Is Leo Vinci's 'The Last Supper' a holy relic? Of course, it is. If you go by a recent gag-order passed by a Paris court against an advertising campaign for Girbaud, a fashion house. & #BANNER1 & #
Religion is a rather funny business. It has the tendency of making certain self-appointed sentinels take up cudgels on behalf of aggrieved religious communities and beat up anyone and everyone, who dare to take a different view on religion.
Consider, what happened to Girbaud earlier this month. Its advertising campaign showed the female version of the 15th-century fresco, including a female Christ, and designer-clad women in the pose of the apostles. The advert also shows a shirtless man to the right of the model representing Jesus, in the arms of two of the female 'apostles'.
The presence of the male model seemed to be an oblique reference to claims that the effeminate-looking apostle seated on Jesus' right in Leonardo da Vinci's work was his follower, Mary Magdalene, and not John, as is usually stated. Remember, Dan Brown's 'The Da Vinci Code'? Incidentally, last week, the Vatican publicly condemned the book, labeling it as a pack of "shameful lies".
The advert also used Christian symbols including a dove and a chalice. (See photo)
Even as lawyers for the fashion house argued that banning the image would amount to censorship as "The work is a photograph based on a painting, not on the Bible..." and that "There is nothing in it (the advert) that is offensive to the Catholic religion. It is a way of showing the place of women in society today, which is a reflection of our changing values...", the judge in the case ordered that all posters on display should be taken down within three days, or risk a daily fine of €100,000. The association - Beliefs and Liberties, set up by French Bishops representing the church - was also awarded legal costs.
The bishops' counsel commented: "When you attack sacred things, you create a moral violence that is dangerous for our children. Tomorrow, Christ on the cross will be selling socks."
The ruling has stunned the Parisian media and fashion establishment, which denounced it as an act of censorship contrary to France's liberal traditions. The designers, meanwhile, are said to be planning an appeal, saying they did not intend to offend anyone with the campaign.
Libération, the left-wing French newspaper that is a pillar of the liberal classes that dominate much of Parisian society, expressed indignation at the judgement. It said that French Bishops were increasingly active against what they saw as offensive advertisements.
In recent years, Bishops have taken legal actions over posters for the film 'Amen', which showed a Christian cross that merged into Nazi swastika, and over an advertising campaign for Volkswagen, which showed Jesus saying: "Rejoice, for a new Golf is born." Both cases have been settled out of court.
This is not to say that only the French Catholic Bishops are growing protective about religion. Consider, what happened to Ford Motors just two weeks back. Members of the South African Hindu community were up in arms after viewing the all-American automobile giant's latest television advert.
The advert featured a man, who appears to be a Guru, trying to convince viewers to buy the car. He has a statue of Lord Shiva in the background and makes reference to karma during his sales pitch.
Media reports have said Hindu community members are shocked and angry at Ford's effort to link the Hindu religion and materialism. The upset members say that the advert is is disrespectful and misrepresents the Hindu religion. Hinduism, they say, is based on spiritual enlightenment and not on wealth. And, karma centred around doing good in order to repent for one's sins, and not being rewarded - as is implied by the advert.
Ford, naturally, has defended its advert, saying it never intended to offend anyone's beliefs. Craig von Essen, Ford's general manager for communication, said: "The creative team that designed the advert come from Hindu backgrounds themselves. They were in no way trying to misrepresent their religion. We regret that anyone was offended. It has been taken off the air. It was meant to be run for just a few weeks."
Clearly, the Ford and Girbaud creatives are at fault. They failed to make dour-faced religious pall-bearers see the humour in the work. Consequently, their attempts to trivialise religious symbols had a counter-effect.
An interesting aside: Alfred B Ford, a trustee of the Ford Motor Company Fund and the great-grandson of industrialist Henry Ford, is a Lord Krishna devotee for some 30 years now and is associated with the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). He was recently quoted as saying: ""Krishna's message to Arjuna was not to give up his position as a warrior and go meditate in the woods, but to fulfill his purpose here in the material world. Go ahead and achieve what you have to, be the best of what you can be, but at the same time, don't neglect your spiritual life." In short, spiritual and material can co-exist.
It's not known whether Ford - also known as Ambarisa Das, after the legendary Indian king known for his devotion to Lord Krishna - would have approved of the adverts.
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