pop goes the world: the social effects of manny pacquiao

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 12 May 2011, Thursday

The Social Effects of Manny Pacquiao

In recent years, one of the most interesting phenomena ever to emerge from Philippine media is the Manny Pacquiao phenomenon. There has never been anything quite like it before.

The various forms of mass media are saturated with news about Pacquiao – before, during, and after a fight – from television to radio to the Internet. It seems almost as if time stops in the country when Pacquiao fights; the crime rate is even said to drop significantly, something that would be a good topic for a research study.

What’s so fascinating about Manny?

Manny Pacquiao is a Filipino boxer who, from the deepest obscurity and poverty that most fighters come from, has punched his way into world consciousness and sport history as the “greatest pound-for-pound fighter” ever to grace a ring. His feat of going up eight weight classes, gaining pounds yet never losing his speed, flexibility, and power, has never been done before or since.

In general, fighters tend to stay within their weight class or go up a class or two (which means going up in weight). However, the added poundage takes a toll and as per the Peter Principle, they will hit their “level of incompetence” perhaps a class or two above their original one, unable to eke out any more success from that point on.

As an athlete, Pacquiao is incredibly disciplined. He maintains a strenuous daily training regimen which includes running several miles a day, sparring with several partners, and calisthenics.

His hard work has paid off. He has suffered only three losses – in 1996, to Rustico Torrecampo; in 1999, to Thai Medgoen Singsurat; and in 2005 to Erik Morales, an indignity he avenged in twice, in 2005 and 2006. Once he hit his stride after that, under the able coaching of American trainer and former pugilist Freddie Roach, he has not lost any of the 14 fights he has had since.

Because he has beaten many Mexican fighters, the US sports media bestowed upon him the monicker, “The Mexicutioner”. As a play upon his name, and because of his successive victories against fighters of many nations not just Mexicans, including Hatton (UK), Clottey (Ghana), and, most recently, Shane Mosley (USA), he has been likened to the power-packed enemy-chomping video game character “Pacman”.

Image here.

He offers each fight, each victory, to the nation (pagmamahal sa Inang Bayan); he is prayerful (madasalin), dropping to his knees to thank God after each fight; he indulges his Mommy Dionesia, wife Jinkee, and children (pagmamahal at pagpapahalaga sa pamilya); despite his wealth and lofty stature in sport and politics, he also is an average man prone to temptation with beautiful women (machismo, pagiging tunay na lalaki.) These are attributes deeply embedded in Philippine culture; he is therefore the Pinoy “everyman” that the majority of the masang Pilipino can relate to, and his successes have made him a symbol for the Philippines and Filipinos, his efforts a matter of national pride.

Jinkee, Manny, and Dionesia Pacquiao. Image here.

Prior to the Pacman phenomenon, boxing in the country existed under the radar of the vast majority of Filipinos. It was perceived as a bloodsport, a cruel and inhumane activity participated in by men of poverty hoping to earn a living from prize money. For decades, the popular sport was professional basketball, under the auspices of thePhilippine Basketball Association.

After that, with the success of “Amang” Parica and Efren “Bata” Reyes in the international professional billiards scene, that sport enjoyed a run of popularity, as evinced by the sprouting of billiards halls in nearly every town, and the purchase of pool tables for the homes of those who could afford them.

Despite the achievements of Flash Elorde, Rolando Navarrete, Gerry Peñalosa, and Luisito Espinosa in World Boxing Organization and World Boxing Association matches, it had to take a Pacman and his steady stream of exceptional international victories for boxing to enjoy a resurgence in this country.

Every Pacquiao fight is now aired over multiple mass media channels – pay-per-view cable television, delayed telecast on free TV, for-pay screenings in movie theaters, radio broadcasts, updates on the Internet via news articles, Facebook updates, and Twitter, and between people using mobile phone texting.

Image here.

Round-by-round news of his fights are almost inescapable, being passed around even through word of mouth. Try riding a taxi during a fight; the driver will update you the moment you step inside.

Such a media phenomenon seems to have spawned some social effects, not the least of which is the new popularity of boxing. Undercards are now being seriously watched and the boxers followed, unlike before Pacman when undercards had the same relevance to viewers as the opening acts in big-name concerts (people tend to ignore them and think of them as necessary nuisances). Former undercard boxers such as Nonito Donaire have gone on to gain their own fans.

Boxing and mixed martial gyms have sprouted up in many areas of the country, with more young men than ever hoping to fight their way into the ranks of multi-millionaires, while the out-of-shape hope to get buff.

There are less men in churches on Sundays when there are Pacquiao fights.

Media, particularly print, tout that “there is no crime on Pacquiao fight days.”

Also most telling, Pacquiao has become a symbol of Filipino pride around the world. The persona of Pacquiao has become a sign connoting abstract concepts such as Filipino-ness, national pride, and love of country.

He has entered the national mythos, and that is not the least of his achievements. In Joseph Campbell’s concept of the monomyth or “hero’s journey”, a hero from the ordinary world is chosen to enter a realm of strange events; if he accepts the challenge, he must perform tasks and face trials. If he survives, the hero earns great gifts or boons which he may use to improve the ordinary world if he returns to it successfully.

This Pacquiao has done – entered the strange world of international boxing, performed tasks impossible for other boxers, and earned prize money and learned skills that he uses to better the lives of his fellow Filipinos.

For many, Pacquiao is a true hero, and his accomplishments have made changes on our culture, the effects of which we are discovering as his story still unfolds.    ***

Time magazine cover here. Joseph Campbell image here.

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2 Comments on pop goes the world: the social effects of manny pacquiao

  1. Bea
    14 May 2011 at 12:42 pm (2957 days ago)

    Hahaha! Was this your answer to our comprehensive exam? Love it!

  2. JennyO
    14 May 2011 at 12:54 pm (2957 days ago)

    Thanks! Perhaps 80% of this was the intro of my compre answer. I added some other insights for the column, among them the one on Campbell and mythos. :)

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