the benetton benediction

By Diogenes ( articles ) | May 10, 2007

Gerald Augustinus brings to our attention the Tiny Truck Processional Cross at the Jesuit Church in Vienna, which he assures us is not a spoof: "No [Gerald writes] I am not making it up. It's made from lego blocks. And yes, that's a lego toy truck on the cross."

Gerald's combox is filled with entirely apt expressions of disgust. "I am steaming right now ..." writes one commenter, "STEAMING!" These reactions are also a predictable and necessary part of the joke the pastor and artist are playing on us. The lego lorry in place of the slain body of Christ is intended to get us to sputter, because enjoyment at the indignant incomprehension of the pious (here, a term interchangeable with bourgeois) is the first move in the game.

The second move is a gasp of wounded innocence on the part of the joker ("how could anyone possibly take offense...?") combined with a post-modern explanation of how objections that stem from piety betray the ignorance and captiousness of the objector. Were you to write the pastor complaining of sacrilege you'd get back the following sort of reply:

Far from being blasphemous, the truck-cross is a recovery of one of the oldest and most venerable strands of orthodox Christian devotion. The 4th century Doctor of the Church Saint Hilary of Poitiers referred to Christ as "the vehicle of God" -- Dei currus -- since He transports fallen Mankind back to the Father through His redemptive act on the Cross. A well-known American Negro "spiritual" hymn speaks of the "sweet chariot" which is to carry the singer "home" to the bosom of the Father. Artist Liese Hochhuth used a toy truck in order to recapture the ancient image in a way meaningful to children -- and those not afraid to become as children -- in our own world of today.

Uncle Di just spit-balled that rubbish off the top of his head, and wholly fabricated the bit about Hilary, and anyone familiar with the scam can crank out more of the same nonsense effortlessly. It's not totally convincing (it's not intended to be). And that's the third moment in the shock-the-bourgeois game: to silence the complainers while sending them away unsatisfied.

This kind of gamesmanship is what I've called Benetton Ad Dead-Pan. It trades on the tension between outsiders and "those in the know," and operates as a kind of morose delectation or plaisir aristocratique de d├ęplaire. The sophisticates give pain to the less sophisticated by means of an image that shocks their piety, but which then, when they come charging in outrage to gore their tormentor, is whisked out of sight like a bullfighter's cape. To cause distress to the simple, and to have them chasing a mirage -- that's what makes the sport of Benetton so amusing to our betters.

And invariably they will be our betters -- gallery owners, by blood-test if not by title -- whence the game is so frustrating to us pawns. While I share the disgust for the prank itself expressed by Gerald's steaming commenter, the greater part of my own steam results from the hopelessness of any attempt at redress. Don't repeat this too loudly, but piety, frankly, is lower class. Good-willed protest of sacrilege on the grounds of injured piety is exceptionlessly futile, as the men in charge always always always side with the aristocrats against the commoners. Look at it from their side of the salon: if your taste is so plebeian as to admit you don't find Christ-our-Lorry an amusing tease, you're in no position to alter the course of events for good or ill. It doesn't matter how angry you get.

For them, that's the best joke of all.

Sound Off! CatholicCulture.org supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a current donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

There are no comments yet for this item.