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On the Road to Ruin with David and Victoria Beckham

Colin Todhunter

Everytime I return to the UK from India it is inevitable that someone will ask me "What is India like?" They want to know how different it is from the West. It can be difficult to explain. Maybe I should take a few newspapers back next time to give people a snapshot of the place: disinvestment, privatisation, disputes over rivers, water shortages, Ayodha, cross-border terrorism, Bollywood hits and flops, Sanjay Dutt in trouble, Salman Kahn in even bigger trouble, the latest in the Laloo Prasad sage, the latest in the Jayalitha drama and so on. A daily dose of the serious, the quite serious and the not so serious.

In a way, the newspapers provide insight into the Indian psyche. For a foreigner, the newspapers in India can be fascinating. There is just so much happening. But what can you expect in a country of over a billion people, so many languages and such diversity?

Britain is affluent; the fourth or fifth richest in the world. Most people have it good and even when it is not so good, they at least receive state benefits from the welfare system. This is not to deny, however, that a section of the population have it rough - well the rest of us need a baseline from which to bolster our own feelings of self-worth and "success".

Over the past five years I have spent more time in India than in the UK. My recent arrival back home heralded my stark awareness of just how homogenised and dulled the British mentality has become. It is quite paradoxical really; at a time of increasing globalisation the national consciousness appears to be stuck in an insular quagmire. In the UK we have the serious press and TV news programmes, but by and large the nation is gripped by tabloid gossip that is passed off as "news". And in a nation of 60 million, it never ceases to amaze just how narrow concerns have become.

In most affluent societies, concerns and desires often become trivialised. The hardships of yesteryear have largely gone and the life and death issues of filling your stomach and finding decent shelter have taken a back seat. News has become frivolous - a form of entertainment. The democratic ideal of a well-informed populace has been overtaken by one interested in gossip and tittle-tattle. I would not have believed it if I were not here to witness it at first hand. The aftermath of the Iraq invasion still simmers in the background, but the nation is fixated by the belief that it is being swamped by marauding bands of asylum seekers, allegations about a TV celebrity and his supposed sexual misdemeanours and by Beckhamisation.

Beckhamisation is centred upon David Beckham and his pop singer wife, Victoria. They have become Britain's celebrity couple. She is a former Spice Girl and he is the captain of the England soccer team. They court the press wherever they go and whatever they do is splashed across the papers in on the TV news. He has just been transferred from one club to another for £25Million (around $40Million). Both of the Beckhams are multi-millionaires and most of us would find it difficult to imagine the enormity of their wealth. The nation is gripped by his move, and what it will mean for the country, his wife and their son - "Brooklyn". Blair has recently made changes to the constitution but it has been overshadowed by the Beckham phenomenon.

Sure, concerns over globalisation, GM crops, adopting the Euro and global warming are on the agenda, but by and large Britain has become Beckhamised. German philosopher, Herbert Marcusse, noted this trend toward Beckhamisation in the West in the 60s and 70s - long before Beckham was born - a one-dimensional culture obsessed with trivial pursuits and "false" desires where the type of care, size of house and cut of clothes are all that matter. And these days the measuring stick for all of this is - you've guessed it - the Beckhams: they who wallow in self-infatuation and conspicuous consumption.

But what can we expect? People are animals. No, that is not meant in a derogatory way; I quite like animals. Quite naturally, we like to view ourselves as possessing inherent virtues. And yes, we are capable of love, altruism and logical thought. But reality also shows us, however, that people can be pretty brutal, intolerant and are easily swayed by greed, dogma and fads and fashions based on popular myth and emotion. Beckhamisation?…well people are people. Lofty ideals such as democracy, diversity of thought, and informed opinion are always under threat and in danger of being swept aside by forces that appeal to our narrower and baser instincts. Increasingly, in these times, those forces are almost irresistible.

India has a long way to go before it ends up where British culture is but look out! Coming to a satellite TV station near you - the Tendulkarisation of popular culture (that is if Beckham doesn't get there first!).

© Colin Todhunter July 2003
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