100th object contender: No.1 - Football shirt
As listeners to Radio 4, visitors to the British Museum and readers of this blog will not have been able to miss, we’ve chosen, but not yet revealed the star of the 100th chapter of our story.
Over the next week, we’ll be revealing five contenders for the final object that each tell of aspects of the world around us today – indeed the world that we’ve seen shaped through the previous 99 broadcasts.
If you tune into Radio 4’s Today programme each morning you’ll hear some of my colleagues – Ben, Barrie and JD – introducing the objects on-air. Here on the blog you’ll get to see them and I’ll do my best to tell you why these objects have been chosen and what they can tell us about the ingenuity and challenges shaping humanity in the twenty-first century.
Appropriately, therefore, we start with a football shirt.
Football – or association football to give it its proper title – may have evolved on the public school fields of nineteenth century Britain, but today it’s a global giant.
We live in a world more connected than at any other time in history and what else unites disparate, discrete and geographically remote parts of the world in the same way as football? Go anywhere and you could probably find someone who’ll discuss with you not just the game itself, but teams and people playing it on the other side of the world.
But this isn’t just any football shirt: it bears the name of Didier Drogba, an African who grew up in France and whose skills have led to his global fame. Through television, radio, magazines, billboard posters, the Internet, Drogba’s face and tremendously gifted feet are known the world over. And Didier plays for Chelsea, a team based in London and owned by a Russian.
The shirt was made by a German-owned company, in China, and bought in London. It’s covered in logos, names, motifs that are instantly recognisable. We know these as brands – another phenomenon of our age, protected by copyright but not exempt from being copied (underlined by the fact that the Museum has also acquired a companion object to this one, a probable fake bought in a market in Peru).
I can imagine the choice may surprise some – how could we include it in a list that features such one-off beauties as the double-headed serpent, the standard of Ur or Akan drum? Fairly mundane this shirt might be, but it tells a story every bit as potent and relevant as any great work of art.
We live in a world where we consume branded objects. The very fact that this is a mundane artefact demonstrates a distinctive new feature of our world of things: we see, own and use the same objects in many parts of the world. As JD puts it: ‘you could just as easily see people wearing this in London, Lisbon, Lima, Lagos….’
This is a potentially throw-away item – and I don’t just say that as a West Ham fan – next year it’ll likely be replaced by a new model and Didier himself may well have moved on too. The brands, the personalities and indeed the objects we consume can and do change rapidly. We all own a lot of things and we can usually replace them with ease.
This shirt is a mass-produced symbol of our globalised world – it’s got 2010 in every millimetre of its man-made fibre.
- Listen to Evan Davis discussing Drogba's Chelsea shirt with curator JD Hill
- Find out about the other contenders: a mobile phone, Antarctic clothing, a solar-powered lamp and a pestle and mortar.
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