Matt Smith's End of the Spectrum

Melbourne-based writer and journalist. Purveyor of finally crafted radio plays. A Muppet of a man.

Selling the Dalai Lama experience

First published on The Punch on 15th June, 2011

The Dalai Lama’s most recent tour of Australia is in full swing, and it’s taken a slightly strange direction this time around. While his 2007 tour treated the Dalai Lama as he should be treated – as a spiritual leader who deserves respect – that tour met with a financial loss, and now it’s all about bums on seats.

Promotion, merchandise, and the media circuit. HHDL (as he’s known to his tweeps on Twitter) seems to be in it for the money, and he’s got the Collingwood AFL guernsey from Harry O’Brien to prove it.

The effort to engage a broader audience has strangely tainted his message, and the most our media can manage is to treat the man like he’s a punchline. Considering he’s trying to promote a series of undersold public lectures, he’s got to take what he can get… but is this really the best that we can give him?

“The Dalai Lama walks into a pizza shop and says to the guy at the counter ‘make me one with everything’.”

The joke from the robotic Karl Stefanovic warranted a blank look from his Holiness, but hey, at least Karl made himself laugh.

With a slight bemusement he’s also appeared on the 7pm Project the same night as St Kilda Schoolgirl Kim Duthie (although credit has to go to Dave Hughes for a respectful interview), and he’s made a guest appearance on Masterchef, – the ‘digital montage’ picture on showing Gary Mehigan eating spaghetti off the top of his head.

In an interview with Melbourne media, he gave answers to questions on Kim Duthie and Ricky Nixon, same-sex marriage and his holiday plans.

The Dalai Lama is an optimistic guy who seems to have a good sense of humour. He’s made an effort to engage new audiences, has nearly two million followers on Twitter and a similar amount of Facebook fans. He looks friendly and inviting, and definitely puts a human touch on a world religion.

All of this makes it seem like he shouldn’t be taken seriously. Even Julia Gillard isn’t granting him some of her valuable time, his Holiness isn’t worth the resulting frown from China.

Counter that with the leader of the Catholic church, Pope Benedict XVI. If the Pope visited  Australia, there’d be no invitation to appear on the 7pm Project. He wouldn’t be asked to perform a loaves and fishes style miracle on Masterchef.

I’m not even sure that Karl Stefanovic would dare to make a comparison between Benedict XVI and Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars, let alone ask him how many Bishops it takes to screw in a lightbulb – he’s the leader of a world religion, and you’re on a national television show. He warrants some respect as a result; it just isn’t done.

Those hoping to get a brush with his Holiness can benefit from all this though – there’s teaching sessions and talks. There’s a $5000 premium package which includes a photo opportunity. There’s a line of merchandise available, including t-shirts (one would hope brandishing the slogan ‘I saw the Dalai Lama and all I got was this lousy t-shirt’).

The minute you start promoting yourself like a rockstar on tour, you’re losing the impact of the message you’re trying to spread. We’re not at the point of his tour having corporate sponsorship, but a slogan like ‘The Dalai Lama is bought to you by TruEnergy, for that enlightening experience, day or night’ can’t be that far away.

Let’s just hope that his message of peace and harmony, of ‘be excellent to each other’, isn’t lost in the process.


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This entry was posted on July 6, 2011 by in entertainment, religion and tagged , , , , , , .
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