by Espilehiyo ( | | )

Pacman: A Filipino Spectacle


The Philippines is dubbed as the Pearl of the Orient, but, historically, it is a subjugated nation, and more than three centuries under Spanish colonialism, four decades of the United States of America’s imperialism, three years of Japanese occupation, and two decades of totalitarianism has cracked the orient’s pearl. These tyrannical rulers have caused the Philippines—to borrow F. Sionil Jose’s term—to be the “dung-heap” that it now is.


Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao is one of the Philippine’s most precious son. An eight-time world boxing champion in eight different weight divisions, he has carved a spot in the boxing world’s hall of fame. He is a national pride. He is a celebrity. He is a politician. He is an icon. He is a spectacle.


Tantalized by spectacles, millions of working class Filipinos are paralyzed and refrain from actively protesting their damaged society and condemning their impoverished conditions. They accept spectacle as real as the characters in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave accept the shadows in the cave as real.    


Spectacle is described by Guy Debord as a “social relation among people, mediated by images.” This means that spectacle is not merely a collection of images. It is a social construct, or a set of values and beliefs that guide how people act. For people to passively accept their dire socio-economic conditions there must be a spectacle that grabs their attention.


To describe a spectacle, one is to analyze the language with which members of a society interact with the spectacular (Debord).    

Pacman: From Rags to Riches


In the article “The Meaning and Mythos of Manny Pacquiao,” Chua-Eoan and Tharoor state that Pacquiao’s life is a story that rivals those of Greek and Roman heroes (2). If the life of Manny Pacquiao is mythic, its narrative follows a morphological pattern in which a hero is characterized not by his traits but through his actions (Chandler 92).  


He comes from a broken family. He grows up in a slum. He roams dusty streets and sells cigarettes and bread to passers-by to help his single mother raise his siblings. He learns boxing. He leaves his province for the bustling city in search of fame and fortune. He promises his mother that he will come back a champion and lift their family out of poverty. He is claimed as a promising young fighter. He brawls locally. He fights at MGM Grand. He fulfills his dream. He holds golden belts. He models in commercials. He wears No Fear. He records songs. He performs a duet with Will Farrel. He acts in sitcoms and movies. He beats the bad guys. He rises to be an international celebrity. He jokes with Jimmy Kimmel. He runs for congress. He represents the people. He makes the Time magazine’s list of influential people. He visits the American president in White House. He gets on his knees and prays. He lets go of his vices. He spreads the message of God. He is born again.


The life experiences of Pacquiao, which the news and entertainment industry choose to portray, provide the structure of his spectacular narrative. Failed attempts are eliminated, while glorious achievements are highlighted. If an experience does not cohere with the spectacle, they are discarded. This way, he becomes a living testimony that anyone, if one perseveres, can achieve success, wealth, and power.


Pacquiao is an idealized persona. In an interview by Time magazine Nick Gionco says, “Filipinos are dreamers. They like fantasy. And what is more of a fantasy than Manny Pacquiao?” Pacquiao’s narrative is the kind that people construct inside their heads; it is a narrative that people fantasize to be theirs. Therefore, ironically, individuals risk the authenticity of their own respective narratives, for the spectacular narrative that they identify themselves with is inauthentic. News and entertainment industries concoct celebrity narratives—the life of the rich and famous—which purport authenticity despite being skilfully and creatively manipulated.

Pacman: From Boxing Ring to Congress to Altar


Manny Pacquiao is an elected official. A mass of the electorate identifies with his humble beginnings. They trust that he knows their pain, their sufferings. They can see their idealized selves in Manny Pacquiao; he mirrors their desires and aspirations. In Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, Chris Hedges argues that people vote based on “a slogan, a smile, attractiveness, along with the carefully crafted personal narrative of the candidate. It is style and story, not content and fact, that inform mass politics” (46). This means that uninformed casting of ballots in addition to celebrity status equals a congressional seat.


Pacquiao has advantage: visibility. And election is all about visibility. He has his rags-to-riches narrative, which is featured in television shows, magazines, and websites. He has his product advertisements. He has his legendary boxing career. In other words, his images are ubiquitous—from local commercials to HBO’s pay-per-view, from postcards to billboards.


He is the wealthiest congressman in the House of millionaires and hacienderos. He is the superstar of the House of Representatives. Congressional sessions lack representatives when Pacquiao wears his gloves and climbs on the ring. In an interview the Speaker of the House says: “I’m happy for them (congresspersons) to go there (Las Vegas) and give moral support to their colleague . . .” (Cabacungan). This means that discussions at the session hall regarding issues are less important than the hoorays that the elected officials yell from the ringside. Consequently, supporting Pacquiao is a moral duty of Filipinos.      


Pacquiao gives his first privilege speech and echoes Michael Buffer: Let’s get ready to rumble. He openly opposes Reproductive Health (RH) bill because he sees it as a religious transgression.  


This is what Benjamin Demott names as “junk politics.” According to Chris Hedges, junk politics “personalizes and moralizes issues rather than clarifying them” (47). Pacquiao is a boxer; therefore, he quotes the boxing announcer to end his congressional speech despite it not having any relation whatsoever with the issues being discussed. This trivial utterance is a diversion. Moreover, he is a devout catholic; therefore, he condemns RH bill as amoral. The act of condemning the bill gathers block vote from religious orders. His celebrity status has helped him gain socio-political power to effect societal laws. 


Filipinos are a pious people, and from animism to Catholicism to occultism, religious idolatry has long been a part of the Filipino tradition.  Manny Pacquiao is a pious man; before every fight he goes to one corner of the ring, gets on his knees, bows his head, and prays. And Filipinos glorifies his religiosity.


Hedges writes: “Religious belief and practice are commonly transferred to the adoration of celebrities.” And in the Philippines, where many people believe that the only way to overcome their daily struggles is for a divine intervention to occur, Pacquiao is revered. There he is an icon as saints are icons.


Pacquiao believes that boxing is against God’s commandments. In an interview, when asked why God has given him the talent for boxing if hurting other people is against His law, he answers that boxing is the way for him to be known world-wide. “Boxing is a calling,” he says. “God called me to spread His missions.” Then he quotes from the bible. “You have to be born again to enter the kingdom of heaven.”   He is a messenger of God, and Filipinos, whose majority are followers of God, listen to him to heed Him.


Libre ang pagkumento basta constructive. Salamat! :)