Jana Riess – From Pariah to Model Minority: Mormonism in Popular Culture
In opening scene of 2003 South Park “All about Mormons” it told of a new student who was a squeaky clean and active youth. It mocks and praises us. It also ridicules our story about Joseph Smith, angels as ancient Indians, etc.
Routinely shows us as tolerable, as a good people, but are scorned for theology. We’ve gone from vile debauchers to upright knights in shining armor.
Cosmopolitan in Mar 1911 attacked Church w/polygamy, slimy and its influence spreading.
Economist Mar 2011 – what is more American than Mormons? Church spokesman says, “we’re prepared not to be defined by others anymore.”
Fascination with Mormon sexuality, Suspicion against its power, and assimilation into mainstream.
Since 1990s, Mormons have turned to media for self expression.
Mormon Sexuality – shows political cartoons from early 1900s. Joke about polygamy, while others warn about dangers. 1887 Life magazine cover shows woman protecting home from polygamy. Cartoons compared Mormonism with Islam and harems.
Plays, novels, etc., condemned polygamy. Much of it written by women. Women were being made play things and slaves. Many novels talk about men joining Church and dragging their families along. Man starts getting ever younger wives, who mistreat the first wife. Usually, the first wife ends up dying from some terrible disease.
Madame LaTour and Elder Northfield’s Home are two anti-Mormon novels. Such fiction sold well. Madame LaTour sold 100,000 copies.
One Civil War cartoon shows women marching to war, holding high their babies, while the men crouch behind the wives. Women are buxomy, suggesting open sexuality among Mormons.
Today, Mormons are based as repressed or prudish. Today, 20% of Americans disapprove of premarital sex. 79% of Mormons disapprove of it.
We see shows and movies as Latter Days, Big Love, etc. Mormon Bachelor (web only), of all the good outstanding shows, this is not one of them. The dates are clean and have no sex. It includes discussions of life goals, missionary talks, and discussion of temple marriage. The minority explains its distinctions and disparities from the main culture.
Emma Watson commended by Mormons for being modest. Mormons “modest is hottest” movement, but promotes women sexualization because it focuses on a modest dress. (M* discussion on this, remember?).
BYU student exed for shirtless former missionaries calendar. OTOH, we have Twilight, which talks about abstinence. Deseret stopped carrying them from complaints they were to steamy.
Hannah in the book Wonder Boys is a talented Mormon. In film version, Mormon affiliation was cut, and Hannah is sexualized.
Over a century after polygamy ended, it still is a leading issue. Most magazines have discussed polygamy, even though Mitt never has been one, and dislikes it. Cartoon where Mitt asks Newt Gingrich, “What’s your position on polygamy?”
Show Sister Wives and other shows promote concept of polygamy, but de-sexualizes polygamy. One of the biggest events on the show was when one wife said things were going well, and another said, “bull crap!”
Popular media showed Mormons of sexually promiscuous in 19th century, and now we are prudish. They’ve gone from satyrs to saints.
Suspicions of LDS institution’s power. Is it legitimately American? Can they be good citizens? Shows cartoon of Brigham Young as octopus, with tentacles spreading out to overcome America.
Angels of America shows Mormonism in good light, play filled with angels and buried texts. Author loved past history, but repulsed by modern conservative institution.
Issues from Reed Smoot to Mitt Romney shows Mormonism as having ascended into control and danger.
Proposition 8 became a rallying point for crying against the Church. Documentary: 8 a Mormon Proposition, clearly had impact on warning against institutions undermining democracy. This obscured Catholics and others’ involvement, to show Mormon action.
Book of Mormon musical. noted as tenderness and blasphemy. Stone and Parker write about missionaries going to Uganda. Plot is Church does not have a monopoly on truth, though Mormonism can help. The only Latter day that matters is tomorrow.
Rise of the Nones are those who have no religious affiliation. 2007 Pew survey showed 17% are Nones. Young Adults are 25%. Anti-Institutionalism is growing.
Growing counter trend is to show regular Mormons as moral exemplars. First was Donnie and Marie Variety Show. Clean music and dance, old fashioned values.
Covey – Seven Habits, and J W Marriott rise up in business in the 1970s and 1980s. Mormons had many top execs in many businesses, based in missionary training and confidence and discipline developed.
Reality TV Mormons are far out of proportionally misrepresented. 7th season of Survivor had 2 finalists. So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing with Stars commonly have Mormons. Mormons like popularity contests. When Derek Hough shows his number, Mormons pick up the phone to vote.
2007, show House had black Mormon who challenged stereotypes of Mormons. Frazier fires agent, and new Mormon agent who dresses in boy scout uniform may be too ethical.
Slate 2009, states “Mormonism is an American religion. In 19th century we were viewed as an extreme. Now, we have another extreme view. But there is an unease still of Mormons as a model minority. Members are considered great people, while Church is still considered secretive.
What kinds of problems does the Church need to solve to become more mainstream or legitimate? I’m hesitant to prognosticate. Need to deal with question of secrecy as an institution, but also the secrecy Senator Bennett mentioned about the reporter that asked if he wore magic underwear.
What do you think of Mormon tenets not being in keeping with Ryan’s budget not in keeping with helping the poor? Read my blog for personal views. In popular culture, the media has exposed the discrepancy between Catholic bishops agenda and Ryan’s agenda. Not sure if Mormonism is understood right now regarding its position. Mormon practices will not change. Its welfare program is a great PR tool that shows we are not insular. NBC show last month spent 15 minutes on Church welfare.
Define culture and how is American culture changing? Several aspects in cultural products. High culture with barriers to entry (opera, ballet), folk culture. Then regular culture. We are seeing high and folk cultures disappearing. Mormons are known for folk culture that will not disappear that helps make us different. We quilt.
Church’s efforts to direct the media war, who is winning? I am a Mormon campaign is doing lots of good. In terms of exploding misconceptions, the campaign has been effective. What can the Church do to continue on this path? We need to humanize Mormons, and are the people next door. We are not exotic. I live in Cincinnati and give talks, as pastors have learned there are Mormons here.
Is it a problem that our culture is being watered down? Mormonism has changed in our approach to sexuality. I do not think conversion rates are affected by this. Conversion rates are down for religion. I’m researching on how to stem the tide. What are the staying factors? Some results are interesting. Again, we need to humanize it. We need to be careful of growing so fast we lose the people already there, as we see is happening. We need more spiritual events.