Saturday, March 19, 2011

Mormons in the Media

Due to its historical ties with polygamy, the Mormon religion is often a subject of controversy in pop culture. Most, including myself, know little about Mormonism except that it has a huge following in Utah and there are some Mormons who still practice plural marriage. But lately it seems references to Mormonism are popping up everywhere.

In case you’re confused about Mormons and polygamists and the Latter Day Saints church, here’s a quick history of the religion. The Mormon movement was founded by Joseph Smith the 1830s and when he was killed, Brigham Young became the new prophet and leader. At this point Mormons practiced plural marriage but in 1890 the current church leader outlawed polygamy due to intense pressure from Congress and this is the LDS church we hear about today. Some sects broke away and remained Mormon fundamentalists who continue to practice plural marriage.

Big Love, an HBO TV show that began in 2006 about a polygamist family living in Utah provided a window in the Mormon community in Utah and the complexities of this world. Big Love focuses on Bill, his three wives and their children. Bill ran away from a corrupt polygamist compound when he was 14 but ended up returning to the principle after his first wife was diagnosed with cancer. The early seasons of the show focused on the family’s relationship with the compound, the relationships between the wives and their need to keep their plural marriage secret. In the most recent season however, the Mormon faith and the characters’ relationships with their faith is explored, as one of the wives begins to challenge her subordinate role as a woman. The influence of the Latter Day Saints church in the politics of Utah is also an important story line.

Audiences loved getting a peak inside this foreign world and the popularity of Big Love prompted TLC to create a reality show about a real live polygamist family living in Lehi, Utah called Sister Wives. The series chronicles the lives of Kody Brown, his four wives (there were three in the first season), and their sixteen children. Much like Big Love, the show mostly focuses on the relationships of the wives, as these unique “sister wife” relationships are the most compelling. If you’re wondering why neither family in Big Love or Sister Wives has been arrested for polygamy, it’s because the husbands are only legally married to the first wife and the marriages to the other wives are spiritual unions.

Brigham Young University, which is owned and operated by the LDS church, has also made headlines recently. It’s the alma mater of Twilight author Stephanie Meyer, who is a Mormon. Many have argued that there are strong religious undertones in the Twilight series, like the fact that the main character is abstinent until marriage. BYU’s basketball team is huge topic of discussion this season. BYU’s top scorer Jimmer Fredette is a member of the LDS church and was named the NCAA 2011 men’s basketball player of the year. Brandon Davies, one of the team’s best players was suspended in early March for violating the team’s honor code by having premarital sex, which made headlines for the severity of the punishment at time when BYU’s team looked like it would have one of its most promising years. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Invasion of the Knappa

The first time I can remember admiring the IKEA Knappa lamp was at a hair salon five or six years ago. When you spend a few hours in a salon, boredom forces you to acknowledge every aspect of the d├ęcor and this lamp became the subject of my observation. After I left the salon, I began to see the lamp everywhere—In other salons, restaurants, boutiques and apartments. This flickr photostream is a collection of Knappas found throughout the world.

I thought it was strange that so many gravitated to this one lamp, given the number of lamps there are to choose from in this world, so I did a little research to try and illuminate the reasons behind its popularity.

1. It’s from IKEA.  Everyone loves IKEA. It’s cheap, it looks good, and it’s fast. Shopping at IKEA is like Disney World for adults; you can stroll through inspiring fake rooms filled with IKEA goodies, grab whatever box of furniture you want from the shelves for immediate gratification, laugh at hilarious Swedish names, and reinvent the style of your home in just a few hours. The only downside about IKEA is that everyone else loves it too, so you’ll likely see your own furniture in other people’s homes.

2. It looks more expensive than it is. The lamp adds ambiance to any room, which is why you’ll often see it in salons or restaurants or above a dining room table. It gives off darker and more flattering light than your typical florescent lamp—as IKEA’s wesbite explains, it “gives a soft mood light.” And since its just $30, small businesses like the aforementioned salons and boutiques can afford the classy look without breaking the bank.

3. It’s a knock-off of a famous lamp. Supposedly the Knappa is actually a knock-off of the lamps created by a Danish company called Le Klint. The Le Klint “Pendant,” as they’re called, were inspired by famous Danish architect and designer Poul Henningsen, who designed an “artichoke” pendant that looks reminiscent of the Knappa.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Vampires have always had a place in pop culture from the gothic novels of the 1800s to the nineties cult TV show Buffy.  But in the last three years we’ve witnessed a vampire craze unlike any other in recent history.

It all began, as I’m sure you’re all too aware, with the ubiquitous Twilight series. The four novels, written by Mormon author Stephanie Meyer, were eaten up by preteen girls and their mothers across the country but the Twilight epidemic truly began when the first movie came out in 2008. The young stars of the film were catapulted into an embarrassing level of fame and dominated the tabloids for months, if not years.

Many, such as myself, struggled with the self-loathing that accompanied the guilty pleasure we took in reading the Twilight novels and paying money to see the films in theaters. Luckily, new and more socially acceptable opportunities to enjoy the vampire trend arrived soon after the debut of Twilight with HBO’s True Blood in 2008 and the CW’s Vampire Diaries in 2009.  True Blood, created by Six Feet Under and American Beauty writer/director Alan Ball, is dramatic, sexual and often grotesque and uses the vampire theme as a way to comment on racial and religious issues in a small southern town. Vampire Dairies takes place in Virginia in a town with a supernatural colonial history and involves a love triangle between brother vampires and a girl in high school. Both shows have garnered huge followings and excellent reviews.

I’ve often wondered what exactly it was about vampires that enabled them to become and remain a significant current in pop culture for the last three years. I think much of it has to do with the particular breed of the 21st century vampire. Unlike his evil, bloodthirsty ancestors, he hates the cold life he’s forced to live and is capable of love. He’s a hero that protects humans from the dangerous members of his kind. And he’s supernaturally handsome. In short, he is the ideal love interest—and nothing like the vampire villains from years before.

It’s interesting that Twilight and its respected TV counterparts share a central storyline: a star-crossed romance between a male vampire and human female. Their love for one another is in constant peril because he is immortal and she grows older with everyday. Oh, and also that he might kill her by accident at any moment if his vampire urges take over his free will. It feels like the vampire trend might be on its way out, but it think the way 21st century vampires lend themselves to modern versions of classic unending romance is what makes them so appealing.