16 February 2007

EWTN's Secret Simulacrum

Something never felt right about watching Mass on EWTN. First off, it is not in a cathedral, nor is it even in a regular parish church. Instead it takes place in what looks to be something like a chapel. Secondly, everyone is very old and very bored and very small in number. Now this may not seem very strange until you consider the possibility that maybe, just maybe, EWTN had a choice in where to broadcast the Mass from. Why not some lively, trend-setting Brooklyn parish? Why not St. Patrick’s Cathedral?

Thirdly—and this is the oddest feature of EWTN's broadcast Masses—are the cameras on robotic arms maneuvering around in Terminator-like fashion panning the "crowd" and zooming in on the Host. With a little imagination, the whole spectacle is not at all like a Mass, but a spectacle. At least two robot-cameras are on each wall, so in almost every scene, you can see the other camera slowly taking in every holy pixel with its beady little glass eye.

The homily is boring and unfailingly orthodox and the priest who gives it does not seem to be particularly enthused—and neither do those in the congregation. So out of the myriad of parishes that EWTN might have been able to install cameras in for a vicarious Eucharist—which is a perfectly fine idea, I might add—they choose this one?! Or maybe no pastors consented because the producers were too insistent on just how “cool” it would be to have roving cameras on electric cranes moving to-and-fro on the wall like animatronic snakes?

But wait! Not only is it not a cathedral, nor is it even a parish church, nor a mere chapel, but a studio set in Alabama. Could anything be tackier? I might as well be watching Peter Popoff! The whole charade is nothing more than a poorly designed would-be ruse. Am I supposed to feel awe when the celebrant holds up the Host against a backdrop of off-white wood paneling and cheap cotton tapestries?

But maybe that’s just how they do it down in Alabama.

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