There is nothing even remotely interesting in pop stars making videos in which they use Catholic images, stereotypes and caricatures in order to seem bold, cutting-edge, irreverent and cool.
When pop stars do that (as David Bowie did, in his explicit video for “The Next Day”), they’re basically admitting that they’re out of ideas and therefore falling back on the safest bet in the world. They know that if they make such a video, using such images — think of Madonna and her burning crosses; Lady Gaga and her ersatz nun; Katy Perry and her whatever-that-was, and oh yeah, Madonna, “crucifying” herself in concert — they will gain the thing they crave the most: attention.
Even better, the attention will be precisely the sort that moves product: applause from the secularist-consumerist side, and the ever-valuable critique of the church. In pop culture, if you can get the Church to hyperventilate over what you’ve done, well, that’s some insta-credibility you’ve got there, guaranteed! Contrive something “outrageously outrageous” and “anti-Church,” and you’ll send the unhip sputtering while thrilling the perpetually adolescent. Ka-ching, ka-ching.
What often goes unnoticed, however, are the moments when these pop-cultural icons do something really daring. Like Bono breaking into a version of Adeste Fideles in the midst of a crowd, or in this case, David Bowie suddenly taking to a knee at a 1992 concert in tribute to the late Freddie Mercury and leading Wembley Stadium in reciting the Lord’s Prayer.
All for show? Who knows? The pop culture brings a lot of noise, a lot of beauty and often a lot of confusion to our world, and the breadth and reach of media helps us to believe that we know all about an artist based on what he or she produces. But artists only show us what they want us to see, and that means a great deal is often left quite hidden. Perhaps it is precisely for such as David Bowie, then, and so many pop artists like him, that we in the church will pray before the Holy Eucharist, “Remember those who have died in the peace of Christ and all the dead whose faith is known to you alone.”
French Pop Singer Michel Delpech sang of his faith before he died.
Elizabeth Scalia is Editor-in-Chief of Aleteia’s English edition