BY FREDDY GRAY
A HUGELY SUCCESSFUL Irish bookmaker has been criticised for its advertisement that depicts Jesus and the Apostles gambling at the Last Supper.
The billboard poster – an adaptation of Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting – can be seen at 87 sites across Dublin. It shows Jesus at the centre with a stack of poker chips, Judas with 30 pieces of silver and other apostles holding playing cards. “There’s a place for fun and games,” reads the caption.
Paddy Power has no intention of withdrawing the advertisement but this week invited the public to respond to it through the company’s website. Criticisms of the posters were led by Fr Micheal MacGreil, a Jesuit priest at St Francis Xavier’s Church in central Dublin, who described the image as “grossly inappropriate and vulgar”.
He said: “This is an insult to the religious sensitivities of a lot of people and should be withdrawn immediately.
“You should never abuse something sacred in this way. It’s the vulgarity of rank materialism. Even if people don’t believe themselves, they have to respect the beliefs of others. It’s vulgarity at its worst to misuse a sacred image like this, especially one that is about giving, not taking.” Paddy Power admitted that his company had taken “a load of flak” for the advertisement. “But we have also had some e-mails from people saying they think the reaction against this poster has been a little excessive,” he said.
“We didn’t mean to offend anyone so if anyone takes offence apologies for that. It’s a tongue-in-cheek situation: people aren’t supposed to take it as seriously as some people seem to be.” Paddy Power has a reputation for controversial, attention-seeking publicity stunts.
In 2000, animal rights groups complained about a Paddy Power advertisement that featured a rabbit with a missing paw with the caption: “Make Your Own Luck.” Another poster featured two elderly ladies using Zimmer frames to cross a road with odds printed above their heads. Many people thought that the odds referred to which lady would be run over by an oncoming car, but Mr Power claims they were supposed to relate to which would cross the road first.
The bookmaker was also criticised for posting odds on who would succeed John Paul II while the late pontiff was still alive. But Paddy Power displayed a little sensitivity for the Universal Church when John Paul II died. As a mark of “respect”, the company suspended the papal market for two days.
When betting resumed, the Irish bookmakers showed themselves to be a little cannier than most Catholic journalists when it came to predicting who would be the next Pope. While many “Vatican experts” dismissed the chances of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Paddy Power made the future Pope Benedict XVI firm favourite going into the papal elections.
After the conclave, the group has wasted no time in opening a book on who will succeed Benedict as the Vicar of Christ. Cardinal Angelo Scola of Venice is the current favourite at 6-1. In Italy, the entertainment company Sony is also under fire for an advertisement to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Sony PlayStation, a computer games console.
The poster shows the head of a young man crowned with thorns. On closer inspection the “thorns” are actually the square, triangle and circle shapes found on the PlayStation controller. But there is no doubt that the image is meant to allude to Jesus: the caption reads “Dieci anni di passione” or “Ten Years of Passion”.
Cardinal Ersilio Tonini said he found the advertisement offensive. “Already I often hear children say that Heaven is the place where people drink coffee, remembering also in this case an advertisement,” he said. “Now children can think that the Passion of Christ is a game.”