Personally I don’t like to talk about my charity work. I mean, I do a helluva lot of charity work, but I don’t like to talk about it in public. If someone really insists I’ll tell them about the time I once donated so much money to charity that they tried to return my cheque—using some excuse about it bouncing—but only if they insist, or look like they might be about to insist, or if there has been a lull in any conversation ever. I’m a giver, frankly, just a modest one, in every sense of the word. David Beckham on the other hand is an enormous giver, donating all of his huge PSG wages to charity, and telling everyone about it in a press conference. I’ve some problems with that, though: it’s not a bad thing, it’s just not a good thing either; it’s about neutral. And the love-in which it’s provoked is a different story: that’s definitely a bad thing.
Becks is seemingly an alright guy, and anyone who says different is liable to get mauled on a social media platform of their choice by people who don’t see the essential contradiction in defending someone nice by being horrible. Becks didn’t need to give away any money, yet he did, which seems to make him alright. Becks also hasn’t been mean to anyone in public, as far as anyone cares to remember, which also suggests he might be fine, if a little boring. And Becks is a family man, people, which must make him a good guy too, because reproduction, as we all know, is an inherent good. But being an alright guy on at least three counts doesn’t have to mean that every gesture he pulls off his PR team’s spider diagram is worthy of sycophantic bleating.
There are plenty of aspects of his giving money to charity not to applaud. Beginning with announcing it. If you’re David Beckham, announcing that you’re donating a lot of money to charity isn’t just immodest—I don’t think there’s much wrong with being immodest if you’ve earned it, anyway—it’s also an exercise in brand management. When Becks announces that he’s done something nice to the public, it takes away from how nice it is, because the boost his public image gets will probably end up making him some more money in the long term. So, announcing that he’s passing up a lot of money doesn’t invalidate the gesture, but it does slightly taint it by introducing self-interest to an act which is being celebrated precisely for being selfless. Logic 101.
But the real dodgy bit isn’t that Becks might get some money out of giving away some money, it’s the bizarre fetishisation of the act. Beckham is a “hero” and a “role model” for giving this money to charity, apparently. Except he isn’t, or at least he shouldn’t be. He earns obscene amounts of money for playing football and even more obscene amounts of money for being David Beckham in several different poses, sometimes in his clothes, sometimes not. Remember the pants. He was paid for wearing some pants. These amounts of money can’t be justified under the banner of meritocracy: no one person deserves to earn 500 times what another person earns; no one person is worth 500 times more than another person, whatever The Market says. And, as such, Beckham’s giving some of that money away only really serves to partially address an imbalance.
That isn’t good, that’s approaching neutral (it’s not all the way there, because no person is worth 300 times another person either).
Yet the loud, uncritical applause goes on…because we love rich people. Everything they do is celebrated and admired. The narrative goes: rich people are deserving, poor people are undeserving. So when David Beckham donates 0.1% of his wealth to charity he gets a dozen newspaper headlines, but when Joe Bloggs or, for argument’s sake, Ethan Dean-Charity-Richards donates an equivalent amount of their earnings, there are no headlines. Despite letters to countless editors. Not one.
And that’s why I don’t like the Beckham love-in that’s gone on again this week. Not because I think he’s anything less than an alright guy—though, if you push me, I’ll choose Twitter as the place you can tear into me on this, please—but because I think he is only alright, and saying he’s more than that is a part of a bigger, nastier agenda, which is about saying some people are better than others. And also because my charity work has never once been given the credit it deserves. Not one headline.
Finally, if David really did want to help people, he might want to start by paying his taxes in France, where the rates are higher, rather than exploiting a loophole so he can pay them in England. You can help people by paying your taxes, too, David: the state pools money and directs it into bigger projects which people need, y’know. It’s like a really big charity if you think about it.
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A brief note on Peter Odemwingie
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