Culture Amid Change

A packet of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups
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You know the commercial. One person is walking down the street eating a chocolate bar. Another approaches from the opposite direction eating peatnut butter. They collide. “Hey, you got chocolate in my peanut butter…”

I was just a child when that commercial came out. My understanding is that before these Reeses Peanut Butter Cups commercials came along, the idea of mixing peanut butter and chocolate together seemed odd, if not kind of gross, to most people. It is true that many chocolate bars had nuts in them at the time, and you could certainly buy chocolate covered peanuts. But somehow it took these commercials to change the cultural perception of the mix.

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately, depending on your viewpoint), this kind of cultural change isn’t that easy to accomplish. It turns out that Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups were invented in 1928, and it took until the 1970s and this commercial for them to gain widespread acceptance.

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While Mormon culture has had some similar things come along (think CTR rings, for example), the way these changes seem to happen isn’t as straightforward or under the control of promoters. We don’t have mass media to speak of, so there isn’t a way to get a new cultural idea out for even most English-speaking members in the U.S.

Normally, from what I’ve observed, cultures seem to change slowly, drifting along as pushed by the eddies of a multitude of small influences. Occasionally, larger tides come along to influence the direction of culture. These larger influences come from things like technology, other cultures, and, very occasionally, promotion.

The Mormon subculture in the U.S. also drifts along this way, with the influence of the broader U.S. culture perhaps the most influential force. But as for large influences, I think we basically have one: General Conference. A large part of new cultural ideas accepted by Mormons originated in General Conference. We’ve been told “Lengthen your Stride,” and have been taught the six b’s, along with a host of other ideas that became popular in Mormon culture, all from what was said in General Conference.

For those of us who would like to see some improvements in Mormon culture, the lack of another venue, one more suited to commercial and non-doctrinal messages is a significant stumbling bock. Change seems almost impossible without such a venue or venues.

I suppose I could always hope for some new General Authority to suggest in Conference that just because members should avoid sex, violence, and drugs in their entertainment doesn’t mean they must put up with insipid story lines and an unrealistic portrayal of evil. But I don’t think I’ll keep my hope in such an unlikely occurance up too much.

Instead, what should we do? What steps can we take to improve Mormon culture?

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43 thoughts on “Culture Amid Change”

  1. Very interesting thoughts, Kent. When you say–

    I suppose I could always hope for some new General Authority to suggest in Conference that just because members should avoid sex, violence, and drugs in their entertainment doesn’t mean they must put up with insipid story lines and an unrealistic portrayal of evil. But I don’t think I’ll keep my hope in such an unlikely occurance up too much.

    –I think of the fact that General Conference is directed to such a diverse audience now that for General Authorities to speak to exceptions, especially like those you point out, would, I think, lead to a sense of anomie in some and permissiveness in others. Some people just aren’t ready to pick up the slack in their personal decision making that such a “loosening of restrictions” creates. Imagine what would happen, for instance, if some Apostle said that not all rated-R movies are spiritually harmful or that they need not be harmful to everyone.

    As for your questions–

    Instead, what should we do? What steps can we stake to improve Mormon culture?

    –I think we’re participating in one thing right now. You cite such things as technology and promotion as factors central to the creation or instigation of cultural change. The Internet, and I’m thinking especially of blogging and online discussion forums, has definitely changed the shape of American, even world culture, though I haven’t done enough research to point to specifics. I do know that the accessibility of knowledge provided on the Web has influenced me deeply. I earned my master’s degree through a fully accredited, intensive online program (still waiting for an online doctorate, though. In some ways, that would be nice). Through National University’s library, I had access to millions of journal articles and digital books through which I could augment my studies and pursue my own research interests.

    This decentralization of knowledge (and hence of power) and the resulting decentralized, uncorrelated discussions on everything plays a key role, I believe, in instigating change, including and especially in Mormonism. Elder Ballard points to this in his talk given at BYU Hawaii’s Fall 2007 commencement and reprinted in July’s Ensign in which he encouraged graduates to use new media to support the work of the Church. Such blogging among the Saints, though still in its relative infancy, may just give rise to Internet Mormonism and everything that may imply (though I don’t know how sacrament meeting would work interface to interface). This may not go as far as William explored in his short cyberpunk story posted last week, but I see it facilitating change on numerous levels, beginning with in Saints’ personal lives and fanning out to Mormon culture from there.

    With the impossibility of regulating and keeping track of these sites, however, it becomes difficult to know what kinds of change this will bring about. Will it lead to greater cohesion among members or be a divisive factor? I, for one, don’t know. But these are questions I’m extremely interested in pursuing.

  2. I just noticed a typographical slip in your thoughts that serendipitously brought something else to mind. Instead of “what steps can we take” you say “what steps can we stake“. Considering the injunction repeated throughout the scriptures that we “strengthen [the] stakes” and enlarge the borders of Zion, I pictured each personal website as a stake holding down and expanding the tent (a representation, as Nibley has it, of the Universe) of Mormonism. So how do we strengthen these stakes and, in the process, strengthen and enlarge our cultural witness of God?

    Anyway…thanks for the slip…I guess…

  3. This is peripherally related to the subject, and touches upon previous posts (specifically the ones about translation), so I thought I’d make note of it here. Mormons aren’t the only ones who worry about the permeability of their cultural boundaries.

    Kalima was founded last year by the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture & Heritage, and is based on a simple premise: Most great works of world literature are currently not available in Arabic, making them inaccessible to most readers in the Arab world.

  4. The culture needs to independently acknowledge that there really is a Mormon culture, not just a religious sub-culture in America.

    We need to establish ongoing public opportunities for celebrating the culture that are in no way affiliated with the formal church organization. By this, I mean that we need to start festivals, celebrations, concerts, media events, lecture series, food events, and other related public phenomena.

    Until that happens, Mormon culture will never stand on its own, apart from the formal church. We, like little sheep, sit around and wait to take our cue from the church to produce the mega-opportunities (things like EFY, Education Week, the pageants) or the state (Days of 47). Instead, we should be out there producing major events/opportunities with a national/international reach.

    Groups like the Mormon Arts Foundation and others who already do this sort of thing and I believe their efforts are “most excellent.” But I think that the scope of these things needs to be huge, inclusive, and appeal to a mass audience.

    Someone needs to buck up the courage and begin to put some major cultural functions together. My secret fantasy is to someday put together the Mormon Festival of Song (MoroniPalooza?), an event that is heavily focused on performance, but also includes food, art, etc. Produced by Mormons, but meant for anyone who is interested.

  5. Though this isn’t something we can do, church magazines must start publishing fiction again on a regular basis (including contests and all-fiction issues). Yes, I know why they stopped. Because somebody, somewhere is going to get upset by something. It’s always easier to play it safe. Because people on the Correlation Committee don’t “get” fiction (what a New Era editor told me). But I think it highly revealing that Christian publications that compete in the same demographic space as The New Era (for example), publish lots of fiction. They know that you can’t compete with something with nothing.

  6. Another thing that could be done is to encourage music in sacrament meeting that is not from the hymnal. I remember when we were regularly treated to various musicians in the ward playing good music on whatever instrument they played–and never hymns or arrangements of hymns. Classical or specially composed music.

    I don’t understand how a leadership that exhorts us to magnify our talents won’t let us do that in sacrament meeting or in church publications.

  7. Tyler (1 & 2):

    You are correct that the GAs are unlikely to make much dilution of the message against R-rated movies, pornography and other unacceptable materials. But I’m not sure that I see my suggestion as diluting that message — the idea of my suggested statement is to maintain those standards while pointing out that LDS readers seem to be settling for such poor quality in the pursuit of that goal.

    As for the role of the Internet, I wish it was having the impact we would all like it to have, even among English-speaking active LDS Church members. Let me call your attention to my experience with this issue (found at the beginning of the post New Words of Mormon). Unfortunately, for most LDS Church members, the Internet represents a place to find LDS.org and perhaps Deseretbook.com. They don’t know what the bloggernacle is. I’d be surprised if more than 10,000 members have each read more than a single post in the bloggernacle. We just don’t have much of an audience for these efforts yet.

    [Oh, btw, I did correct my typo in the post. But your riff on it is great. Perhaps you should write the definiton for the word Stake on Mormon Terms? ]

  8. Eugene:

    This is peripherally related to the subject, and touches upon previous posts (specifically the ones about translation), so I thought I’d make note of it here. Mormons aren’t the only ones who worry about the permeability of their cultural boundaries.

    This is indeed fascinating. Of course, there are also efforts in reverse — many governments around the world subsidize efforts to translate works from their language and culture into other languages (see this page for what Portugal offers. Other European countries also do this). And my own project, Mormon Translation is also an effort in this direction.

    But, your post also makes me wonder if we shouldn’t be doing something in the other direction. Perhaps we should be searching for worthy literature from other cultures and “translating” them into the Mormon cultural sphere? [I know of a few attempts at this, and, IMO, they’ve been generally unsuccessful.]

  9. Bradly:

    Amen.

    I like the MoroniPalooza idea. I know a whole city’s worth of Mormon performers here (NYC) who would largely be interested.

    You are right that too often we take a passive approach to this, waiting for the hierarchy to act. I’ve worked with two local groups trying to do a little of this (the Mormon Artists Group and the New York LDS History Committee) and while these groups aren’t quite shooting for the moon as you suggest, they also largely have not waited for the local hierarchy to drive the agenda.

    Tyler and Laura’s project Reading Until Dawn”>Reading Until Dawn may also fit a bit of what you are talking about, although again perhaps not in the scope you are talking about.

    Regardless, this is an area where a lot more could be done.

  10. William (7) (and also to Mark (5)):

    I’ve found the “counterculture not subculture” idea a bit haunting since you wrote it here. I think it is very true, at least in part, although I’m scared that many Mormons will read it as a justification for more beating of (what appear to me to be) largely dead political horses like gay marriage and abortion (has anyone in the US not made up their minds on these issues? are the efforts being made getting anywhere? convincing anyone?)

    But assuming you aren’t necessarily talking about political issues, I’d love to have more specific ideas (you too, Mark — how do you want us to participate?). Are we to become activist gadflies about American culture? And if so, is our agenda set by what we hear in General Conference? If not, where do we get our agenda or how do we figure out what it is?

  11. Kent:

    I think the efforts you speak of are exactly the the kind required, in addition to larger-scale opportunities. I was speaking from the personal perspective of having, for eight years, put together one of Utah’s largest arts celebrations. I tend to think about this stuff from this broader view, but I did mean to include any independent opportunity of any size as well.

    We also need to think about these opportunities from a long-term perspective, establishing a tradition. Meaning to say that when we create these independent “hinges” we ought to try and ensure that we make something more than a “one-off” event, we should build recurring opportunities.

  12. Mojo:

    I have to disagree with your point about the kind of music allowed in sacrament meeting. We should only be listening to and singing music that is deeply sacred in nature and that which generates the highest resolution of the Spirit of God.

    I am afraid to say that a nice little string sextet by Mozart or a chorale from a Bach cantata just is not going to achieve the purposes of a sacred LDS worship service. Now, that is not to say that these kinds of pieces do not invoke the Spirit on some level, nor inspire goodness in those who experience it.

    Not in sacrament meeting. Now, we ought to be including good music in other types of events that we produce within the church: talent nights and such. But, as far as sacrament meeting go, the music must be strictly sacred in design, and therefored largely must be based in hymn form.

  13. But, as far as sacrament meeting go, the music must be strictly sacred in design, and therefored largely must be based in hymn form.

    Why?

    You do realize, of course, that most of what J.S. Bach wrote was for the church, no?

    Do you know the story of how Messiah came to be written?

    I am not proposing that someone take advantage of the occasion to sing an aria from Carmina Burana nor shake things up with a little Bizet or Ravel.

    But I fail to see how hymns alone can invoke the spirit, particularly when they’re consistently butchered.

    And as to that, the most deeply moving hymn ever, Amazing Grace is not in our hymnal. Why?

  14. And I would like to add to that that I never feel the Lord’s comforting presence so deep in my soul as when I am listening to Handel’s Messiah. Not in church, not in the temple

  15. Being a music historian and music performance theorist by training, I do realize that JS Bach was a church composer, as have many other of the great composers throughout history: Charles Villiers Stanford, Herbert Howells, Cesar Franck, Olivier Messiaen, Joseph Jongen, etc. I have heard performances of their works with rapture and have felt SOME MEASURE of the Spirit of God flowing through all of those pieces. I have no doubt that many of their works for the church are inspired of God, are uplifting, and most certainly inspire the listener to a better life. No question.

    I am also very much aware of the making of the Messiah, though I believe a lot more has been made out that story than ought to be. But again, no question that its inspiration is of the heavens. I, too, have felt the deeply comforting presence that you speak of in my own soul.

    I also want to be clear about something. I do not believe that hymns alone are the only kind of music allowable in Sacrament Meeting. However, I do believe that the hymn form should take up a large measue of the music we hear in these meetings. Here’s why:

    I think we can all agree that the purpose of Sacrament Meeting is to renew our covenants with our Father in Heaven, to remember the sacrifice of the Savior, and to take his name upon ourselves for another week. I think you will also agree that after we have renewed our covenant and partaken of the sacrament, that we are to worship our Heavenly Father through sacred instruction (in both words and music).

    The greatest instructor available to us is the Spirit of God. It teaches us, sanctifies us, and renews us in a way that no other force on earth can. So, I think you will hopefully agree that the Spirit of God should be as strong as possible (its highest resolution) during Sacrament Meeting.

    As we have been repeatedly told through revelation, one of the best ways to have an increase of the Spirit is through the use of deeply sacred music that relates directly to the revealed Gospel of Jesus Christ. And the thing that calls the Spirit into a meeting with great force are words and symbols that speak truth in its purest form, combined with music. The “correct” truth that is only available through the revealed Gospel.

    This means, then, that while hundreds of church composers have written wonderful sacred pieces of music that do call upon the Spirit of God, their music will not have the same measure of the Spirit as a piece that directly speaks about the revealed Gospel. I have examined the texts of many sacred works and I have found many that are doctrinally correct, and many that are nowhere near. But, rarely do any use that very specific language required to call the Spirit forth in its strongest measure, in its closest relationship to the revealed Gospel.

    Now, as to the form and the reason why I beleive the hymn form is what ought to dominate our meetings. Hymns are constructed in simple musical phrases, conforming to the poetic structure of the words, which are intended to directly teach the congregation specific principles of the Gospel.

    Generally speaking, there is usually one note for each word of the text, with no ornamentation in the accompaniment whatsoever. (there are exceptions to this, of course). In other words, hymns are very powerful sermons, enhanced by the incredibly simple music that accompanies them. So, while the congregation is singing the hymn, their minds are drawn to the words and are not distracted by ornamentation or complex orchestrations.

    The moment that a piece of music moves away from this format – simple, direct, instructive – and begins to add counterpoint, descant, complex harmonics, and other developmental techniques, the congregation’s attention is turned from the Spirit and the instructive purposes of the music and suddenly you have a performance that is more about technical ability than about increasing that measure of the Spirit.

    These are my reasons why we need to stick largely to the simplest format for worship and instruction in Sacrament Meeting. It is also the reason why we ought to be very careful about which forms we allow to be performed, and by what types of instruments. Especially pop tunes masquerading as sacred music.

    Remember that the Spirit is extremely sensitive to distraction of any kind. The minute any sort of distractions become present where the Spirit is present, its power diminishes and so does its ability to instruct.

  16. Bradly, thank you for your thoughtful answer. Several things have occurred to me at once, so please forgive any rambling:

    1. I understand the concept of simplicity, no distractions, no ornamentation. Our church buildings reflect that and so now that you say that, I can see the parallel.

    2. You say:

    I have heard performances of their works with rapture and have felt SOME MEASURE of the Spirit of God flowing through all of those pieces.

    I can’t relate to this, and I apologize for being blunt, but…SOME MEASURE? I find that damning with faint praise. Obviously, how you and I experience music will be different, but I personally cannot imagine not being completely filled with the Spirit when listening to the composers/works I’ve mentioned.

    3. I guess I don’t understand how you’re defining “hymn form.” The hymn itself or an arrangement of a hymn with, ah, ornamentation and distraction.

    You say you do not “believe that hymns alone are the only kind of music allowable in Sacrament Meeting,” and that “the hymn form is what ought to dominate our meetings,” but what’s left? What is this “hymn form” that would be an allowable variation to you?

    4. You say:

    …the hymn form is what ought to dominate our meetings.

    I am talking about exclusivity. We have one standard SM agenda with one variation:

    Opening hymn (occasionally bracing, usually solemn),

    sacrament hymn (to be chosen from between hymns #169 and 184, always very solemn),

    and closing hymn (sometimes fairly bracing, but again, mostly solemn).

    The variation is a “rest hymn” or choir performance of a hymn (or arrangement with, ah, ornamentation and distraction), usually between the second and third speakers.

    (I can only speak to my ward, but a rest hymn occurs maybe once a month and right now we don’t have a choir.)

    In my opinion, there is nothing to be lost and much to be gained by exploring other works in the “rest” period. The frequency (or lack thereof) is the default barrier to overindulgence in that respect.

    5.

    The “correct” truth that is only available through the revealed Gospel.

    That doesn’t make “Amazing Grace” any less correct or applicable to the revealed Gospel just because it’s not in our hymnbook. (For example.)

    6. Lastly, I must heartily agree with you re the pop tunes masquerading as sacred music and I’ll go so far as to say even some music by well-known LDS songwriters whose work I find elementary at best, but mostly just cringeworthy.

    So with the caveat of #6, I can also see that the subjective selection of what music (except from the hymnal) gets played and what kind of contention that can create.

    However, I also believe that it is a disservice to those who would like to hear/perform something different once in a while.

    Quite frankly, I’m sick of “I Believe in Christ,” sung by a choir, solo, congregation, with or without ornamentation. There are plenty of other beautiful hymns in the book that are never played, never sung, and go unforgotten. Why are they there taking up paper and ink?

    And lastly, a personal note: I go to Midnight Mass to get what I don’t get in sacrament meeting (especially at Christmas). Perhaps that’s my failing, but I want to feel joy in my worship along with the sacred, yet there’s very little joy in us when we’re being sacred. Actually, I find very little joy in us at all.

  17. A few random thoughts . .

    First, I think we sometimes forget how small the LDS audience is . . just a few million. The sized is insufficient to create a truly viable and vigorous market for Mormon-oriented material. That is why there are so few full-time writers, musicians, etc. — just for an LDS audience. And, may be an explanation of why the quality is mediocre at best. Of course LDS talent does reach a broader audience (Stephenie Meyer, etc) but that is not uniquely Mormon.

    Second, what could improve the quality of LDS-produced material? Probably much. I wonder if we have lost much by the pull-away from all-Church music, debate, sports, etc. competitions.

    Third, I am struck by the discussion on hymns above. It is easy to assume that God has given us a hymnbook with the best possible worship material. And, that is rather shallow. Of course, just given the passage of time and the sheer number of non-Mormon composers and writers, it is highly likely that the best music will be outside our sphere. And, it is. The most uplifting music is not confined to the walls of LDS chapels or within the confines of the hymnbook. Quite the contrary.

    Fourth, do most members even care how vacuous much of our material is? I can cite a long list of bad material: Saturday’s Warrior, a zillion different books, lots of sugary, sappy pop music, etc. It is really hard to name quality material. Yet, most seem content. Maybe it is just not that big a deal to most in the LDS community. And, that would be a bit sad.

  18. Mojo:

    Thanks for your response. I felt perhaps that my first comment was a little short and needed some explanation so that you did not feel as though I was dismissing your ideas.

    I hope you will permit a few more comments from me about your last response:

    1) I often attend musical services in other faiths, and have my whole life. I completely understand why you do this. I was in Portugal last year and attended Mass in a cathedral there. What an inspiring experience it was, one I shall treasure my whole life. Spiritual, meaningful, and wonderful in every. Perhaps my most treasured memory of this type of experience is from years ago. I was in Helsinki and slipped into the Orthodox Cathedral there on a Sunday evening. I was moved to tears by the experience. That is one of those lifetime hallmark experiences with sacred music. So, I completely understand why you attend such services and what you get from them.

    2. I understand why the repetitions get a little boring to you. We are definitely creatures of habit and I think it is sometimes just easier for the leadership to rely on the old standards. Part of the challenge is getting someone in the music leadership positions in the stakes and wards who can inspire the choristers to actually vary the kinds of things sung in SM and to teach the ward new music from the hymnal. I have only ever been in one ward where the chorister took a strong role and spent a great deal of effort getting the ward to learn new hymns. It definitely made the SM experience much more interesting. Am with you on the boredom factor.

    3. Response to your #5. I believe there are many hymns that could be in our hymnal that just aren’t, for any number of reasons. I also hope that at some point we will have composers who write new hymns that will be learned and performed in SM as well as other sacred meetings. Where are they? This is a church with amazing amounts of talent in music. We ought to be composing new hymns all the time and bringing them into our sacred moments.

    4. Response to #3 & #4. By dominate, I simply mean that hymns ought to be the music performed most often. I think we could also include sacred songs and sacred instrumental pieces, but very very carefully include them. I did not mean to suggest that we exclusively perform hymns. Other musical structures can provide the same level of spiritual resolution as well.

    3. Response to #2. When I used the term “SOME MEASURE,” I was not just referring to my experiences with Messiah and JS Bach. I was speaking about my own collective experience with every kind of sacred music. And meant to say that the presence and power of the Spirit has varied with each experience, depending on the language employed by the composer that potentially calls the Spirit forth and the performance itself.

    4. On the subject of Messiah, I will say that I have had one really powerful experience where the Spirit was present in full force. I have had others where, well, not so much. One of the problems with some choirs and orchestras is that they can forget that it is intended to be a sacred experience. They blast away at the work like it is some massive Mahlerian symphonic monster, and absolutely drive the Spirit out of the room.

    It is actually a very quiet piece with a soft spirit and very gentle tones (even the Hallelujah Chorus). Our modern versions of orchestras and choirs have gotten so large and tend to treat this work as though it is a BIG romantic beast.

    One of these years, I would like to hear it live, as it was originally intended to be performed; with a true cathedral choir and a chamber-sized orchestra. If you want to hear a truly amazing recording of the work as Handel originally imagined, pick up the Academy of Ancient Music with Christopher Hogwood conducting. You will be in very a real treat. Though it may sound a little foreign at first, it will give you a real sense of what Handel was thinking when he put the piece together.

  19. Institutions like Churches tend to want to preserve the status-quo. I would not hold my breath waiting for some cultural shift to come from General Conference.

    Cultural change comes through the general population, often starting with small groups of like minded individuals. Whether or not you think Stephenie Meyer is a serious writer, she has opened a door creating a cultural change in how we as artists of the LDS faith are perceived I have not read her books since I don’t read non-fiction and I’m not a teenage girl but my understanding is her books indirectly reflect a Mormon sensibility She may be just a pop writer but the Beatles started with “I Want To Hold your Hand” and became an important factor in a world wide cultural revolution.

  20. Steve (22):

    First, I think we sometimes forget how small the LDS audience is . . just a few million. The sized is insufficient to create a truly viable and vigorous market for Mormon-oriented material.

    I very much disagree. Yes, the market is just a few million members. But, that is enough with today’s technologies.

    I’ve said this before several times in posts here on Motley Vision — the problem is distribution, NOT market size.

    Second, what could improve the quality of LDS-produced material? Probably much. I wonder if we have lost much by the pull-away from all-Church music, debate, sports, etc. competitions.

    I do like this implication. I think the main reason that the Church cut out these competition was the logistics and transportation costs. (Although I’m sure many leaders and members didn’t care much for the emphasis on beating the competition.)

    But I do think that such competitions can have a significant impact on quality.

    Fourth, do most members even care how vacuous much of our material is? I can cite a long list of bad material: Saturday’s Warrior, a zillion different books, lots of sugary, sappy pop music, etc. It is really hard to name quality material. Yet, most seem content. Maybe it is just not that big a deal to most in the LDS community. And, that would be a bit sad.

    Please consider my post from June 2006, What Bad Mormon Literature Do We Need?. Believe it or not, there is a role for this “poor quality” Mormon material.

  21. Larry (25):

    Institutions like Churches tend to want to preserve the status-quo. I would not hold my breath waiting for some cultural shift to come from General Conference.

    Short of Th.’s impossible suggestion, I don’t think the kind of cultural change we would like will come from there (but there WILL be some cultural changes from General Conference — there almost always are).

    Cultural change comes through the general population, often starting with small groups of like minded individuals.

    Well, that is ONE source of cultural change. The example I gave at the beginning of the post — Reeses Peanut Butter Cups, is another (i.e., commercial efforts). There are also “imported” changes from other cultures and probably other ways that I’m not thinking of at the moment.

    Let’s not assume that there is only one option open to us.

    Whether or not you think Stephenie Meyer is a serious writer, she has opened a door creating a cultural change in how we as artists of the LDS faith are perceived

    I’m not sure this is true. In retrospect, I think many of us assumed the same thing from the success of Orson Scott Card, whose work was infused much more with Mormonisms than Meyer’s work is. But, in the long term, I haven’t seen more interest in a Mormon perspective as a result of Card’s work.

    I have not read her books since I don’t read non-fiction and I’m not a teenage girl

    I assume you meant to say that you don’t read fiction, right?

    but my understanding is her books indirectly reflect a Mormon sensibility

    Really? I’m in a similar boat. While I do read fiction, I haven’t read Meyer, and I’m not likely to anytime soon — nor do I think I’m quite the target market for her books.

    But what I’ve heard and read about her books makes me think that the only thing Mormon about her books is that they generally (at least before the latest volume) don’t include the sex and/or violence of similar books. Again, I’d have to say that many of Card’s books have much more Mormonism in them.

    If your thesis is true, why haven’t we seen the attention you predict from Card’s work?

  22. You are correct, I don’t read fiction. My mistake.

    Being new at the business of creating a new Mormon culture and not yet having enough information, I cant answer your question with out asking a few questions first.

    1. Has any of Orson Scott Card’s books been made into a major motion picture?
    2. Has Card’s fan base created a tourism and economic boom for a dying town. ( see: Meyer’s fans and Forks, Washington.)
    3. Is it possible that Orson Scott Card opened the door and changed the culture enough for Stephenie Meyer and other LDS fantasy writers to find a market? If so, would it be an LDS driven market or a national market?

  23. Larry (28):

    It sounds like you are saying that you aren’t familiar with Card.

    1. There have been repeated efforts to get Card’s best-known novel made as a film, and Card himself has written at least one screenplay of the book, Ender’s Game. Given that Ender’s Game is science fiction and tremendously more complicated to film than Meyer’s work (because of special effects requirements, if nothing else). So, its probably not quite fair to compare the two authors.

    2. I’m not aware of this phenomenon, nor am I sure how it would be relevant, if true.

    3. I doubt it. The two authors act in very different genres. I doubt most readers of Meyers work have even heard Card’s name, let alone read any of his work.

    Larry, you seem to be trying to compare these two authors to try and prove the idea that Meyers’ work will make a difference in how work by other Mormons is perceived. Others may disagree with me, but I don’t think two authors in two separate disciplines are likely to make a large difference. If some difference happens, it will have to happen over decades and probably involve dozens of authors.

    I won’t dispute that Meyer has been very popular in the past few years. She probably has had a modest positive effect for Mormon culture. But the effect of her work alone isn’t going to lead any kind of cultural change inside or outside of Mormonism.

    And, more importantly, I think it is very early to decide whether or not Meyer has much of a lasting impact. Ask me again 20 years after she first hit the best seller lists. That’s where we are with Card. More than 20 years after winning both of Science Fiction’s largest awards–twice, in succeeding years–it is clear that he has had a significant impact on Science Fiction. But I don’t think he has had a significant impact on Mormon culture or on the perception of Mormons by his readers.

  24. I think the main reason that the Church cut out these competition was the logistics and transportation costs.

    Insurance. It only takes one lawsuit…

    Larry: …but my understanding is her books indirectly reflect a Mormon sensibility…

    Kent: …But what I’ve heard and read about her books makes me think that the only thing Mormon about her books is that they generally (at least before the latest volume) don’t include the sex and/or violence of similar books.

    I have read Twilight. It reads like a sheltered small-town LDS girl’s fantasy (you know, the one who doesn’t know that vampire = sex). The only thing intrinsically MORMON about it is that if you’re LDS, you can spot the linguistic patterns and the peculiar personality quirks you find in freshmen coeds at BYU.

    What she wrote is a treatise on a Dom/sub relationship that, traced back to its roots, could reflect the underlying patriarchy of the church [i.e., the priesthood as Dom and the…uh…counterpart (if there were one) as sub]. It’s my belief she doesn’t realize this.

    Re Card v Meyer and the movies.

    Twilight READS like a movie. It’s very loose, very translatable to film. There are no subplots, very little detail, very little layering or characterization and CERTAINLY nothing on the order of Harry Potter.

    Larry, you seem to be trying to compare these two authors to try and prove the idea that Meyers’ work will make a difference in how work by other Mormons is perceived.

    Oh, but it has. And not positively. That’s not a judgment statement, but then, I’m not going to throw stones at that one, considering what I write…

    Card’s latest contributions to church PR have been his statements on homosexuality. (Also not a judgment on my part).

    But the effect of her work alone isn’t going to lead any kind of cultural change inside or outside of Mormonism.

    Agreed.

    However, I do think that two people discussing the cultural impact of a book(s) neither has read is hilarious.

  25. Bradly, thanks for the response. I understand much better now and I don’t think we’re disagreeing.

    This one point:

    Part of the challenge is getting someone in the music leadership positions in the stakes and wards who can inspire the choristers to actually vary the kinds of things sung in SM and to teach the ward new music from the hymnal.

    In my ward, stake, and a couple of the other stakes around here, the directive to not use other music is handed down from the stake president. My mother is the stake music person and she has to go to the stake president for every ward’s “other music” requests.

  26. Meyer and Card won’t affect church culture because, institutionally, the church doesn’t want to be affected. The firewalls are so hardened that they have the effect of cutting the metaphysical corpus callosum.

    There are actually dozens of best-selling Mormon authors and artists out there in the “gentile” world, and the church is perfectly content for you to never find out who they are (not from the church, that is).

    Meyer’s Mormon identity exists in a different dimension from her books, such that each is viewed as an odd quirk from the perspective of the other. From interviews, it seems to me that Meyer has an equally hard time reconciling the two.

    If a “Mormon” publisher like Zarahemla were to suddenly start producing minor best-sellers on a regular basis (forcing the two halves back together), the resulting existential conflict would be severe and likely quite unpleasant.

  27. I am in no way qualified to compare one writer to another as related to the quality of their work. I would have to rely on the opinion of those in the literary field for a valid comparison of Orson Scott Card to Stephenie Meyers. What I was exploring is can pop cultural properties lead to the consideration of more “serious” cultural endeavors by the audience, patron and/or reader which in turn changes cultural perceptions and acceptances of new ideas. And yes indeed it could take twenty years for a change or it could happen almost over night. Who knows.

  28. Mojo (30):

    “However, I do think that two people discussing the cultural impact of a book(s) neither has read is hilarious.”

    Perhaps. But I don’t think you have to read a book to assess its cultural impact. Cultural impact doesn’t show up in the book itself — it shows up in the broader culture. So its possible to do some assessment without reading the book just by where its impact shows up.

  29. Eugene (33):

    Meyer and Card won’t affect church culture because, institutionally, the church doesn’t want to be affected. The firewalls are so hardened that they have the effect of cutting the metaphysical corpus callosum.

    Well, I think this is a very interesting statement, and I would really like you to explain a bit more what you mean.

    Do you mean that the Church is actively blocking these bestselling authors from becoming known among Church members? Or just that the Church generally ignores commercial success?

    Your comment also implies that the Church somehow controls Mormon culture. My own perception is that this is decidedly not true, although it has a major impact. Doesn’t Mormon culture develop some trends despite what the Church wants?

    There are actually dozens of best-selling Mormon authors and artists out there in the “gentile” world, and the church is perfectly content for you to never find out who they are (not from the church, that is).

    I think we need some lists of authors in this respect. I agree that there are probably more than any of us realize. Besides Card and Meyer, off the top of my head, I think Anne Perry, Dave Wolverton, Steven Covey and Clayton Christensen have all hit the best seller lists. I think Dean Hughes, Louise Plummer and Shannon Hale would also probably be considered best sellers, depending on your definition. I’m positive that there are many more.

    You are right that the Church doesn’t actively trumpet accomplishments of members like this. But in more subtle ways some of these authors do make an impact on Mormon culture. Card, Perry and Covey have all written books for Deseret Book, for example.

    Meyer’s Mormon identity exists in a different dimension from her books, such that each is viewed as an odd quirk from the perspective of the other. From interviews, it seems to me that Meyer has an equally hard time reconciling the two.

    So much for being comfortable in your own skin!

    If a “Mormon” publisher like Zarahemla were to suddenly start producing minor best-sellers on a regular basis (forcing the two halves back together), the resulting existential conflict would be severe and likely quite unpleasant.

    Please explain more what you mean. I can see how such success might cause some ripples, but why would it be so negative?

  30. Kent For the moment, I can think of two:

    Brenda Novak (romantic suspense) and Christine Feehan (paranormal), both hot hot hot in genre romance and neither shy about what they write.

    Cultural impact doesn’t show up in the book itself — it shows up in the broader culture.

    Well, I guess I’m just seriously confused (natch!) as to what’s up for discussion. Are we talking about Meyer v Card impact on MORMON culture or on GENTILE culture or how the impact would somehow…oh…cross-pollinate?

    If we’re talking about gentile culture, I think the end result would be that they simply impact their respective genres: Meyer for YA [little girl (and some grown woman) squee!] and Card for SF/F. I don’t doubt that Card will be more long-lasting, however.

    As for Mormon culture, they’ll both just be perpetually on the “Famous Mormons” lists that get cobbled together because we want our brush with fame.

  31. We haven’t seen the equivalent of a Chaim Potok write a “Mormon” novel widely accepted outside of Mormon circles and recognized inside Mormon circles as such. And for good reason. Mormons want their artists to be “True Scotsmen,” and those who write anything that might disqualify them keep their heads down.

    Considering the few twigs and pebbles thrown my way over a book that 99.99 percent of Mormons haven’t heard of and 99.9999 percent haven’t read, I can only imagine that guys like Dutcher and Labute got really tired of waking up every morning buried under an avalanche. Much easier to walk away.

    One reason renaissances happen is because artists find patrons in the “establishment” willing to vouch for them and deflect the slings and arrows. But that’s not happening here. Let’s get real. If we’re talking about “Mormon culture,” we’ve got to talk about trees falling in forests that people actually hear.

    Just considering fiction writers who have published predominantly in “gentile” presses, I will wager that 90-plus percent of Wasatch Front Mormons haven’t the slightest idea who they are. Or if they know who they are, don’t know they are Mormon, or have the slightest idea what that has to do with their books.

    Meyer and Card are celebrities, but ditto. Sorry, but unless they’ve appeared repeatedly in “sanctioned” publications, their existence doesn’t register as a cultural influence any differently than Steve Young’s. Without The New Era, even Jack Weyland will soon become a Mormon Jeopardy question.

  32. You are exactly right, Eugene, but I believe work like yours is a wonderful start. I hope we look back at this period as the time when things did begin to change.

    My own thought is that this generation of Mormons is different in the sense that there are more kinds of Mormons than ever before. This, if true, creates a more diverse audience (and smaller subsets unfortunately). This audience is finding different ways to negotiate the tension between religion and art/sex/politics and I think at some point something has got to give.

    Zarahemla Books is a step in the right direction and I hope that Bigelow keeps it going with books like yours (although I wish he would quit writing about homosexuality).

    Still, when you write: “I can only imagine that guys like Dutcher and Labute got really tired of waking up every morning buried under an avalanche. Much easier to walk away,” what can I say?

  33. Eugene (38) wrote:

    One reason renaissances happen is because artists find patrons in the “establishment” willing to vouch for them and deflect the slings and arrows. But that’s not happening here. Let’s get real. If we’re talking about “Mormon culture,” we’ve got to talk about trees falling in forests that people actually hear.

    I assume by “establishment” you mean General Authorities, for the most part (and perhaps the Church magazines and Church News in part also).

    I’ve noticed several times that the books cited in General Conference are either, if Mormon, well-known classics written by General Authorities, or non-Mormon books. [I found it odd that Elder Kenneth Johnson cited a (IMO mediocre) poem by Helen Steiner Rice this past Conference when we have so many similar Mormon poets who have expressed similar sentiments.

    Is Eugene correct that we don’t recognize Mormon authors and favor outsiders? Or are we (and most General Authorities also) just ignorant of what we have?

    I guess what I’m asking, Eugene, is if what you see is an actual policy or conscious effort? or if its simply ignorance of the culture?

    It may be that one of the things we need is simply ways of popularizing what we have. Ways of highlighting Mormon expression in the form that can be used in General Conference and elsewhere.

  34. .

    Personal opinion? It’s mostly ignorance.

    But I can imagine that a Mormon poet’s sentiment will seem more canonized than referenced in GC if quoted. No one’s apt to see an apostle as endorsing a gentile poet; the same might not be true with an LDS poet.

    I still think it’s mostly ignorance of what’s out there, however. I mean, hey: I try to lesson my ignorance and I’m still woefully behind.

  35. This isn’t an articulated policy. Rather, it’s the inevitable outcome of any organization as vertically-integrated and proprietary as the corporate church. All bureaucracies behave like bureaucracies, whether it’s a religion or the state board of education.

    Centralized authority also means centralized responsibility, and there are battalions of Mormons who wake up every morning revving the engines of self-righteousness, just waiting for the opportunity to pop the clutch.

    So here we have Correlation, a bunch of well-meaning guys who take their jobs seriously, who are supposed to evaluate what is and is not an “acceptable story” to run in The Friend or The New Era, and, good heavens, but what do they know from fiction?

    Except that if they get it wrong, somebody’s going to complain to his friend the GA, and they’re going to be the ones catching the flak.

    Plus, they suspect the editors are playing tricks on them. And they are. For example, submitting a batch of stories containing a few red herrings the editors have learned Correlation will jump on, hoping that they’ll ignore the stories they actually want to publish.

    At some point, everybody gets tired of the game and gives up. I totally sympathize. That’s what lowest common denominators are for. But deeper down, a much more serious problem with Mormon culture remains.

    Our anthropologist from Outer Space is lecturing on Earth Religions, specifically marriage ceremonies. He’s flipping through his PowerPoint slides: “Here’s a Jewish ceremony. Here’s a Catholic ceremony. Here’s a Shinto ceremony. Oh, here’s another Catholic ceremony.”

    Actually, that last one was a Mormon ceremony. Except that any photograph you take of a Mormon reception is going to look Catholic. The fancier, the more Catholic. Because Mormons can’t talk in detail about one of the most important aspects of their own culture.

    But non/dissident/anti/ex-Mormons can. Not a recipe for cultural success.

  36. Eugene,

    You write that:

    “Mormons can’t talk in detail about one of the most important aspects of their own culture.

    “But non/dissident/anti/ex-Mormons can. Not a recipe for cultural success.”

    You hit it exactly right. But I also believe that in the next ten years so many Mormons will begin to talk about the temple openly. (What’s the big deal anyway?) As a result the institutional side of Mormonism will lose some of that control.

    Another problem with Mormon art is Mormonism’s youth. Cultural shifts take time, but they are always happening. Still, Mormon artists who effect this change will experience loss along the way.

    Still, I remain optimistic. My motto is: They can’t excommunicate everybody.

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