Manny is the one icon to rise from the masses and become everything that the upper classes wish they had amongst their kind. They forget that only the downtrodden will not mind getting their faces wrecked in a boxing match.
No, my household didn’t spend that Sunday morning and the rest of the day excited about Manny Pacquiao’s fight. Papa was fast asleep and woke up only to leave for work. Mama woke up and asked: “May live ba tayo?” To which my answer was no, as always. Not one of the channels on our cable subscription could deliver a real live telecast of the Pacquiao-Margarito fight. Like the past eight other fights, we depend on over-acting super biased radio announcers on AM and FM radio to get a sense of what’s going on.
This time though my Twitter contacts kept me updated; Mama was looking at a live blow-by-blow on Yahoo; one of Mama’s FB contacts posted a link to some free live streaming of the fight – it was a dead link. The radio announcerswere ecstatic and announced that the fight was Manny’s. Our TV was still on delayed telecast, showing an earlier non-Pacquiao fight: we were shaking our heads in disappointment. Manny’s advertisements came on one after the other; we shook our heads at the absurdity.
Even more so when it was tweeted that Mommy Dionisia had fainted, and the source of information was nobody else but Vicki Belo; even more so when the image of Jinkee, Manny’s wife, appeared on TV, in a slinky red dress and sleek straight hair, looking whiter than usual. Maybe just different.
All these inform this different perspective I take in viewing Manny, as I look at his particular celebrity and find that while it’s borne of his being the greatest boxer of our time, it is also extraneous to it at this point given its largeness, its breadth. An athlete like Manny is few and far between for this nation, maybe that’s why we don’t know how to reckon with what his fame has become, all-pervasive in the way that only a pop star’s celebrity is. Yes, even when we can’t watch the darn fight like the rest of the pay-per-view world.
Manny as Pinoy celebrity
Where we come from, the creation of a celebrity is particularly wrought with a crisis: how much of the personal do we reveal to the public, how much of the public image is actually real? In Manny’s case, this is even more complex: he isn’t an artista in the conventional way, and athletes like him usually limit their exposure to some TV hosting (ala Christine Jacob), or to doing some comedy (ala Freddie Webb, Benjie Paras, Olympic boxer Onyok Velasco), or to a movie or two (such as the triumvirate of Alvin Patrimonio, Jojo Lastimosa and Jerry Codiñera). It also isn’t new, the sportsman who decides to become public servant in Congress or the Senate, such as Robert Jaworski and Ramon Fernandez.
What is new is the fact that Manny does all of these – pag-aartista and being public servant – while he is a professional boxer. In fact, since 2008 he’s been visible on TV, first as a host of Pinoy Records with college basketball heartthrob Chris Tiu and recently as a comedian on Show Me The Manny with star Marian Rivera. The celebrity status would come to a head with his first major movie Wapakman in December 2009, the making of which coincided with his training for the November 2009 fight with Miguel Angel Cotto. He won the latter of course, but he also had to contend with talk about his infidelity, complete with footage of his wife Jinkee refusing to be touched by Manny, post-fight. Suddenly, Manny was fodder for both sports show and showbiz talk.
And in perfect showbiz fashion, Manny denied committing infidelity; Jinkee meanwhile was suddenly selling a weight reduction injection for a beauty clinic, with a billboard showing her fab new body beside an injured Pacquiao in the context of the flashing lights of a boxing match. We were supposed to go figure.
And yes, I said billboard. Because that is what being a celebrity on these shores is about: getting endorsement deals and some billboards if possible. There is a major difference though between Manny as celebrity worthy of endorsement deals and international athletes on his level who have the same. The likes of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, Kobe Bryant and David Beckham will sell mostly sports products, i.e., Nike and Adidas, Spalding for Bryant, AeroProDrive Racquets for Nadal. When these international athletes do sports-unrelated endorsements, they’re given TV commercials that respect their status as world-class athletes. Those Rolex advertisements of Federer, and Nadal’s Kia commercial are wonderful; their advertisements in their native Switzerland and Spain are the same.
So how have Manny’s local endorsement deals treated his world class stature? Well, most of them make him speak in English for one, which necessarily makes them funny given his Bisayan accent. This isn’t because viewers are discriminatory, it’s because these ads mean to be funny for better recall. Manny’s celebrity has also sold everything from deodorant to shampoo, ice cream to milk, mineral water to a fast food chain, pain killers to car batteries, making it seem like he’s saying yes to every endorsement deal that comes his way, regardless of the kinds of ads they’ll make him do.
Never mind that the Nike ads by Manny have consistently let him be himself. His first Nike TV commercial had English subtitles because they let him speak in Filipino; a later ad shows some clips from his recent fight and a slogan that’s creative and touching; the same is done for his training ad where what Manny does was deemed more important than what he says. In Nike ads that put together various international athletes, Manny appears with Nadal and Bryant, and as with his other Nike advertisements, it is reason for pride. And goose bumps.
It’s also reason to imagine that Manny’s image could be better handled, with respect that befits him. Meanwhile, what we have is this absurdity: Manny’s kids and wife in a fast food commercial here, a suka commercial there, wife Jinkee as cover girl in magazines, mother Dionisia dancing some ballroom on TV and doing a movie with ex-President Joseph Estrada. That last bit is reason for goose bumps too, but of the kind reserved for the absurd.
Manny seems to be all we’d like to see, not just in an athlete but in a person, too, yes? There is humility to him that we don’t know to be normal for world-renowned boxers, not when we remember ears being bitten in boxing. It’s easy to think that this is also about his brand of professional athleticism in boxing: if there’s one thing to be said about his training, it’s that it has kept him human. And for this Freddie Roach deserves some credit, for allowing Manny to be his humble self, much like the way managers will keep their showbiz talents grounded in the face of fame and fortune.
At the same time I daresay that like singing, humility is something that we create in the hundreds in this country, especially in those who come from the poorer classes. These are the ones of us who know only to dream, and once it’s fulfilled can only be overwhelmed and be kept down to earth by the truth(s) that their beginnings hold up as mirrors. It’s in every other celebrity who has lived the rags-to-riches story, which is to say it’s in most every athlete. This is a humility that’s almost an ideology in the way being hospitable is, where sometimes we are abused for it, sometimes it’s unclear if we’re in control of what happens because of it.
Case in point, when Manny sings in the Jimmy Kimmel show with Will Ferrell, what exactly do we make of that? That is supposed to be funny, right? He is being made to sing, to showcase his talents, yes? But is this not a gaze that is farthest from being positive? Because Michael Jordan isn’t made to sing in a late-night comedy show, though I’m pretty sure he holds a microphone to do some karaoke, too. But Manny, because he has told the world that he sings – even has a CD and concerts – seems to be that world-class Pinoy athlete who’s being egged on: come on, sing for us! Come on, we want to see this absurdity! Show us who you are, so we may feel better about ourselves.
America isn’t the kindest of nations, and I don’t know why we even let these instances of making Manny reason for laughter, slide. There are many things we believe about Manny, and many Americans who believe him to be the greatest boxer alive. This obviously doesn’t make him invincible to what is a silent racism, the kind that we’d rather turn a blind eye to: let’s not think about it, Manny seems to be enjoying himself. Of course that is beside the point.
Manny’s politics, or the lack of it
Because the point is this: Manny, as with all athletes the world over, stands for nation in ways that only an athlete’s pain and determination and success can. For the Philippines though, Manny is also about dreaming and possibility, fame and politics. In the Philippines, Manny is athlete, but also artista and congressman; in the Philippines Manny is the one icon to rise from the masses and become everything that the upper classes wish they had amongst their kind. They forget that only the downtrodden will not mind getting their faces wrecked in a boxing match.
Meanwhile, we apparently don’t mind that someone like Manny will surround himself with politicians – even the ones that we’ve decided are the most crooked and corrupt of them all. Apparently, he can endorse US candidates, and we barely care. Apparently, we will let Manny do what he wants, no matter that it reeks of everything we’ve kicked out a President for: gambling, cockfighting, womanizing. Apparently, we will see him as credible still, regardless of the fact that he sells every other product in the market, including a beauty clinic. Apparently, we don’t mind that he is Congressman, and after that last fight, we will dare say that he deserves to be Senate President, never mind that we’ve been insisting that those we put in office be people who deserve it because they have proven themselves intelligent, honest, credible. The same goes for the calls to make him tourism icon. Apparently, Congress will celebrate his arrival by spending P300,000 pesos on a party, erasing all his absences and giving him the Congressman of the Year Award, forgetting that being the best boxer in the world isn’t equal to being the best public servant in the Philippines, in fact at this point it’s farthest from it.
But too, we seem to be absolving Manny of all possible faults, including the lack of a clear stand on anything. And I don’t know that this is the most productive way to deal with a world class athlete in our shores. Elsewhere in the world, athletes lose endorsements for bad behavior; elsewhere, they need to take good care of their public image, keep personal lives private, as a matter of gaining and keeping respect. Elsewhere, people dare to take athletes to task as public figures. On this side of the world, we are all just overwhelmed by Manny, so much so that we will forgive him anything, if we aren’t blinded completely to his faults.
It almost seems like we don’t know how to bring Manny up. Or maybe he’s happened so rarely for us, we don’t know how to deal with someone like him other than to coddle and humor him. That’s ultimately not bringing him up at all. – GMANews.TV