What’s your sign?

(I should warn all of you readers in advance that this is a pretty light post. I’ve just been dying to ask someone this question all day and I couldn’t think of any better group of people to ask than the AMV readers!)

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I was driving to the vacuum store today for a repair when I almost veered off the road because of a bumper sticker. Um, yeah, a bumper sticker. Caught completely off guard, I tailgated the dirty blue Plymouth for at least a block to make sure I was seeing things clearly. I was. There in rip-off bold, black lettering complete with the plump, red heart was, “I *heart* Nauvoo.” As in, “I *heart* NYC”, except, well, Mormon-ed.

Now,I’ve mentioned Mormon-ing before and how fun it is. For about as long as we’ve existed as a cultural group we’ve chosen to interpret things according to our particular belief system–whether it be a popular movie or a literary character or even political events and national disasters (any rumors of Last Days and food storage going around your ward right now?). I can’t think of any greater perk to being involved in Mormon arts than the enjoyment I get from Mormon-ing stuff.

But this bumper sticker struck me as different. Probably because I didn’t exactly recognize that couple driving the car (The husband had a long enough beard that he had tied it with multiple hair ties. I would’ve remembered seeing him at stake conference. The wife looked like someone I’d been introduced to, though.) and because it struck me as a complete rip-off. Maybe there were some sort of witty cultural undertones that I missed that would have legitimized it. Or maybe it’s that the “I *heart* fill-in-the-blank” is so cliche in American culture that it’s filtered into “txt spk” so I shouldn’t have been surprised. But this bumper sticker seemed cheap somehow. Too easy. Too much like the romance/suspense/chicklit novels that make up the bulk of the national market and the knockoffs that make up LDS market. Or the popular, EFY style music that sounds like so many innocuous pop on the radio.

(You’ve seen the missionary version of “Hey There Delilah” and it’s counterpart “Hey BYU Girl” right? The vocals are a little painful, but the lyrics are so stereotypical Mormon it’s worth a listen. And while you’re there check the comments; other Mormons loved these like they love case lot sales!)

The other thing that surprised me was how delighted I was to accidentally come across some other Mormons–even if I wasn’t sure I recognized them. It made me wonder how much time I subconsciously spend looking for signs that other Mormons are doing what I’m doing, reading what I’m reading, thinking what I’m thinking. How much I appreciate the knowing wink in my direction, even if it isn’t all that witty or cool.

I look for the usual tells: a CTR ring, BYU apparel, a “Mormon smile” garment line, or the signature pants-tug-upon-standing. There’s also the age of the mother and the number of kids she has. If a gal is in her twenties and has more than two–and she resembles the kids so I’m sure she’s not the nanny–I figure she’s Mormon and I start looking for other signs. There’s also the way Mormons talk: using expressions like “You have to be kidding me” or “Holy buckets!” (which happens to be my personal favorite) instead of “Oh my G–.” Cullen family apparel seems to be a reliable tell amongst twenty-something Mormon gals, too. Or, if it’s a man in question, the use of euphemisms like “frick” and a proclivity for pairing white button-down shirts with khaki pants at formal events. I’m surprised how much I appreciate these little quirks about our culture and, dorky as they may be, they always make me smile when I come across them.

So I want to know about you all. Do you look for Mormon tells? What signs give away the Mormons you run into? If you could coin a Mormon bumper sticker what would it say? And, perhaps most importantly, what have you Mormon-ed lately?

14 thoughts on “What’s your sign?”

  1. .

    (For the record, the original “Hey There Delilah” was pretty painful too. The first time I heard it I thought, Crap. This is going to be the big song of the summer.)

  2. Since I live in Utah…

    Well, when I walk around neighborhoods I look for Relief Society projects in the windows or on the front lawn. When I go in houses, these and Greg Olsen paintings prominently displayed obvious giveaways. I actually find a lot of temple and Olsen paintings even in the homes of people who haven’t been active for years.

    Also the missionary haircut. They say we’re down to about 20% Mormonity in Utah now, but it sure seems like a lot more just walking the streets.

    I’m sort of in the process of Mormoning the Better Business Bureau right this moment.

  3. Well, I live in Utah Valley right now, so I don’t LOOK I FIND EVERYWHERE. But growing up in Norcal with very few Mormons (you knew who they were) I pretty much assumed nobody was Mormon. In fact, it’s eerie going back. The feeling of assuming most people around are LDS– it’s a hard shift to make, on whatever plane ride or airport I end up in, suddenly seeing people smoke, or swear, or wear sleeveless (gasp) clothing. 🙂

    As to pop-culture fluff… I think it has its place. When I’m sick I don’t want to read Proust. I want a nice, fluffy chick lit novel and a piece of cake. And if I’m really depressed on a Sunday, a nice, warm-fuzzy JKP solo sung by a sweet-voiced adolescent or YW group can get me teary eyed.

    There are things I absolutely love about Mormon Culture, when find myself able to turn off my irony button.

  4. Well, I live in Utah Valley right now, so I don’t LOOK I FIND EVERYWHERE. But growing up in Norcal with very few Mormons (you knew who they were), I pretty much assumed nobody was Mormon. In fact, it’s eerie going back. The feeling of assuming most people around are LDS– it’s a hard shift to make, on whatever plane ride or airport I end up in. Siddenly seeing people smoke, or swear, or wear sleeveless (gasp) clothing! I don’t mind it at all, but it’s a sudden shock or reality check, every single time.

    As to pop-culture fluff;I think it has its place. When I’m sick I don’t want to read Proust. I want a nice, fluffy chick lit novel and a piece of cake. And if I’m really depressed on a Sunday, a nice, warm-fuzzy JKP solo sung by a sweet-voiced adolescent or YW group can get me teary eyed.

    There are things I absolutely love about Mormon Culture, when find myself able to turn off my irony button.

  5. Th– (good point.)

    Adam–I used to think the toll painting stuff was a dead giveaway for RS BUT my little suburban neighborhood is filled with toll painted stuff. Some of them even say things like, “Bloom where you are planted” and “The greatest is Love.” Same with scrapbooking and stampin’. I thought it was a Mormon thing, but lots of mommies and even chicks without kids do it. However, if I do see a wall clock with the family’s name on it, well, that’s still a giveaway 🙂

    How do you Mormon the BBB?

    William–good point!

    Nosurfgirl–I like your point about the irony button. If you catch me in the right mood at the kitschy stuff we do just makes me smile. Sometimes it makes me want to scream, but a lot the time it’s nice.

  6. Laura,

    Yes, I’ve noticed that it’s not as exclusively R.S. as it seems like it used to be, but there are still clues. I look for words or phrases that are direct quotations of LDS scriptures or that refer to some prophetic statement, cultural icon, or other uniquely Mormon sentiment. It’s not foolproof, but it’s a potential indicator.

    My aunt from South Carolina once said that in her town, how well you can carve a watermelon is part of the neighborhood ladies’ judgment of how good a cook you are. I wonder sometimes if how cute a scrapbook (now with the digital option), yard sign, or living room you can craft is part of how good a housekeeper/mother/saint you are in certain circles. That might sound really cynical, but it does feel almost obligatory for even me, and I’m not even a woman (shocking revelation)! Maybe its because I do most of the decorating at my house. I don’t know.

    As for the BBB, its only “kind of” Mormoning it. I had some family over the other day and the conversation turned towards marriage. We started discussing the implications of a BBB like organization for marriages or potential spouses, and someone said that the Church is kind of like a Better Marriage Bureau. I thought it was a fun concept, so decided to write a script that explores the idea. I was actually working on it while I read your initial post. It may or may not go anywhere, and it doesn’t directly implicate the Church organizationally, but it’s bound to be influenced by my LDSness, particularly my ideas about what good marriage looks like.

    So that’s where that came from.

  7. Laura, now you make me want to watch for that blue Plymouth. (except I don’t get to drive all that much any more)

    My mind wanders to my secret thoughts: I liked Nauvoo the way it *was*, before it became an overwhelming tourist trap with the rebuilding of the temple, but I’m pretty sure I’m in a very tiny minority on that point.

    I wore a CTR ring in law school for the very purpose of locating other LDS students (we were a vanishingly small minority at CU). It worked on day one of orientation, when the fellow with a Weber State t-shirt walked up and called me Sister Coffinberry. (Well, not Coffinberry, but you know what I mean.) Which was nice, because some things have to be grappled with and shared with someone who understands both what is going on at school and what is going on in the underlying personal culture.

    We can look at these symbols as boundary markers, but to me, they’re more about possible permission to open to another person a certain door of thoughts and feelings.

  8. Great way of putting that, Coffinberry, regarding permission.

    About Nauvoo, I don’t really know what it was like before the temple was rebuilt, but my wife and I spent a couple of nights there on our honeymoon almost seven years ago. The temple was closed (unfortunately), and it was March, so it didn’t seem too touristy, just quiet and nice with actually a little less LDS marketing than we were used to, being from the Salt Lake metro area.

    Maybe it hadn’t been long enough since the rebuilding to create the changes you mentioned? Maybe it was the timing? Or did we still not get an authentic taste of “old Nauvoo?”

  9. Eh, Nauvoo The Tourist Town is a personal pet peeve of mine that I probably 85% don’t mean anyway. It’s just that my (not-Mormon) ancestors were from the area around Nauvoo, and the whole thing seems so out of place and fake-ish (and emphasizes a very tiny sliver of history of the area).

  10. To answer Laura’s questions:

    1. I do.
    2. I can’t think of any signs that haven’t already been mentioned.
    3. It would say: “All your onties are belong to us”
    4. See my comment #3 above.

  11. I play the “are they or aren’t they” game a lot with the libraries of various people on LibraryThing. Owning a copy of The Book of Mormon or Rough Stone Rolling isn’t conclusive, but owning copies of various RS/EQ manuals or of Preach My Gospel is more conclusive. (And owning a copy of something like How to Witness to the Mormons is also fairly conclusive, but in the other direction.)

  12. I should add that part of what I like about this post Laura is that it’s not just about the Mormon-ing, but about what happens when there’s a disjunct between the Mormon-ing taking place — Mormon-ing and un-Mormon-ing. I think it’s a reminder that what we may consider to be un-Mormon-ing maybe really isn’t. The outward appearance and all that.

  13. William–
    I’m glad you liked this post. It felt kind of silly when I wrote it, but I you gave it a deeper spin 🙂 Thanks!

    Coffinberry–I’ll have to tell you who I think it was!

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