As a lifelong non-combatant in the field of competitive sports – I blame the contempt-inducing secondary school character-building ethos – I just watch the major fixtures and then only on TV. An annual dash of Wimbledon, the odd international rugger game, a few strokes of the Open, quite a lot of the World Cup and so forth. It recently came to my attention that a Cup Final was to be played in the new Wembley stadium so I eased onto the sofa with a modicum of interest. There followed an exceptionally dreary match that inevitably became slightly engaging towards the very end when it seemed that somebody ought to score within the next ten minutes in order to preserve both sides from ridicule.
Drogba popped one in quite niftily for Chelsea and excitement was widespread. As the team and their people danced around the pitch a BBC1 reporter with an ear-piece and mike barrelled into the fray and clamped his free arm round Drogba’s neck. He positioned the crook of his elbow so that it was adjacent to Drogba’s nape. Then, shouting dementedly, he asked Drogba how he felt. drogba.jpg The footballer, exhausted, elated, speaking in his second or even third language, clearly wanted to celebrate with his team-mates and enjoy the adoration of the crowd. With visible and reluctant effort, he told the reporter how incredible he felt and how amazing it had been and so forth. The reporter, sensing the restlessness of his captive, sought to detain him by blurting out another question, a minor variant on the tiresome the ‘So how do you/did it feel?’ form.
Drogba, struggling to be diplomatic, hesitated, started one or two sentences, glanced longingly at the crowd and began a short but surprising speech: he thanked his parents for all they had done for him. Suddenly we were at the Oscars. Drogba had slipped into the wrong format. Under duress from the cartoon character in whose arm-lock he languished, the Ivorian had unwittingly revealed the leakage between two worlds of high profile performance. Both worlds generate stars and both are premised on teamwork. In the movies only one star in one hundred will ever acknowledge the collective nature of the film enterprise and that’s only at award ceremonies. In football, however, the word ‘team’ is still widely used. Someone scores a goal because his team-mates set it up for him. Nevertheless, the forces of marketised individualism gravitate towards such notions and cluster around them, nibbling, buffeting and wearing them down in favour of isolating the heroic figure. The only team that heroic figures will acknowledge, it seems, is the Mummy & Daddy Organisation. ‘It is they who have enabled my heroism. I prostrate myself at the foot of their warm pedestal.’
The heroising rays have, of course, bathed many a footballer in starlight. It’s clearly confusing, though, to the extent that the idea of there being different types of hero is dissolving. All heroes now achieve the condition of the filmstar, even if they are not filmstars. The scope of heroism is narrowed, probably to make it appear more readily attainable. It may be the case that heroes themselves are confused: by their relationship to the collective, which they are increasingly encouraged to overlook, and their sense of themselves as performers who are treated as actors.

Why Do Men Walk Funny?

Look at these guys in the street: why do they walk so funny? It seems to be a new thing: men under the age of 25 appear to be experiencing fundamental problems with the mechanics of ambulation. Their legs point in the wrong directions, they limp (without apparent medical cause), they shuffle, their legs are unnecessarily bent, the toe-heel relationships are shot, they are fairly slow and sometimes one leg will be used in a style unlike that deployed by the other. This isn’t the rickety Dickensian London Poor, this is 21st Century white, Asian, black youth on the hoof. Ethnicity isn’t the issue and neither is class – posh and middle class kids are stumbling and waddling all over the place alongside their less fortunate fellows.
Despite the concealing nature of the roomily tailored sportswear that generally denotes an absence of sport in the personal curriculum, it is plain to see that a walking crisis is afoot. Obviously these guys learned to walk at the usual time and dashed around the playground in a normal manner. Somewhere along the line the line ran out: tips for further walking were somehow missed or were not readily available. This is hard to credit – there are countless older or other guys walking in interesting ways that could be profitably studied.
Around puberty it becomes important to affect a cool gait – fashions among peers will mould the legs in any number of ways that may be awkward or transparently affected but sooner or later the walker settles for something that feels right, gradually personalises it then usually locks onto it for the duration. Film stars, pop stars and sportsmen are all handy, conventional points of reference for the novice gait builder.
This last assertion is currently debatable, however. Somehow the kids are not picking up on the diversity of available models. Certainly one thing the current gaits have in common is the appearance of wastedness. This can be taken both in the medical sense of muscular atrophy and the street sense of wiped out on drugs. Which is not to say that drugs are doing it to the kids. They are, as we all know, doing it to folk-hero Pete Doherty and he is widely admired for several of his distinguishing characteristics, one of which is a languid lope. I’ve seen one or two decent attempts at this in Camden Town but it hasn’t really caught on as yet; this may be due to the complex tension in the Doherty gait between that which depresses (the smack), that which elates (the smack) and what seems to be, beneath the opiate billows, the subject’s chirpiness.
Most wasted gaits (the title of my next novel, as it happens) lack elation, however. This is because life for the people of the world is thin on elation at the moment. Despite the relentless, ubiquitous and hysterical spectacle of the celebrated and their divine characteristics, the following of role models requires a certain energy, the expenditure of which is inspired by expectations of reward. Can it be that some of the youth can’t give a fuck, even about acquiring a gait that signifies they don’t give a fuck? Perhaps the new shambling is a way of rejecting not just the current range of role models but all role models. This would be a second order of wastedness: the first is the familiar one where you simply imitate someone who is so worldly or worldweary that they don’t give a damn for convention, don’t care what people think, wish to communicate their indifference to the tight, focused postures of the employed, capitalised body blah blah. The second order, however, is actually an authentic one – it signals the fact that you’ve lost the will to imitate.
If this is so, does it indicate an emerging autonomy, a simple postponement of the rite of gait acquisition or a diminution of self-esteem sufficient to dissuade the youth even from simulating the appearance of self-esteem?
My effortless natural pessimism inclines me to the latter explanation. The business of being inspired is no longer inspiring with the result that young men in search of gait, instead of modelling themselves on a model, are reduced to an attempt to align themselves with generic maleness – a nebulous conception that eludes capture because it is an idea bereft of forms. Where would you start?
Of course, it’s not really gait that is being sought, it’s some sense of certainty within the parameters of a gender. So much certainty has evaporated that the project is rudderless. In olden times, as we have observed, the novice male would either use imitation or locate a mentor. The problem now is that previously respectable roles have come to appear pantomimic. This need not mean that all role models are suddenly untrustworthy, rather that an awareness of everyday performance has reached a critical intensity in public perception. The gap between the performance and its performer is no longer an esoteric quantity – everybody can see everybody manufacturing themselves. It’s not special or clever anymore. It’s what you have to do.
toniyento.jpg This awareness of the business of show is enhanced by the way in which the celebrity magazines have acquired a second order level of hysteria. The first level is the one where the mags simply create hysteria in their readers. The second level sees the creators of hysteria grown hysterical themselves. So exercised are they by their circulation struggles that they fail to punctuate and correlate their stories properly. Thus we will see conflicting accounts of, say, Victoria Beckham’s current weight problems (it is a problem if she either gains or loses weight) on the covers of a number of mags displayed on the same stand on the same day. This means that some of these stories are not true! If these stories are not true this means that the whole thing is a panto. We knew this anyway but we do expect a good script. When the people in charge of the script get the scenes in the wrong order or fail to spot major inconsistencies then we are nudged over a line that generally we prefer to ignore. The possibility arises that there is only script-writing and that there is nothing that it is about. This is not the same as it being about nothing, which is acceptable – it’s an aspect of a diverting charade that we are pleased not to examine too closely. If the panto actually refers to nothing then its manic episodes are not even lightweight, they are tissues drawn across a dark void.
Young men do not, of course, read celebrity mags as much as their female counterparts, so it’s not the mags themselves that are making young men walk funny. Nevertheless, the hysteria of those whose job it is to spread hysteria has become unbecoming and constitutes a new development. The pilot is not drunk, he has actually left the plane. In the meantime the passengers will do the best they can. The plane is losing altitude. It will not, however, ever hit the ground.