Dressing Up

10 05 2009

[You can listen to this letter once it has been broadcast here. Alternatively, search ‘James Townsend’ on your iTunes Store to subscribe.]

Human relationships are a complicated affair, as any sociologist is bound to tell you so that he or she might justify their existence. Very often the realm of personal interaction can be a dizzying, even frightening concept. Well, we should not be afraid because all our relationships are formed by a number of straightforward rules. Get the rules right, play the game and you’ve got it.

This might all seem rather abstract, and perhaps an example of perverse thinking on my part. Let me use an example – the rules about dress. We all know that when we meet each other, we are judging – and being judged – by our appearance. This man is wealthy. That woman is successful. The chap with his shirt sticking out of his fly is drunk.

My inherently cynical personality is keen to view this state of affairs negatively. And indeed the rules surrounding attire can from time to time become rather tiresome. However, we mustn’t forget that most of the time we’re using dress to our own benefit.

Clothing, style generally, can be an invaluable PR tool to project and nurture whatever impression we choose. The candidates are clear: Emos and Goths are exercising their right to choose not to conform to society. Young men in Blazers, striped shirts and white slacks are nailing their colours firmly to the mast of the establishment. Prostitutes, farmers and butchers all choose to don a form of uniform. Presumably there is some practical reasoning behind this, but I have no doubt that they want us to know that that is their profession.

Somebody whose sartorial choices have caused a flood of ink onto paper is His Holiness the Pope. The matter never seems to be discussed when he is in Rome, but on all trips – to Germany, the United States and this week to the Middle East – Pope Benedict’s footwear has caused as much excitement as his theology.

In fact, many commentators have linked the two. Shortly after his election as pontiff, Benedict commissioned his cobbler in Rome – a man named Adriano Stefanelli – to put together for him a pair of Papal Shoes.

These shoes, of distinctive red leather, have a long history. Their precise origin is unclear, but I have some information from a correspondent in the world of liturgical wardrobe.

The red papal shoes should not be confused with the Episcopal sandals of yester year. These were shoes worn by bishops while celebrating the mass, and changed with the colour of the liturgical season: white for Christmas and Easter, purple for Advent etcetera.

The papal shoes, however, are permanently red and worn only by the pope. The tradition was, however, suspended for many years during the reign of John Paul II. After initially taking the red shoes of his predecessors, he decided that he would be more comfortable in brown shoes. Some commentators have suggested that this was a reference to his humble origins. He was, though, buried in red shoes.

In sending his commission to Adriano Stefanelli, Pope Benedict was restoring the tradition, and this is where I get us back to where we were. By slipping his size ten and a half feet into a pair of red papal shoes, Benedict was associating himself with the ancient tradition of the church.

This sartorial statement has been interpreted, alongside the pope’s actual policy decisions, as a move away from the reforms of Vatican II.

For those not familiar with the various councils of the Catholic Church, the Second Vatican Council was held in the 1960s. It resolved to reform the church’s services, dropping much of the Latin and promoted a spirit of ecumenism. Many in the church see Vatican II as the cause of much the church’s problems in the West today.

So, as his holiness makes his way around his tour of the Middle East his footwear, as much as the words of any speeches, tells of his thinking. But whatever shoes he happens to be wearing, they had better be comfortable because he has a lot of ground to cover. The infamous Regensburg lecture a couple of years back has done Catholic relations with the Muslim world a great deal of harm.

Again, my apologies to those who have better things to do than follow such narrow issues as the reception of papal theology in distant lands… The Regensburg affair involved a vague comment about the Muslim world in a theological lecture. Unfortunately the Vatican failed to provide an Arabic translation, and consequently it was assumed that the Pope had been deeply offensive.

So I’m pleased to see that efforts are being made both by the esteemed traveller, and by his hosts. Although I understand that there are rumours of an ulterior motive behind the invitation to visit.

Jordan, in particular, has a vast collection of important Christian religious sites. The potential for religious tourism is, apparently, not being tapped fully and it is hoped that the pope’s visit may make some headway.

That brings me on to another glorified PR stunt. The Queensland tourism board has finally made its appointment for what it branded ‘the best job in the world.’ Ben Southall, a thirty-four year old from Petersfield, will take up his new position as caretaker for a portion of the Great Barrier Reef.

Of course, Southall’s qualifications for the job were not so extensive as to give him any experience of managing special sites of nature. However, that was not what Tourism Queensland were looking for. In fact, Southall fitted their requirements brilliantly – he is good-looking and British.

The job description on the web prompted over thirty-four thousand applications from around the world. But its target was specifically a British audience. The opening was announced in early January, right at the middle of the British winter and just at the moment when we all start thinking about booking our Summer holiday.

Of course us poms already make up a considerable portion of Australia’s ever-growing tourist industry. But, with the help of the dashing and energetic Ben Southall that number will continue to grow.

On being told of his appointment to the ‘best job in the world’ Southall was presented with his new uniform. Not a pair red shoes, like another job, but a wet suit.

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2 responses

10 05 2009
MPs’ Expenses « James Townsend

[…] Archive ← Dressing Up […]

10 05 2009
Dressing Up

[…] Original post by jetownsend […]

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