What We Talk About When We Talk About Neymar

When we talk about Neymar, we always dabble in disparity. His name, more often than not, elicits two incompatible and inevitable paths a conversation can go: one, that leads to ‘Neymar is Really Good at Football’; and the other, that takes the more busy and more fun route to ‘What an Attention-Seeking Baby’. Now, while the latter place acknowledges the existence of the former, it does presume itself to be of greater significance. It sucks some light from ‘Neymar is Really Good at Football’ to survive, like a clever little chlorophyll, but it’s certainly not dependent on it. No, ‘What an Attention-Seeking Baby’ has its own ecosystem. It has its own thriving mechanism that keeps it alive and — pardon the pun — kicking. As an entity on the internet, as a source of chatter it is very much self-sufficient. And it also, unsurprisingly, has greater half-life than ‘Neymar is Really Good at Football’, because, let’s face it, it doesn’t take long for a random jackass on the internet to call Neymar a ‘Fraud’.

Between these two extreme places, Neymar doesn’t have a problem. He’s fine and dandy in his Tom Ford two-piece, Persol and perm, chilling at a secret third place called ‘Look at These Losers’ where only him and his close friends are allowed. And through the exotic tint of his sunglasses, he’s looking at the other two places. He’s looking at us, pointing at the babel and laughing. He doesn’t give a shit. The problem lies with us. We can’t syncretise ‘Neymar is Really Good at Football’ and ‘What an Attention-Seeking Baby’. We can’t comprehend that both these places exist in service of one twenty-something dude who is allowed to be an entitled asshole, but we are not. And there’s always a ‘but’ that separates /connects the two places of conversation and devalues both of them in equal measure. Neymar is really good at football, BUT what an attention seeking baby! What an attention-seeking baby, BUT he is really good at football. No matter which of the two places you’re at, you’re always grumbling about the other. While it’s all good banter fuel, it’s really not a fun way to talk about things. We need to reconcile that it’s okay to be the third greatest football player on the planet and an ostentatious attention whore at the same time. In fact, I would be surprised if Neymar wasn’t the way he is. Appalled, really. If Neymar can’t act entitled, none of us can.

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When it comes to celebrity, humility is always a bonus feature. You can’t expect it out of the box. Yes, Neymar is really good at kicking a ball. And yes, Neymar loves attention and sometimes acts like a 12-year-old on drugs. The theatricality of it all is mildly amusing and annoying at the same time, but guess what, Neymar doesn’t care. Those around him, his family, friends and teammates, indulge him and he doesn’t care if you don’t. In fact, I think all this will be way more entertaining if we indulge him too. Let’s just go the Theatre of Neymar, get some popcorn and enjoy the show. As he’s down on the pitch, twitching and convulsing like he’s about to give birth to a baby elephant, let us laugh and and be fine with it. I wouldn’t want Neymar to be more like James Milner. Why would anyone want that?  And what’s the point of wanting that? Neymar won’t change for you. We’ve never lived in a more suggestive and unoriginal society in history. Our every decision is delicately coerced, influenced by an overkill of unelected authorities that tell us what’s good. Our first instinct is to exude that coercion out into world again. And then it starts: Neymar is a great footballer, but his attitude is hampering his career. Neymar can’t reach Messi or Ronaldo’s level because he doesn’t have the requisite focus and determination. Neymar cries like a baby after a fundamentally insignificant goal; he needs to get himself together, toughen up, says some famous retired “hard” footballer, I would never cry like that on the field. That his distractions are plenty. When we go down that path, we are consciously neglecting the possibility that maybe Neymar doesn’t want to be what we want him to be. Maybe, he’s happy with where he is in his life. Maybe, Neymar doesn’t have to act or react the way other footballers do. That maybe, just maybe, people are different.

And despite the theatrical nature of his antics, I don’t think Neymar is acting. Not in the traditional sense. I think his overripe reaction to getting touched on a football field is conditioned in him. To fall over and flail like a fish out of water is his response to stimuli. Yes, we can frown over it, call it excessive, manipulative and unsportsmanlike, and be right about it, but the truth is we want to pay attention to Neymar. We love to visit ‘What an Attention-Seeking Baby’ because it’s a fun place to go and fill up our lives with celebrity hysteria. We can’t get enough of it. We can’t wait to laugh at Neymar or the next famous guy doing something ridiculous. Our entire social media experience is shaped around it and our voyeuristic pleasure is a cash cow for the internet empire. Being a celebrity is business, but it is also a source for thousand other businesses. And when Neymar takes a tumble and cries out in supposedly practiced pain, a million different GIF factories cry out in climactic pleasure and start churning out internet fodder for the benevolent cattle — us — addicted to whatever hay is thrown our way. We consume Neymar like he’s a complimentary cucumber sandwich at an open house and then we sit on a pretend horse and say, “what a shitty sandwich!” and start looking for the next unpalatable byte. Neymar is as much product of his age as every selfie, every Tweet, every Facebook post, every flattering Instagram post with the perfect filter and every Snapchat story about our supposedly hip and updated lives. He is just as performative, just as committed to a social and cultural role as our every little online and offline maneuver. We can call Neymar a clown and his histrionics embarrassing, but look hard enough and you’ll find he’s a mirror reflecting our exaggerated and interminable existence. Neymar isn’t a parody of himself, he’s a parody of our times. And he’s laughing louder than any of us are.

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