Enough theory. It’s time to get to actual examples of Mormon kitsch. The following represent my picks — some because I actually like them (don’t tell anybody), some because they’re just weird, and some because they’re hecka funny.
The mini-versions of the Christus by Bertel Thorvaldsen has come up in the comments to part I. If you click through to the link above, you’ll find many different versions of it. I admit, that while I suspect the mini-statuettes are kitsch, I kind of like them. Part of it is because of the work of art itself — it does come across as iconic but in a Protestanty, no-nonsense kind of way that I can respond to. The stickers on the other hand are pure kitsch and kind of creep me out.
Friberg’s “Prayer at Valley Forge”
I was a rather patriotic young child and had a serious case of Washington worship. My grandparents bought a print of Friberg’s “Prayer at Valley Forge” for me. It hung above my bed from the day I received it (age seven or eight) until I left for my mission. I recognize that it doesn’t depict an historical moment. And that George Washington was an imperfect being and that his religious beliefs differ quite a bit from mine. But I still like the painting. I like the idea of a man such as him kneeling in the snow to pray. But mainly I like the dappled grey horse. Incidentally, a quick Google search suggests that this work is popular among other Christians as well.
CTR rings for adults
When I first returned from my mission, I was rather indignant about this phenomenon. To me the idea of taking the CTR ring you bought for ten cents from your CTR teacher and making reproductions in silver and gold was the epitome of the tendency of the saints to lust after the things of the world while still trying to maintain their Mormon identity. Now, although I don’t wear one and probably never will, I don’t see it as all that bad. It is, after all, one of the few examples of Mormon-specific semiotics. The coolest rendition has to be the glow in the dark model. You could totally pretend to be the Mormon green lantern.
Book of Mormon action figures
Okay, so you knew this was coming, and it’s old hat in the Bloggernacle. But I’m fascinated by the whole idea of Book of Mormon action figures. Yes, I suppose in some ways my GI Joes figures could be conceived as role models who taught me values, but not really. I pretty much just like to place them in vehicles and crash them into things. It’s also kind of weird to think of, you know, what happens when you see Nephi hanging out in the Barbie Dream House. Is it appropriate to allow prophets — well, representations of prophets — to be played with in the way that kids play with action figures?
By the way, I like the Ammon action figure best. There he stands his sword ready to lop off arms. You can get Ammon in the same basic stance in a tie bar as well. Might be a good way to appear subtley threatening. If there were Mormon mobsters, this is what Mormon mobsters would wear.
Parable of the ten virgins lamp
I don’t have much to say about this. There’s something about it that makes me uneasy. And yet at the same time, the idea of bringing one into Elder’s Quorum and lighting it up as an object listen really appeals to me.
I’d actually rank Greg Olsen ahead of Thomas Kinkade. Although much of his work is way too, umm, soft? glowy? idealized? accessible? for me, I do like his work A Light to the Gentiles very much and would even consider hanging it in my home.
reproduction of Nauvoo Sunstone
A funky piece of Mormon history. What’s not too like? Also perhaps a subtle way to tip off to others that you are part of the Mormon Studies crowd. Also available as a tie tack.
Mortality: the board game
Shh! Don’t tell the evangelicals, but you really can earn your way to heaven. I’ll let the marketing copy speak for itself:
“Mortality is the exciting and popular LDS board game that helps everyone feel good. Rather than driving the other players into bankruptcy in order to win, in Mortality you actually get ahead by helping others! It also teaches you to laugh at and grow from your troubles. As you build up enough inner strength, you are able to meet the trials of life and actually become stronger because of them.
“It’s competitive, because there is a winner, but it isn’t the cutthroat competition that forms the foundation of other games. It becomes a great deal of fun for all the players, not just the winner. Do you have children with sensitive feelings? Or do you have children who tend to be ruthless in games? Don’t play Sorry! or Monopoly, play Mortality, and everyone will enjoy it and learn a little about how to truly succeed in life.”
The first one to earn 150 Testimonies wins the game. See the rules for more [trust me -- it's worth clicking through].
Joseph Smith painted on black velvet
The summer I was 19, the priests in my ward took a trip down the Calif. coast (chaperoned by a parent — a former Bishop who was fluent in Spanish). We went to Tijuana. At one point, after we all bought those poncho pullover things, I stepped into a shop selling black velvet paintings. Up on the wall, alongside James Dean, Janet Jackson, Madonna and Elvis was Joseph Smith. I had a half-second of outrage before a mixture of laughter and pride filled my soul. And I still feel that way. I think it’s quite cool — seeing Joseph Smith presented in that medium along with all the other ‘icons’ actually pleases me. I might feel different if I were to see it displayed in someone’s home [it'd depend on the context], and I don’t think that I would hang one in my own home — people would read it as more kitschy than I would mean because of who I am. Sadly, I couldn’t find a link to an example.
So those are my picks. How about you? You know there’s some dark secret love you want to confess.