Sport has never known a global icon like David Beckham, a perfect marriage of clean-cut glamor and a stellar record on the soccer field.
But as "Goldenballs" made his final move to Paris last year, aged 37, a French philosophy professor wondered if the city of Sartre, Camus and Proust would raise feelings of mortality in the superstar. The result was "Becksistentialism" – a diary of Beckham’s “internal monologue as he collides with the Parisian intellectual tradition," featuring encounters with classic philosophers and Eric Cantona.
The online series became a hit and ahead of delivering a lecture on it, author Dr. Andy Martin of Cambridge University told us more.
Metro: What makes Beckham a good subject? Is he is a blank canvas?
Martin: That’s right to an extent but he’s also good because he acts philosophically without being articulate. There are messages in his tattoos and haircuts. He’s also a bit irresistible as a subject because he is seen as not thinking, which is probably a mistake, and I rectify that.
Is the Parisian philosophy scene a descent into hell or an awakening for him?
He’s in a transitional state at the end of his footballing career and his quest is now to define himself as an individual. He’s in the twilight, and while Alex Ferguson wants him to only be The Footballer, Beckham doesn’t want to be confined by such a simplistic definition – he has divergent, conflicted selves. One reason for his being a good ambassador is that he never says anything offensive, but I can do it on his behalf.
Which philosopher is he closest to?
It would have changed at different times, but Sartre’s ‘Hell is other people’ line summarizes his relationship with Ferguson.
What sort of reaction are you expecting when Beckham hears about this?
I think he has a good sense of humor and would take it well. People forget that philosophy is all about jokes. Also he would find it sympathetic and not satirical, trying to understand his mind and soul in the terms of French philosophy, which humanizes him more than the blonde bimbo he is portrayed as. I want to liberate him, and at the same time bring French philosophy down to Earth by embodying it and helping people understand it through him.
Who else needs this experience?
The first figure I thought of was Eric Cantona but also Andy Murray, because he is rather miserable and doesn’t express himself. He’s like listening to bagpipes.