Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Mormon Propaganda

As someone in the business of corporate branding, I'm forced to look at a corporation for what it is: a bunch of people providing a service or product trying to make money. From there we build their story. Depending on the service/product and the company, the story differs. David, the graphic designer, drives to work in his Volkswagon listening to David Byrne. Wearing all black and drinking his special coffee blend he works on his Macintosh G5. Phil drives a Dodge Ram to his cabin where he chops wood and drinks a bottle of Budweiser. By the campfire he prepares for the next morning's fishing trip with his dog Patch. Jen buys her clothes at Abercrombie and listens to... you get the idea.

The stories are lifestyles.

Companies no longer deliver products or services, but try to either fit your lifestyle or entice you to be a part of the lifestyle they create. You no doubt notice how commercials rarely mention the product itself, but rather showcase a potential happier life using it. Your choice in beers means the difference of meeting a beautiful woman or going home alone. There is so little difference between the carbonated sugar waters that we need athletes and polar bears to help make the distinction for us.

This is nothing new. Wartime propaganda used similar techniques (regardless of which side of the border it was produced). The enemy was always portrayed using negative stereotypes, meanwhile the portrayal of those at home as wholesome, righteous, innocent and courageous.

The obvious purpose of this is manipulation. Whether by truth or deception, the idea is to lead a large segment of society to take action (buy war bonds, buy Pepsi, join the armed forces, etc.) or think a certain way (Hitler is evil, Volkswagon is hip, America is good, etc.). There have been volumes written about this relationship and I will continue no further, other than to say that it doesn't stop with corporate advertising or national patriotism.

Enter, the Church.

The other day I received a packet in the mail from my CES administrator. In it was a booklet put out by the CES for seminary teachers. One of the photos really bothered me. It was of a primary teacher teaching her group of children. Each child was sitting upright very attentively, all smiling, two resting their chins on their hands, all with hair combed and dressed in perfect Sunday attire (boys with white shirts and ties and girls in dresses).

You know these types of photos because that's all that exists in the Ensign. Everyone doing something righteous is happy, anyone making a poor decision is mad (well, supposed to be mad, but most of these photos are of some phony actor who can't even hide the laugh just below the frown). The men all wear plaid button shirts with khakis when casual and white shirts and ties and suits (over the age of 14) when performing a church function. The images of women are even more pathetic. They all have ankle-length dresses/skirts with either a plain, plaid or flower pattern. I can't recall seeing any image of a woman over the age of 14 wearing pants. The hair is always very conservative. If there is any expression of rebellion, it usually consists of wearing black (and extreme rebellion with someone in a black leather jacket with metal zippers). Nobody prays slouched over, nobody leans back in their chair, no seminary students look tired, nobody ACTUALLY looks poor, and NOBODY believes these photos!

This is silly propaganda and I don't understand why they do it. I'm not sure if it's to avoid a truthfull portrayal of a real person or to try to influence us all to become more like those they portray. Either way, I hate it. I can't imagine how this false portrayal of the Saints is beneficial to the general membership of the Church. These aren't real humans. It makes me think of all the popular magazines with their skinny models and the psychological damage this does to young women. When less-than-perfect members of the Church see these pictures it's easy to feel like we don't measure up (i.e. Prozac consumption in Utah). The argument could be made that they portray something to aspire to. Well, if you think skinniness is something young women or plaid button shirts for priesthood holders is something worth aspiring to, then I don't know what to say.