Readers get hot and bothered about ‘Sin Burger’ reports

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GetReligion is almost a decade old and, from the very beginning, many readers have struggled to understand a very basic fact about this blog. To state the matter bluntly, many readers think this is a religion blog.

Sorry, but this isn’t a religion blog and it isn’t a religion-news blog, either. GetReligion is what it is. This is a blog about the mainstream news media’s efforts — good and bad — to cover religion news.

Because of this misunderstanding, readers often send us stories and they want to know what we think about the news event or trend described in the story. Most of the time, this happens when a news story describes something that readers find outrageous, heretical, stupid or all of the above.

Thus, it didn’t take long for your GetReligionistas to receive emails asking us to comment about a particular hamburger being served at an edgy or outrageous joint up in Chicago.

A news story about a hamburger?

Sigh. This Forbes story was one of the better examples of the coverage, and here is how it starts off:

In Chicago, Kuma’s Corner, a heavy metal-themed beers-and-burgers restaurant, has ignited a debate over a burger that unites beef and the Eucharist.

The hamburger of the month is the Ghost, named for a Swedish metal band known as Ghost or Ghost B.C., the lead singer of which wears a Roman Catholic cardinal’s robe on stage. The burger features a 10-ounce beef patty accompanied by slow-braised goat, a “Ghost chile aioli,” white cheddar cheese, a pretzel bun, a red wine reduction, and an unconsecrated communion wafer.

Yes, you read that right. And the management claims that this hamburger is some kind of act of devotion:

The restaurant’s Facebook announcement deems the burger in “the spirit of our undying reverence for the lord and all things holy” and “a fitting tribute to the supreme blasphemous activities carried out by the band itself,” describing the red wine reduction as “(the blood of christ)” and the communion wafer as “(the body of christ).” The call to action: “Come pay your respects!” The cost: $17.

Now, as you would imagine, some readers seemed anxious for your GetReligionistas to be outraged and to strongly condemn this rather stupid PR stunt.

The problem, of course, was that most of the coverage of this alleged news event was rather pedestrian. The MEDIA COVERAGE was rather ordinary — not too hot, not too cold. Reporters described the restaurant. Reporters described people being outraged by this product. It was pretty clear that this stunt was meant to outrageous. Surf around in this Google News search file and you’ll see what I mean.

Now, here is the journalistic key to this situation.

Note that this first-person Forbes report clearly stated, right up front, that what was being served atop this burger was an “unconsecrated communion wafer.” Repeat: “unconsecrated.”

Without that word, it understandable that readers would be tempted to think that this was a genuine act of sacrilege.

However, with that crucial fact in place, the Forbes story showed that this hamburger was meant as a kind of hip, snarky, mocking editorial statement of some kind about Catholicism, faith, religious authority or something. The too-cool-for-school members of the joint’s management probably thought they were being edgy.

What journalists needed to find was a soundbite friendly voice of Catholic authority who could make the facts clear and explain why believers could be offended by this PR stunt, but that they didn’t need to turn it into a matter of life and death.

Cue the obvious source, Father James Martin, the Jesuit best known among hipsters as the chaplain of The Colbert Report:

“Technically, an unconsecrated host is just that — unconsecrated and, basically, just a piece of bread,” he replied in an email. “So, on the one hand, it may be just one burger joint’s desperate attempt to attract customers and stir up some controversy, which always increases sales. On the other hand, as a Catholic, I find this kind of needless sarcasm annoying — would they pull a stunt like this mocking Judaism or Islam? I doubt it. Anyway, Chicago is more known for its hot dogs: I’ll stick to that.”

So was this (I’ll say it again) PR stunt a major story or not? I vote “no,” because of that word “unconsecrated.” Any journalist who omitted that key word was just adding gasoline to a tiny PR fire.

About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • MollieZHemingway

    There was a CNN story that included this explanatory passage:

    “For those unfamiliar with the Christian sacrament, Holy Communion commemorates Jesus’ Last Supper. The bread represents his body, Jesus says in the Bible, and the wine his blood. In many Christian traditions, a priest or minister will consecrate the wafers and wine before sharing them with the congregation.”

    REPRESENTS? Come again? I know that some Protestants — namely those that don’t view this as a sacrament — have a representational theology with regard to the Lord’s Supper. But that is most definitely not universal and certainly not traditional.

    • helen

      Now that is a “Getreligion” point; the writer didn’t read any standard Bible to get that version.

      The restaurant story itself doesn’t deserve the time of day.

  • tmatt

    Thanks! Someone sent that in but I forgot about it.

    What wording would you have used?

  • Dale

    “So was this (I’ll say it again) PR stunt a major story or not?”

    No, it was not a major story. It draws attention to the restaurant, which apparently has a national reputation among metal fans. But otherwise, it was strictly a local news story, and as Tmatt pointed out, it was a PR stunt.

    The burger also provides fodder for social media and cable news outrage. However, unfocused anger, and the absence of any concrete actions, are standard in both platforms. These things do not add any importance to the story, either.

    • jw

      Something’s are considered sacred to many folks. Other folks many times are against everything, it just shows, they (the second group) have no respect or consideration for the views of others…very sad.
      In earthly terms, I wonder how the second group would feel if someone slapped their mother for her beliefs…bet it would be a different story.

  • Darren Blair

    Everything I learned while pursuing my minor in marketing is saying “Stupid PR stunt that is most likely going to bite the place in the fanny.”

    They *might* have made a tiny segment of their potential customer base happy, but at the expense of just about everyone outside of their normal customer pool.

    It’s not a major religion story like people are making it out to be.

    • Howard

      I hope you’re right, but then I notice that Howard Stern is still on the air.

  • Howard

    Those unconsecrated wafers are, as bread alone, about the most unappealing bread ever. That’s why no one ever uses them for everyday purposes (as opposed to wine, for example). So if this story had no legitimate religious angle, neither did the controversy over the alleged artwork “P*** Christ”, or for that matter any movie ever made. It was a deliberate attempt to mock and provoke people of faith. That makes it a story with a religion angle even though it was not the desecration of a consecrated host.

  • Fr. Savio

    While I agree that in general the story is pedestrian, I have some confusion about the quote given above:

    The restaurant’s Facebook announcement deems the burger in “the spirit of our undying reverence for the lord and all things holy” and “a fitting tribute to the supreme blasphemous activities carried out by the band itself,” describing the red wine reduction as “(the blood of christ)” and the communion wafer as “(the body of christ).”
    Um, which lord are we talking about here? The article seems to just assume it is Jesus, but the language points more toward Satan. Satanism makes a somewhat regular practice of mocking the Catholic Mass. Wouldn’t that be a “ghost,” as y’all describe it here? Is this somehow connected to a religious act of Satanism? It is, after all, a growing religion. Hope that didn’t come off as too loony.

    • Dale

      Fr Savio, yes, the band presents a sort of satanism, although I think it is intended simply for theatrical effect.

      One of the band members gave an interview to an American music website (Pitchfork) earlier this year. Quoting from the interview:

      Pitchfork: The theme of Satanism, tongue-in-cheek or not, has a long tradition in heavy metal. How important is it to what you guys are doing?

      NG: Well thematically, obviously, it’s alpha to omega, that’s what we’re doing. The sort of Satanism, or devil-worship, that we want to portray in the confines of Ghost, a very biblical version of goat worship, the sort of things that you see in a Satanic Panic movie. And obviously in the theater that is Ghost, everything is supposed to feel like it’s orthodox devil-worshipping.
      ….That’s also one of the things that makes us different from most
      metal bands that have some sort of Satanic agenda. That most of them have a very high demand on their listener, where most of the time they’re preaching for priests and they demand of their fans to be as devoted as they are. And there’s always some sort of “kill yourself” message in there. Whereas we are, in many ways, like a mirror reflection, where we’re trying to reflect on, basically “religiosity.” We’re basically doing the Catholic Church, we just have drawn a little on the painting.


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