote her business success (i.e., she sleeps with and marries those men who best advance her career); and she never, absolutely never, confuses art with business. She properly defines herself and success in life in E.V.A. (economic value added).
It may be fair to say that David Beckham lacks Madonna's intelligence and guile. This may be because, unlike Madonna, he was a childhood success. All Beckham ever wanted to be was a football player, and he was star by the time he had reached the age of reason. He was, as an narcissistic adolescent, a successful athelete, skilled and in love with the game This is the Beckham imagined in "Bend It Like Beckham" -- the child and young man in love with himself who hour after hour practiced free kicks and discovered parabolas previously unknown to physics. Beckham had what coaches like to call a great "work ethic". You can still see it when Beckham is on the field. He plays hard, as he always has, the way he was taught. He plays hard because it feels good. This is something everyone who has played competitive sports understands.
But then Beckham discovered that his body itself was worth more money than he could possibly imagine, and that he could be packaged and sold. Of course, not everyone likes the idea. They prefer the "young and innocent" Beckham playing for the "love of the sport", subjugating his commercial self to the beauty of the game. Alex Ferguson, his former coach at Manchester United, found Beckham's conversion to product status an affront to the team and the sport. He blamed Beckham's wife, Victoria Adams, for Beckham's transformation, but he was wrong. It is probable that Beckham was drawn to Adams precisely because Adams, one of the Spice Girls, was herself a product. Products provide sensation and pleasure. Products are the embodiment of rational behavior. It is an adult answer to the narcissistic joy and suffering of adolescence. It is horrifyingly mature.
Beckham felt no guilt at turning himself into a product. He convinced himself that he could have both the romance of sport and the reason of money. Together, they were destined to win a dozen Champions' League.
It was not to be. Beckham's $250 million contract enshrines market rationality at the expense of romance. Alongside Beckham the product, the irrational and narcissistic adolescent self is but a superannuated Greek tragedy. The 30-something Beckham is beautiful and gaudy. Beside David Beckham, replicant Darryl Hannah flipping handsprings and clamping on a headlock on Harrison Ford in Bladerunner is a crude chunk of reality. Next to David Beckham, Keanu Reaves spinning off of walls and zapping virtual enemies in Matrix is just a lame metaphysical 20th century stab at making sense of the world. Mr. Beckham will have none of this nonsense. David Beckham is like the new city of Shanghai, the apotheosis of the transaction. The medium has finally become the message at last.
Hyperbole is fun. But alas, words, like soccer balls, must thud to the ground. I learned of Beckham's galactic contract with The L.A. Galaxy while watching the news on CNN. I had turned on the television for President Bush's news conference on his new strategy for Iraq. I listened attentively, listened to Democrats' lame response, listened to the bleak, depressing, endless discussion that followed because is was my duty, until the calming monotony was interrupted by "breaking news" ... David Beckham was leaving Real Madrid to go to the Los Angeles Galaxy with a $250 million 5-year contract. David Beckham would finally turn the United States from a nation of soccer moms to soccer consumers.
The news break lasted about 30 seconds before CNN turned back to analyzing the President's new strategy that was, of course, the same old failed strategy. President Bush had spoken from the Presidential Library, behind him shelves of books that once proudly claimed not to read. Someone joked that the books were props with nothing inside them. But I knew that the books were real, just as the deaths and mangled body parts of the Americans and Iraqis were real. And I realized for the first time how profoundly President Bush had consumed America's romantic vision of itself on the same day that David Beckham came falsely promising to return romance to us.
I felt pained watching Beckham. And it occured to me, as it occurs to you, how much better we liked young David Beckham's imaginary romance to George W. Bush's real imagined world. We slip Bend It Like Beckham into the DVD, and we share the adolescent's joy in herself ... the football arching above the leaping defender and the goalie vainly reaching, the gloved outstretched hand flogging the air ... the narcissistic romantic triumph that we all once believed in.
Coming fron David Bruce Allen