Two BBC news stories from Europe on the Girbaud poster and billboard campaign. A French Court has banned the poster – apparently throughout France. The municipal authorities in Milan banned the picture on billboards. The picture, which is in the linked stories, has Hot female models posed as Christ and the Apostles as in Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of The Last Supper.
The ad is clever, exploiting the current fascination with da Vinci following the wildly popular book, the Da Vinci Code, and exploiting female beauty and sensuality. The book has a gnostic story line about Jesus, Mary Magdalene, their children, the real meaning of the holy Grail, and secret societies. A few writers suggest that the person standing next to Jesus in da Vinci’s painting is Mary Magdalene, but art historians say it is the Apostle John. Mary Magadalene is not mentioned in any of the Gospel stories of the Last Supper (Matthew and John have her present at the Crucifixion, and 3 gospels have her at the empty tomb on Easter, or have Jesus appearing to her after his body has disappeared from the tomb).
The objection by Catholic groups is that the ad discriminates against Catholics by appropriating the symbols and mysteries of their faith, and demeaning a holy scene with erotic content in a commercial context. It mocks the Church’s teaching on female ordination and promotes a novel that features the Church as being involved in a fictional multi-millenial conspiracy, that many people are taking as historically true! While the ad is clever – and the self-concious cleverness is part of the presentation – it is as insulting to Christians as a poster of a Satanic Black Mass.
The Catholic attack on the poster capitalizes on the evolving concerns of human rights laws to protect minorities against being insulted. The artistic and commercial freedom of the ad agency and its client are being pitted against the sensibilities of religious minorities. The laws against blaspheming against the religious beliefs of the ruling classes withered when countries adopted secular constitutions and disestablished state churches. Blasphemy seems to be coming back in the form of laws against offending the feelings of members of faith groups.
I support the idea of putting limits on free expression – limits of context – to protect religious groups from abuse and false news. I would not be comfortable with setting the limits so low that religious beliefs can’t be discussed, or the dishonesty and hypocrisy of religous leaders and movements can’t be exposed.