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Peculiar Portrayals

Peculiar Portrayals: Mormons on the Page, Stage and Screen

Mark T. Decker
Michael Austin
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 203
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  • Book Info
    Peculiar Portrayals
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-87421-774-2
    Subjects: Performing Arts, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    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...

  2. 1 Center and Periphery: Mormons and American Culture in Tony Kushner’s Angels in America
    (pp. 5-36)
    Cristine Hutchison-Jones

    Literature and film have long provided ample evidence of mainstream America’s conflicting and conflicted perceptions of and feelings about Mormons and their beliefs, and Tony Kushner’s Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes is a case in point. Immediately accorded canonical status when it premiered in New York in 1992, critics labeled Angels “the most thrilling American play in years,”¹ and scholars have since declared that “Angels restored to American theatre an ambition it has not enjoyed since the days of Eugene O’Neill or Arthur Miller.”² Winner of the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for drama (for Part I: Millennium...

  3. 2 Four Consenting Adults in the Privacy of Their Own Suburb: Big Love and the Cultural Significance of Mormon Polygamy
    (pp. 37-61)
    Michael Austin

    When HBO premiered its polygamy-themed series Big Love in March of 2006, both polygamy and Mormonism had been the focus of considerable attention for the better part of the decade. In February of 2002, the world came to Salt Lake City for the Winter Olympics. Four months later a fourteen-year-old girl named Elizabeth Smart was abducted from her home in Salt Lake City by—the world found out nine months later—a homeless couple claiming God’s mandate to make her the husband’s plural wife. In 2003 Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven, the best-selling Mormon-themed book of the new...

  4. 3 Teaching Under the Banner of Heaven: Testing the Limits of Tolerance in America
    (pp. 62-86)
    Kevin Kolkmeyer

    Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, New York, is bound by water on three sides. It is on a peninsula, but in some ways, it might as well be on an island. There are only two ways to enter the campus, and each is fenced and gated, with guards to check whether you are authorized to come in. Every day students ride buses that ferry them to the campus from subway stops about a mile away, past swanky ocean-and bay-front homes, but there is no other contact between students and the neighborhood surrounding the campus. A former World War II maritime...

  5. 4 Avenging Angels: The Nephi Archetype and Blood Atonement in Neil LaBute, Brian Evenson, and Levi Peterson, and the Making of the Mormon American Writer
    (pp. 87-112)
    J. Aaron Sanders

    On July 24, 1984, in American Fork, Utah, Dan Lafferty and his brother Ron paid a visit to their sister-in-law, Brenda, while their youngest brother, Allen, was at work. “[Dan] found his fifteen-month old niece, Erica, standing in her crib, smiling up at him. ‘I spoke to her for a minute,’ Lafferty recalls. ‘I told her, I’m not sure what this is all about, but apparently it’s God’s will that you leave this world; perhaps we can talk about it later.’ And then he ended her life with a ten-inch boning knife. After dispatching Erica, he calmly walked into the...

  6. 5 Elders on the Big Screen: Film and the Globalized Circulation of Mormon Missionary Images
    (pp. 113-143)
    John-Charles Duffy

    Since the late-twentieth century, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has maintained a widely recognized standard image for the young men who constitute the bulk of its fifty-to-sixty-thousand-strong missionary force.¹ As a result, Mormon missionaries—or more precisely, with attention to gender, Mormon elders—have become a widely recognized presence in social landscapes around the globe. People who know little about Mormonism may nevertheless recognize Mormon missionaries, much as they recognize black-habited Catholic nuns, orange-robed Krishna devotees, or buggy-riding Amish. One indication of how widely Mormon missionaries are recognized is their appearance as stock characters in film. Proselytizing...

  7. 6 “I Constructed in My Mind a Vast, Panoramic Picture”: The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint and Postmodern, Postdenominational Mormonism
    (pp. 144-162)
    Mark T. Decker

    Most contemporary portrayals of Mormonism are heavily influenced by the nineteenth century. It has been more than a hundred years since mainstream Mormonism officially encouraged the scandalous behaviors—polygamy and blood atonement, for example—that generated the river of lurid tales that flowed from nineteenth-century presses. Yet despite the passing of time and the gradual taming of Mormonism, contemporary authors and auteurs tend to portray the religion in ways that invite comparison with their pulpy forebears. Television and film provide the most recent examples, with HBO’s Big Love and 2007’s limited- release film September Dawn playing, or at least attempting...

  8. 7 Jane Austen in Mollywood: Mainstreaming Mormonism in Andrew Black’s Pride & Prejudice
    (pp. 163-182)
    Juliette Wells

    In interviews in June 2003, during filming of their feature-length version of Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice, director Andrew Black and producer/coscreenwriter Jason Faller made clear their hope of reaching viewers both inside and outside the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which they are members.¹ “We’re [trying] to make a film that appeal[s] to both insiders and outsiders,” the Scottish-born Black explained to a reporter at Brigham Young University (BYU), from which both he and Faller had recently graduated. “It’s almost like ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ where the culture is just a backdrop.”² Central to...

  9. 8 Reality Corrupts; Reality Television Corrupts Absolutely
    (pp. 183-196)
    Karen D. Austin

    Though reality, television, and Mormons have never been complete strangers, they have become unusually cozy in recent years. Since 2000, Mormon contestants have appeared on shows such as The Real World, American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, and America’s Next Top Model in proportions far beyond what seems reasonable from their numbers in the general populace. Not only have Mormons appeared on these programs, but they have done well, often winning the shows formatted as season-long contests. Mormons have won The Biggest Loser (Ryan Benson and Ali Vincent), Survivor (Todd Herzog), Dancing with the Stars (Donny Osmond), and...