Labour History Review

David Beckham as a Historical Moment in the Representation of Masculinity

Labour History Review (2004), 69, (2), 219–233.

Abstract

There can be no doubt that David Beckham is a public figure of intense media interest in contemporary culture and this paper aims to explore representations of Beckham, focusing on British lifestyle and celebrity magazines published from May to October 2002. This six-month period covered some extremely significant events in Beckham's private and professional lives and therefore provided ample and diverse examples of how he is represented in this particular form of media. The categories of representation were generated using a grounded theory approach and subsequently analysed using ideas drawn from queer theory. My aim was to explore whether queer ideas of gender destabilization are useful explanatory frameworks when discussing the modes of representation of David Beckham as a working-class heterosexual subject. I suggest that queer theory does allow an appreciation of new elements being coded into working-class masculinity but that current changes in the representation of masculinity may be more usefully understood as expansions of the ‘sign’ of masculinity operating as a commodity form.

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The work of Baudrillard and others who have focused on the importance of signs in late modern/post-modern culture is useful here, in part because they draw from the same tradition of structural linguistics which has been one of the many threads woven into Queer theory. Moreover, his characterization of late modernity as a period of hyper reality raises the central question of whether the consumption of signs is necessarily indicative anymore of the appropriation of those identities to which the signs (as commodities) used to refer. See, for example, Baudrillard, For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign; Poster, Jean Baudrillard; A. Giddens, The Consequences of Modernity, Cambridge, Polity Press, 1990; S. Lash, The Sociology of Postmodernism, London, Routledge, 1990; B. Turner, ‘Baudrillard for sociologists’, in C. Rojek and B. Turner (eds), Forget Baudrillard?, London, Routledge, 1993 and B. Turner, The Body and Society, 2nd edn, London, Sage, 1996. However, there is much controversy surrounding Baudrillard's work and I cannot do justice to either his ideas, or subsequent engagement and critique, in the space here. For an excellent guide to his work, see Poster, Jean Baudrillard and Singer's defence of Baudrillard's style and aims. I agree with him that Baudrillards’ polemics should not be taken too seriously but understood as a device for throwing out challenging ideas. See B. Singer ‘Baudrillard's seduction’, The Canadian Journal of Political and Social Theory, 15, 1-3, 1991, pp. 139-51. Google Scholar

The work of Baudrillard and others who have focused on the importance of signs in late modern/post-modern culture is useful here, in part because they draw from the same tradition of structural linguistics which has been one of the many threads woven into Queer theory. Moreover, his characterization of late modernity as a period of hyper reality raises the central question of whether the consumption of signs is necessarily indicative anymore of the appropriation of those identities to which the signs (as commodities) used to refer. See, for example, Baudrillard, For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign; Poster, Jean Baudrillard; A. Giddens, The Consequences of Modernity, Cambridge, Polity Press, 1990; S. Lash, The Sociology of Postmodernism, London, Routledge, 1990; B. Turner, ‘Baudrillard for sociologists’, in C. Rojek and B. Turner (eds), Forget Baudrillard?, London, Routledge, 1993 and B. Turner, The Body and Society, 2nd edn, London, Sage, 1996. However, there is much controversy surrounding Baudrillard's work and I cannot do justice to either his ideas, or subsequent engagement and critique, in the space here. For an excellent guide to his work, see Poster, Jean Baudrillard and Singer's defence of Baudrillard's style and aims. I agree with him that Baudrillards’ polemics should not be taken too seriously but understood as a device for throwing out challenging ideas. See B. Singer ‘Baudrillard's seduction’, The Canadian Journal of Political and Social Theory, 15, 1-3, 1991, pp. 139-51. Google Scholar

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Rahman, Momin