Footballer Beckham is the new messiah, says academic
International footballer and ëglobal brand' David Beckham will be nursing a sore head this morning, after his team Real Madrid were yesterday unceremoniously beaten 3-0 by Lyon in the European Champions League tournament.
Then again, he may be cheered that an academic conference on celebrity culture, taking place in Scotland this week, has confirmed him as a ënew messiah' for a post-Christian generation.
'Beckham Ö is all about salvation, redemption, even resurrection,' Dr Carlton Brick, a lecturer at the University of Paisley, near Glasgow, tells the relaunched Guardian newspaper today.
Explains the academic, who teaches politics and sociology: 'It is not me that is saying Beckham is a pseudo Christ-like figure, but it is how he is often portrayed, and it is how he portrays himself.'
The UK Christian think tank Ekklesia also suggests that the transfer of religious images away from organized Christianity and into pop culture is a big challenge to church leaders as they try to negotiate the future of faith.
The University of Paisley event, ëCelebrity Culture', has been taking place over the past two days at the Ayr Racecourse. It aims to examine the role played by celebrity and stardom in contemporary society.
It has brought together some 90 academics from different disciplines to consider how and why celebrities are so prevalent in modern life and how they shape society and politics. One full session is dedicated to footballer Beckham.
Dr Carlton Brick, whose paper will spark a lively debate, says the Real Madrid and England midfielder is being portrayed by the media and his promoters 'as a kind of ersatz parable of Christ.'
He told the Guardian: 'The redemption came in 1998 after he was sent off in the French World Cup. He was even pictured in a magazine in a white shirt looking Christ-like under the word ëredemption'. Then he was expected to be the saviour of English football. The Sun even ran a picture of his broken foot and asked us to place our hands on it to heal him.'
Dr Brick also points to David Beckham's crucifix tattoo and his decision to call his third son Cruz, Spanish for cross, as examples of the footballer's use of Christian symbols.
Other commentators noted the chapel built in the grounds of ëBeckingham Palace', the lavish home Beckham shares with his ex-Spice Girl wife, Victoria.
The structure was constructed for the christening of the couple's second child, Romeo. But Dr Brick's emphasis on Christian iconography is tempered by the fact that it also incorporated fashionable Buddhist symbolism.
When Beckham was asked about whether his first son, Brooklyn, would be christened (the popular name of baptism for babies in the Anglican tradition), he famously replied, 'Yes, but I'm not sure in what religion.'
The England footballer and his wife were also controversially portrayed as Jesus and Mary in a nativity display at London's Madame Tussauds waxworks museum.
Commented Simon Barrow from the UK Christian think tank Ekklesia: 'I'm sure the tabloids will have a field day mocking academics for spinning long words around celebrity culture and setting up David Beckham as some kind of modern deity. But there is a serious point in all this.'
Barrow continued: 'Religious meaning has indeed morphed into popular culture, and that is both good news and bad news for church leaders. It shows that Christian language and iconography has staying power even in a strongly plural and secular culture. But it also demonstrates how Christian meaning can easily be absorbed into a consumer culture and robbed of its subversive, life-changing impact.'
The organizers of the Paisley conference say that it is the first of its kind anywhere in the world to be dedicated to the discussion of celebrity culture across the media of film, television, music, sport and literature.
Beckham is described by Dr Brick as 'a god of the global consumer culture - transcending barriers of sexuality and race'. But at the end of the day, says the academic, 'he's just a footballer.'