Peculiar Portrayals: Mormons on the Page, Stage, and Screen

Peculiar Portrayals: Mormons on the Page, Stage, and Screen

Peculiar Portrayals: Mormons on the Page, Stage, and Screen

Peculiar Portrayals: Mormons on the Page, Stage, and Screen

Synopsis

In a time when Mormons appear to have larger roles in everything from political conflict to television shows and when Mormon-related topics seem to show up more frequently in the news, eight scholars take a close look at Mormonism in popular media: film, television, theater, and books.

Some contributors examine specific works, including the Tony-winning play Angels in America, the hit TV series Big Love, and the bestselling books Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith and The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint. Others consider the phenomena of Mormon cinema and Mormon fiction; the use of the Mormon missionary as a stock character in films; and the noticeably prominent presence of Mormons in reality television shows.

Excerpt

Although always an object of both popular and scholarly curiosity, Mormons and Mormonism have seen increasing scrutiny during the previous decade. For example, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) understandably used the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics as a pretext to mount an extensive public-relations campaign that capitalized on the extensive media attention that Olympic host cities typically receive. in spite of a bribery scandal, this effort was largely successful, resulting in generally positive stories on television and in newspapers and magazines.

Unfortunately for the church, however, the media have also reported stories that do not present Mormons in the best light, like the 2008 raid on the polygamist compound at the Yearning for Zion ranch in Texas. and while the ranch was the property of fundamentalist Mormons who have no ties to the lds Church, the full implications of that distinction were probably lost on many viewers and readers. Indeed, it is possible that the frequent repetition of the lack of connection between Warren Jeffs’s church and the one headquartered in Salt Lake City by a dutiful and risk-averse media actually intensified the popular connection between polygamy and mainstream Mormonism. One could not, say, watch the pioneer-dress-wearing yfz mothers who appeared on Larry King Live to plead for the return of their children without being reminded of the history that all Mormons share.

Participation in politics by individual Mormons, as well as the institutional lds Church, has also generated media coverage and increased scrutiny. That coverage has generally aligned Mormons and Mormonism with the Right in America, Harry Reid notwithstanding. the tearfully partisan Glenn Beck is not the only prominent Mormon on the right. the media has not always presented the church or its members as polarizing figures. Mitt Romney’s failed, but highly visible, bid for the Republican presidential nomination—as well as his quieter, but equally unsuccessful, bid to be John McCain’s running mate—generated a great deal of press coverage. While some of that attention added to the “will America vote for a Mormon?” meme, much of it stressed the attractiveness of the putatively moderate former Republican governor of heavily Democratic . . .

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