Sunday, January 18, 2009

Following Token Mormons On Reality Shows

Imagine if you will, the most powerful marketing demographic on Earth. While visions of males 18-35 may have momentarily captured your imagination, please consider that while making up roughly only 2 percent of the U.S. population, practically every reality television program since 2001 has had the token Mormon.

Why the trend? While inherently interesting individuals, young Mormons are often homebound, with young families. These young couples lead stable and balanced lives for their kids, which, while good for society, can take a toll on their spirit of adventure. Fortunately reality television has stepped in to fill a very important voyeuristic fantasy for practically every young Mormon; to travel the world, meet interesting people, clear up common misconceptions about Mormonism, and build bridges of understanding with the secular world, all while the cameras are rolling

Mormon reality TV celebrities needn’t possess inherently interesting personalities. The only pre-requisite is that they behave as though they were Lindsay Lohan’s polar opposite, declare their affiliation with the church, and be reasonably photogenic. This phenomenon has yielded such Mormon reality TV stars as Carmen Rasmussen, who can still be counted on for a serviceable rendition of the national anthem at BYU’s Stadium of Fire, or to make a special appearance at new Hogi Yogi locations along the Wasatch front, and Benji Schwimmer, an RM who won a season of Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance, no doubt from developing his talents through endless road shows, talent shows, and Family Home Evening activities. Survivor has been fertile ground for the Mormarazzi, yielding both popular (Neleh Dennis, the quirky and nauseatingly peppy pixie who went on to be a news correspondent in Utah) and infamous (Todd Herzog, the gay Mormon flight attendant with a penchant for coffee) contestants. MTV’s The Real World has also seen it’s share of Mormons. The latest? Chet, the edgy but not too edgy punk rocker, who “despite his tight jeans and affinity for neon clothing…is one of 10 children in a strict Mormon family.” Mormon super stardom is almost certainly guaranteed for this purple capri pants wearing young man.

This phenomenon is so prominent that there is actually a sub category for Mormon American Idol celebrities, where Mormons, once advised on who the current year’s Mormon contestants are, will whole-heartedly throw their support behind them, regardless of talent. Carmen Rasmussen’s goatish vibrato was fueled by Saints with cellulars, even after she did everything short of saying “Please, for the love of all that is good and holy, stop voting for me, I cannot take the abuse from the judges anymore!” Add to that the excitement of possibly running into her at a Happy Valley Olive Garden on any given night, and you had a bonafide Mormon reality superstar. Remember, Jon Peter Lewis, the guy with the quirky dance? In treating the camera like a 19 year old BYU undergrad with his Mormon on a date antics, phone lines across Utah lit up brighter than Mickey Roarke in a Tijuana pharmacy during his time on the show. So pronounced is this trend that last year’s season of Idol yielded two Mormon contestants; the talented one with the crazy dad who lived in a perennial 1955 musical universe that almost won, and the other one, Brooke White.

Going beyond reality TV, another pop culture pastime Mormons participate in is “Will they or won’t they return to activity”, a fun exercise in which Mormons track the spiritual well-being of prominent Jack Mormons who are members of the church in name only. Currently, the best known Mormon for use in this informal game is Grey’s Anatomy’s Catherine Heigl, who has stated in interviews that one day she might consider returning to full activity, but is just having too much fun currently to be bothered with eternal salvation.

Sounds like a reality show in the making.


Courtney said...

Her name is Katherine Heigl, with a K.

Jill said...

I am totally enjoying your blog. I love the "will they or won't they" pitch. Very funny. I laughed out loud all alone too long to not comment.

Mollie said...

Can't wait for the new Survivor mormon. From his interview online, he looks like a complete tool. They never get any solid members on these shows. They always like the "on the edge" types.
That brings up a question - what is a "solid mormon"? Am I one? Are you one? But most important, is David Archuleta one....? I guess time will tell when he turns 19. Will it be "called to serve", or "called to sell"??????

Anonymous said...

Mollie, the one on Survivor is seriously a jack mormon... running around in the nude, a RM at that...

However, The Blue Team (Sione Fa & Filipe Fa) on The Biggest Loser are both mormon and awesome...

And yes, I totally fall under this post.