So farewell, then, Pope Benedict XVI. You will be missed. By some. As a wag on a well-known social-media site that rhymes with “Gary Glitter” said, “Gays, Africans and women will be heartbroken.” Another wagged, “‘I’m just doing this for now’ – strippers, waiters and popes.” Yet more mirth was generated by pontificating on the odds for the pontiff’s possible replacements. Korean YouTube sensation Psy at 6/1; the archbishop of atheism Richard Dawkins at 2,001/1; and a woman bishop right on the outside like a three-legged nag bound for the Findus freezer cabinet at 2,500/1.
After the news was broken on that well-known social-media site that rhymes with the “red Prada slipper” so beloved of the outgoing pope, suddenly the networks were mobilised to go live to Rome – apart from Al Jazeera International, who went live to the Kenyan presidential debate all afternoon. Take that, cosy Western news agenda! Take that, Catholicism!
You don’t get much Rome on the news. Despite the fact that Italy looks like it might soon re-elect Silvio Berlusconi, a man who, unlike Pope Benedict XVI, did allow women into senior roles within his administration but mostly with what might kindly be called a “personal helping hand”. You don’t see much Rome on the news despite the fact that the Italian economy could just be the pile of sticks that breaks the European camel’s back. In fact, you see so little Rome on the news that only after squinting at the box for a full 30 seconds did you realise that it wasn’t the White House or St Paul’s or the closing take-off sequence of Close Encounters of the Third Kind but the good old Vatican. There was a palpable feeling of scrabbling about to find someone in Rome to bundle into a cab bound for St Peter’s Square as they manhandled the tripod and hit “Record” on the camera.
The pope “resigned” because he was too old, he said. So, for quite a bit, our beloved rolling-news channels treated us to on-loop library pictures of the pope looking old. (Well, he started the job when he was 78, so that was a job so easy it could happily be given to the incoming intern in the archive department.) As promised, then, old, tired pope shots coming up: oh look, he’s waving wearily on a visit to Africa, bless; he’s in the Popemobile nodding at placards that say “Papa, We Love You!”; uh-oh, now he’s on another sort of motorised trolley thing but this time inside a cathedral puffing his cheeks out exhaustedly. All of which, the news producers were seeming to say, perfectly illustrated that this man, whose official robes of state looked like they weighed three times more than he did, was too old for a job which mostly seemed to be about being driven around on a trolley, waving.
Back in the studio, things were on safer turf. The dog collars were out in force, which made it difficult to tell the difference between all the different grey-haired men booked to come in; it was as if uniforms were suddenly compulsory on TV. On the BBC, Emily Maitlis wore a black dress with a stiff white collar that hedged its bets between Quaker and nun’s wimple but was definitely channelling religion.
Unimaginative TV and slight cynicism aside, it’s always sad when someone believes they’re too old to carry on but it was a bad day to bury good news, too, as almost no one on a well-known social media site that rhymes with “harsh and bitter” noted, it was the second anniversary of Hosni Mubarak resigning, too. Every cloud, Mr Ratzinger (as we may again call you). Every cloud.
Robert Bound is Monocle’s culture editor.