Smoke is boring; why not try one of these suggestions?

No TV journalist can relish the prospect of a Papal Conclave. Here's a few ideas to spice things up

Mark Wallace
On 12 March 2013 14:24

No TV journalist can relish the prospect of a Papal Conclave. Waiting outside the Vatican, with your camera closely focused on a small chimney, for days or weeks on end must be one of the most thankless tasks television has to offer.

Worse, the longer it goes on, the more pointless and hollow the questions from the anchors back home become. What’s the latest? The smoke’s still the wrong colour. Who’s it going to be? No idea, but one of the Cardinals has gone viral on YouTube because he’s good at karaoke. Will the new Pope continue Benedict XVI’s radical taste in red shoes? No-one cares.

Choosing the next Pope is an important decision – after all, he will head the global congregation of 1.2 billion Catholics, ranging from Guido Fawkes to Shakira. If the Hips Don’t Lie, then he will probably be the person responsible.

But it’s also intensely boring. The odds of getting a Pope who will pop up on Easter Sunday to announce a proper purge of sexual predators, or a rethink on whether gay people are going to hell, are pretty low, sadly. Even the prospect of a (relatively) young Pope is quite unlikely – older Cardinals aren’t that prone to voting for someone who will live long enough to time out their own chances of getting to wear the biggest hat in Christendom.

The boredom is intensified by the way we learn the news. No tense, televised public vote-off. No farewell dance on ice for the person pipped at the post. The unsuccessful popefuls don’t even get to do an embittered defeat speech, after a monotone introduction by the local returning officer.

No, we get to watch some smoke. From a distance, and normally on a windy day.

Ooh, what colour is it? Not bothered. It’s smoke. Unless it’s bright green, in which case a mob of Cardinals have just thrown a bucket of water over the Wicked Witch of the West, it’s inherently one of the least exciting things physics has to offer. Smoke beats steam, but only just – and mainly because there’s no smoke without fire, whereas unexplained steam normally just implies the existence of a concealed kettle.

Surely the election of the spiritual leader of almost a sixth of the world’s population deserves better than this? Certainly in the modern media age, the Church could get better media coverage by introducing a bit more pizzazz to the process. For that matter, the Sistine Chapel could do well out of not having a small fire started inside it every four hours – an act about as helpful to heritage conservation as installing a hot tub in the Great Pyramid of Giza.

So what could they do instead?

The possibilities are endless but here are a few humble suggestions, from me to the next Holy See:

- An illuminated sign on the dome of Saint Peter’s that reads “NOPE” or “POPE”

- One of those clocks with moving figures, like on Fortnum & Mason, where every hour a little figure emerges – either with the new Pope’s face sellotaped onto it, or a smug-looking picture of Satan

- An extended song and dance routine performed by the College of Cardinals and the professional dancers from ‘Strictly…’, preferably to the tune of either Tom Lehrer’s Vatican Rag (for a Yes) or Louise Redknapp’s Let’s Go Round Again (for No)

- A ritual beating of a piñata dressed as Dan Brown, complete with mustard-coloured rollneck sweater and surmounted by “symbology” that is actually just show-off, pseudo-historical nonsense. When the effigy finally bursts under the sustained blows of a sweating acolyte, the contents would either be Werther’s Originals (cause for celebration) or Cod Liver Oil capsules (disappointment).

Sure, they’re radical proposals – but none of them would be the most controversial thing the Church has done recently, would they? What have they got to lose?

Mark Wallace is the author of the popular political blog Crash Bang Wallace

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