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The Tuesday Portrait: David Beckham (2)

Posted By Brian Phillips On May 14, 2008 @ 12:52 pm In Portraits | 1 Comment

There is, however, at the center of the colossus, in the pelvis of the machine, a human being: a straight-faced, hard-working, pleasure-seeking person, who is often meticulously groomed. He likes various flavors and spices. He has experienced feelings of shyness. He may, at one time or another, have been moved to an obscure self-doubt by a song he heard on the radio. A fit of temper, or the company of people who consider him unintelligent, leaves him out of sorts and in need of comfort, emotions which he copes with in his own way.

A white poplin dress shirt, crisply ironed, creates sensations on his skin as he slides his arms into the sleeves. The leather interior of a Cadillac Escalade feels and smells welcoming as he climbs into the back seat. Sunglasses which he chose based on rules governing their suitability to his face dim the world and keep harsh light from reaching his eyes. A certain confidence emanates from his wristwatch, which correctly displays a widely agreed-upon time. Chemical products developed in faraway laboratories hold his hair in place and suffuse it with a pleasing fragrance.

He has been humiliated upon occasion, but he often finds that people will do what he asks. It seems soothing and right, in a small way, each time he expresses a desire and has it gratified without conflict. He often finds that smiling at another person is enough to make them smile back. All things considered, he would prefer to be pleasant with people. However, he is aware of the ugliness that lurks at the margins of his activities, and he is capable of being strong and vehement when he speaks into his cellular phone.

At appointed times he puts on an outfit that has been laid out for him, laces his shoes, and goes outside to play a game of football. He knows that people choose to watch him play. Occasions of great importance, to himself or to others, have the power to make him nervous, though he has been accustomed to them for so long. However, he prefers to win the competitions in which he is entered. Success fills him with joy, and failure with extraordinary pain, although not to the extent that he loses sight of his obligations. It would be unwise for him to forget the cameras which record his movements, which frequently play the role of a determining natural fact.

His lungs, which transport atmospheric oxygen into his bloodstream, function in the usual human way. He sees pictures of himself almost everywhere he goes. From time to time he submits himself to the care of makeup artists, publicists, fashion designers and photographers, and follows instructions in bright artificial environments. It would be difficult for him to imagine how little is under his control. He may at times have a sudden, momentary, stressful perception that the tools which he has won for himself are not sufficient to direct even those aspects of the world that bear upon him most intimately. At such times he may look for reassurance. He is conscious of his own importance, not arrogantly, but simply in recognition of an impression which is confirmed everywhere he goes. His presence or absence alone is enough to force complex situations to reorganize themselves.

Toward the proliferation of images that surrounds him, images of himself, wearing costumes, under vivid lights, on glossy paper, on the sides of buildings, now six inches tall, now towering in the air, he must have a range of feelings. He must feel, at times, as though he is being stalked by a doppelgänger, or by some enchanted twin whose function is to supplant all his memories. He knows, surely, that his talents will fail and his appeal fade while he is still young and alive, and that time is therefore a creature who pursues him. There must be moments when the sight of himself on television, or in another magazine, or sliding over the windscreen of his Escalade as he shines down from some floating marquee, gives him an odd inkling of the archive of remnants into which he will one day be filtered, and makes him feel, inarticulately and fleetingly, as though he is looking at his own afterlife.


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