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An editorial quandary: What do you think?

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jan 04, 2011

Last week we faced an interesting editorial decision. I’d be interested to know whether Catholic Culture readers would agree with the way we resolved the question.

The question, in a nutshell, was whether or not we should publicize a very offensive video that might appear as an ad during the Super Bowl.

The background: Pepsi and Doritos are sponsoring a competition to design an ad that will appear during the Super Bowl broadcast. The winner will receive a huge cash prize, as well as the satisfaction of seeing his work on a national TV broadcast.

Last week, orthodox Catholic groups began sounding the alarm. One of the videos entered in this competition was a vile parody of the Holy Eucharist. In the proposed ad, a priest worried about declining attendance struck on a novel idea. The video showed people coming forward in church, as for communion, and happily receiving Pepsi and Doritos.

Outraged by this mockery of the Blessed Sacrament, Catholic groups begin circulating petitions, asking people to call Pepsi officials and demand that the corporation disavow this disgusting video. A few Catholic Culture supporters, receiving these alarms, suggested that we should call attention to the cause.

Here are the problems, as I saw them:

  • If Pepsi broadcast such a grossly sacrilegious ad, that would certainly be news, and cause for protests. But Pepsi had not created, endorsed, promoted, or broadcast this ad. It was one of many entries—about 5,600, as it turns out—in an open competition. Pepsi had provided web space for all the entrants in the competition, and this offensive video could be viewed on that site. One might question the wisdom of providing web space without filtering out objectionable material, but that was the sum total of the Pepsi/Dorito involvement.
  • The creators of the video, Media Wave Video Productions, had shown an appalling lack of respect for the Eucharist. But it is not surprising, in early 21st-century America, that some creative artists entertain blasphemous ideas. A full-fledged campaign against their work would draw public attention to them; did we really want to do that?
  • The rules of the contest called for Pepsi to choose 100 finalists from all the entries that had been submitted. If this offensive video, entitled “Feed Your Flock,” drew extra public attention because of Catholic protests, there might be a risk that the campaign would actually increase the likelihood that it would appear among the finalists.
  • If we asked people to protest the video, we would have to explain. And in explaining, we would have to point people toward the offensive video. But we didn’t want people to view the video; it was disgusting. (You’ll notice that this blog entry does not include a direct link to the video. It’s out there, but I’m not going to help you find it.)

After weighing the issue, we decided not to call attention to the issue. We agreed that if “Feed Your Flock” was among the finalists in the Pepsi contest, we would re-assess our position.

Fortunately, when the finalists were chosen this week, the offensive video was not on the list. With the benefit of hindsight, our editorial decision looks good. This unhappy episode never rose to the level of a legitimate news story.

But did we make the right call? That isn’t entirely clear to me.

On one hand, the Catholic outrage against this video undoubtedly gave it more publicity. Media Wave Video Productions boasted, in a January 4 press release, that over 100,000 viewers had seen the video; among all the 5,600 entries in the Pepsi contest, it ranked in the top 10 in terms of viewers. Much of that traffic was surely driven by the controversy. It might have been better to ignore the outrage.

On the other hand, we don’t know what Pepsi executives might have done, if they had not been alerted to the depth of Catholic outrage provoked by this proposed ad. Might they have chosen “Feed Your Flock” among the finalists? Might they even have considered broadcasting it? We don’t know. Today Pepsi executives are assuring concerned Catholics that the video was never under active consideration as an ad. But I, for one, am grateful to anyone who might have helped Pepsi reach that decision.

Meanwhile the creators of the offensive video are, quite predictably, insisting that they meant no offense. The man who came up with the idea for the ad—described in the press release as a “devout Catholic” in spite of the clear evidence to the contrary—offers this lame explanation: “The pastor did not consecrate the Doritos and Pepsi—therefore it is not the Eucharist.”

No, it is not the Eucharist. We all knew that. It is a mockery of the Eucharist. Thank God—and perhaps Pepsi, and probably the many Catholics who signed petitions and called in protests—on Super Bowl Sunday, in this particular instance, our Eucharistic Lord will not be mocked.

Now that you have the whole story, I’d be interested in reactions from Catholic Culture readers. Did we make the right editorial decision? 

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Show 10 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: hsutter2478 - Jan. 10, 2011 10:32 AM ET USA

    I agree with your decision. No need to give extra attention to the foolishness of those who long for fame.

  • Posted by: loumiamo7154 - Jan. 07, 2011 7:20 PM ET USA

    Seems to me you done good, Phil. So many of these issues fall in the damned if you do or don't category, so it is a tough call. But all in all, I think you and the rest of the folks there deserve a big attaboy. On a side note, is it ok for a good Catholic to root against the Saints this weekend, or any weekend, for that matter?

  • Posted by: flip173066 - Jan. 06, 2011 3:27 PM ET USA

    you made the right decision God bless you and your family as you can see i'am not a man of many words.

  • Posted by: Miss Cathy - Jan. 06, 2011 11:22 AM ET USA

    When an actor portrays a priest, we recognize that the Eucharist has not been confected in a movie. That being said, we expect the portrayal to be faithful and reverent. Many Protestant denominations mirror what the priest in the Catholic Mass does. I guess my point is, because it is a mirror, it is still just not to portray or support the portrayal of such a grave mockery and degradation of the Eucharistic species.

  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Jan. 05, 2011 11:19 AM ET USA

    Two comments in order: The Lord's Supper in Protestant communities is not a valid Eucharist, but it is that community's attempt to obey the ordinance of the Lord. It is right we be concerned about mockery. Second, oftentimes, quiet telephone calls to management before a situation gets out of hand, are better than a full-scale crisis. Businessmen are about gaining customers, not losing them. Bravo Pepsico, and bravo Catholic Culture!

  • Posted by: non-faithfulcatholicschools7869 - Jan. 05, 2011 10:31 AM ET USA

    I, for one, think you made the right decision. I signed the petition and received one of the replies that Pepsi sent out. In order for all in the Catholic Blogosphere to see what was said, I posted the entire reply on Carol McKinley's Blog, "The Tenth Crusade". You made the right choice in not drawing undue attention to the thing. Fortunately, Pepsi thought that way also. Keep up the good work. Jesus Is Lord!

  • Posted by: koinonia - Jan. 05, 2011 9:53 AM ET USA

    Actually, I believe an intelligent argument could be made for either course of action. Unfortunately, our cultural decline has been so precipitous that this "Do I or Don't I?" dilemma is a frequent one for us as parents in educating and rearing our children in today's cultural quagmire. Innocence and ignorance are not synonymous terms. Your decision was solid, and sadly, the dilemma will most certainly recur in the future.

  • Posted by: polish.pinecone4371 - Jan. 05, 2011 8:21 AM ET USA

    Phil, you and many others have viewed this video incorrectly. A PROTESTANT service was parodied, not the Mass. The older 'minister' is wearing a wedding ring, there is no crucifix, altar or tabernacle in the church, no statues, a podium is central, they do not wear vestments, the Pepsi is served in little cups like Protestants do with wine or grape juice. Catholic sensibilities got in the way on this one. Irreverent it certainly was, but it was not aimed at Catholics.

  • Posted by: wolfdavef3415 - Jan. 04, 2011 6:19 PM ET USA

    I think this was the proper way to handle it. Most people that can use the internet could find the video if they wanted to. To bring attention to the video would only have resulted in more popularity for it, and this being a popularity contest, that would have been counter productive.

  • Posted by: DrJazz - Jan. 04, 2011 6:10 PM ET USA

    You made the right decision. Groups that support politically correct causes often blast a company right away for offensive ads, but Catholics are not in that position. You were right to consider whether a vehement protest would increase the likelihood of the video being selected as a finalist. It was important that you agreed to re-assess your position if the video was among the finalists. That would have been the time for us to put on the full-court press.

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