Bienvenue Beckham: Spiceboy politics in the papers

Today’s blog isn’t as much about translation as an appropriation of translation but it does serve to further illustrate the power that translation can wield, as I have been trying to show, as well as demonstrating the uses it is often put to in the media.

The focus of my attention in this post is a story that has been all over the front and back pages of newspapers around the world for a few days now: that of David Beckham’s move to Paris Saint-Germain and his decision to donate his wages to a local children’s charity. Of course, this was fairly big news in the football world and everything that the Beckhams do is closely followed by the media, but more has come from this story than mere celebrity gossip and sporting headlines.

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When the story broke, The Sun immediately placed heavy emphasis on the player’s decision to donate his salary in the article’s subtitle and the Daily Mail went one step further in making the actual deal secondary to the fact that his wages would be given to charity. On the following day this then led to widespread praise for Beckham’s decision among UK papers and the tabloids trying to out-do each other with headlines such as Golden Baules and Saint Becks.

Meanwhile, Le Figaro in France – a similarly right-wing paper – took a different stance in their reporting of the event, questioning the club’s decision to sign the player on a footballing level. From a linguistic point of view, this contrast between the two differents takes on the proceedings can be seen the way Beckham is named in different articles: a ‘spiceboy’ in Le Figaro, while always an ‘England legend’ or some similar variant in the British tabloids.

But then, jumping back to the UK, it was one particular comment from this article that the UK tabloids decided to pick up on and use to cause a minor uproar in right-wing presses. The phrase in question was Le Figaro’s description of Beckham as a ‘third-hand Rolls Royce’ which was subsequently angrily quoted in several articles while always neglecting to mention that the French article was actually quite well-balanced, taking footballing concerns into account, and refusing to acknowledge the (rather justified) claims that, by signing a 37 year old well past his best, PSG had made a fairly questionable decision. And it is this kind of selective quoting that perfectly demonstrates the desire to take any possible opportunity to undermine French opinion in these articles: for an English reader, the French article is ‘taking a pop’ at David Beckham without justification and in spite of his generosity.

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However, this is not to say that Le Figaro are innocent by any means as they immediately followed this by ensuring to seize the chance to ridicule English media coverage of the event by mocking the labels such as Saint David, the ‘awkwardly entitled’ articles such as Gaul-denballs and the apparent lack of comment on the footballing side of the affair!

Interestingly, articles coming from more neutral sources such as the BBC and L’Equipe, while lauding the unquestionably admirable gesture of donating the wages to charity, have been more realistic in questioning the decision in footballing terms and this further underlines the political motivations behind the articles printed in the tabloids and Le Figaro.

Ultimately, as these articles show, one fascinating thing to come out of this story is the way it has been used by right-wing papers in both countries to further fuel that ancient rivalry between the British and the French nations and how, with their patriotic and slightly xenophobic tendencies, they have used selective translation to sensationalise each other’s reporting in an effort to undermine the other nation.

Long live petty squabbling!

One thought on “Bienvenue Beckham: Spiceboy politics in the papers

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