Saturday, March 16, 2013

Pope Yakety Sax, Death Star Cardinals, and Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment

  (Stopping by rice field on a winter's morning to ponder.  On the road to Hoi An, Vietnam)

Was it just me or did anybody else hear the Death Star theme music when all the cardinals were marching in procession through the Vatican this week?  The best thing about the new Pope being elected, other than him being a retired literature teacher, is the hysteria around him. 
 (Hanging lanterns in Hoi An.  Light bulbs not included)

Couples running up to have the Pontiff touch a pregnant women’s belly bump or old ladies in black shawls weeping and whole congregations falling prostate on the floor cheering and tearing their clothes.  The frenzy of victory.  It was like a Mitt Romney consolation prize.
(Porcelain statues, junk shop in Hoi An) 

Sure, I get it.  He's a humble guy, carries his own bags... the first to come from Latin America, people believe he carries their hopes and dreams, that he is their conduit to speak directly with God. 
The second best thing about the new Pope is finally getting to see the Sistine Chapel with the lights on.  See… it is possible, you Shush Nazis!  I love how even the cardinals had to talk in whispers and weren’t allowed cell phones inside either. 
 (Chinese Temple Doors in Hoi An, Vietnam)

With the lights on one can see the massive canonical fresco painted above the entrance walls, Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment.  A grotesque and morbid, fascinating and brilliant early renaissance take on the Second Coming of Christ.  There is ripped flesh and ominous demons and fiery pits and angels setting pillars in the clouds.   It’s just cool.
 (Pausing on bicycles to drink hot tea and nibble sandwiches outside Hoi An)

The work was so controversial at the time.  Counter-Reformists accused Michelangelo of being insensitive to proper religious manner.  Critics said he flaunted personal style over appropriate depiction of content.  At the Council of Trent, the Pope’s own Master of Ceremonies, a man named Cesena,  said the painting was disgraceful.  Hilariously, Michelangelo later worked Cesena’s  face onto the likeness of Minos, the guardian of the Underworld… complete with donkey ears!
Take that Kanye West and Justin Timberlake.
 (Women leave the bamboo bowls for breakfast unattended, Hoi An)

I have a humongous poster of The Last Judgment, I carried it through the Mediterranean two years ago.  It hangs in my apartment.  I would have put it in the classroom but I didn’t want some knucklehead kid defacing it, drawing a phallus coming out of St. Bartholomew’s  ear or something. 
(More lovely junk.  Yes, those are Ho Chi Minh postershighing behind the paper lanterns)

But maybe that irreverence has always been what the church needed.  A little punk art to go with all that pomp and circumstance.  Maybe next time they elect a Pope, when the white smoke appears, loud speakers could play Yakety Sax... at least that would be original. 

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