Mormon Kitsch: What’s your secret fave?

5025224_Child_of_God_Pink_productWell, wouldn’t you know Wm has already thought of this one? It’s even in two parts! (You can read about the grand unified theory of Mormon kitsch here and Wm’s actual favorite items of Mormon kitsch here) But that was six years ago, so it’s probably worth revisiting.

My husband and I recently celebrated our tenth anniversary by going on a Big Date. We drove the hour and a half to the Denver temple and then went out to dinner. It was nice (and disorienting to be away from our kids for five whole hours!). And do you know what made it even nicer? Surprisingly, a trip into Deseret Book for a little Mormon kitsch. What we ended up buying was like, well, a godsend. See, we’ve been working on teaching our kids about tithing, saving, and spending and other money matters. I can vividly remember a black, white, and gold three part cardboard bank to hold the three different kinds of money. I used that thing until I was 16 and old enough for a bank account. When we started teaching our kids I tried making them a bank out of cardboard. Then I tried to make one out of plastic containers. Then I tried plastic, cardboard, and duct tape. At one point there were even very small mason jars involved. That was when I realized I was trying to reinvent the wheel.

I feel the need to stop here and mention that I have mixed feelings toward Deseret Book. There have been times I have walked in and found exactly what I looked for and been extremely grateful for the products they provide. (“I am a Child of God” stickers = awesome. As do the cheap scripture marking kits for kids.) Then there are other times where all I can do is cringe because of the mixed messages. (True story: one particularly difficult day I made the decision to take my children to the temple grounds in an effort to feel the Spirit and try to renew my connection with the Lord. It was a little chilly so the kiddos and I stopped at Deseret Book for a Lion House cinnamon roll. The kids spent the whole time in DB in front of a TV that was playing Disney’s Aladdin–you know the part where Jasmine is in the extra skanky red outfit and Jafar is a giant snake trying to kill her? It was that part. Um, Disney, Freud called, he wants to thank you. . . Suffice it to say, DB did a fair amount that day to distract from the spiritual experience I was aiming for.) But lately, as a Primary and Cub Scout leader, I’ve found myself checking out their website to find out what kind of fun stuff is available for the kiddos. I’m often surprised by how many things I like.

Anyway, on our anniversary, I found the tithing banks. Not the exact ones from my childhood but 3 or 4 different kinds that suited each of my different kids. My husband and I were both surprised and grateful. That product would make things so much easier! The banks even came with little lock and keys, which my kids played with endlessly–until they lost them.

The other thing we found? An “Our Family Rules” wall hanging. When I picked it up my husband asked if it had been personalized for our family. The answer was no; someone just knows what it’s like to have more than one or two kids and put those feelings into words.

The piece de resistance? A parenting book! I’m a sucker for parenting books and read quite a lot of them, but my main complaint is that the techniques are almost always aimed at families with one or two children. The techniques worked great until I had more kids than hands. Since then I’ve been looking for some more practical advice. Enter Marilee Boyack’s The Parenting Breakthrough. Not all the ideas have worked for my family, but some of them have made a real difference and I recommend this book to a lot of people.

Now, I do have quibbles with each of these pieces. The stereotypes on the tithing banks bother me a bit. (What? Girls can only earn money by babysitting and they all want to be ballerinas? And why are they all blond? And boys can only mow lawns??) The style of the wall hanging is a little more Stampin’ Up!/country chic than I usually go for. And Merilee Boyack’s tone is the epitome of that strange Relief Society rhetoric that is both self-defeating and self-aggrandizing. But overall each of these items filled a need in my family. (When my kids are laying into each other I point to the rules and remind them, “A little forgiveness goes a long way!” ‘Nough said. And, even if I don’t like her tone, when it comes to figuring out who sits where at the dinner table without arguing Boyack’s method is seamless.) And it’s a good thing.

So, the long and the short of it is this: I own Mormon kitsch. And I’m not sorry.

How about you? What cheesy Mormon products work for your family? Which ones do you own and proudly display? Which ones are cringeworthy?

31 thoughts on “Mormon Kitsch: What’s your secret fave?”

  1. Excellent post, Laura. And, yes, we’re way past due for an update/revisit. Six years is ancient history.

    I have to admit that I haven’t kept up much with Mormon kitsch. We fill all of our needs by using the online distribution center (LDS Catalog). But a quick tour of DB’s website brought me to the Joseph Smith ring which is intellectually appealing to me but aesthetically disappointing.

  2. Here are some of my personal favorites:

    The Book of Mormon action figures–which are put out by a company located in my hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio.

    The various Mormon knock-offs of the Settlers of Cataan (The Settlers of Zarahemla, etc.).

    The LiveStrong bracelet knock-offs that support no cause but the manufacturer’s own checking account.

    Bumper stickers like “RULDS2”

    And the various t-shirts that turn Nike symbols into Angel Moroni’s and Mountain Dew logos into “Mormon Dude” logos.

  3. Wm– I like the LDS Catalog a lot too and I’m happy that they are expanding. I think even saw something on lds.org saying they are seeking out material for an online media library. Sugardoodle.net fills a lot of my needs too. But every now and again I find a product or two (like the tithing bank) that is only supplied by the Mormon market.

    Tod- ha ha ha! Hot pink would be, well, hawt!

    Scott H.– I love those Mormon Dude shirts too! They crack me up.

  4. When I was growing up we watched the cartoons of scripture stories produced by Nest Entertainment (at least, it used to be called that, they might have changed their name). I LOVED them as a kid. But then I re-watched them as an adult and I could only barely sit through “Ammon: Missionary to the Lamanites” without throwing up. I really don’t think Ammon was that cheesy in real life.

    I try really hard to stay as far away from Mormon Kitch has possible, because I find almost all of it cringeworthy. Jack Weyland, EFY music, Tennis Shoes among the Nephites? Ew. I think there is a reason why the lesson manuals counsel teachers to stick with official church materials. Mormon kitch comes accross to me as silly and cheesy, but actual church materials (the children’s scripture readers, for example) are real. I want REAL stuff in my home.

    My living room walls are adorned not with cursive “Families are Forever” decals, but with prints of the Book of Abraham facimiles on papyrus.

  5. I worked for the EFY office for a few years as an undergraduate and got free music as a result. I still like to listen to it; as much for the nostalgia factor as for the music itself. I will also confess to liking a lot of ‘Mormon Pop’music, and sometimes I even listen to Christian pop on the radio.

    I also really like that Merilee Boyack book; one of the main things I got from it was the idea of intentionality in parenting and the importance for parents to really take their roles as teachers and guides seriously.

    And I rarely, if ever, shop at Deseret Book so I’m not aware of much Mormon Kitsch at all.

  6. Beth–we have those videos and they make me nuts! I cannot believe I own them. I find myself constantly telling my kids, “Okay, that part is made up. That other part, though, that’s really in the scriptures. We don’t really know that they dressed like that.” It goes on and on. . . They are a great example of Mormon kitsch.

    I also really like your point about how the lesson manuals ask that we use only Church materials (which is another reason I am excited that lds.org is expanding their new media section). I also want my kids to have “real” interactions with the gospel, but that line is hard to draw. So now I’m going to stirt the pot a little: How many of the drawing in the Book of Mormon reader are real? How many of them simply reflect Arnold Friberg’s work? Is his work real? And if so, what makes it real?

    And like I said in the post, some of the products fill a real need in my life. The tithing banks are a great example. I couldn’t find them at our distribution center and I couldn’t make them on my own. Also, when working with kids (which is fairly constant in my life because of my stage of life and my callings) sometimes that kitschy stuff goes a long way to getting them engaged. Maybe it’s like “meat before milk”?

    Foxy J–I too enjoy Christian pop and some of the EFY tunes. Can I pick your brain for a minute? I never went to EFY (my older sister and brother had bad experiences–the sister was teased mercilessly by the other youth and my brother came home with four different girlfriends, even though he was only 14–so my parents refused to let me go), but my siblings listened to the music from the years they went and there’s one song that I can only remember bits and pieces of that I really, really want to hear again. The part I can remember goes like this: “I almost traded forever for one single moment. Heir to my father’s inheritance I almost wasted it all. I had everything to lose, and nothing to win. So I gave up all I had, gave up my life, gave up my sin.” It has a male vocalist. . . anyway, if you happen to know the title or singer I’d appreciate it.

    Your comment also has me wondering, do we have to enter an LDS bookstore to run into Mormon kitsch? Or is some of it so endemic in the way we do things we don’t even notice it. Maybe the art in the Ensign is a good example of this? Maybe someone else can think of another example. . .

  7. Oh, Reed, I don’t know whether to laugh or vomit at that velvet JS. Maybe a little of both…
    I’m sticking with using as little kitsch as possible (and absolutely none of that self-defeating/self-aggrandizing rhetoric), but it is good to know it is there if I should need it.

  8. Thanks for this, Laura. This gives me one more reason why Mormon culture actually needs this kitsch.

    In many cases it is easy to see how these products could be improved to make them much less objectionable, or even really helpful. Sometimes kitsch is just an early draft of a good product.

  9. My neighbor worked at the distribution center and always told people, “We have what you need here. If you want the fluff, go next door to Deseret Book.” They do have some helpful stuff there, though, and I love to browse the artwork.
    The thing that I have a love/hate relationship with is Sugardoodle.net. It drives me crazy when I hear someone say, “I have to give a talk (or lesson). I’d better go check out Sugardoodle.” It’s a fine website for handouts and extras, but so many people use it for their entire lesson. As has been mentioned already, lessons need to come from manuals and Scriptures.

  10. That velvet JS is a hoot! And looking a little cross-eyed. . .

    Marie–I like that print too. I could see it being useful if it got a young girl excited about putting it up in her room where she could be reminded of an important gospel truth everyday.

    Jessica-I think using as little kitsch as possible is good, except that sometimes it has a place!

    Coffinberry–what ties are we talking about?? I know they have ghastly ties at walmart, but do they have ghastly MORMON ties???

    Heather–I absolutely agree that the distribution center has what you need. . . but sometimes you need a little butter to with the bread 🙂

    Kent–AMEN!

  11. Yup. Ties with Moroni, Ties with Laban’s Sword and the brass plates, and (the one I actually bought) ties covered with books, with the titles of books in the Book of Mormon printed on their spine. It looks just like the tie with books of the Bible. I have often wondered how many men have gotten dressed up to go to some other church adorned with Moroni on their chests. (Do they think it’s a guy with a Vuvuzela?)

  12. Kim–Good one! I too love me a good CTR ring, but I can’t bring myself to buy one or wear one. . . it’s just too kitschy 🙂

  13. I used to teach CTR classes, so I would wear the classic 45-cent ring to let my students know that I made the same commitments they did. I was attacked in my home, and the charred ring found by the sofa (discarded by the robber). I wore it for years as a symbol of survival, until it finally disintegrated. My wife bought a nicer one for me, which I still wear.
    In my subbing days, kids would ask me why I was wearing a Warner Brothers ring (I’m in California, so the cuture is not so LDS-cognizant), and a few would shyly show me that they had one, too. It acted as a password and a secret handshake.

    Neckties: I have over 1,200 (some estimates are nearer to 2,000), and a number of religious ones, including a few LDS ties…most of them purchased at Deseret Thrifts during trips to the Timpanogos Storytelling festival. Two have temples (one I can’t identify), one has the repeated Moroni statue, and a friend gave me one with pioneers crossing the plains in an ox-drawn covered wagon. I wear them because I like them. I admit to kitschiness, but I only get and wear neckties that I like.

  14. First off, I had to look up the defintion of kitsch. How embarrassing to admit. The only thing I really have is a tile on top of my piano with a quote from Pres. Hinckley, which I like quite a bit.

  15. Sorry, that song isn’t ringing any bells.

    One time, about six or seven years ago, I noticed a black velvet Joseph Smith painting at the Provo DI. I’m still kicking myself that I didn’t buy it. That would have been awesome.

  16. The standard wedding present that’s a framed copy of the Proclamation with your engagement photo from your invite expertly cut out and pasted in the corner.

  17. I agree with Wm on th CTR ring.

    I think an FHE chart is about the most kitschy Mormon thing in my house at the moment. Very Relief Society, but very functional. I like it.

    Also, here are some LDS products I’ve created.

    Don’t know if they count as kitsch. I don’t feel qualifed to make that judgment.

  18. Once, at the Fresno Fair, I saw a black-velvet Joseph Smith, but there was also one of Spencer W. Kimball!

  19. Every time I’m doing my Visiting Teaching I see temple pictures displayed in an eye-catching place. Sometimes the thought pattern in my head says: “Forget Jesus, Here’s NAVUOO!”

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