The nastiest corners of popular culture in Hollywood and Manhattan usually love nothing better than denying their filthiness by hectoring orthodox Christians for the sex scandals lurking behind their "judgmental" ways. But the last few weeks have shown that the current aura around Pope Francis, and the false hope that he'll "go native" with the permissive crowd, is exploited in a different way.
Rolling Stone put Pope Francis on the cover, which hardly puts a practicing Catholic's mind at ease. But perhaps it was only natural that this weed-and-leftist-screed magazine would try to absolve itself for its horrendous James Dean-like cover of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
After all, if you want to see Rolling Stone really honoring a global prophet of miracles on its cover, just recall its 2008 cover with stern-faced Barack Obama surrounded by a a glowing white aura around him. "A New Hope," it read, with a promise of a look inside his "people-powered revolution." Obama ran an omnicompetent "Machinery of Hope" where a Community Organizer-in-Chief that would soon solve every problem, master every technological way to deliver on the country's needs.
Don't laugh. Okay, do laugh.
For this new cover story, novelist Mark Binelli praised the new pontiff by frying the previous one. He wrote about Pope Benedict with less warmth than these magazine hacks mustered for Tsarnaev the terrorist. "After the disastrous papacy of Benedict, a staunch traditionalist who looked like he should be wearing a striped shirt with knife-fingered gloves and menacing teenagers in their nightmares, Francis' basic mastery of skills like smiling in public seemed a small miracle to the average Catholic."
So to this oaf, Pope Benedict is Freddy Krueger in "Nightmare on Elm Street." This is classic Rolling Stone, basing their moral judgments on someone's looks. Doesn't Tsarnaev look like a dreamboat? Don't his good looks demand some sympathy for the "charming kid with a bright future" gone astray? Meanwhile, Pope Francis wins just by not being Benedict: "his recognizable humanity comes off as positively revolutionary," at least "against the absurd, impossibly baroque backdrop of the Vatican."
Francis is a leftist's cinematic icon, apparently. "The touchingly enduring Mr. Smith Goes to Washington/Bulworth/Aaron Sorkin fantasy in which a noble political figure finally tells the American people the truth tends not to happen in real-life democracy, you may have noticed." It only happens in - you guessed it - "an arcane throwback of an institution like the Vatican," where the Cardinals were hoodwinked into pleasing the sybarites at Rolling Stone.
The new pope's rejection of the papal apartments apparently decimated volumes of evidence that Benedict (as well as John Paul II before him) had scolded organized greed: "By devoting much of his first major written teaching to a scathing critique of unchecked free-market capitalism, the pope revealed his own obsessions to be more in line with the boss' [sic] son."
As might be expected, this isn't correct. The new pope's first major written teaching was the encyclical "Lumen Fidei" ("The Light of Faith"), but he was humble enough to announce it was prepared in combination with the previous pope-slash-nightmare to teenagers.
Pope Francis was also made to look like putty in the hands of Harvey Weinstein's publicists, trying to wash the anti-Catholic stink off their film Philomena." (Nice try - if you never actually see this movie.) While it was touching to see Philomena Lee and Pope Francis meet at the Vatican, and the Church should certainly bow to her for the loss of her son to a forced adoption so many years ago, this was more about an elbow-throwing Oscar campaign than a heart-warming moral crusade.
Ted Johnson at Variety nicely summarized it as "an unusual encounter that added to the publicity surrounding the movie in the midst of the Oscar race." Actor and "Philomena" screenwriter Steve Coogan was also there, but there was no report as to whether he sought absolution for writing lines like "F--ing Catholics!" in his Oscar-bait screenplay.
Variety found it "impossible not to view it as perfectly timed to build momentum in the Oscar race. The merging of on-screen social issues with off-screen events is now a given in the weeks leading up to the awards. Last year, for instance, Bradley Cooper and David O. Russell met with Vice President Joseph Biden to talk about the state of mental health as 'Silver Linings Playbook' was in contention."
Who produced that film? The Weinstein Company.
Pope Francis is trying to be an authentic smiling light to all people, a vision of humility. His sudden admirers at Rolling Stone and the Weinstein Company are the wily plotters. Always apply the Good Book to our cultural tastemakers, false prophets in sheep's clothing: "By their fruits, you shall know them."