Unholy row exposes lack of humour

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 November, 2011, 12:00am


Why is the Vatican getting all hot under the collar over Benetton's fake photo of the pope kissing Egypt's leading imam? It's certainly provocative, but it carries a nice message: reconciliation. Isn't that the Bible's teaching - love your enemies and bless those who curse you?

A succession of popes has made a ritual of kissing the soil of places they visit, but the church doesn't want its head seen kissing another human and the representative of a rival religion.

Benetton is no stranger to controversial ad campaigns; it practically invented the concept. This time it was apparently inspired by Russian artist Dmitri Vrubel's Berlin wall mural of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev snogging his East German counterpart Erich Honecker. But it appears the wrath of the Vatican was too much for the Italian clothing giant.

The ad depicting the pope and the imam was pulled almost as soon as it was put up. Benetton has created far more disturbing images with its ads. Knowing its latest campaign would have stirred the pot, Benetton should have stuck to its guns.

The offending fake montage is just part of an advertising series featuring manipulated images of world leaders embracing and kissing their nemeses. The lip-locks include President Hu Jintao and US President Barack Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il and South Korea's democratically elected leader Lee Myung-bak.

Ahmed el Tayyeb, the imam pictured kissing Pope Benedict, hasn't complained. His followers didn't threaten to visit jihad on Benetton.

Nor did Beijing, though Hu would probably not be amused. In this case, it shows the world's leading communist state is more tolerant, or at least has a better sense of public relations, than the world's richest religious state.

It's unfortunate that the church has never espoused humour as a virtue.