The mainstream media is really pushing these life-size cardboard Pope Francises. Why? Is it just because it’s fun, or funny. Is it just for the money?
In keeping with previous papal visits, Pope Francis’ U.S. visit in September has spurred a mad dash among souvenir sellers. For $160, you can order an official, life-size “cutout” of the pontiff from the group organizing one of the events in Philadelphia.
Why is it so expensive? Is it a collector’s item already?
Those 69-inch “standup” versions of Pope Francis, whose global popularity is perhaps the only thing larger than the replicas themselves, are being placed around Philadelphia so people can take selfies and share them on social media, the Associated Press reported.
So the point is not just to have a big Pope Francis around to bother you. It’s to take a selfie with it and ‘share on social media.’
“Pope Francis is described as the people’s pope. So we have him in places where many people can see him,” World Meeting of Families digital content manager Nancy Caramanico told the news agency. “People are just really excited to be around him and are anticipating his visit to Philadelphia.”
Nineteen-year-old college student Jennifer D’Angelo will be in school when Pope Francis visits her hometown, the AP reported, so she took the opportunity to pose with a two-dimensional cutout of the pope on display at a food court.
“It seems like he’s trying to bring the Catholic Church together,” D’Angelo, 19, said. “I think he’s doing a great job. I’m just kind of sad that I’m not going to be in the city when he comes.”
Aren’t all the popes ‘people’s popes?’ Why just Francis? Was Benedict only for rich fancy people?
Is Pope Francis bringing the Catholic Church together? I think he’s just rallying non-Catholics, dissidents, media people, and dictators. How many actual Catholics are excited to be around Pope Francis? Are we thinking with our televisions?
For those seeking a less-grand papal presence, you can also order a variety of posters, a coffee mug emblazoned with some of the pope’s more notable quotations, and a 10-inch tall Pope Francis “plush doll” that is “surface wash only.”
Merchandising papal visits has a long tradition in the United States and elsewhere. In 1987, the U.S. tour undertaken by Saint John Paul II, then in the ninth year of his pontificate, inspired such items as a “Pope-Scope,” a cardboard tube with small mirrors at an angle, so people could see his motorcade over the heads of others. Other souvenirs included buttons, a T-shirt inscribed “Your Holiness, Welcome to Texas” and additional booklets, a selection of which was for sale via the online auction site eBay for $49.99.
Everything that happens in FrancisChurch is always framed as part of a long tradition but it’s not. It just manipulates and morphs traditions. It abuses them.
Six years later, mindful of such kitsch as “Pope-on-a-Rope” soap bars, Catholic leaders in 1993 prepared for another Pope John Paul II visit to America by hiring the Famous Artists Merchandising Exchange of Dayton, Ohio, to handle licensing of the pope’s image, according to The New York Times (paywall).
“More than 100 items were deemed acceptable, including those … approved to bear the Pope’s countenance: medallions, T-shirts, posters, postcards, lithographs, fanny packs and the Pope-Scope,” the newspaper reported.
Perhaps one of the most notable pope-related products emerged during a 1965 visit to New York by Pope Paul VI. It came during a newspaper strike, leaving journalists for The New York Times and other print outlets to cover a story they couldn’t distribute in those pre-Internet days. The answer? An “instant book” created by Times staffers and Bantam Books, a paperback publisher that released 500,000 copies of the story within four days of the visit. As the Times reported, Pope Paul VI “got his copy for free.”
Don’t be fooled. A few vendors promoting and capitalizing off previous papal visits is nothing like the worldwide media/marketing efforts behind Francis today.
At the top of the article there is an enormous photo of a man kneeling in prayer before his Pope Francis cutout and grasping its cardboard hand. Francis swag is not about fun or money. It’s McKinsey & Company’s idea of worship, worship of their new catholicism.
If St. Peter lived in our time and had access to cardboard images and selfies, would he make sure the countries he evangelized were filled with life-size statues of himself first? Is there going to be a single image of Christ anywhere near Francis next month? I suppose one or two are unavoidable.
The Francis cutout is symbolic because his papacy really a contrived event. It’s something orchestrated and Francis is just filling the life-size pope spot within it.
Real Francis is not flat. He’s very round and so is the Church. It has depth and it lives. But FrancisChurch doesn’t. It’s just a pasted veneer, a stage set.