Vatican’s paper goes pop

I'm always curious to see how the Vatican will take on pop culture, as it did in its recent comments celebrating the 20th anniversary of TV's "The Simpsons." But more recently, the official Vatican newspaper went after "Avatar," calling the blockbuster sci-fi film "a rather facile anti-imperialist and anti-militarist parable" that contains "stupefying, enchanting technology, but few genuine human emotions."

I wanted to know more about what's going on at L'Osservatore Romano (that's Italian for "the Roman Observer"). Thankfully, Nick Squires of The Christian Science Monitor's wrote an intriguing and helpful article about recent changes at the once-stodgy paper.

In "Why is Vatican paper reviewing Avatar, the Simpsons?" Squires investigates deeper changes at the paper, which is going pop under orders from Pope Benedict XVI to reach a broader audience.

Founded in 1861 as the Vatican's paper of record, it still has to cover weighty theological issues and the Byzantine workings of the Roman Catholic Church. But it has also expanded into the world of popular culture, passing judgment on subjects varying from the Harry Potter films and the rock band U2 to the deaths of Michael Jackson and Paul Newman.

The paper, which is sold at news stands for one euro and has a modest circulation of about 15,000, has also started using color photographs for the first time. The makeover was ordered by Pope Benedict XVI, who--despite his rather austere image--has shown himself keen to explore new ways of spreading the Church's message, including new technology.

...The radical change of tack was introduced in 2007, when Giovanni Maria Vian, a career journalist known to staff as "The Professor," was made editor-in-chief. "It used to be pretty indigestible," says Francis X. Rocca, the long-time Vatican correspondent for the Washington-based Religion News Service.

Squires shows that L'Osservatore Romano's strategy for increasing its coverage of pop culture largely mirrors the mainstream press's embrace of pop in recent decades. At the same time, he also shows that the Vatican's critiques of pop culture reflects the Church's deeper theological concerns.

Instead of glorying in the unbearable lightness of pop, the Vatican provides readers with cultural analysis that goes deeper and seeks for signs of eternity in today's cultural currents.

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