His image is used to promote cement companies and bakeries, and to sell music CDs, videotapes, T-shirts, hats, mugs, and potato chips. His tours attract corporate sponsors like Federal Express, Mercedes-Benz, Kodak, Hewlett-Packard, and Pepsi.
We're not talking about Michael Jordan, nor Michael Jackson, nor the reigning pop music or movie idol du jour, but about the brave new world of Pope John Paul II, the world's most desirable product endorser. At a time when for-profit culture industries orchestrate human attention to an unprecedented degree, we now witness a strange kind of institutional overlap where religious groups adopt the latest in advertising and marketing techniques and corporations sell their wares by exploiting deeply treasured religious symbols, images, and stories.
Given the stature and aura that still surround the church and papacy for many people, it remains jarring to see examples like these:
—To finance the pope's 1998 visit to Mexico City, the Archdiocese of Mexico City received corporate sponsorship from more than two dozen firms. The single largest sponsor was the Pepsi-owned Sabritas chip company, which paid $1.8 million for the right to use the pope's image in its packaging. The Spanish-language play on words—"Las Papas del Papa" ("The Potatoes of the Pope") was lost on absolutely no one. Equally obvious was the seemingly inescapable TV and billboard ads connecting the pope's picture with Bimbo bread, a local cement company, and other joint promotions between the church and its corporate benefactors....