[Published as a "Pop Goes the World" column in Manila Standard-Today on 17 February 2011]
“A doll,” says Wikipedia, “is a model of a human being.” Going with that definition, this three-foot figure of world-famous boxer and Philippine congressman Manny Pacquiao is indeed a doll. Now how many Philippine celebrities have dolls made in their likeness – or international celebrities, for that matter?
Dolls have been around since the early days of human civilization, made of whatever material was at hand – bone, cloth, wood, stone, wax, ivory, porcelain, and an array of other materials. They are a “candidate for the earliest known toy, having been found in Egyptian tombs from 2000 BCE,” laid with great care beside the dead person’s body, signifying that the doll was a precious possession to them in life.
In the modern period, most of us are familiar with dolls as traditional toys for girls, such as the indomitable Barbie. Most dolls are female and can serve to socialize young girls in gender-based behaviors in terms of dress, hair, makeup, perhaps serving as “practice” tools. Male dolls made for female play are after-thoughts or accessories, like Barbie’s Ken.
Boys play with figures that are military-themed or that in general have links to traditionally masculine roles. (Can you say “GI Joe” or “Transformers”?) However, to distinguish between male and female toys, and to dissociate from the feminine connotation of the word “doll”, toys for boys are called “action figures”.
Nowadays, with doll-making technology advanced enough to copy the likeness of an actual person, dolls are being made that look like celebrities. What could this mean?
The root word of “doll” is the Greek eidolon, meaning “image, idol, apparation, phantom, ghost,” which could also be linked to the word “idol” – “an image or other material object representing a deity to which religious worship is addressed; or, any person or thing regarded with blind admiration, adoration, or devotion.”
Gods and goddesses are super versions of the human, with human characteristics blown up to exaggerated proportions – beauty (Venus), martial prowess (Mars), wisdom (Athena), and so on. As their physical representations, idols and religious images can be considered a kind of doll, being models of (super)human beings, with the aspirational and admired attributes greatly emphasized.
Celebrities are the modern-day idols, the focus of awe and worship of adoring fans. In fact the actual terminology and practice of fandom verges on the religious – favorite actors/performers are called “idols”; the word itself has crept into Filipino usage, the way we say “Idol ko si Derek Ramsay.” Their pictures are taped to bedroom walls while pocket-size photos, sold for ten or twenty pesos each, are carried around in wallets, the way posters or calendars of “Mama Mary”, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, or the Holy Family used to be tacked to walls and stampitas with the gilded halos around the heads of saints were tucked into wallets and books.
Dolls of celebrities are a socially acceptable way of creating images of showbiz idols that one can bring home and gaze at adoringly, without fear of social sanction or other repercussion stemming from a bending or skirting-around of a norm.
What does it mean that a doll is made in the likeness of Manny Pacquiao?
The likeness, though a caricature, strove to be as faithful to the real thing as possible, even down to the tattoos.
The cult of Pacquiao has reached idolatrous proportions as exemplified by this tribute to his fame and prowess. Even while still alive, Pacquiao, a present-day gladiator, has already been deified, by this means accorded immortality of a sort. This plastic doll made in his image, down to the tattoos, may now be purchased by admirers who can adore him at their leisure and convenience, much like displaying a santo on the family mesa altar or attending Sunday Mass at their chosen time and church.
As a doll he can be worshipped in an intimate way not possible with a flat, two-dimensional photograph. One may imagine seeing Pacquiao in the round, from all angles, in this instance with the well-developed muscles and facial hair signifying strength, masculinity, and determination – the attributes of Hercules – and honored as such.
This particular doll is a caricature, a version of the real thing that exaggerates the idolized attributes. For idols, patterning after the real thing is not possible or even not desired, because the good characteristics are inflated while the bad are minimized or deliberately omitted. Just as the Venus of Willendorf and other mother goddess figurines from prehistory have no faces but disproportionately large breasts and vulvas signifying fertility, so the Pacquiao dolls need not be accurate and faithful to the original, as long the idea of Pacquiao-ness is conveyed.
A friend has one of these dolls, displayed in a prominent place in his home that he has outfitted like a shrine to his idol. The cult of Pacquiao is growing; remember that the word “cult” is embedded in the word “culture”, and Pacquiao and his greatness as being worthy of elevated levels of admiration have evolved into a meme replicated in Philippine culture.
In this cult, Pacquiao is the new god – he shall redeem Filipinos from international disgrace as a failed nation with his victories in prizefights, he shall deliver us from our idiocies and trespasses with his common sense, and he will save the country from itself through the sheer force of his good intentions.
Bonus shot: empty pizza boxes. As a collector’s item, the question arises – what for? Well, no one ever claimed idolatry is practical.
All definitions quoted from Wikipedia. Photos taken at Powerplant Mall, Rockwell Drive, Makati City, on 16 January 2011. Shot with a Nikon Coolpix L-21.