Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Letter From Amerika – On Blowjobs, Beckham and Sunsets
By Arthur King

LOS ANGELES – A few years back now, Hugh Grant got caught by the cops with his cock in a prostitute’s mouth on Sunset Boulevard. What has this got to do with David Beckham? Bear with me.

By a delightful irony, Divine Brown, the hooker who gave head to Hugh on Sunset, saw the sun rise briefly on her own film career. The incident got made into a porno, featuring Brown as herself, thus proving that the time-honoured methods are best for entering any profession (in this case, performing sexual favours for someone who’s already in film in order to get into film).

Meanwhile, Hugh got an extreme makeover, becoming a lad with a bad streak. Rather than the sort of chap you’d take home to meet your mother, Hugh Grant became the sort of chap who might jump your mother if you took him home to meet her.

Ironically, the blowjob on Sunset did not prove to be the sun setting on Hugh’s career: on the contrary, mothers all over America were very happy with the idea of getting jumped by Hugh, and as I write this, you can drive down Sunset’s boulevard of broken crack addicts, and Hugh will stare down at you from vast billboards that glitter in the neon night. In the ad for his latest movie, he remains the confused and charming Englishman, in this case exchanging saccharine grins with Drew Barrymore over a keyboard and some sheet music. Of course, we can now imagine him exiting the billboard, getting loaded on something thoroughly evil, and heading downtown for a skanky $10 blowjob. It adds an edge to his performance on screen to know that his is a fully-rounded male character. Frankly, many Americans will tell ya, he had a little too much of the faggy Englishman about him before: Divine’s intervention improved him.

The lesson of all this should not be lost on young David Beckham, who recently announced his retirement to play “soccer” in Los Angeles. And let’s cut through the crap right away: it is a retirement, because Beckham has been a passenger on the international soccer stage for several years. And if we’re being honest, David Beckham has never been a great player: his greatness has always been his ability to make money from his own image.

Milking America
David Beckham’s LA retirement plan is of course all about money, and that’s what all the principle players mean when they talk about “taking soccer to a new level in America.” They are not talking about raising the standard of the game here, enlarging audiences, or muscling in on the space occupied by other American sports. What they are saying is they think they’ve finally found a way to milk the American cash-cow using soccer.

Milking this America has been the European football dream for at least three decades now, and all attempts have failed. Milking this America inspired the irrelevance that is the penalty shoot-out (it was believed the familiarity would inspire an American audience that always expects a winner); it produced the execrable World Cup 94, played in atrocious midday heat that only through sheer good fortune did not kill a player; and it inspired former FIFA president Sepp Blatter to propose a game of four quarters with larger goals (simultaneously producing more goals, and squeezing in more ads).

This America has resisted all attempts to sell it soccer. For the last 11 years, this America has had Major League Soccer, and has watched attendance at its games remain static. Only two teams have so far turned a profit. But this is the America that David Beckham believes will open up its wallet to his essential masculine appeal, get down on its knees before him, and be forever altered.

International dwarf-throwing
You can certainly find a lot of MLS fans who believe that the arrival of Beckham signals a new dawn, not a trick done with mirrors, chemicals and balance sheets. But you can also find a lot of Americans who believe that sending more soldiers with guns will magically make violence disappear in Iraq.

In much the same way, David Beckham may actually believe he is going to change the face of sporting America: after all, he knows that celebrity breeds it’s own celebrity. He’s an extremely good footballer who has made a fortune by turning himself into a brand. He’s huge in Asia, big in Britain, and if Spain doesn’t want him and his charms, well why shouldn’t he be something big in America?

Well, for one thing, American TV still rates American football, basketball, baseball and ice-hockey well ahead of soccer. Come to that, the average Bud-gulpin’ All-’Mercan Nascar fan would probably pick international dwarf-throwing ahead of Man Utd versus Juventus. The sport is not growing here, and there’s a couple of very simple reasons why it never will: firstly, Americans perceive soccer as the preserve of upper-class teen girls or working-class ghetto immigrants; and secondly, it doesn’t feature enough ad breaks.

To understand what’s really going on, and what Beckham’s really getting himself into (and why football will never take off in the US), you have to understand a little bit about the traditions of working-class sport in the US, and a little thing called Title IX.

Working-class heroes
The traditions of working-class sport in America are simple: they are decided by television. Baseball was the working man’s sport until it was usurped in the 1950s by American football, which is more TV-friendly simply because it follows the classic three-act structure required of all good dramas. Act One: Pan back for the long shot. Act Two: Close in for the snap back. Act Three: Pan out for the play. The End. Cue ads. Come back for the next play, and so on. It’s an advertiser’s dream sport, and advertisers decide what gets seen because they place the money.

Soccer doesn’t offer enough ad breaks, hence Blatter’s dream of a game of four halves. It’s also seen as an immigrant sport and to become American, you have to play American sports with their emphasis on explosive strength, constant scoring, and statistical analysis. There is enormous social pressure placed on each new immigrant group to prove that it has integrated into the mainstream; anything that suggests you are a FOB (Fresh Off the Boat) is off limits to the second-generation immigrant with a powerful need to fit in, which is why soccer has always placed behind dwarf-hurling as a sport of choice.

You play like a girl
As well as being an immigrant sport, soccer in America is also peculiarly an elite sport, a game dominated by predominantly white, predominantly upper-middle class, and more recently, predominantly female interests. Women’s increased involvement in the game stems from Title IX, a federal law introduced in 1972, which mandates that women’s sports at the school and college level must receive equal funding alongside men’s sports. Casting around for a home, women most likely to act on their rights under this new law – the educated and upper class – hit on soccer as a sport to call their own (“This is my game” was the rather parochial slogan the Americans chose when they hosted the Women’s World Cup in 1999).

Women in America do not play American Football, the ultimate male preserve; the players weigh up to 400 pounds, wear body armour, and play in short bursts in controlled patterns that generate enormous quantities of readily digestible statistics. In a similar way, cars must be strong and go really fast, but only round in really enormous circles: even Formula One racing looks suspiciously gay to the average Nascar fan.

Extreme Makeover Needed
Enamoured as he is with celebrity, Los Angeles is a natural home for a man obsessed with his own brand status. Problem is for young David, he ain’t gettting any younger any time soon, and he’s playing an elite feminine sport in a country that will not accept the game as working-class until it gets some time-outs and shoulder pads. Added to that, this country changes its stars every fifteen minutes: Beckham’s going to get confined to the B-list, famed only for his fading beauty, and celebrated for his association with other stars who are fading fast. David’s future, if he’s lucky, is to exist on the edge of a diminishing photo opportunity.

The Hollywood Hills are filled with B-List Beckhams, people who had their fifteen minutes of fame but now are forced to wait, eternally, to see if they can get fifteen more. You see them wandering on Sunset, among the dildo emporia, and the mad homeless, the flocks of beaten tourists, and the bearded trannies wobbling on white high heels. The formerly famous pass by and you wonder briefly why you think you’ve seen them before: they stop, hoping you’ll recognise them. You hurry on. They hurry home to lurk in the hills, hoping for the call that never comes. Occasionally they go mad and make the headlines. Mostly they live on residuals from their former fame.

If he really wants to crack the American market, David Beckham has to do something serious about his image. It appeals to educated teen girls, but it’s completely unintelligible to mainstream America right now, with its penchant for beer-bellied baseball players, Nascar drivers and 300-pound footballers. What Beckham needs is a sex scandal, something grim, sweaty and essentially testosterone; preferably involving hard drugs, a hooker, Sunset Boulevard, and a car chase. Otherwise, and I hate to be so blunt about it, to the average American, he’s just another faggy Brit who plays a girl’s game.

Written February 10, 2007 for publication in The Alternative, Hong Kong

1 comments:

Zephirine said...

I've just read this after following your link from GU. Impressive and informative, I thought.
Have you been to www.pseudscorner.blogspotcom ?
It's a site set up by people who wrote things for the Big Blogger comp, it's turned into a kind of informal sports magazine/blog/thingy.