Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
September 23, 2015

Pope in America: It’s Showtime!

Pope America popularity phtos Vatican  A card player? A great showman? An inscrutable tactician? His humility a persona? 

Is the Pope that enigmatic, or are these descriptions more revealing of yesterday’s 5,ooh word NYT preview of his visit to America? I ask because the overwhelming thrust of the article actually has to do with how transparent this Pope is. To be grossly reductive, I guess he fits that domestic descriptor: socially conservative and economically liberal. Except, Francis is unusually pragmatic about diverse lifestyles. If he’s doctrinaire, he also doesn’t judge.  And when it comes to global capitalism or climate change, his primary emphasis is on excess and myopia. He disdains greed and denial, his compass always aligned with the poor or dispossessed. 

Of course, the Pope is extraordinarily savvy when it comes to media and symbolism, and it’s surely not lost on him how much affection he generates with is humility and comfort in his own skin. That said, however, this photo in the Times article, more than anything else, is a reflection of our media culture with its dual obsession with celebrity and spectacle.

I’m not sure where in the Vatican this was taken, but the way the lens fisheyes the ceiling lights, Francis might as well have been standing in front of the Flamingo in Vegas, or making the scene at an L.A. movie premiere. The other vocabulary it plays on is a runway, youngs reaching out for a rockstar,  a swanky costume, and less a walk than a sashay. The Pope might be here to drill on two Americas, tolerance, poverty, violence, incarceration and racial and social justice. He may be more interested in bee-lining for the barrios while simply tolerating the halls of power. But for the visual media over the next few days, it’s all Hollywood, baby.

(photo: Osservatore Romano, via Reuters. caption: Francis at the Vatican in February. His humble persona has made him immensely popular.)

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