Celebrity, it turns out, is an art form. Madonna is really good at it. She remains a topic of intrigue and dispute, able to sell out arenas at hundreds of dollars a pop. Donald Trump is awfully good at it. He is still adept at convincing at least some of the people most of the time that his contretemps with debauched beauty queens and loud-mouthed lesbian talk-show hostesses are more than classic pseudo-news events designed to generate a level of publicity that money could never buy. Christina Aguilera understands that appearing almost naked in a boxing-themed video and screaming about getting “dirrty” means that she needs to go away for a while and come back fully clothed and classy. Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan are not so good at it. They never go away. They show their hoo-has and collapse in clubs and carry on with ridiculous men and get tangled up with the succubus Paris Hilton. And so they blow away the delicate scrim that prevents the public from devouring them.
No one is as good at the art of celebrity as David Beckham. Being Americans, we find it hard to accept that one of ours is not at the top of this particular pyramid. But it’s true. Perhaps since Michael Jordan (perhaps since before Michael Jordan) no athlete has remained a bigger celebrity longer than David Beckham. His arrival in America merely guarantees that new audiences will debate the Beckham hair, the Beckham marriage (the flanker brand currently known as Victoria but formerly known as Posh Spice being the biggest winner in this whole situation), the Beckham style. They will see that the many aspects of celebrity culture we think of as quintessentially American, quintessentially now, have long been part of the Beckhams’ arsenal. That whole hip-hop-artist brand thing? Jay-Z backing champagnes, pimping out Budweiser, opening sports bars? Beckham has been a brand for almost a decade. And while it’s hard to define exactly what a “brand” is or means, the good people at the fragrance company Coty seemed to have a precise enough idea, declaring that David Beckham (the fragrance), “like David Beckham [the man]. . . exudes confidence, masculinity and glamour. The top notes are Italian bergamot and grapefruit. At the heart is herbaceous star anise, cardamom and red pimento. At the bottom is a rich Haiti vetyver, patchouli and white amber. The result is a fragrance that is both unconventional and uncompromising.” Diddy, by comparison, is merely Unforgivable.
Only two weeks before he announced his move to America, Beckham, 31, was in Japan showing the world how integrated marketing is mastered at the highest levels. Appearing on Fuji TV’s Best Moments in Sports 2006, Beckham unveiled the new limited-edition Motorazr phone in each of its new colors and publicized an auction for a Beckham-branded Motorazr, “the tattoo keitei by David Beckham,” the proceeds of which would go to UNICEF, for which Beckham is a Goodwill Ambassador. Later, he hosted a fashion show. “The event concluded,” according to one report, “with Beckham kicking specially branded black and silver MOTORAZR balls into a mosh-pit at centre-stage filled with MOTORAZR owners.”