Celebrity: The Currency of the 21st Century

Manny Pacquiao was a great fighter. In his heyday, he was a one-man hurricane, tirelessly throwing punches from every possible angle. I don’t think I have ever seen anything quite like the fury of Pacquiao in his prime. Those days are gone, due to age and, perhaps, to an enhanced drug testing regime, but Manny, a shadow of his former self, can still sign lucrative boxing deals. And he is an international celebrity, one of the most famous people in the world, a member of his country’s Congress and a recording artist of sorts, which counts for more these days than just about anything.

My oldest daughter lives in Australia, and my middle daughter is on her way there for a visit. A few minutes ago, she texted that she is in a layover at LAX, and saw Manny Pacquiao. She was within a few feet of Manny and took this photo:


And this one:


And this extremely brief video:

A typical celebrity encounter. My son, who works in finance for a Fortune 100 company and manages professional fighters on the side, suggested that Manny may be in Los Angeles to work out at the Wild Card Gym, owned by his trainer Freddie Roach. Perhaps so, but it is equally likely that he is merely cashing in with some celebrity appearances.

In our decadent 21st century, celebrity seemingly trumps all. By the time Pacquiao became a celebrity, he had already peaked as an athlete, a common pattern. Celebrity is often, but not always, a twilight status for those who are otherwise over the hill.

Even in politics, it seems that celebrity trumps actual accomplishment. How else to explain the meteoric rise of Donald Trump? When my Democrat friends tease me about Trump’s unexpected dominance, I tell them not to get cocky: if Kim Kardashian runs for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020 (she is, in fact, a Democrat, like Trump until recently), she might well win. That’s how powerful celebrity is in our degraded culture. Maybe there is a silver lining to this cloud, but if so, I can’t see it.

To close on a more optimistic note, here is a video of the Manny Pacquiao we boxing fans remember, when he was still a fighter, not a celebrity. If the only time you have seen Manny was his snoozer against Floyd Mayweather, and you didn’t understand what the fuss was about, you should watch this. Manny’s opponents in these fights were all among the world’s best fighters:

I don’t know, maybe Donald Trump has a highlight tape to demonstrate that there is, or was, substance behind his celebrity. If so, I haven’t seen it.