Friday, November 16, 2007

The Media Template

How on earth did I miss this?

The brilliant minds at Creative Minority Report have created a helpful headline guide for the Pope's upcoming visit to the U.S. I think Patrick Archbold has pretty well nailed it: the national news media is almost certain to use at least one of those headline combinations (quite possibly the one reading "Pope To Visit U.S. Amid Priest Sexual Scandal").

It's funny. It's sad. It's accurate. By holding up this particular mirror to the mainstream media, Patrick Archbold has proved that they have no reflections and are therefore vampires.

Okay, so I'm exaggerating--a little. But honestly, when is the last time you read a story in any secular newspaper dealing with any aspect at all of Catholicism, where one or the other of the elements from the clever CMR post wasn't dragged in completely gratuitously? If a Catholic diocese decided to open the world's largest soup kitchen, for instance, the headline in the New York Times would probably read "Scandal-Rocked Church Opens Soup Kitchen In Effort To Repair Crumbling Image In A Time Of Dwindling Church Attendance" and the article itself would probably direct readers to a companion piece on the editorial pages, in which the ever-predictable Maureen Dowd would opine, "It's Time For Catholic Women To Get Out of the (Soup) Kitchen...(and get behind the altar).

The media template for articles and essays involving the Catholic Church tends to follow a depressingly familiar pattern. To be fair, a nearly-identical template is used whenever Christianity as a whole is discussed, unless the church in question has proved its progressive stance by campaigning for abortion, gay rights, environmentalism, and unilateral disarmament--oops, sorry, that should read "immediate withdrawal of our troops from Iraq." (I guess I'm still remembering the progressive churches of my childhood.) Such a church, of course, will be written about in a tone of breathless and positive surprise, as if the writer of the piece can hardly believe that there are Christians out there who are almost--well, normal.

It's not all that surprising that that media, by and large, doesn't understand religion, and particularly religions like Catholicism that still insist on the connection between love and sacrifice, that still take the Ten Commandments and the New Testament's expansion of them seriously, that accept the reality that to live as a follower of Christ demands not merely some universal niceness, but the taking up of our own crosses, the constant struggle to put to death the old reality of sin, and the obedience and gratitude which characterize our worship of Almighty God.

These concepts can't really be reduced to sound bites; they don't make for catchy headlines. Rarely do they sell papers. Headlines reading: "Pope to Catholics in America: Yes, We're Still a Hierarchy" or "Pope Reminds Faithful That Jesus Meant What He Said" are going to be greeted with incomprehension in the newsroom and yawns in the marketing department.

So in all probability, the headlines during the papal visit to the United States will read very like the ones conjured up by the fertile imagination of Patrick Archbold at Creative Minority Report. Because when the light of Christ shines forth into the uncomprehending darkness, the darkness tends to write "Light Disrupts Sleep; Environmentalists Worried About Radiation."


Patrick Archbold said...

"Light Disrupts Sleep; Environmentalists Worried About Radiation."


Wendy in VA (now in MD) said...

That last line is a hoot. :o) Thank you for your blog...

Histor the Wise said...

First: that's an awesome last line!

Second, is there a corresponding editorial by Dowd, "Please Keep Women out of the Light!"