What’s behind the smile?

Yesterday, Sunday 27 April 2014, two popes made history together, being canonised together. A lot has been written about Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II, and so this post focuses on Pope Francis, and specifically about a photo he took in August last year.

Selfie Pope Francis

Actually, here is a picture of the picture being taken.

Picture of Pope Francis selfie

Let me start by re-stating that I feel that every photo has “multi-dimensional space”, and that photos freeze a moment in time, but not what was happening. What was happening is a whole different thing, very different for every person in that moment, and also possibly many different things for each of them. All of this allows for perspectives which may be disentangled by you and me, the picture’s viewers.

The word selfie was Oxford dictionary’s word of the year in 2013, defined as “a photograph that one has taken of oneself” and so, strictly speaking the picture of the pope is not a selfie. Because he did not take it. But maybe it qualifies because he actively participated in it (posed for it). Has Pope Francis too been actively pursuing the development of his personality cult?

Do popes need, or should they develop one? A personality cult, that is? Many people still wonder whether, behind that lovely smile of Pope Francis, we will discover a conservative or a progressive leader. What happened yesterday can be a message from the pope, in as much as that selfie, which was published by the Vatican’s l’Osservatore Romano. In fact one might tend to question, as Time did: Public Service or Propaganda? No harm, if by building Pope Francis’s persona, the church can reinforce its own voice.

I feel that the church is very aware that, like every modern government, it needs to engage people. The church knows that its citizens are not only its followers but also the rest of the world. It is reassuring to note Pope Francis’s interest in interfaith dialogue for example – diluting divisions. Would the energy otherwise spent arguing differences, not be better committed to promoting the co-development of the twenty-first century.

 

Update: Upon feedback from readers, the original final argument regarding the environment will be developed further in a future post.

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iPerson: rebuilding a nation

Kim Jong-un

BBC yesterday used the above image of Kim Jong-un, northern Korea’s supreme leader. The post on BBC’s magazine monitor is funny as it exposes Kim’s obsession about being important, much like his grandfather. In the fifties, grandpa Kim Il-sung would issue on-spot guidance and his people would take notes, then execute it. BBC’s reporter makes fun of people around the young Kim still doing so today, all on identical notepads.

True, maybe they need iPads. But that point only just barely scratches the surface.

What Kim Jong-un is up to is building his personality cult. Very little was done for him by his father, although Jong-un had been declared successor already two years prior to his father’s demise.

In modern times, and specifically in Communist nations, the art of building a personality cult was maybe best conducted by Stalin. Others too have used means of mass communication to popularise themselves extensively. But none have been reprimanded so heavily as Stalin by Krushchev. In fact, in Kruschev’s address to the 20th Party Congress, we find repudiation not only to Stalin building a personality cult, but to a whole array of grievances to Marxist teachings. This includes repression of the collective leadership.

Korea is under its third generation of Kim, and Jong-un’s father: Jong-il, had been cast as a deity. The official biography has his birth announced by a swallow and the event greeted by a double rainbow. The reporting of his death in 2011 has a fierce snow storm pause and the sky glow red. His word was final, and any deviation was considered as a sign of disloyalty. After his death, he was proclaimed Dae Wonsu (a title only afforded by Jung-un’s grandfather, and which means Grand Marshal).

Game over.

It is not the iPad in the hands of people taking notes which is missing, then. It is what the iPad represents in a modern society. The “i” stands for internet, individual, instruct, inform and inspire, said Steve Jobs in the 1998 launch of the iMac. All of these are powerful tools for a modern society which Jong-un can aspire to progress if he truly is to be the personality that his land needs in 2014. The policies of openness and transparency, termed Glasnost by Gorbachev, brought about the start of a collapse of a frightful era for Europe and the world. That process, more than twenty-five years later, is still ongoing. Is Kim ready?