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Precious Moments at America

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Dec 19, 2005

Grabbing an offensive rebound from America magazine's Lady in Latex controversy, Kevin Jones posts an e-mail sent in response to unhappy Christians:

Vision Book Cover Prints
Dear Reader:

We too are offended and very much regret we did not catch the mistake prior to publication. We are returning payment for the ad and protesting the abuse to the artist.

The problem was not evident in the black and white proofs we have used to check final copy. We are taking a number of new steps to review advertising in advance of publication.

Thank you for being so attentive.

Sincerely,

Drew Christiansen, S. J.
Editor in Chief

Let's return to the real world.

1) There is probably no group, in the entire universal Church, that is less likely to let that particular form of sacrilege slip by unnoticed than the Jesuits of America magazine in Manhattan. Suppose you taught high school and that same ad had appeared in the student newspaper. Would you buy the explanation that the students "didn't catch the mistake" in the proofing process? Rubbish. Yet we're talking here about adults who are players in the culture wars, players who've taken notoriously edgy positions on sexual issues. The word "mistake" does not apply.

2) The editor says the "problem" was not evident in the black and white proofs, and that's how the ad got into print. You can make your own call regarding the greyscaled jpeg (left), but even if -- which I find preposterous -- no one at America ever realized he was looking at a condom, even if no photo had accompanied the ad, the text itself would convict them of collusion. The ad describes a sculpture of a Madonna named "Extra Virgin" -- a camp but unequivocal bit of mockery -- and the mention of "the delicate veil of latex" is meant to provoke the same sort of tittering. Again, if we came upon the same text in a high school newspaper we'd have no trouble finding the hermeneutical key.

3) If we're meant to be looking at a slip, where are the other ads in America for kitschy religious art, with which "Extra Virgin" was so easily confused? There are none. Even a condomless kitsch Madonna would be rare enough to make the sub-editors spew their latte across the copy desk in shock. This isn't the Sacred Heart Messenger, folks.

4) Let's pretend, for the sake of argument, that no one on America's staff colluded in the ad. Suppose further that, instead of the Blessed Virgin, it was a hallowed liberal icon whose figurine had been treated in a comparably ignoble manner. If someone were hawking a nine-inch Martin Luther King sheathed in a condom, or a nine-inch Cardinal Bernardin coated with K-Y jelly, or a nine-inch Eleanor Roosevelt outfitted with a dental dam, are we meant to believe they too would have passed all the way through America's process of ad acceptance, lay-out, and proof-reading, with no one raising an eyebrow? If you can believe that, boys and girls, you can believe anything.

5) OK, so let's imagine the ads for the Precious Moments proposed above did slip into print without anyone catching the "mistake." Suppose that they also were accompanied, as was "Extra Virgin," by racy titles: "Doctored King," "Sloppy Joe," "Nude Deal Dem," and so forth. After the furious complaints came pouring in, do you think America would write in response to outraged readers, "Thank you for being so attentive"? Do you think they'd even consider trying to palm them off with the black & white page-proofs line? Do you think, indeed, that anything less than staff dismissals -- followed by a year-long orgy of apology, self-recrimination, and compensatory hirings from the offended populations -- would suffice?

Of course not. And in the case of "Extra Virgin," if the ad had simply been passed by drowsy proofers, it would mean that the folks at America accord the Mother of God much less pious attention than Dr. King, Cardinal Bernardin, etc. That supposition in itself is not implausible, but the "oops we let it slip" excuse is. Some person or persons in-house brought off the stunt, the predictable flap occurred, and we're getting the predictable damage control, the minimum necessary force required to keep America in the boundary-bending business.

Will they come out of this with all flags flying? Almost certainly. Who is there, with the authority to intervene, that wants to use this issue (and the attendant publicity) to do so? No, I anticipate very little in the way of official remonstrance, and I expect it'll be an extra-merry Midwinter Holiday on 56th Street. (Incidentally, I'll bet the artist in question was deeply stung by America's "protest"; he even got the cost of his ad refunded.) They must be wetting themselves laughing.

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