Thursday, June 28, 2012

Last Suppers and Levitating Disciples

I like daVinci. Not the code, the man. And as Italian Renaissance paintings go, I like the Last Supper well enough. It's one of the best known and most cherished paintings in the world. Primarily because of its theme, but it can stand on its own for artistic merit and value, too. But it's so well-known that it's as trite a cliché as the dogs playing poker painting.

I am fortunate enough to have viewed the original Last Supper. But I didn't go into with with rapt eagerness. I'd seen countless reproductions and depictions in my lifetime and I was not particularly interested in this stop on the itinerary. Let's just say when it was my turn to file into the room with the painting my enthusiasm wasn't palpable. And then, as art is wont to do, I took in the full magnitude of it, gasped, started taking in the details, and it made a believer out of me. There's something about it, an indefinable something, that compels even the most jaded tourist, regardless of their spiritual beliefs, to love it. It draws you in and holds you. The details...the colors (even badly faded when I saw it)...the expressions...the technique...there's nothing I can say that hasn't been said for hundreds of years: It's a darned good painting.

Which is why, for a while after my personal renaissance with the Renaissance, I winced when I saw da Vinci's Last Supper reduced and trivialized - bastardized - on really tacky and poorly made tchotchkes. And let me tell you, there are a lot of cheap Last Supper themed tchotchkes.

Then I realized there's no fighting it. Leonardo da Vinci's the Last Supper is globally iconic. Everyone knows at least one painting by a master and it's this one. Some may not know the master's name, but they know the painting. And imitation is a compliment. And advertising. Maybe a cheap tchotchke representing the Last Supper will inspire someone to make a pilgrimage to the real thing. So I let go of my hostility over the cheap and badly manufactured replications of the Last Supper. I haven't fully embraced them, but I can look at them without my blood pressure rising over the insult to da Vinci.

I would love to hear da Vinci's thoughts on the tawdry versions of his masterpiece. Would he take a Warholian view and find humor and societal commentary in them, or would he be angry? Remember, this is the man who said, "I have offended God and mankind because my work didn't reach the quality it should have." Based on that mindset, I think the case rests. 

Feast your eyes on these Last Supper themed goodies available at fine internet retailers!

It pains me to admit that this was probably one of my first brushes with the Last Supper. I won a Last Supper snow globe at a Sunday school party. I was four years old and already had a burgeoning snow globe collection, so I was pretty darned chuffed to add another to my collection, regardless of the theme. A lot of my childhood toys were ruined in a basement flood, and unfortunately my Last Supper snow globe didn't survive the cleanup. However, it looked almost exactly like this one - in fact this may be the exact version I had. One thing I love about snow globes is that the same models are made for years (and years) and repurposed to fit multiple depictions. You can get your own for $8.50 at

He's got the whole world, erm, table, in His hands. Jesus holding the Last Super. Literally. Weird: Check. Misguided enthusiasm: Check. Cheap manufacturing: Check. It doesn't list what it's comprised of, but my guess is resin. Possibly chalk. This is the embodiment of holy crap. $15.96 at Let's not talk. Let's just pause for a moment to gaze upon this divine merchandise.

Here's a fun party idea! A Last Supper! Not just for Lent! What'll you serve? Well, start with cocktails! Use a Last Supper candy mold to make ice cubes for those cocktails! - $1.79 at The intended purpose of the portable communion set is to provide easy transport of communion items to the infirm or for that impromptu communion at a barbecue. However. The glasses in this portable communion set are about 1.5 shot size. They come in a handy carrying case with the Last Supper depicted inside the lid. $24.99 for the set, perfect gift for the on-the-go clergy in your life! Then serve your meal on Last Supper plates. Classy. $7.99 each at As party favors, give your guests Last Supper dinner mints from the purveyor of all that's weird and kitsch, Archie McPhee. $2.50

Dive in, boys! Peter, did you bring a knife? I want to peel an apple.
This next item would be a great decoration for a Last Supper party, but it's so special, so, um, unique, that you'll want to display it long after the party guests have left. Forget the banana hammock, what you need is a polyresin Last Supper fruit bowl. Feast your eyes on the levitating disciples. I want to believe the person who designed this, as well as the manufacturing team, had tongues firmly in cheek and rolled it into production as a joke. But. My suspicion is that this was intended to be a serious piece of home decor for the religious. You can get one at ($2.95 shipping on every item, every day!) Overstock says it has a very high sellout risk, but priced at $92.99 I think it's safe to hold off on your purchase a few days. Here is Overstock's description:
  • Wonderfully made fruit bowl
  • Features Jesus and His twelve disciples
  • Creates a spiritual sensation
  • Materials: Polyresin
  • Care instructions: Use a damp cloth to clean
  • Dimensions: 15 inches wide x 12 inches deep x 12.25 inches high
You heard it folks. Creates a spiritual sensation. Yes. Yes it does indeed.

Don't bump your head on the ceiling!
And just imagine that spiritual sensation bathed in the warm glow of candlelight. The disciples' faces beatific and flawless in flickering golden hues. But not just any candle holder will do for the candles that will illuminate Jesus and his friends as they levitate around/dive into the fruit bowl. Fear not. Terry's Village has the perfect accompaniment piece, a Last Supper base relief candle holder priced at only $8.99. Candles not included. I love how they went all out on their merchandising photo for the catalog and used battery operated fake candles. They really add an air of reverence to the piece. This is such a marvelous piece of plastic, erm, excuse me, resin, that I want to show you a close up detail. Make special note of what they appear to be eating.
Apparently they ate patty melts at the Last Supper. Who knew?!
Maybe you need a little more mood lighting in the room. And really, who doesn't? How about bringing in some fiber optic lighting? Oh yes, let's.

There are souvenirs and tchotchkes. And then there are functional souvenirs and tchothkes. The manufacturers of these products are tapped into the mindset of the consumer. "Sure, I like the polyresin depiction of the Last Supper, but I'm not really into nicknacks. What I need is a clock. And a light." Voila! the birth of the functional tchotchke/souvenir. A souvenir that doesn't serve a functional purpose may be dismissed by a consumer with a practical mindset. A googly eyed shell? Cute. A googly eyed shell with a clock and a nightlight? Well, now you're talking. Sure it costs a little more but it's so worth it. A clock! A light! And a googly eyed shell! Ring it up! Holy crap is not immune to this marketing tactic.

Fiber optics had a souvenir hey-day in the '80s. And they haven't quite gone away. I'll get into holy fiber optic crap as a post unto itself (wherein we will discuss Jack White and the Flaming Lips, among other societal reflections), but while we're on the topic of the Last Supper, behold the ultimate in modern technology and high art: The fiber optic Last Supper with analog clock. The little white dots you see in a grid pattern over the Last Supper? Fiber optic lights. Lite-brite makin' things with light. (It has been done. Of course. LiteBrite Last Supper. Go ahead, look at it. It's brilliant. Literally and metaphorically.) I saw one of these clock/lights/classic art/religious icon in a shop window in the Indian part of town. It was displayed alongside no less than 1000 other fiber optic items, many of which depicted Hindu gods and goddesses. Jesus, Ganesh together in perfect color-changing harmony. I didn't have a camera with me at the time, unfortunately, but here is the unlit view of it. And here's a snippet of the description: "...small fiber optic dots light up the photo in various areas, blink on and off, and change colors. You'll be amased[sic] at the site of this wonderful clock." Yes, yes we are all amased$24.95 

Maybe you don't need a clock. Or maybe you prefer digital over analog. Don't be disappointed! There's a light up Last Supper for you, too! A more subtle, artistic version of the Last Supper. Nothing says tasteful lighting like etched acrylic. We truly are blessed to live in these modern times when anything can be laser etched into acrylic and lit from below. Last Supper laser etched acrylic fiber optic light. $39.95 at

But hey, for $16 less you can get an etched crystal Last Supper, a steal at $23.99! And it appears to glow without lights! But set it atop a lightsource and watch it come to life. Ever wonder what Jesus and His disciples would look like as CAD ghosts? Wonder no more. We see right through you, Judas. We see right through you.  Last Supper laser etched crystal. $23.99 at 

Now that you have your decor and lighting settled, you need some art on those walls! Sure, you can buy fairly decent reproductions of the Last Supper. But good ones are going to run you into some serious money and you already dropped almost $100 on that fruit bowl. Fear not. Push up those sleeves and channel your inner Italian Renaissance master with Palmer's Last Supper Deluxe Commemorative Paint-By Number Box Set: 60th Anniversary set. Kit  Includes: 40 Premium Quality Acrylic Paint Colors, 3 Fine Artist Quality Brushes ( # 1, # 2, # 4 ) 1 Frosted Linen Textured Board with Printed Image, 1 Reference Guide Sheet & Instructions 1 Frame-able Printed 4 Color Tribute Image. Frame not included. Available at  for $24.99.

And what about those chilly nights when the glow of the fake candles and fiber optic lights isn't enough to keep you warm? A Last Supper blanket, of course. Technically not a tchotchke and technically not as bastardized as some Last Supper items, the Last Supper throw would not make my list were it not for the subject matter. Remember, the scene depicted in the Last Supper is the moment after Jesus announced one of his disciples was going to betray him. Shock, horror and a few awkward furtive glances ensue, as seen on the famous painting. So. Do you really want to snuggle with your honey under a blanket that features betrayal as its theme? Yeah. Me either. Enough bonus points for "misguided" and "ill-conceived" to qualify as holy crap. However, I do think it would make a nice present to give an ex after you divorce them on grounds of adultery. Toss a gift bag at them as you leave court and say, "Here, this'll keep you warm, you cheater! Let Judas keep you company at night. Spoon with Peter and his knife." $36.95 at and several other online retailers.

Rollin' with my homies... One of my favorite websites,, offers this beaut: The Last Supper 2 Tone Rhodium Iced Out Pendant (and 36" chain!) Jesus and his gang never looked more fly as they enjoy supper in tricked out glitzy Vegas style. Word.

I kind of hoped they'd have a Last Supper grill, but sadly, no. But I'm sleeping soundly in the assurance that someone out there has one or is trying to make one.

I have a hunch someone will write to inform me that these are gangware and that I should not support a company that supports gangs. So here's my disclaimer: I do not advocate gangs or violence or gang violence. But HipHopBling has the same rights as the Sister Wives - if they can make a buck on religious-based bling, so be it. And I'm just observing and reporting.

When you eat a little too much for supper, loosen your blinged out Last Supper belt buckle! Priced at $11, it's a bargain. Look at all that bling! Imagine it perched just south of your belly button. Nothing says, "I'm into art and down with Jesus" like a rhinestone Last Supper belt buckle. Truly. Nothing says it like that belt buckle. also has Last Supper bling bracelets. I kinda want one of these. Available in silvertone, gold tone or black, with or without Jesus links! Decisions, decisions...

The a fancier version with Jesus shaped links between the Last Supper links really says, "I'm down with The Word. Word."

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Several (many, many) years ago I had a little quest to find the mother of all tacky religious themed manufactured item.


Because after many years of traveling the world I became aware of one unifying trait: Religious themed trinkets, kitsch and gift shop items are tacky. Religious and spiritual beliefs aside, the items manufactured to represent or serve as talismans or souvenirs are shoddy and often...weird. Classic Jesus images can be bought on everything, and I mean everything. Ditto his mother Mary. Buddha? He's a cash cow. India has many gods and goddesses and they are all for sale at every market across India. Japan, with its lovely Shinto temples is not immune, the Shinto gods find their way onto some of the cheapest, tackiest items available for purchase.

Name a world religion and I'll show you something that's been die cast, injection molded, screen printed or laminated into some sort of merchandised trinket to represent it in a gift shop.

My quest was to find the weirdest and most misguided religious themed and merchandised tchotchke. I found a lot. People sent me photos of items that surpassed my wildest imagination.

As a marketing professional, it baffled me why venerated people or gods were being merchandised at all, but especially in such universally cheap and tacky forms.

If you love Jesus with all your heart, why would you cheapen Him by injection molding His likeness into a glow-in-the-dark backscratcher or feature Him on the inside of a snow globe or on a shotglass and then selling it for $3.99?

WWJD? I don't know. But I'm pretty sure He would not sell plastic pencil sharpeners in His likeness to make a buck.

Sadly, when I migrated my blog several years ago I lost most of the posts and images of those items. I thought it was a Sign that I needed to stop making fun of religious icons, even if they were tacky merchandising tools.

And then something happened. Maybe a miracle, maybe a sign of End of Days.

A website was brought to my attention. A shopping website. But not just any shopping website. It is proof that we have quite possibly reached the zenith of web shopping sites.

1) It reflects and represents many facets of our culture
2) They accept major credit cards
3) It hawks crap worth far (far, and I mean far) less than the prices asked
4) And yep, you guessed it, there's a religious angle

What is this amazing website that foretells and forebodes?

I present to you, in all its glory, The Sister Wives merchandising site.

Words fail. Truly. I sat, mouth agape, at this site for far longer than I care to admit. It's possible I was abducted because I had missing time. Or more likely I was in shock on so many levels my synapses fired too quickly and I blew a fuse for a few minutes.

But then I realized: We deserve this. People, someone, watches Sister Wives. A basic cable network would not continue to produce and air a show that produced low ratings, even a low (low) budget show. And we, as a society, are all being punished because of the deeds of the few who tune into Sister Wives. I am refraining from opining about the show. I see the ads for it and I saw less than ten minutes of one episode, so I am in no way qualified to have an opinion about the show or the family on it. However, I do know a bit about marketing and merchandise and therefore I am qualified to critique a shopping website.

Apparently because this family has a reality show that people (someone) is watching, they believe they have a fan base. And like all red-blooded capitalistic Americans they want to make a buck off their fame. That's fair, I'd probably do it, too. Strike while the iron's hot and milk it for all I could. It is hard out here for a pimp and if you can get someone to part with their credit card number, go for it while you have the chance.


The point of the show is based on this family's religious belief with happens to include Polygamy. So, it is, at it's, heh heh, fundamental core, a show about religion. I presume their viewing demographic falls squarely into two groups: 1) Other Polygamists and 2) people who tune in to laugh and ridicule them. So one then presumes the marketing niche for their products is: Other Polygamists. That is truly a niche market, and one they know better than I, but, how many weird and overpriced pieces of jewelry are you going to sell to other Polygamists? How many sister wives are there out there, and how many of them have hundreds (yes, hundreds) of dollars to spend on overpriced (and I mean way overpriced) jewelry? Either they're misguided or someone is hoodwinking them, and if that's the case I do feel somewhat "bad" for them. There's one born every minute, but if they are naive enough to believe they're popular for positive reasons, they're naive enough to believe they can profit from their popularity.

My professional take is that they would have been better served with an Etsy site. But rock on, gals, if you can get people to part with their credit card numbers, go for it. Enterprise your little Polygamist hearts out.

But. They're profiting from their religious beliefs, not a random theme with no spiritual connotation. These are not crocheted scarves or felted dolls. These are items representing their Polygamist life. At any point in designing (and I use that term loosely) and manufacturing these items did they ever ask themselves, "WWJD?" I don't want to speak for Him, but I'm pretty sure He would not symbolize friendship with hands that look like the Boston Strangler's hands in a '70s made-for-television movie. Nor would He symbolize the bond that Polygamist wives share with a stack ring that when worn together looks like two snakes having coitus, or, when worn singly, well, let's just say it, looks like an uncircumcised penis. I don't know much about Polygamy, but with several wives to service it stands to reason the penis is a core talisman for them.

Back on the old blog I saw some funny Mormon themed tchotchkes - there seems to be a lot of injection molding and bad screen printing in Mormon merchandising - and some very (very) expensive items, as well. The Mormons rival the Vatican Catholics in the priciest souvenirs category. Perhaps the Sister Wives were taking a merchandising cue from their Mormon brethren. I wonder how much, if any, of their profit goes to their church? Unlike many religious retail sites, there is very little information on their site about where the proceeds go. Maybe that was covered on their show. Since there's no 501(c) status on their site (that I can find) I presume it is not charity.

I notice that TLC, the network that produces and airs the show seems to have nothing to do with the Sister Wives site. I find it a little odd that the Sister Wives didn't partner with TLC to merchandise and sell items related to them and their show. TLC heavily merchandises their shows, and they could have brought some design and manufacturing expertise as well as some marketing savvy (and marketing streams) to the Sister Wives. Either the Sister Wives didn't want to share profits or control of their products with TLC, or TLC didn't want anything to do with their merchandising ideas. Because if a network can make any kind of profit from licensing, they'll do it. Especially basic cable networks. I would love to read some of the legal docs surrounding My Sister Wife's Closet and TLC.

Maybe that's why the chose such a grammatically awkward (albeit grammatically correct) name for their site. I'm guessing TLC owns the trademark and copyright on Sister Wives. Hence "My Sister Wife's Closet." Why closet? A misguided cute-ism about sharing? Probably. Open invitation for ridicule? Absolutely. I wonder if they are even familiar with the term closeted and what it means. Or maybe the puns are intended and they're laughing all the way to their bank accounts, or joint bank account, do Polygamist husband and wives have joint bank accounts?
The night after I saw the site I had a dream. I can't say I was visited by a spirit - because I'm pretty sure I wasn't - but I was moved by the spirit of that website and woke up thinking, "Yes. It is time. Today I will resurrect Houses of the Holy Crap."

If it's merchandised crap and it has a holy theme, it's literally holy crap and it's fair game.

It's also summer and that means travel and that means gift shops. If you see a craptastic religious or spiritually themed item merchandised and for sale, snap a photo and email it to me at If your photo isn't geotagged let me know where you saw the item. Or, if, while online you stumble upon an appropriate item, send me the url.

Also let me know if the item's profits are for charity. For instance, nativity themed cupcakes to raise money for a new church roof fall into the charity category, and therefore we will be charitable in our comments. Yes. We will. And anyone who engages in religious persecution, judgment or intolerance will be banned from the site

I've seen a lot of holy crap in the absence of Houses of the Holy Crap, so to get the ball rolling I'll add a few of the standouts I've seen over the next few weeks. 

Remember, at all times, I am not judging, mocking or persecuting the religions or spiritual beliefs these items represent. Nor am I judging or mocking the people who Believe and follow these religions/spiritual paths. Respect and tolerance of the belief, always, with a smirking eyebrow raised at the tacky tchotchkes made to snag a profit off religion.

I am judging and mocking the die cast, injection molded, metal stamped, screen printed, laminated and otherwise cheaply manufactured items sold to represent religions.
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