NPR mocks Benedictine nuns in report on music contract

Lady Gaga Photo-AP File

No matter who or what one does in life, it’s inevitable to bump against stereotypes. New parents get tired of people talking to their baby instead of them. When I go out to eat with my aged-but-spry father, waitresses ask me what he would like; he says things like that happen so often he doesn’t pay attention any more.  And religious sisters get really tired of “cute” stories when they do something. We hear a lot of them.

Still, National Public Radio usually avoids the snide contrast and goes for the real story.  So I was taken aback by the way they handled the news that the Benedictine Nuns of the Abbaye de Notre-Dame de l’Annonciation had signed a contract with Decca Records for a CD of Gregorian chant.  After all, I don’t recall any cute stories about the Chant CD by the monks of Santo Domingo de Silos when it soared to the top of the charts.

Here’s what they said, in its entirety:

“Lady Gaga now shares a record label with a band of soul sisters – that is, a group of Benedictine nuns. Universal Music’s Decca Records discovered them at their convent in France as part of a global search for the best singers of Gregorian Chants. Unlike Lady Gaga, the nuns probably won’t have to worry about paparazzi. They live a life hidden behind closed doors. As for costumes, well, they’ll likely stick with something traditional.”

Lady Gaga? What did she have to do with this story?  The answer is: nothing, other than recording on the Decca label – and an overtly sexual performance style that many find offensive.  A story about sisters who sing beautifully might be boring, but juxtaposing the mental image of Lady Gaga with their quiet life and modest attire seemed – what – cute? funny? ridiculous?  Or just plain anti-Catholic?

At least on this one, NPR blew it.  I hope Decca does better than this for the rest of their publicity.

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  1. FWIW, I think this is fairly typical snark in pop culture reporting and is not primarily about being anti-Catholic. NPR wasn’t the first or last to make this dubious connection. In popular culture reporting (I used to be an arts reporter), journalists often struggle to find a “hook” besides “oh, here’s the one out of of 7,524 new CDs released today that might possibly interest you that I’m going to talk about now.” So you want to find something really interesting and perhaps quirky. In this case I don’t think the goal was primarily to compare the sisters’ lives and lifestyle with that of Lady Gaga, I think it was a “news of the weird” moment that a record company with a famous, hip star whose latest headlines were generated by deliberately using Catholic imagery in a vulgar and provocative way is now just weeks later releasing this very Catholic CD by very Catholic people. It’s annoying and perhaps offensive, and I share your hope that NPR would be above that, but I think it’s fairly typical of the genre.

    • Thanks for your analysis and the benefit of your experience. I agree that it’s fairly typical snark. I do note that similar snark about some other groups would immediately generate an avalanche of commentary. If Decca had been seeking to record the world’s greatest muezzin calling Muslims to prayer and paired the winner with Lady Gaga, there would have been uproar. No one can speak up every time one of these offensive things go by; I speak up when they’re Benedictines.

      It contrasts with the beautiful approach I saw at the Ravenna Festival in Italy. Each year, they have a free special event, Voci nella Preghiera, Voices in Prayer. By the light of hundreds of luminarias, the sacred prayers of Christians, Muslims, and Jews are performed by wonderful singers. It was begun by a single man, a philosopher, who prefaces the evening with a lengthy discourse on how religion can separate people or draw them together. The venue was completely packed. It’s a great example of catching the attention of the public and letting a deep and beautiful part of each religion speak for itself. Maybe I should send the Decca publicity folks a link.
      Voci nella Preghiera, Basilica di San Vitale, Ravenna

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