Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Pope's Call To Action

A portion of the Pope's Christmas message for 2010 has left some
people hopping mad:

"In the 1970s, pedophilia was theorized as something fully in
conformity with man and even with children."

In other words, he seems to be saying, "Excuse us for not doing
anything all these years—we thought the sexual abuse of children was

I don't believe that this is what the Pope meant at all. But still, it
doesn't sound good. Singer and prominent Church critic Sinead
O'Connor, wrote a furious open letter to the Pope that reads, in part:

"Exactly who held the theory [and]….Why in all the years since these
scandals broke out was yesterday the first mention of this
information?....The Holy Spirit requires you to familiarize yourself
with honesty and respect if you retain any desire to salvage the
remains of the church which has been ruined by its being allowed to
live by its own laws and not God's."

I am a huge fan of Sinead O'Connor. But I don't think she read the
message right. Rather, I agree with mainstream interpretations, like
that of Washington Post, which saw the Pope's remarks as a "remarkable
demonstration of public soul-searching."

I'm not sure if the Post saw the same thing that I did in the message,
though. What was brilliant about it for me was the way the Pope called
attention to the sociological phenomenon called "deviance." Basically,
deviance occurs when society defines a behavior as something that
stands outside the norm and punishes it. Many kinds of people are
considered deviant, but the most important category is the criminal.
We criminalize certain behaviors as a survival mechanism: By punishing
and banishing the criminal, we ensure the survival of the group.

In any case, the Pope's statement that pedophilia used to be
considered part of the normal spectrum of behavior (shocking—like who
were the Church elders hanging out with?) and therefore went
unpunished leads directly to his point: Child sexual abuse is rampant
because society has made it normal, both in religious institutions and
outside of them.

The Pope is telling Church leaders, but also the world, that it is our
collective responsibility to stop, dead in its tracks, the
sexualization of children in any institution or area of life, whether
that is the church, the synagogue, the mosque, the family, the daycare
center, the elementary/middle/high school, the sports club, or
anywhere else in society that this culture manifests itself.

In short, we must make it absolutely deviant to sexualize a child. Not
just as a crime to be enforced in a court of law, but as a set of
social norms and values that center on the preservation of childhood.
Its innocence. Its freedom from the intrusion of adult wants and

All of this may sound pretty obvious. Preachy, even. But if you look
around at our world, it's evident that the Pope's message is somehow
not getting heard. Definitely not getting heard in some of the
institutions that affect kids most.

The worst thing of all is that not only are adults harming children,
but children are buying into their own exploitation and destruction.
So that the adults don't even have to recruit them anymore – kids
nitpick and henpeck each other to conform to a sexualized ideal that
is way beyond their years.

A few examples:

• The entertainment industry is centered on taking innocent children
and turning them into objects of adult desire. How many celebrities
have been "role models" to our kids in their journey from Mickey Mouse
to way-too-adult attire? Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, and Miley
Cyrus are just a few examples that come to mind and we have seen their
"crash and burn." Even the child stars have even younger siblings
joining them in Hollywood – like Dakota and Elle Fanning, just 13
years old.
• Now Hollywood stars are taking their own branding a step further by
birthing or adopting branded "mini-me"-s, then introducing them to the
world of commerce virtually from the moment they enter the world.
These children are either parent-accessories or businesses in their
own right. Think of Suri Cruise, the Brangelina brood, the Jon + Kate
Plus 8 kids (coincidentally so angry they were expelled from school?),
the Spice Girl kid now starting a line of sunglasses.
• The fashion industry routinely recruits young, innocent waifs to
participate in a world that is way too sophisticated for their
maturity level. Those kids take the money, put on skinny jeans and
tight tops with plunging necklines and cutouts, and then the kids who
watch them influence other kids to buy similar items.

Unfortunately, marketers have been complicit in this phenomenon by
branding to kids virtually from infancy. Everyone is getting used to
being either branded or living in a world defined by brand choices. If
you don't speak or live the language of brands you are functionally

The Pope is telling us, in his message, to question this. Because it
seems like no coincidence that we are witnessing, as he puts it, "the
psychological destruction of children, in which human persons are
reduced to articles of merchandise…a terrifying sign of the times."

Also, it is no coincidence that "in the modern culture, child
pornography, drugs, sex trafficking are seen as normal and not unduly

For those who care about ethics in marketing in branding and life, the
Pope's speech is a call to action.