This ad ran in two British glossy magazines before being censored.
As you can see, this Antonio Federici ice cream ad features the tagline “Immaculately Conceived” along with the motto “Ice Cream is our religion” (cut off in the above pic). Do you find it to be offensive? Should Christians find this “ice cream” ad to be offensive? Or is it just a concern for Catholics? What do you think?
After receiving just a few complaints, Britain’s Advertising Standards Authority has banned any future use of this ad. “We considered the use of a nun pregnant through immaculate conception was likely to be seen as a distortion and mockery of the beliefs of Roman Catholics. We concluded that to use such an image in a light-hearted way to advertise ice cream was likely to cause serious offence to readers, particularly those who practised the Roman Catholic faith,” the ASA decision says.
The Italian ice cream company admitted to the ASA the ads are meant to criticize religion. “They said their decision to use religious imagery stemmed from their strong feelings towards their product ... and also from their wish to comment on and question, using satire and gentle humour, the relevance and hypocrisy of religion and the attitudes of the church to social issues,” the report says.
I do find the ad to be offensive and unacceptable. It is certainly not coincidental that the ad was run just before Pope Benedict’s visit to the UK, as the company’s response to the ASA decision was to try to purchase billboard spots (not under the ASA decision) along the papal route. In other words, this ad is more about attacking Christianity than about selling ice cream. Really then, this is not satire but a direct attack pretending to be an ice cream ad.
I have no particular issue with satire, even religious satire. In fact, as Christians I think we should listen carefully when The Simpsons or Bill Maher or other media make fun of the church or Christianity. We should be aware of what they find objectionable and be prepared to address it. And we should recognize that a cartoon is just a cartoon and that satire is just satire. Prime Minister Stephen Harper does not go ballistic every time a press picture or political cartoon pokes fun at him and neither should we, even when Christianity is the target of the satire. It is a mode of expression and it can be informative to us and sometimes even entertaining – why shouldn’t we be able to laugh at ourselves? We’ve all sat through sermons that went on too long so when The Simpsons pokes fun at that with Rev. Lovejoy preaching through the whole Bible in one sermon surely we can laugh. An ice cream website has this picture to left posted. They don’t use this, but I wouldn’t see a problem with a tagline like: “Give in to temptation” or “Indulge” or even “Sinfully delicious.” That would be satirical, but the Antonio Federici ad goes beyond that.
The nun is pregnant, labelled with the words “Immaculately Conceived” which is an attempt to mock the divine conception and virginal birth of the Son of God, our Lord Jesus. The people I asked in my office said that it was an attack on Christianity. One atheist co-worker said he liked it because it was making a total mockery of religion. Please note how the crucifix has been place on the nun’s pregnant belly. I feel that the ad is subtly challenging the entire notion of the incarnation of the Son of God. It is not just using hyperbole to exaggerate some common observation about Christianity. No it ridicules a central belief of all Christians – that the divine Son Jesus was born of the virgin Mary. Thus, I am arguing that we should be offended by this ad and be glad that Britain’s Advertising Standards Authority decided to ban this ad.
I do not view the ad as an attack on Roman Catholicism alone even though a Catholic nun is depicted and properly understood the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is Roman Catholic and not generally accepted by Protestant or Evangelicals. You see, the Immaculate Conception is actually the teaching that the young girl who would be mother to God’s Son, the virgin Mary, was conceived without any stain or original sin (see Wikipedia article). Though accepted by Martin Luther, this is not commonly believed by Evangelicals today. So we could dismiss this ad, then, as a Roman Catholic issue, but here’s the problem! On the popular level, people do tend to believe that it refers to the conception of Jesus by a virgin, Mary, a confusion frequently demonstrated in the mass media (again, Wikipedia article). As I said, my co-workers saw it as an attack on Christianity. I concluded that the best thing for me to do was to say that I did not the like the ad and that I felt it went too far. I said that it had nothing to do with selling ice cream and instead was trying to attack the beliefs of the Church because the Pope was coming to the UK, and that was showing incredible disrespect and unacceptable in a modern society which claims freedom of religion.
Imagine how different the response would be if Antonio Federici had published an ad depicting a Muslim cleric eating their ice cream and making a statement which compared the ice cream to something significant about the Muslim Prophet Mohammed. In that scenario, do you think Matt O'Connor, the creative director at the ice-cream company, would argue that the ad is an "intelligent, challenging and iconoclastic piece of advertising” as he did in this current situation? It’s important for us to recall the worldwide fury in 2005 after a Danish cartoonist’s depiction of Mohammed wearing a bomb in his turban was published in a Danish newspaper. The latest attempt to murder cartoonist Kurt Westergaard occurred on January 2, 2010 by a Somali Muslim who broke through the security of the man’s house and was swinging an axe and a knife when he shot by police. Or how about Molly Norris? She’s the Seattle cartoonist who drew up a poster declaring May 20 to be “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day.” That poster features no religious imagery and was designed to be a satirical response to the Comedy Network for its censorship of South Park. Again, with the nun eating ice cream ad above, the ice-cream maker said the idea of "conception" represented “the development of their ice cream and their use of religious imagery was a commitment to their product.” Who would dare publish such an ad mocking Islam in the same way? Molly Norris wouldn’t do it again (please read this important article). As you read this follow-up from The Seattle Weekly, keep in mind that she drew a cartoon poster – it’s not like she was threatening to burn Qur’ans!
You may have noticed that Molly Norris’ comic is not in the paper this week. That’s because there is no more Molly.
The gifted artist is alive and well, thankfully. But on the insistence of top security specialists at the FBI, she is, as they put it, “going ghost”: moving, changing her name, and essentially wiping away her identity. She will no longer be publishing cartoons in our paper or in City Arts magazine, where she has been a regular contributor. She is, in effect, being put into a witness-protection program—except, as she notes, without the government picking up the tab. It’s all because of the appalling fatwa issued against her this summer, following her infamous “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” cartoon.
Why does our society accept that’s how it is with Islam and then insist on the right to attack Christianity and treat it with total disrespect. Again, I have no problem with religious satire: go ahead mock, ridicule, poke fun at the things Christians do – I laugh just as hard as the atheist at some of satire in the Simpsons. No problem. But publish an ad which mockingly depicts a pregnant nun and attacks a central belief of Christians and doing this to insult the Pope who is coming to the UK on a state visit – well, that is just in poor taste. Perhaps, now only Antonio Federici ice cream could taste worse.