Mormons and the story of the West

4.24.12 | | 9 comments

“The strange thing is that aside from these displays the rest of the museum could almost be an account of the settling of the American West.” — Edward Rothstein in the NY Times.

Why, yes. That is very, very strange.

(Although to be fair to Rothstein, his contextualization of the museum in relation to identity is fairly solid. And he use the term “hyphenated American”.)

9 comments: “Mormons and the story of the West

  1. Lee Allred

    “It is actually a kind of identity museum…”

    Gosh. Who’da thunk it?

    There seems to often be this sort of goggle-eyed incredulous tone to these NYT articles wherein their intrpid reporters brave the hinterlands for a breathless eyewitness report about the bizarre alien bidpedal creatures west of the Hudson that have managed to discover fire and use crude hand tools. Sort of a “gorillas in the mist” anthropology vive rather than reporting.

    This particular article itself isn’t bad (and is a nice change of pace from the usual articles about us), but I found myself smiling several times where the reporter just had to translate what he saw into terms that allowed his own worldview to process them. Him and the paper’s core readership.

    A translation, ironically, the need for which contradicted much of the thrust of the article.

  2. Kent Larsen

    Lee, you may have to count me among the “goggle-eyed incredulous” who visit Utah on occasion and are suprised at what they see. But its not because those in Utah “have managed to discover fire and use crude hand tools.” In my case its because so much of the day-to-day culture is just bizarre!

    My favorite example is crossing the street. Put merely a toe into the street, and the automobile traffic dare not pass your location, even if you have no intention of crossing the street. Apparently you can’t step into the street in anticipation of the next car passing you so that you can cross. If you do, they will slow down and wait, while you wait for them to pass, but they never pass, until you finally give up waiting and go ahead and cross the street, shaking your head.

    Everyone is so concerned with following the letter of the law it takes four times longer to just cross the street!

    I much prefer the way its done here in NYC — cars wait for you if you are actually in the way. And if a car gets too close you slam your hands down on its hood and yell at the driver, “Hey, I’m walkin’ here!!”

  3. Kent Larsen

    [I do have to concede the article was a little bit too “goggle-eyed incredulous.” I just don't want to give Utahns the idea that their way is the right way to do things.]

  4. Lee Allred

    Here in Oregon it’s a law that if a pedestrian puts a tow into the street, legal crosswalk or not, vehicular traffic must immediately yield right of way to the pedestrian.

    The small coastal resort town I live in is crawling with tourists crossing the main drag willy-nilly. Local law enforcemnt enforces this pedestrial law ruthlessly. Wouldn’t do to run over our cash cows, I mean tourist guests.

    When I lived in Bangkok, there were no pedestrial laws or if there were nobody had heard of them. You just stepped into the street, trusting traffic to dodge around you at full tilt.

    Once crossed the street with Elder Jacob de Jager on a break during a mission conference. (We were headed towards the Superbowl supermarket across from the Asoke mission home.) Traffic was just a-buzzing and we were hesitant to step across with a GA in tow. Elder de Jager just started across, saying in his Dutch accent: “You have the Preisthood, Elders! Use it!”

  5. Moriah Jovan

    There seems to often be this sort of goggle-eyed incredulous tone to these NYT articles wherein their intrpid reporters brave the hinterlands for a breathless eyewitness report about the bizarre alien bidpedal creatures west of the Hudson that have managed to discover fire and use crude hand tools. Sort of a “gorillas in the mist” anthropology vive rather than reporting.

    ROFLMAO!!!

    My keyboard is ruined.

  6. James Goldberg

    I’m glad that on page two, he does clarify that the Mormon pioneer narrative differs from a more standard American pioneer narrative in being collective.

    Which is actually why we invented the odometer and pioneered urban planning while others just came in family groups or small parties and had little use for such careful arrangements.

    And that’s what I feel like he misses in the middle of page two: the culmination of Mormon narrative won’t be when we figure out how to explain to others that we’re diverse and politically correct and have doubters and reformers and all that. The next big step in Mormon narrative, I think, will be to finally get through to people like Rothstein that we are still different, still capable of relatively surprising degrees of collective action, still offering a viable alternative to the an American culture that we’ve long seen as gone astray.

    Yes: many of us are American, and we’re happy to live in one of the first countries to have offered religious freedom (at least on paper). But there’s so much of America that we’ve resisted from the beginning, and that we’re not about to give up the fight against…

  7. Jettboy

    James Goldberg, I think what you said was great, but, “. . . still offering a viable alternative to an American culture that we’ve long seen as gone astray. . .,” should be added, “And accept the alternative as legitimate.”

    I have read way too many stories about how Mormons are fundamentally different from liberals, conservatives, blacks, the poor, law abiding citizens, etc. My problem is that in all those cases it was negative either because of theology or politics. My guess is that in the polarizing era we live in there cannot be a recognition you express would be nice to read about.

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