Saturday, March 22, 2008

Does Jesus want us 'Looking good'?

By TOMIE LUNSFORD
Telegram Staff Writer

Sex sells. Sure.
But Jesus?
The idea of commercializing Christ makes some cringe. But it happens; Jesus sells like anything else.
His image sports a price tag on all sorts of things, from bumper stickers to glass figurines. And it's not just at Christmas and Easter. Jesus sits on store shelves all year long, always ready to celebrate a wedding, mourn a funeral or offer an encouraging word to a suffering friend.
Selling Christ in these ways is OK. Nobody seems to object.
But it wasn't OK last month when a store in Singapore tried to sell some $5.99 tubes of 'Looking Good for Jesus' lip balm. A report from the BBC said a riot started after store managers received complaints from angry Roman Catholics. 'The Catholics complained the cosmetics' marketing was disrespectful, full of sexual innuendo and trivialized Christianity,' the Feb. 12 report said.
In effort to settle the situation, the BBC said the store manager was quick to remove the 'offensive' items from the shelves.
In Singapore, Christianity is a minority religion, encompassing just 14 percent of the country's population of 4.4 million. Almost 50 percent worship Buddha.
It's not difficult to understand why the Roman Catholics the BBC interviewed responded as they did.
The lip balm's label presents a giant Christ hovering above two flirty women wearing bright red lipstick.
'Why would anyone use religious figures to promote vanity products? It's very disrespectful and distasteful,' said Grace Ong, 24, in a Singapore newspaper, not long after the riot happened.
But it's also not difficult to understand the perspective of the product's maker, a Massachusetts company called Blue Q. It's is a joke, and it's satire, said Trevor Ward, public relations manager, not unlike the like the entirety of Blue Q merchandise.
Other items from the company include 'Wash Away Your Sins' towelettes, 'Kills a Kitten' gum, and a 'Mental Case Mid-life Crisis' soap that promises 'five ounces of deluxe therapy.'
Ward said the idea for the 'Looking Good for Jesus' product line, which includes the lip balm, a pocket mirror and a coin purse, came from a designer who has a reputation of producing high-selling designs.
'We saw it as a marketable concept with great design work and artistic integrity,' Ward. 'In fact, the 'Looking Good for Jesus' lip balm was the No. 2 selling personal care item for 2007 and our highest selling lip balm of year.'
Ward said he couldn't release the name of the designer.
'But I can provide this comment from the designer, 'Are you supposed to lookbad
for Jesus? Gimme a break,' Trevor said. 'The art work is beautiful because the sentiment is, too.'
Some conversations at a Temple coffee shop on March 26 found that local residents have varying opinions about 'Looking Good for Jesus.'
'I think it's cool,' said Shelley Howell, a Belton doctor. 'Jesus wants to look good, have good clothes and be prosperous.'
He laughed for a minute as he studied the image and a list of other Blue Q products.
'I, of course, mean that you don't have to look good to Jesus,' Howell said. 'But you do need to look good to yourself.'
To John Roark of Temple, the product is non-sensical, not offensive.
'God does not need us to be attractive,' Roark said. 'I don't care what people are trying to sell, I don't like this kind of commercialism.'
But as a lawyer, Roark said he is a firm believer in the American right to free speech.
'Some right-wing people would get offended by this. They'd take it too seriously,' Roark said. 'But it can be said. I can't indict it, and I wouldn't start a riot over it. I just wouldn't buy it.'
Jessica Walker of Temple, who was drinking coffee with the two men, said the idea was silly.
'I wouldn't buy it,' she said. 'But of course, I'm going to laugh. Just because people are Christians doesn't mean they're not going to laugh.'
Ron Thompson of Temple, who was sipping his coffee at one of the outdoor tables, said neither Blue Q nor its products deserved much attention.
'It's all in poor taste,' Thompson said.
Another patron, Billy McClellan of Waco, said the concept 'is taking something valuable and using it in a cheap way.'
But he laughed as he read a list of Blue Q products aloud to his grandchildren.

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