A Twee Saint for the Internet

A marketing campaign to celebrate Ignatius of Loyola's feast day creates a remarkable intersection of pop culture, digital media, and spiritual recruitment.
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Courtesy of Loyola Press

In a summer filled with songs like "Fancy" and "Work," another Iggy has stolen the show. Today is the feast day of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of a Catholic order of priests called the Society of Jesus and commonly known as the Jesuits. In celebration, a Catholic publishing house is encouraging the people of the Internet to "find your inner Iggy" and explore Ignatius's vision of spirituality. 

In doing so, it appears that they have created the first-ever twee saint. 

Of course, "twee" is a controversial term. Urban Dictionary, that definitive cultural authority, says it can be derogatory. Marc Spitz, the author of Twee: The Gentle Revolution in Music, Books, Television, Fashion, and Film, loosely defines it as the aesthetic of "a certain type of un-macho/uncool—or anti-macho/anti-cool—thrift store and Internet savvy people." A Flavorwire review of Spitz's book describes Twee as earnestness and nostalgia, relentless optimism with a sharp awareness of darkness, a love of beauty and a glorification of innocence.  

Which, on reflection, might share a lot of the qualities of deeply spiritual Catholicism: faith in a fallen world, remembrance of the time of Jesus, hope for future salvation. This marketing campaign seems to embrace the aesthetic overlap between these two seemingly divergent cultures.

And behold: A cartoon Ignatius, wearing chunky frames and a spotted bow tie, presenting you, reader, with a balloon and a cupcake. In my opinion, this is the best combination of the features available in the "DIY Iggy!" section of the campaign's website, which allows users to adorn the saint with a kerchief, a steaming cup of coffee, a singing bird, a construction hat, Beats-esque headphones, and/or a fake mustache to go on top of his "real" cartoon mustache, among other things. 

Loyola Press

Although "find your inner Iggy" is actually a three-year-old campaign, this iteration is remarkably Internet-savvy: The colors are trendy-looking, the interactive features are imminently shareable, and there are even GIFs. The purpose of this, said Judine O'Shea, the director of marketing at Loyola Press, is to help people feel connected to the saint's teachings.

"We chose a fairly simple, straightforward, very friendly design, because our effort is to spread Ignatian spirituality," O'Shea said. The publishing house is a not-for-profit organization owned by the Chicago Province of the Society of Jesus; its mission is to help people "find God in all things and develop a deep, personal relationship with Christ."

It does this within a very specific spiritual tradition. "The [Jesuit] order was founded to be a lived faith, in the streets, not in the monastery," O'Shea said. That's the rationale behind the construction worker's hat, the bowtie, etc.: "All the accouterments that you would see him have are simply things you would find in the world."

Even though "Iggy's" fashion choices are culturally interesting, they're not actually the point of the campaign—there are also blog posts about Ignatian spirituality and links to information about Ignatius's life. And even though the aesthetics of the site and accompanying social-media campaign seem overwhelmingly Millennial and web-y, it's not targeted at any specific group, O'Shea says. "It’s aimed at anyone who is interested in Ignatian spirituality."

It's an effort to connect people to a faith that's of the world, not above it—Iggy Azalea jokes, trendy glasses, and all.

 

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Emma Green is the assistant managing editor of TheAtlantic.com, where she also oversees the National Channel and writes about religion and culture.

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