Do we like to be stereotyped?

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Salt Lake Tribune humor/religious commentator Robert Kirby, recently made this statement at a interfaith discussion on the film God’s Army 2,

“(Latter Day Saints are) probably the only group in the world that want to present a stereotypical image, even though it’s a lie.”

If you think this statement has some validity, what would that stereotype be? What parts of it are positive and which are negative? If you think the statement is bunk, let me know why?

Personally I think the majority in the church want to be seen as a unified group that follow their faith, who are honest and kind, place great importance on family, etc and I think that’s a good thing. Maybe I’m a bit rebellious and am still exploring who I am as an individual, but I’m getting tired of the “good-looking, suburban, upper middle class, business-oriented” image that is portrayed often by the “PR” department, encouraged by much of the “culture” of the faith and is codified in some of its institutions. Whenever someone is perplexed when I tell them I’m Mormon, I tell them that not all Mormons look the same, dress the same, have the same interests, hold the same jobs, enjoy the same media, have the same politics…I identify more with Low, Jared Hess, Jeff Hein and Hugh Nibley than Stephen Covey, Steve Young, Donny Osmond and Cleon Skousen.

19 thoughts on “Do we like to be stereotyped?

  1. I have to agree. I don’t follow the stereotypical image of Latter day Saints, as far as how I dress or look or even other aspects, such as political or humanitarian beliefs/leanings. I am a sort of “granola”, homebirthing, no-make-up wearing, AParent, homeschooling earthy mama, lol. But then, my testimony of Jesus Christ and the Gospel aren’t dependent on what I dress or look like. Maybe some members want to be stereotyped, but not everyone does.

  2. I think it depends the stereotype we are talking about. The Stereotype that the typical Mormon is honest, hard working, Christlike etc. Is, I think, an honorable one. Everyone may not meet this stereotype, but it’s something to strive for.

    The stereotype that we are all close minded Republicans is one that I don’t particularly like.

    Mary, I may be way off, but I would have to beleive that at one time, what you are describing yourself as “I am a sort of “granola”, homebirthing, no-make-up wearing, AParent, homeschooling earthy mama.” was probably close to one of the earlier perceptions of LDS women.

    I don’t mind being Stereotyped, as long as it’s a good steriotype. :-)

  3. Ian, could be, but sure isn’t anymore! I don’t actually share my personal parenting/homeschooling/homebirthing ideas with many LDS because many are very ardently against it. Of course, not all feel this way.

    You know what, on the “Republican” note, my MOTHER refers to us as “Democrats” and herself and husband as “Republicans”. The thing is, we are neither, nor is she. We are Canadians, there is no Democratic party or Republican party here, lol.

  4. I was having this discussion the otherday with someone re: Utah based movies that have been coming out. I really feel like I’m not their target audience. The movie always plays so shallow and robotic to me. Maybe I shouldn’t have started this judgement after a movie called “the singles ward” but I’m just not interested or uplifted by this genre of film.

  5. Well I think that everyone wants to be part of a good stereotype and wants to avoid being throw in with a bad stereotype.

    If the church wants to avoid the appearance of clone-like members, they should really do something about diversifying its’ PR persona. Less close-cropped dark suit wearing white middle class Americans and maybe some more realistic portrayals of members.

    Maybe even a priesthood holder in a coloured shirt.

  6. “The movie always plays so shallow and robotic to me. Maybe I shouldn’t have started this judgement after a movie called “the singles ward” but I’m just not interested or uplifted by this genre of film. ”

    That’s because that movie is shallow and robotic. The other one that is worthless is The Hometeachers. I really enjoy the RM and Sons of Provo though.

    I think that as Mormon film makers become more experienced, the movies will get better. They are only in their infancy.

    On the topic of The Singles Ward and The RM, I think they do a lot in the way of showing the steriotypes we see in the church today.

  7. I think the stereotpe is exactly what the PR department wants. Just look at the BYU honor code and you will see that everyone is supposed to look alike. Even down to how many earrings we are supposed to wear!

    Now, the positive traits like clean living and hopefully being Christlike, are the image we hope to present. But I have a feeling that too much is put on what we look like on the outside, which if you go to church, doesn’t vary that much. I dress very different than most LDS people, in that I enjoy having fun with things… and boy do I get strange looks.

    Just think for a second about people who are smokers, they may have a bad habit that needs to be overcome, but in the eyes of the stereotpical church member, they are a major sinner! It’s sadly way too much about apperance in our church.

    Oh, and the movies that are coming out can be funny and whatnot because it is such a true stereotpe!

  8. “Maybe even a priesthood holder in a coloured shirt.”

    Or even with a beard. I don’t know what it’s like in Utah, but where I live probably about a third of the priesthood holders have beards (usually goatees). But you’d never know it from looking at church publications.

  9. Facial hair, sans mustaches was declared as a sign of the counterculture, oh about 40 years ago. I believe it was around that time that church schools “canonized” the prohibition of beards on campuses. There are also varies degrees of facial hair prohibitions for leadership callings in various stakes through out the church inacted by individual stake presidents. One just has to look at portraits of the presidents of the church to see how fashion and the allowance of individuality have changed through the last 175 years, but it seems to be, the extreme reaction to the sixities and the adoptation of business class standards has halted the evolution of style and fashion to some degree, especially among the leadership of the church. Beards may never be allowed at BYU or gain broad acceptance throughout the leadership of the church until the Second Coming.

  10. The PR of the church needs to be very conservative with how members of the church look and are dressed. That is not to say that we all dress differently. If we remember how the saints were in the Book of Mormon, it says they were “neat and comely.”

    For me, I always think of Moses or Nephi having their vision and seeing all the inhabitants of the earth. If they say me, would they recognize me as a Saint? I think the rule to follow would be if you happened to run into the prophet, would you be embarrassed or comfortable.

  11. Judging by appearances alone, many people look just like Latter-Day Saints, IMO and would include many people who do not follow the Savior. You can not and should not judge a book by its cover. For so long mainstream culture has told us we can and should, and that’s why, IMO, the richness of our culture is lacking with image being king and quality and real honest human expression(art) is swept under the rug. Turn on most media and I think you’ll see/hear/experience what happens when image is king and queen. Moses and Nephi would be looking at the actions of people more so than appearance to find the followers of Christ. Although, Moses might compliment me on my beard. If I met the prophet, he would look into the soul to discern me just as Christ would. I could care less what he thought of my appearance as long as I was neat and comely…this is quite vague and open to cultural intrepretation, but from reading the scriptures I think I have an idea of the meaning of those words.

  12. I read these posts with interest because I have a personal pet-peeve against stereotypes. I have a brother who is inactive because when he was a teenager, he had long hair, which didn’t ‘conform’ to the Utah approved look.

    I am a single adult and have been battling the looks of pity, the ‘what’s wrong with you’ comments, and the ‘old maid’ stereotype my entire life. These are many reasons why I moved out of Utah a long time ago.

    Interestingly, I am thinking about moving back there. Yikes!

  13. Have you noticed that Stephen Covey, Steve Young, Donny Osmond and Cleon Skousen aren’t very much like each other?

  14. Well said!

    I can’t look at Covey, Young, Osmond and Skousen and come up with a list of common traits sufficient to create a stereotype.

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