Sunday, April 17, 2005

Cardinals prepare to choose next pope
What the heck?
So, the conclave starts tomorrow. In their front-page link to that story, however, does something pretty weird. They place the picture to the right above the caption "Dark clouds over St. Peter's Basilica Sunday."

Their introductory paragraph on that same front page begins with the phrase "Shrouded in secrecy". What is up with It's like they're trying to paint this as some mystical, magical process. I'm not sure really what I'm trying to say, but does anyone else find those choices rather odd?

UPDATE [4/18/2005 - 11:10]: I think Irina is exactly right. I've been a bit dazed the past week, as I've been trying to churn out my senior thesis (unedited it stands at 9,907 words), so when I saw all of these things that CNN was using to evoke the idea of mystery I couldn't quite put what I was feeling into words.

Irina pointed out that the people at CNN must be reading too many Dan Brown (author of The DaVinci Code) novels and not enough history. I think she's absolutely right. This is just another example of CNN sinking to the lowest common denominator and trying to equate important news with pop culture's understanding (or rather ignorant misunderstanding) of that news, as well as the important issues behind it.

So thanks, Irina, for helping me understand the thoughts rattling around between my ears.


Irina Tsukerman said...

Yeah. I bet those people have read too many Dan Brown books and not enough history.

Tanstaafl said...

Yeah, except that the Vatican does their part to try to shroud the process in mystery. You can't tell me that announcing whether a pope has been chosen by creating a different colored plume of smoke isn't intended to add some mysticism to the exercise.

RFTR said...

Or, when the practice began it was the only way to signal anything over a long distance. If the conclave tradition began today, they'd just send out a mass email.

Adherence to tradition does not necessarily imply an attempt at mysticism.

Anonymous said...

You're actually wrong there. The College of Cardinals "only" dates back to the 11th century, by which time Europe in general and the Popes of the day in particular (cf. Gregory VII) had reliable systems of messengers.

If they could exchange letters with William the Conqueror I think they could have come up with a different way to carry messages as far as colored smoke could be seen.


RFTR said...

Sorry, allow me to clarify my point.

Obviously the smoke wasn't going to travel for miles. By long distance I meant generally to the people of Rome. Since the signal only communicates that SOME pope has been chosen (i.e. not which particular person had been selected), it was the only way to send an immediate message to the people waiting outside that the Pope had been chosen. There are at least 30 more minutes of ceremony before they emerge to reveal who the Pope is, and they wanted a specific way to communicate that the decision had been made.

Now they would use blackberrys. Back then, without leaving the room, all they had to use was smoke. Sure they probably could have come up with something else, but it would seem just as "mysterious" by today's standards.

Irina Tsukerman said...

No problem... I can kind of understand the CNN folks. Dan Brown's "Angels and Demons" (the one about the Pope) *was* a fun reading! ; )

Tanstaafl said...

The ascension of new political rulers wasn't announced this way. They used town cryers and word of mouth. And it's not just creating smoke. They actually burn the ballots with some additive to change the color of the smoke. Yes it is one way to communicate the choice, but it's a decidedly "mystical" and "mysterious" way to do it. Otherwise they probably would have just put up a really big banner with the new Pope's name. The Cardinals who came up with this process in the first place knew what they were doing. They wanted a way to make it seem all that more divine to the commoners outside waiting for word. Back in the 11th century, the people outside wouldn't have thought about the chemistry of was being burned, they would have seen it as a sign from god that a new Pope had been chosen. I'm not saying that the CNN picture and headline weren't goofy, but they also weren't completely out in left field.

RFTR said...

Still I disagree.
The smoke in no way communicates who the new Pope is.
No one leaves the room where the Pope is selected for at least half an hour, sometimes as much as an hour after the ballots are burned.

The is to communicate "we have chosen a Pope," and nothing more--without having to leave the room.

You tell me another way they could have done that in the 11th Century and maybe I'll believe that they chose a particularly mysterious one.

But town criers can't do it because they aren't in the room and can't communicate with anyone in the room.