New Man lives on Planet Beckham

June 20, 2003

Footballing icon David Beckham has dramatically redefined the working-class man's sense of identity, a worldwide meeting of sociologists heard this week.

And his life on what lecturer John Harris has dubbed "Planet Beckham" has caused a reassessment of Englishness.

"The perception of the English man tends to have been seen in class terms - either the bowler hats or the hooligans. Working-class football fans have been defined by the three Bs - betting, birds and booze. But Beckham has changed all of that."

Dr Harris, a senior lecturer at Southampton Institute's Business School, has been studying the media's confused and contradictory relationship with the England football captain and cultural icon.

He presented his thesis to the Second World Congress of Sociology of Sport at the German Sport University in Cologne, Germany, as Beckham prepared to say adios to England and sign for the Spanish club Real Madrid.

"Looking at Beckham's press over the past five years, he was built up as a big star, but then took a mighty fall at the 1998 World Cup when he was sent off against Argentina and England lost the match. The media portrayed him as the villain, and he provided a scapegoat for sporting failure."

Then, Dr Harris argued, in a bid to protect "masculine, English national pride", the media attacked him. "But four years later, at the 2002 World Cup, he became the symbol of England abroad."

Beckham is now praised for the same characteristics for which he was slated, Dr Harris said. "He is non-conformist, which was seen as a fault but is now a virtue. He is a clean-living family man, he is not afraid to wear what many would regard as feminine clothes, and he changes his hairstyle all the time."

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