[OPINION] Unpacking Pacquiao’s involvement with ComicCon Asia
With ComicCon Asia one week away, now would be a good time to reopen the dialogue about the convention’s involvement with one Manny Pacquiao, everyone’s favorite part-time boxer, senator, bible-thumper, and newly-minted colonel.
As expected, Pacquiao’s involvement was met with some controversy. Pacquiao’s narrow beliefs run contrary to the progressive and inclusive mindset that fandom has been fostering. Couple that with the fact that Marvel stalwart Stan Lee was initially scheduled to be ComicCon’s headlining guest (he recently pulled out due to health concerns). Lee frequently tackled social issues with the books he created, such The X-Men, which was an analogy for the civil rights movement.
As far as I could tell, there wasn’t any clamor for the boxer’s presence in this or any other nerd convention. But Pacquiao has always been a pop culture fixture, and it’s a status that has on occasion brushed with geekdom – Mindstyle and Funko have made figures of him, and then there was Wapakman, his moribund superhero movie. The quality of these interactions is suspect, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he would work with a comic convention at some point in his career.
Which leads us to the meatier question: should one support ComicCon, given Pacquiao’s role as the country’s bigoted uncle? That largely relies on one’s own politics. But supporting ComicCon would be problematic only if the event becomes a platform for Pacquiao's ultra-con politics, or a money-making scheme for him. But so far, there hasn’t been any sign of either.
A few weeks after the September press conference, convention organizers said that Pacquiao was not an investor in the event. His official role was that of designated convention endorser. It’s most likely just another symbolic job title. I still get a big kick out of it, though, because Pacquiao, as an endorser, is in effect endorsing all the LGBT creators in the convention. For sure, most LGBT fans and artists wouldn’t care less about his approval, but the fact that he (probably unwittingly) got onboard with them is just absurd and comical.
ComicCon itself hasn’t really been capitalizing on Pacquiao’s name after the initial press event. I’d like to think this is them backpedalling after hearing the gripes from fans. Or maybe Pacquiao has just been too busy with his multitude of other jobs. We may never know, but hey, less Pacquiao for whatever reason is still a net win.
All this leads to the inevitable question: why is he even a factor? Can’t we all just enjoy this, whether or not he gets actively involved? The answer to those questions, again, depends on your personal politics. But consider what Gerry Alanguilan, acclaimed writer and artist, wrote in his blog:
“As someone who believes in equality for all, I find these statements reprehensible and dangerous. Dangerous because Manny Pacquiao is in a position of political power that would enable him to make his personal beliefs a matter of national policy. That is something I cannot abide."
“If people have no problem with this, then by all means, attend and participate. I am NOT advocating a boycott. I am simply saying that I will not be going. My decision shouldn't affect anybody or cause anyone to freak out and bring down lightning from the heavens. It's just another event I won't be going to, simply for personal reasons.”
It’s also worth pointing out that the moment something becomes big, someone (whether it’s on the creator or consumer side) will politicize it. Pacquiao did it. He used his wildly successful boxing career as a political tool, anchoring his everyman aura to it. Then he ran with it, right into Congress, then on to the Senate.
Politics and geekdom have had a long, sometimes subtle, sometimes overt, relationship.There’s simply no escaping it, even in a genre or medium that trades in escapism. – Rappler.com
Iñigo de Paula is a writer who lives and works in Quezon City. When he isn't talking about himself in the third person, he writes about pop culture and its peripheries.