Anticipating Conversation about Pope Francis: Style vs. Substance

Of course, it is impossible to be teaching a course on Religion and Media without talking about Pope Francis:  THE MOST photographed and talked /blogged/tweeted about religious figure ever [OK–I have no hard data to back that up, but really, who is even a close second?!].  We’re going to talk about him [and the media phenomenon he has become] tomorrow, and I can’t wait.  Recently, I’ve been reading articles like this one:

where the author says, “I am trying to resist ‘Francis mania.’ Really, I am. It’s like a fever that has overtaken any number my friends, not a few websites (not to mention, ahem, this one), and not a small part of myself already, but I’m fighting it. Really.

The reason for my resistance? I want to focus on Francis’ message and challenge, not only on his style or even what I like about him. I need to stay focused on matter over form, and substance over style, and, man, I am trying. It’s just that I’m doing a terrible job of it.”
I feel totally the same way, except that I’m not at all trying to resist:  I’m pretty infatuated and don’t mind saying it.  However, I’m really eager to hear what my Catholic colleague, Mary, says about her perspective on Pope Francis; and I’m also eager to think more intentionally and critically about how he is using different media technologies, and how that is affecting the perception of who he is, and what the Church is.  So, of course, we could be cynical about that, and say that he has only changed tone but not content–and dismiss him that way; but the reality is that style does change substance:  the way in which a message is conveyed DOES change the very content of that message.  So, I think that Pope Francis’ obvious joy, deep compassion, and genuine openness and humility is already changing the Church, and will continue to do so, in ways that may well surprise us all.  

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