Five Questions About The Pope’s Three-Decade Abstinence From TV

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This much we know: Pope Francis does not watch television. We’ve know it for a few years, actually, thanks to an interview in 2015 with La Voz del Pueblo in which he revealed, among other things, that he misses being able to go out for pizza, he doesn’t like delivery because “it’s not the same,” and that he made a promise to the Virgin Mary on July 15, 1990 that he would never watch television again. Not even to catch up on the news or to watch his beloved Argentinean soccer teams. Here’s the exact quote: “I have not watched TV since 1990. It’s a promise that I made the Virgin Mary on the night of 15 July 1990. I told myself: ‘It’s not for me.'”

Which, to be clear, is fine. I’m not trying to knock the pope. That’s the last thing I’m trying to do. No pope knocking here, that’s for sure. It’s just… the story started recirculating on the internet again this week and some questions about the whole thing popped into my head and now I can’t get them out. Because I am an idiot. That’s the main takeaway of all of this.

I’ve cut my list of questions about it down to five. If you know the pope, please ask him. It will give me peace.

What do you think was the last straw?

Right, so, two options here. One is that this was a long-developing process that finally came to a head on July 15, 1990. The other is that something he saw on television that night that made him throw up his hands and say “Feh!” to the whole thing. This second option is somehow both less likely (I mean, come on) and more likely (why else would he remember the specific date?), but it’s definitely more fun to think about, so let’s explore.

Here’s what was on television the night of July 15, 1990:

  • ABC – America’s Funniest Home Videos; a showing of the 1974 James Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun
  • CBS – Murder, She Wrote; a showing of the 1987 movie Kenny Rogers as The Gambler 3: The Legend Continues
  • Fox – America’s Most Wanted; The Simpsons; Married… With Children; In Living Color; Booker
  • NBC – The Wonderful World of Disney; part one of the 1989 TV movie Love and Hate: A Marriage Made in Hell

I complain a little (a lot) now and then (constantly) about how there is too much television in 2018 for anyone to keep up, but damn. That is slim pickings.

My first thought was that maybe he was turned off by something on The Simpsons. Some people were very angry about The Simpsons in the early 1990s. And the episode that aired that night was the first season’s “Life on the Fast Lane,” which features a) Bart swearing and b) a plot about Marge and Homer’s marital troubles leading her into the arms of a slick-talking bowling instructor named Jacques. So maybe this was it. Maybe the pope was so upset about a rerun of The Simpsons that he just up and threw his television in the trash.

It’s a fun thought to consider and I do think we should all try to start that rumor and spread it far and wide enough that it replaces the truth as the accepted version of historical events, but there are two problems with this: Problem one, the episode ends with Marge running back to Homer instead of falling for the bowling instructor’s advances, which is actually a pretty conservative take on marriage and family, one that, say, a future pope could appreciate. Problem two, the pope lived in Argentina at the time and The Simpsons wasn’t even airing there that night.

So… let’s just say he was angry about the cancellation of Miami Vice.

Do you think people ever try to pass off really good Simpsons jokes as their own when they’re talking to the pope?

I would. All the time. 30 Rock, too. The pope would think I’m hilarious.

Do you think the pope knows who David Schwimmer is?

David Schwimmer starred in Friends from 1994-2004. The show was one of the biggest primetime hits in the history of television, both in terms of ratings and cultural relevance. Jennifer Aniston’s character set off a popular hairstyle craze. Even today, the show has developed a second life on Netflix as teens around the world have become enthralled by it, for reasons I do not and will never understand. What I’m saying is that the show was a big deal and anyone who watched television in that period would surely recognize the names and faces of the cast today. They are all legitimately famous, across the globe. Even Schwimmer.

But… the pope hasn’t watched television since 1990… and Schwimmer isn’t exactly running around Vatican circles… so…

No. I’m gonna say the pope does not know who David Schwimmer is. But I bet he knows Jennifer Aniston. I have nothing to back up either of these. I just believe them to be true.

Do movies count as TV?

Like, does the pope go to the movie theater? Or does he have a screening room in the Vatican? Because lots of people who go out of their way to tell you they don’t own a television will still see important artsy-type movies and documentaries. Does the pope watch documentaries? Those seem a little better.

Do you think the pope has seen the documentary about the maple syrup heist?

It’s a fair question.

What if he gets to heaven and finds out Mary loves television?

“It is such an honor to meet you, Holy Mother.”

“Same to you, my child.”

“I have given my life to the church and to the teachings of your son.”

“This has been greatly appreciated.”

“I cast aside all potential distractions. Anything that could get in the way of service to the Lord. On July 15, 1990, I made a promise — to you, in your name — that I would never watch television again.”

“Wait. So you haven’t seen The Wire?”

“Excuse me, Holy Mother?”

“If you stopped watching television in 1990, that means you didn’t watch The Wire.”

“I suppose so.”

“You gotta watch The Wire.”

“But I…”

“It’s so good.”