SAVVY MARKETER REALIZES THAT "COMPASSION" IS HIS FIRM'S BRAND
I know I'm supposed to be profoundly moved that Pope Francis hugged a man with severe facial disfigurements, but forgive me if I'm dry-eyed. I know how hip it is to like this pope -- Esquire concludes that he, in fact, is "the most interesting man in the world" as well as "funny, smart, and fearless"; Bob Cesca, formerly of Bob Cesca's Goddamn Awesome Blog, says, "Great pope, or the greatest pope?" -- but I'm picking up a profound odor of calculation in Francis's curiously frequent viral moments.
First of all, publicly and very visibly hugging a person with facial deformities doesn't make you a colossus of compassion; it makes you ... Oprah. Yes, it's good to make an example of compassionate treatment of people who might otherwise be rejected by society, but when it's done by a famous person in the presence of lots of witnesses and cameras, it's also very good for the public image of the embracer -- and that's something Pope Francis, like Oprah, clearly understands. He heads an organization that claims to stand for unconditional love, and that's fallen far short in recent years in its effort to reach people with that message, so he's putting that sort of thing much more in the foreground than his predecessor did. If you believe in the Catholic Church, then, yes, this is a good thing -- but it's clearly done on behalf of the church. Me, I'm a lapsed cradle Catholic who's now an atheist, and while I praise the church's charitable works, I don't support its dogma. I'm not so impressed.
(Hugging a disfigured person briefly is a hell of a lot easier, by the way, than devoting years of love to one. As I typed this, I thought about the young woman who famously married her severely disfigured fiancee after he returned from the Iraq War. It turns out that they split up after little more than a year of marriage. Keeping it together was just too difficult -- naturally, because it was more than a photo op.)
I'd feel better about Pope Francis if I thought that his gift for publicity might be accompanied by a change in the way the church deals with gay people (no, the church's stance hasn't changed), or abortion, or ordination of women (no changes there, either), or contraception or end-of-life care or fertility. The pope utters a lot of kind words, and that's helpful, but on the questions of whether these things are right or wrong there still isn't an inch of daylight between Francis and, say, Rick Santorum.
Yes, it's nice that the pope let a little kid run around freely at one of his public appearances. But so did Rudy Giuliani at his first mayoral inaugural -- though in that case it was Giuliani's son -- and the tolerance of the antics weren't exactly a harbinger of any long-term compassion.
I want to see the church change its positions on sex and gender issues, not just its tone. I want to see Francis use the profound goodwill he's engendered to put some pressure on governments and capitalists to dial down the greed and hard-heartedness; a few platitudes about the dangers of materialism in Sunday sermons aren't getting the job done. I'll know that Francis is having a positive impact when he's actually making enemies -- of the priggish haters, of the heartless rich and powerful. He's not. So his hugs don't move me any more than Chris Christie's hugs do.
(Story via Memeorandum.)