Magazine article The Spectator

Role Models

Magazine article The Spectator

Role Models

Article excerpt

It's first I groaned when I heard Michael Buerk introducing the Moral Maze last week (Wednesday) with the words, 'Which is the most famous - Posh or Becks?' As if we haven't had enough on the radio and in the newspapers about Posh Spice Victoria Beckham and her husband, the footballer David Beckham. Radio Five Live was almost beside itself the day it was announced that the footballer had been dropped after missing a training session at Manchester United. Radio Four, too, felt it had to cover this cataclysmic event.

But I had just heard on the 8 p.m. Radio Four news bulletin that Sir Stanley Matthews had died and suddenly the Moral Maze discussion about role models such as the Beckhams took on a piquancy of its own. The programme hadn't noticed this announcement and wasn't able to cite Matthews as a contrast to today's feeble celebrity heroes but it gave the listener a sense of perspective. Although I have never been a football fan, not even in my childhood, I know that Matthews was not only enormously talented but also terrifically modest.

Contrast that to today's spoilt yobs with their shaven heads, aggression and up to 50,OOO a week and one can realise how much the world has changed in such a relatively short time. Buerk kicked off vigorously enough: 'The gaunt mimer of pop songs who wobbled down the catwalk into history or the petulant one whose right foot is educated but little else - do they deserve to be so celebrated, to be the role models mankind has chosen after what, 3,000 years of explosive intellectual and cultural development?'

Something of an exaggeration, I thought, but in the ensuing attempt to answer this question the historian Dr David Starkey and the Daily Telegraph columnist Janet Daley roughly got it right, though they disagreed, quite entertainingly, throughout. Starkey dismissed the Beckhams as a product of mass democracy, Daley wondered in whose interest it was to pretend that they were idols of today's youth. What she meant was that middle-class, middle-aged educated media executives 'were manipulating popular culture in ways that they think are appropriate to working-class people'. In other words, when you open your broadsheet and see items about footballers, pop singers, young actors, people you have never heard of, or only dimly, it's an attempt to seem groovy to young people, or as Daley put it, these executives make a crude, patronising assumption about youth.

She thought that not every young person saw the Beckhams and their like as role models. …

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