Monday, November 28, 2011

Global Jologs Style: Pacquiao's flexible meanings in the Filipino diaspora

After a recent controversial win over his long-time foe Juan Manuel Marquez and a looming Floyd Mayweather showdown closer than ever (Money announced today a proposed May 5, 2012 fight date), Manny Pacquiao's notoriety shows no sign of waning, even though critics argue that his fighting ability is on the decline. As a congressman in Sarangani Province, the globally popular Filipino icon has had to juggle between his political responsibilities and his sports career.  Was this juggling the cause of his uncompelling and indecisive win over Marquez?

Filipinos in the U.S. and around the world cheered for their champ, with some making the holy pilgrimage to Las Vegas to simply be within Pacman's orbit.  And for Filipinos in the Philippines, waking up early and missing holy mass was a legitimate excuse for the sake of a Pacquiao fight.  The whole world watches when the athlete once featured in Time Magazine's "most influential people" list steps in the ring. 

And the whole world also wears him.

Nike's "Team Pacquiao" brand has become recognizable to many non-Filipinos, with the Philippine flag colors becoming synonymous with the boxer.  For sure, Pacquiao gear (and also Philippine flag-themed gear) has set its place at the table of Filipino American fashion sensibilities. 

Blue Scholars don't mind the jologs
But do the meanings of Pacquiao's image, especially through Pacman fashion, remain the same for all Filipinos around the world? 

I was surprised to learn that in the Philippines, many Filipinos regard Pacquiao as symbolizing "jologs," which roughly translates to "ghetto" or "kitsch." Yes, the heroic Filipino icon represents more dimensions than mass admiration.  But that's just it.  "Jologs" operates as a disparaging marker for people who are seen as mindless and naive (think people who wear too much Steelers or Lakers paraphernalia).  Hip hop too in the Philippines, as I try to show in my film Lyrical Empire: Hip Hop in Metro Manila (also viewable in the right column), represents for a certain segment of Filipinos a supposedly "uneducated" "jologs" spirit.      

For Filipino Americans, Pacquiao is an emblem of Filipino pride, identity, masculinity, and power. Even for non-Filipinos, as Davey D argues, Pacquiao has become a "People's Champion" because of his pro-common people values. 

But there is an undeniable phenomenon among many Filipinos in the Philippines in which they will happily watch the Pacquiao fights, but will refuse to wear Team Pacquiao clothing.  I wouldn't be surprised if the Team Pacquiao merchandise sold in the Philippines was mostly purchased by Filipino balikbayan tourists. 

For some reason, Pacquiao in the Philippines and Pacquiao in the Filipino diaspora isn't the same person.

Certainly a major explanation is class (and the specter of class aspirations).  Since Nike's takeover of Pacquiao merchandise, it has been much more difficult for poorer people in the Philippines to buy expensive Nike-brand Pacman shirts, hence the noticeable (and ironic) lack of Pacquiao clothing among the masa in the islands.  But the middle classes aren't sporting it either.  The real market, it seems, are those Filipinos "out there" across the globe who are unaware of the cultural politics in the mother land, who are oblivious to "baduy," "bakya," or "jologs"--epithets that describe the cultural tastes of the masa.

When Pacquiao makes his post-fight interviews, we might flinch and chuckle.  In the Philippines, the "jologs"-induced cringing moment could not be stronger.  As a major political figure who has little education, limited English (compared to more-educated citizens), and a manic masa following, Pacquiao exemplifies at best an ambivalent figure for many Filipinos in the Philippines, especially among those who have been critiquing civil society and are engaged in the political process, a process in which the champ has quickly assumed a degree of leverage and power (think Erap).    

When Pacquiao sings Karaoke songs on Jimmy Kimmel Live, many Filipinos in the diaspora embrace him for his levity and charm.  Without the "jologs" factor in their vocabulary of Filipino cultural politics, Manny remains harmless.  He might seem as simple as the poor people who sing on variety shows like Wowowee, but he is excused for his pronunciation and grammar "errors" because he is a winner--a masculine embodiment of Philippine nationhood.  

But in the Philippines, the complex and often contradictory cultural politics of everyday life manifests itself when the boxer-legislator appears on the TV screen.  In a poor country, "being" Filipino means much more than wearing the three colors.  When Pacquiao fights his opponents in the ring while also fighting key legislation such as the Reproductive Health bill, the cultural consciousnesses of Filipinos around the world become strangers.



Anton Bonifacio said...

Very interesting, you cut through cultural frames like a Pacquiao uppercut. Joke lang.

Another point on why middle class Pilipin@s not embracing the champ: Pacquiao is from the South, unapologetically representing General Santos, Mindanao.

I remember the Times piece saying our Tagalog folks didn't wanna embrace him until he started being an international contender.

About the Nike's Pilipino flag line, it's funny - I remember my first trip to Philippines at the airport, a smiling Filipino family, mother, father, 3 kids, all decked out in all Filipino flag jackets...

For balikbayans not understanding Jolog-Pacquiao sentiment and cultural nuances is one thing, but it might be a deeper disconnect for Filipino diaspora and its generations "imagining the Philippines": as some 1st generations engrained memories of a country they left, frozen in that era, essentializing Philippines and what it means to be Filipino...

MV said...

Thanks for reading and thank for your comment. I forgot to mention the regional divide too, and the Tagalog elitism, as you have astutely noted. There is an irony of him being from a peripheral part of the nation, and being embraced as a national hero. I think i heard he speaks English better than Tagalog.

Yes, that is interesting that some first generation Filipinos have this very calcified imagining of the Philippines. Again, this is a class issue because some Fil Ams (including first generations) are able to travel back and forth (and sometimes around the world) more liberally than some Fil Ams with less resources and networks who experience travel as a life impacting decision.

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Anton Bonifacio said...

my experience from the visayas is they prefer to speak Visaya, English then Tagalog. maybe the exception of Davao with "VisTag".

I've been thinking, Jose Rizal had that saying (bout to butcher it) "if you don't speak the Filipino's language, you will never know how Filipino's think"

I remember coming back home and hearing my mom speak English and all my aunt's/uncle's quirky accents, a lot of our humor is cuz of direct visayan (mis)translations

sad to say, some Fil Ams preference for not passing on Pilipino (or our other languages), maybe by de-facto, we're gonna culturally isolate ourselves more from the Philippines/the world..

what a radical thing if Pacquiao will just start speaking Pilipino

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