Beckham Among the Tribesmen: How Tone Transforms Texts
The tone of a text is that thing that everyone understands, but is difficult to explain. Everyone knows when an author is being condescending, hopeful, arrogant or sceptical. When different people read the same text out loud, they often read it in the same way – with the tone that the author imparted to it. If a text had an attitude, it would be it’s tone.
But how is it constructed?
Within Peter McAllister’s article “Beauty ” in the book “Manthropology: the Science of the Inadequate Modern Male”, tone is created throughout the text using word choice, sentence structure and comparisons.
This text is introduced to us by the cover page, bearing a cartoon-ized version of the well-known ‘evolution of man’ image. It shows the evolution of an ape-like creature into a tall, muscular warrior which then descends into an overweight, bald, lazy, technophile – just one manifestation of the modern man. The title presents the pseudoscientific study of ‘manthropology’ and anticipates the condescension that is seen throughout the argument.
The text itself uses David Beckham as a ‘case study’ to observe and describe a modern metrosexual lifestyle. This oddly scientific approach compares Beckham to the Woodaabe tribesmen of Niger and the other famously narcissistic movements, such as the Dandies.
The use of statistics such as “the average man spends 3.1 hours in front of the mirror per week”, imparts a factual tone that the reader is likely trust. An anthropologist is also quoted, adding weight onto McAllister’s reports. However, all this is overridden when it becomes clear that this science is being used to contrast with the elaborate, artificial metrosexual lifestyle. McAllister refers to his own study in apostrophes, indicating that he knows his clinical approach isn’t truly scientific. This pseudoscientific tone is used to mock metrosexuality and reduce it to an inconsequential craze.
McAllister uses David Beckham in a similar way; he promotes Beckham as a metrosexual idol, acknowledging that it was through real sportsmen like Beckham himself that metrosexuality became mainstream. Then, Beckham, his lifestyle and his followers are reduced to ridiculously extravagant narcissists. They are compared with the ancient Woodaabe tribesmen of Niger, whom we might consider backwards and uncivilised, but have actually been conducting culturally significant ‘beauty contests’ amongst young men for centuries.
A degrading, mocking tone is definitely present during this episode. McAllister jokes about entering Beckham into a traditional Woodaabe beauty ceremony. He uses negative phrases such as “sartorial extravagance” and “legendary narcissicism” to describe Beckham and uses italics to express his incredulity at the fact that Beckham has written three autobiographies.
As with all literary techniques, tone is used to convey a message to the audience. Here, McAllister illustrates to us his view of the pathetic modern man has become and secondly, the age old adage “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.