Busted Halo
feature: politics & culture
January 14th, 2011

Faith and Corn Chips

A Jesuit comedian looks at reactions to the infamous Doritos ad

 
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Sitting at the dinner table after Mass one evening in those incredibly dewy and pious days of Jesuit novitiate, my novice brother Gary mentioned through a mouthful of broccoli that he thought the best way to give the Church a better understanding of the divinity of the Eucharist would be by replacing the standard host with Krispy Kreme doughnuts, the incredibly glazed, sweet and greasy breakfast pastry that has become a symbol for excessive dietary habits in the U.S. The six of us seated at table with Gary concurred — all the while laughing at the absurdity of the suggestion — then went back to eating our broccoli.

Our Christian ancestors were eaten by lions; surely we can look a 30-second advertisement in the face without flinching… Each time a firestorm over a whole lot of nothing like the Doritos campaign erupts, credibility erodes.

I was reminded of that joke last week, when a recent entry into a Super Bowl commercial contest sponsored by PepsiCo, maker of Doritos and Pepsi, set off a small media storm because it showed the pastor of a financially struggling congregation replacing bread and wine with the snack food and soda.

Many Catholics were riled by the ad because they viewed it as sacrilegious and an affront to the Eucharist. Those behind it claimed that there were numerous clues given throughout which showed that no consecration occurred and the Doritos were not, in fact, supposed to be the Eucharist. The ad has subsequently been pulled from the contest and the website.

The tension between humor and faith

The ad that caused the reactions. (This link may
not last, as most copies have been pulled.)

As a comedian and a Jesuit, I recognize the tension that exists between humor and faith and the danger of taking things too far for the sake of a laugh. The line that exists between reverence and irreverence is especially hazardous in the age of irony in which we live, where mistrust of institutions and hierarchy is de rigueur. It is now the rule to jab, snark and knock down anything and everything around us and perhaps because of this a vigilance of a sort has crept in amongst the faithful.

It has now become acceptable to make fun of all things Church and as a result, many members of the Body of Christ have become understandably reactionary. Unfortunately, in the case of the Doritos commercial, their ire and energy is misguided and lacks reflection.

Having watched the commercial my initial impression is that it is not particularly funny. It is humor based entirely on the element of surprise, and since by the time of my viewing, the narrative had been hashed and rehashed all over the internet, any sort of surprise was gone. Without it, the piece has little else to offer for itself, and comes across as rather generic if not slightly smug — as is usually the case with content cooked up by Madison Avenue.

The most troubling thing is the reaction

Catholicism has a long and august intellectual tradition steeped in reflection and discernment, and knee-jerk responses to any and all perceived threats to the faith do not do it any favors.

The mediocrity of the ad notwithstanding, what proves to be most troubling about the controversy is the reaction it provoked amongst Catholics. Catholicism has a long and august intellectual tradition steeped in reflection and discernment, and knee-jerk responses to any and all perceived threats to the faith do not do it any favors.

It also raises questions about the authenticity and depth of the faith amongst those who led the public outcry, as they seem to suggest that we are threatened by even the most trivial clowning. Our Christian ancestors were eaten by lions; surely we can look a 30-second advertisement in the face without flinching.

This is not to say it is open season on the Church and its Sacraments; rather this is a call to reflective discernment instead of hair trigger response. Each time a firestorm over a whole lot of nothing like the Doritos campaign erupts, credibility erodes. However well-intentioned those who rose up against the ad were, the only thing that emanated from their cries was fear and that is not a place from which evangelization can come forth.

 
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The Author : Jake Martin, SJ
Jake Martin, SJ, is a comedian and writer. He is a regular contributor to America Magazine and is currently studying theology in Berkeley, California.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Tom

    Is the video still out there? Because I’ve looked on the crash at the super bowl website and seen it once, but now I’m having a hard time finding it. I think the one mentioned in the article is the same as the one I’m thinking of. In the one I’m talking about, the angels all sort of gold-colored wings and their halos are glowing. At one see in it though, the angels grab their halos and throw them down on the ground and they shatter.

  • A Schnurr

    I thought this was interesting, from a cultural point of view. Over here in the United Kingdom, we have an ad for a men’s fragrance called ‘Lynx’ running, that ends with the slogan ‘Even angels will fall’. Perhaps you have it in the US, too.
    It’s somewhat more sophisticated than the Doritos/Pepsi ad. It involves beautiful (and sexy) angels falling, no, crashing, out of the sky onto a small Italian town. They’re after a young man who regularly sprays his body with Lynx. In a symbolic act, they smash their halos on the ground and converge on him as he tinkers with his scooter. We can assume that – now they have rid themselves of their halos – they go on to have sexual intercourse, severally or singly with the happy young man.
    Our attitudes to religion are changing. Cardinal Biffi (of Bologna) might just have had it right when he said that the Antichrist would be a New Age, green/eco-friendly, philanthropic, ecumenical veggie-munching pacifist. One of this view’s implications is that the Catholic Church’s (indeed most Christian churches’) dogma is being eroded every day by the incredibly fast communication system that we have now that provoke sometimes irreversible changes in our cultural attitudes. On a recent visit to Africa Pope Benedict says that condoms are spreading AIDS. This caused a massive and negative reaction in Europe. So a few months later, he implies that their use will save lives. Of course, the devil is in the detail, so to speak, and if you read the small print of his statement, it is a great piece of specious and equivocal reasoning. [...]
    Oh – we’ve se en it all before, I hear you groan. History doesn’t bear out what you’re saying. Well, yes and no. Of course there have been times of great moral and cultural uncertainty and revision before. Times of war, of plague and famine. But never in the history of humankind have we been able to transmit ideas to each other so fast. Fr. Martin reminds us that early Christians had to put up with being thrown to the lions. True, but that was a good way of spreading the word. Martyrs abounded, Christian communities were small and the Faith was strong; there was a feeling of unity in the struggle against adversity (we’re being persecuted so we MUST be right!). Besides, all the things that militate against organised religion now hardly existed then. Just the odd dyspeptic Roman emperor.
    So whether it’s sexy fallen angels or blasphemous Doritos, the Church has a far bigger adversary on its hands than the occasional hungry lion. Advertising is one of the most truthful mirrors to reflect a society’s values and morals. Though we might hate ads, they reinforce our understanding of life, because they are often created by very smart, very perceptive people. Read Umberto Eco’s ‘The Name of the Rose’. Laughter and ridicule are the great subverters. The Church cannot bear too much of these or St Peter’s great foundation rock will turn out to be no more than impacted sand.

  • http://www.dansmrokowski.com Daniel

    Thanks, Fr. Jake for this column. It was nice too see a priests perspective on the commercial! As a Catholic and 3rd year college journalism major student at Roosevelt University on Chicago, it was nice to read.

  • Deacon Tom Evrard

    GREAT! I Thought that the commercial was clever.
    No slander, blasphemy, nor disrespect.
    Title?: ‘Lighten up with pepsi max!!’

  • Phil Fox Rose

    [Note from the editors: We removed a comment because it veered from debate into personal attack on a fellow commenter. This is a forum for discussion, not argument. Thank you for the lively and interesting debate so far.]

  • Bill Lewis

    Love BH. Have never posted but feel I must here. Acknowledge all of Fathers learned guidance and opinion. I would submit that Catholics really have a more complex problem here than presented though:

    Paul, faced with the early Christians confusion on whether they could eat meat sacrificed to idols (a very big deal then) grants there is no such thing as idols. Grants there is no “dogmatic” (not meant negatively) reason the meat is unclean, but that Christians should not eat it because, basically, some Christians considered the meat unclean. Their faith isn’t as mature as other Christians and so their doubts should be respected by their stronger in the faith Christians brothers and sisters.

    I think this is the same, yeah its no big deal, totally get it. Can anyone really argue that it is impossible to see how it weakens respect and solemnity for the Eucharist for someone? Can you argue that you can’t see their point at all? If not, Paul tells us that we as Christians have to make allowances and sacrifices for our co-Churchers with a less developed sense of faith (or humor as the case may be).

  • faithful

    The ad was poor. This writer’s rationalization that we should just laugh because our faith is ‘stronger’ than ‘the world’s’ mocking of it is so wrong. The commercial mocked the very premise of Jesus’ and the Last Supper and feeding with His REAL PRESENCE. (maybe ‘COKE’ would like to parody the REAL THING to THE REAL PRESENCE OF GOD next huh?) One ‘joke’ leads to another ‘joke’ and another ‘joke’ until THE FAITH in things NOT SEEN is taken lightly. LIGHTLY…hey; next they’ll parody ‘THE LIGHT’ and ‘SALT’ with a pretzel commercial.

    It’s one thing to laugh at our human foibles and our understanding of what life is about but TO MOCK THE VERY WORDS OF GOD is sacrilege.

    definition of sacrilege: the violation or injurious treatment of a sacred object. In a less proper sense, any transgression against the virtue of religion would be a sacrilege.

    NOTHING IS MORE SACRED THAN GOD’S TEACHING OF THE HOLY BREAD COME DOWN FROM HEAVEN.

    The rationalization our faith is stronger than the world’s mocking of it; means that ‘THE WORLD’ is allowed to mock THE GOD in whom we believe. To tune a deaf ear or ‘chill’ over such, is to say OUR FAITH means NOTHING. The perspective here is a bit out of whack.

    If ‘the human’ had someone mock an aspect of them, they’d jump up and down in offense. But, GOD? oh come on, they think: He can ‘take it’… He might ‘take it’ but He don’t like it…
    AN OFFENSE AGAINST THE ALMIGHTY GOD is
    called SIN… and this commercial was A SIN against GOD’S TRUTH.

    so, if ‘the world’ mocks THE GOD and tells the ‘faithful TO GOD’ to chill…they are also MOCKING we of faith. That is bias and hatred in the form in the disguised form of ‘humor’

    Hatred is what this commercial attempted to bring forth on THE CHRISTIAN.

    The writer’s words that ‘rather this is a call to reflective discernment instead of hair trigger response.’ and ‘the only thing that emanated from their cries was fear and that is not a place from which evangelization can come forth.’

    Say that about JESUS who overturned the moneychanger tables when he saw the humans turning His father’s house into a den of thieve. There is a time for reflective discernment and a time for QUICK ACTION and a VERY LOUD outcry of
    a human idea that is SACRILEGE against the SOURCE AND SUMMIT of our Catholic faith.

    I disagree with this Jesuit priest, the best way to Evangelize THE faith; is to be able to be THOUGHT A FOOL ‘by the world’ FOR THE SAKE OF THE REAL PRESENCE OF CHRIST. To those who understand, no further evangelical ‘nice nice’ words need be spoken. We don’t have to make ‘nice’ with ‘the world’s ideas’ in order to evangelize GOD. We STAND UP FOR
    GOD…and sometimes that means IN A VERY FIRM AND SWIFT RESPONSE…and a loud NO!!

    Now…where reflective discernment can come in, is as in the original post; when ‘the world’ ‘mocks’ our human foibles. HUMAN ways. That is when we should be ’slow to speak’ and ’slow to anger’ … We should take any human words against we who are human lightly; BUT to MOCK THE WORD OF GOD? This is not when we should be ’slow’ in speaking our discontent. (agree, not with ANGRY words at those who do such; but by quick and immediate protest) This writer has gotten his perspective a bit askew…

    It’s ok, God is quick to forgive also.

    But, this article is a wishy washy oh well gosh gee …by golly, I know you did’t mean anything by it guys; come on
    KICK ME IN THE GUT again…if it does something for you.

  • Brother Mark

    All I know, when I saw the add (posted on the webpage of an angry catholic), I imagined had a church promised doritos and pepsi as a sacred activity, I would be less inclined to go eat a dorito and sip pepsi then buy my own from the liquor store down the block and indulge without restriction or shame. (I am sure many people who prefer pop and chips on a sunday would rather have it in front of the tv then in a church anyways).
    At least it can be a teaching moment for us, because in all honesty I go to the Eucharist because it offers me something I cannot get anywhere else on the planet, and that I cannot buy cheep on discount at the local dive.

  • Cindy

    I hardly smirked when I saw it. I agree, alot of nothing. Chill people. Don’t get ur pants in a wad for something that was never going to air.

  • JennyMarie

    Ummmm… wow. For starters, thanks for posting such a thoughtful blog. I hadn’t even heard about this ad before, but after watching it I can see why it was pulled. As a Lutheran, and even one with a deeply warped sense of humor at that, I also found the ad to be offensive on multiple levels. “FYF?” Feed Your Flock on what, pop culture? No thanks.

    Sorry, I have to side with the ‘knee jerk’ Catholics on this one!

  • Rosemarie

    Who says the good padre in the commercial is even Catholic? I didn’t see one stained glass window and the Pepsi was served in individual cups. Don’t understand what all the hoopla is about…it is obviously a Protestant Service, and if they aren’t complaining, why should we?? LOL

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