Mormon Fray
The Archive of Incidental Mormon References in Pop Culture...

You Kill Me (2007)

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2007, Dir. John Dahl

Context: Ben Kingsley plays Frank Falenczyk, a hitman for the Polish mafia, and an alcoholic. His alcoholism starts to get in the way of murdering people for money, so the Family sends him to dry out in San Francisco. Dave (Bill Pullman), was hired to make sure Frank cleans up his act, and arranges for his apartment, a job in a mortuary, and attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous. One night, Frank comes home to his apartment, but it's not empty...

You Kill Me

Exegesis: I don't know about balling up socks or flossing, but not hiding booze is certainly Mormonesque. Again, this is a reference to the Mormon law of health, otherwise known as the Word of Wisdom. There are many parts of this law, but the ones that seem to get the most press are the proscriptions against alcohol, tobacco, tea, and coffee. These are likely the stand-outs, simply because one or more of these things are probably staples in the lives of most non-Mormons. The Word of Wisdom is particularly interesting, I think, insofar as it was revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith in 1833, well before the global scientific community had reached a consensus regarding the injurious effects of some of the substances proscribed by the Word of Wisdom.

Bill Pullman talking about flossing and balling socks isn't exclusively Mormon per se, but coupled with the lack of alcohol, these traits fall in line with the prevailing Mormon stereotype of being neat, tidy, responsible, and generally strait-laced. For the purposes of many films and television shows, Mormons are essentially interchangeable squares and/or rubes. (For another example of this tendency to portray Mormons as honest, friendly and embarrassingly naïve, check out this clip from Frasier.)

The Venture Bros. (2010)

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Season 4, Episode 13
"Bright Lights, Dean City"

Context: Dean Venture, the younger of "Super Scientist" Thaddeus Venture's two sons, has taken a summer internship position in the labs of Professor Incredible (a parody of Marvel's "Mr. Fantastic"). Unbeknownst to the naïve Dean, Professor Incredible has turned evil, partnering with the criminals Phantom Limb and Baron Ünderbheit to form "The Revenge Society." Hoping to increase their numbers, they stage an audition of sorts for would-be super-criminals.

The Venture Bros.

Exegesis: This reference is a little unique, insofar as Mormons are not ever explicitly mentioned. But two things make clear the Mormons are the intended target of the farce: One, the reference to polygamy. It's hard to have a reference to polygamy without Mormons coming up these days. The second is the reference to "Magic Underwear". This is a popular meme, because it sounds so ridiculous, and is repeated occasionally even by otherwise well-meaning people who are unaware of how offensive that characterization is to Mormons.

Obviously Mormons do not wear magic underwear. Using the word "magic" to explain any aspect of religion is likely going to be an offensive association for believing members of that religion. (Except for Wiccans, I suppose.) We believe in miracles, not magic. That may be a distinction that that many non-believers don't recognize, but it's crucial to believers. When something a religion believes to be divine is called "magic" the implication is that the believers are rubes, and that the apparent power is an illusion or a trick. It may well be pointless to argue about the power of God and its effects with someone who denies that power even exists. Atheists (although they are not the only ones who make snide and derisive comments regarding Mormon beliefs) tend to approach religion from a position of great condescension, since they almost by definition consider themselves to be more intelligent or reasonable than virtually all religious persons. Calling Mormon underwear "magic" simply reeks of that kind of supercilious and patronizing attitude. In the context of this clip, the "magic underwear" is likely mentioned because the scene is, after all, a super-villain audition, and magic is very real in the realm of comic books and superheroes/supervillainy.

Also, "underwear" is a funny word. Okay, that's debatable, but most things that are of an intimate or private nature, like most bodily functions, tend to be mined repeatedly for comedy. It's puerile and it's immature, but this kind of low humour is also frequently hilarious in the right hands. The fact that this time it was coupled with a backhanded insult to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is too bad, but is also to be expected when people who are not of our faith encounter aspects of it they do not understand.

This may not be an ideal forum in which to correct this particular misconception, and the people who call our underwear "magic" are not likely to be very anxious to have their misconceptions corrected. Essentially, the garment worn by faithful adult Mormons who have been through the temple is a symbol of our commitment and the covenants we've made - "an outward expression of an inward commitment". I've always liked the way that apostle Boyd K. Packer explained the temple garment - he compared it to the robes of an ordained priest, except that we wear our symbolic "robes" all the time. At any rate, the garments are considered sacred by Mormons, and the cynical denigration of anything that any religion holds sacred is never terribly amusing to me. As the Prophet Joseph Smith wrote, "We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may."

S.W.A.T. (2003)

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2003 - Dir. Clark Johnson

Context: Based on the 1970's television series of the same name, this film is about an elite Special Weapons and Tactics team in Los Angeles. Jim Street (Colin Farrell) has just been kicked off the S.W.A.T. team following a hostage situation in which he and his partner disobeyed direct orders. His demotion has him working in the "gun cage" with Gus (James DuMont), who apparently really likes Dr. Pepper and McDonald's, but seems a little confused about the tenets of his religion, and the actual dietary restrictions contained in the Word of Wisdom...


Exegesis: This video contains clips from two scenes in the film. In the first scene, Gus is drinking a Dr. Pepper, and confesses to Jim that he really shouldn't, since he converted to Mormonism when he got married. Fair enough – many Mormons avoid caffeinated drinks, despite their not being specifically proscribed by the Word of Wisdom. (Note: The Word of Wisdom is what the Mormon law of health is called, and is the reason why Mormons don't smoke or drink alcohol, tea, or coffee among other things.) So that's all fine. Getting into a discussion of whether caffeinated soft drinks are against the Word of Wisdom (or the spirit of the Word of Wisdom) is likely to be fruitless, since the Church hasn't ever made an official statement on the subject. Furious debates on this subject can be found elsewhere on the Internet, and a treatment of it here would be beyond the scope of this exegesis. Suffice it to say, many Mormons avoid it, and this scene rings more or less true. (For the record, I am one of those Mormons who doesn't drink caffeinated soft drinks, which is maybe why I let this scene slide.)

The second scene, however, is completely bizarre. I understand that McDonald's food is unhealthy, but to suggest that it is typical of Mormons to avoid it is strange indeed. Avoiding fast food may be a good idea, but it's certainly not a tenet of the Mormon faith. Weird.

It's difficult to understand why these scenes are included, except as some misguided attempt at comic relief. In the first scene, it's so that Colin Ferrell's character can make the remark about treating his body "like an amusement park," and in the second scene, so that Colin Farrell's character can tell Gus he's "cheating on [his] wife with fast food," something that sounds absurd, but in the context of the scene and  Gus' bizarro Hollywood version of Mormonism, makes sense. Because he's Mormon, the movie seems to suggest, the worst sin he can commit is cheating on his wife by eating McDonald's. Instead of smelling like another woman's perfume, or even cigarette smoke, he will smell of french fries, a tell-tale sign of "infidelity" that Gus has already found a solution for: mouthwash. The joke appears to be: Look at these clean living Mormons - they're so peculiar, and the Mormon corollary to real-world problems/transgressions are trivial and silly! It is the quintessential "Mormons as 'other'" paradigm. It would help if the example (McDonald's) made any sense at all in the context of Mormonism, but whatever. Incidentally, I'd love to see what would happen if the Church outlawed fast food. Yikes.

There are other characters in other movies who happen to be Mormon for reasons that don't further the narrative, and sometimes don't even prop up weak humour, as in this example. I think there are simply screenwriters out there who either knew a Mormon once, or just have a book called: "The Writer's Bucket O' Quirks for Well-rounded Secondary Characters." Giving a minor or otherwise poorly-sketched character some random religious quirks is a quick way to flesh that character out without doing much heavy-lifting screenwriting-wise.

Last Days (2005)

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2005 Dir. Gus Van Sant

The last film of Gus Van Sant's so-called "Death Trilogy", along with the equally austere and inscrutable Gerry and Elephant. Like Elephant, this movie is a kind of film à clef, chronicling the final days/hours in the life of a fictionalized Kurt Cobain, Nirvana's gifted frontman.

Context: Blake, the thinly veiled Cobain surrogate in Last Days, spends most of the running time of the film avoiding everyone, including the people living in his own house. So when Mormon missionaries arrive at the door, Blake slips out, but his housemates invite the young men in for a bizarrely long and eerily accurate chat.

Last Days

Exegesis: This is simultaneously one of the most accurate depictions of LDS missionaries on film, and the most bizarre. Perhaps it is bizarre precisely because it is so accurate. That's not to say that these Elders are especially good - their delivery could use some serious work, but they even quote from Joseph Smith's history, just like many real missionaries do! In other words, the doctrine seems to be more or less sound. They even point out the scripture references they have written in the front cover of the Book of Mormon that they leave behind, encouraging the people to read it, and inviting them to church on Sunday. That's Missionary 101.

It's a little weird that the two missionaries are both named Elder Friberg. (The twin actors who play them are actually named Andy and Adam Friberg.) The Internet Movie Database points out a few minor inconsistencies in its "Goofs" section, viz.: "One of the LDS missionaries that visits the house is wearing a light blue shirt. LDS missionaries are only permitted to wear non-decorative white shirts with dark pants/suits, and a conservative tie. The missionaries also carried no pamphlets, visual aids, appointment books, or their own complete sets of scriptures, which is highly unlikely for door-to-door proselytizing." But really, those are fairly trivial complaints considering the gross liberties that most films take when depicting Mormon missionaries.

It's hard to pinpoint the reason why this rather lengthy scene was included in the film. Van Sant is regarded as somewhat of an auteur, but as I pointed out in the intro to this piece, I find some of his, shall we say, "less commercial" work a little difficult to parse. Much is made of the Elders' ability to talk to God. At the end of the film when (spoiler alert!) Cobain kills himself, his naked soul emerges from his corpse and begins to climb a ghostly ladder, so Van Sant may have been trying to lay the groundwork for some kind of spiritual or redemptive message. Or it could be that Van Sant was visited by missionaries once and thought the idea of young men who dedicate themselves to spreading the message of the restored gospel was an interesting counterpoint to the life of the protagonist. The Elders are played by twins, identical in every way except shirt color, which could be an illustration of their conformity and a suggestion that their "sameness" extends back to all those who follow an organized religion rather than one's own mysterious spiritual path, like Blake. The Elders also talk about Christ's purity and sacrifice, perhaps as a means whereby Blake's sacrifice (by suicide) can be seen as a redemptive act.

Is it significant that contemporaneously to this scene (and intercut with it during the film), we learn that Blake/Cobain is upstairs, strung out, listening to terrible 90s R&B, wearing a strappy black cocktail dress and army boots? I don't know. Van Sant's inclusion of these missionaries in the film could be totally random, which is a cop out explanation I know, but the IMDB also maintains that the Yellow Pages salesman in the film was actually a Yellow Pages salesman who simply wandered onto the set.

To be perfectly honest, I haven't seen the film in its entirety, so there could be themes I'm missing that would shed some light on why this particular scene was included. I love Nirvana, but frankly, I'm not sure I have the patience to actually watch this movie all the way through. After watching both Gerry and Elephant, I think I get the idea, Van Sant. Fool me twice...

In the absence of insight into this passage in the film, I will humbly offer a few points on the Elders' technique. Asking to come into the house in order to "tell you a little about our Church, give you information on our religion," is not going to open many doors. And to begin the discussion by pointing out that "alcohol is bad for our bodies" while the host pours himself a glass of wine is poor form, (and a few discussions early). Explaining the atonement and prayer simultaneously by (briefly) referencing Old Testament laws of sacrifice is perhaps not the best tack either. They also don't seem very engaged or enthusiastic about the message. Then again, I remember having companions like this, and for all I know, this is exactly how I sounded when I delivered the discussions in French.

Hustle & Flow (2005)

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2005, Dir. Craig Brewer

Context: Aspiring rapper DJay (Terrance Howard) is setting up a make-shift home studio with friend Key (Anthony Anderson), when there's a knock at his door. One of his prostitutes (Shug, played by Taraji P. Henson) – DJay is a pimp, you see – answers the door, and then comes to fetch DJay, who is displeased at being interrupted. He goes to the door, and mistakes Key's musician friend Shelby (DJ Qualls) for someone else, after seeing his white dress shirt and neck tie.

Hustle & Flow

Exegesis: It's hard out here for a pimp, and apparently hard in DJay's neighborhood for a Mormon. Despite a missing name tag and no companion, DJay mistakes Shelby for a missionary. Shelby opens with the decidedly un-missionary-like "Hey Man," and DJay remarks that Mormons are "brave motherf***ers" presumably for showing venturing into a tough neighbourhood like DJay's.

DJay doesn't seem antagonistic towards Mormons exactly, but it's unclear how receptive he would have been to the message had Shelby actually been a missionary. This is clearly a light interlude in the film, played for humour. DJ Qualls, the actor playing Shelby, certainly looks out of place in that neighbourhood, and with a little shorter haircut might even pass as a skinny young missionary. Is the movie suggesting that Mormon missionaries are inherently funny, or that they would necessarily be harassed or abused in certain neighbourhoods? I don't think so - I think this is just another humorous juxtaposition; the ol' mistaken identity gag. And I think it works, for what it's worth. Besides, DJay's declarative observation is kind of a compliment.

Censor's Note: I know we're (probably) all adults, and I wondered about what to do when I inevitably got to those clips that contained foul or questionable language. Should I post an uncensored version and a bowdlerized version and let people choose according to their own personal comfort level? In the end, I decided I'd just mute the offending word. I kind of want everyone to feel comfy coming to this site and watching these clips. The missing words are probably obvious, and maybe I made the wrong decision, but when you start your archive of incidental references to Mormons and Mormonism, you can make it as filthy as you want. It's not like Hustle & Flow is hard to find, if anyone wants to watch this clip in its original glory – it won a bunch of Oscars, for crying out loud.

To clarify, I'm talking about expurgating the big ones, the F-bombs et al. If you can't even stomach the occasional "hell" and "damn", then you should probably use your own discretion, because I'm leaving those in. My favourite clip on this site (from Cheers) has Kirstie Alley saying "damn".

Yes Man (2008)

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2008, Dir. Peyton Reed

Context: Carl Allen (Jim Carrey) is an asocial guy who says no to everything in his life. He is content to watch videos alone at home, avoids commitments, and neglects his friends. Eventually an acquaintance forces Allen to a self-improvement seminar where the mantra is "yes". Slowly, Allen comes to embrace "yes" as a way of life, and resolves to say "yes" to every opportunity. This leads to a montage (excerpted in the clip below) where we see some of the things Allen is willing to say "yes" to...

Yes Man

Exegesis: It used to be that Jehovah's Witnesses were the go-to religious missionaries for a door-to-door gag. Mormon Missionaries have been cropping up a lot more, it seems. In most of these instances, with very few exceptions, movies and television shows get one (or more) of the following three things wrong about missionaries:
  • They are not wearing black name tags.
  • They identify the Church incorrectly, usually as "The Church of Latter-Day Saints," (omitting the less-funny "of Jesus Christ" part).
  • Utterly uncharacteristic (and usually fanatical) rhetoric.
Incidentally, on that last point, Mormon missionaries-at-the-door seem to be portrayed mostly as clueless moon-eyed zealots, spouting generic born-again platitudes or asking inane new-age questions. (Last Days was one movie that actually gave the missionaries things to say that some [albeit less-effective] Mormon missionaries might actually say.)

Yes Man only misses the first point in that list – no black name tag. Surprisingly, the movie does give the full, correct name of the Church, and doesn't even follow it up with a clarifying "You know, 'The Mormons'!"

The only other logistical problem I can see with this scene is that if Jim Carrey's character has to say yes to everything, (and assuming the missionaries were doing their job), he'd definitely be baptized into the Church before the end of the movie...

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

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1986, Dir. Leonard Nimoy

This is another one that's stuck with me, despite the fact that the reference to Mormonism is ambiguous at best, and more than likely unintentional. Although for me, in the theatre as a little boy, there was no doubt that I was sharing a secret, highly esoteric joke, and that mixed-up Kirk was inadvertently linking Spock to the Mormon Church at Berkley in the 1960s. The Internet has reassured me that I am not alone in my Mormon-centric view of this exchange between Captain* Kirk and a blonde whale doctor from 1986 San Francisco. Thanks Internet!

*I know he was an admiral when the scene took place; he wasn't demoted back to Captain until the end of the movie... So what if I was a Star Trek nerd? Thanks to J.J. Abrams, that's cool now...

Context: In the future, the earth is threatened because apparently the song of humpback whales placated some destructive alien force, but the whales are long since extinct. So the crew of the USS Enterprise dutifully travels back in time to the year 1986. They have some difficulty in adjusting to life in mid-eighties San Francisco, and Spock in particular sticks out like a sore, alien thumb. For instance, while on a tour at an aquarium, Spock dives into a whale enclosure and performs a Vulcan mind-meld with the giant mammal. Understandably upset, Dr. Gillian Taylor (Christine Hicks) who works at the aquarium, kicks Kirk and Spock out. Later, she passes them on the road in her truck. Kirk attempts (unsuccessfully) to explain why his companion acts so weird and Vulcan-y.

Star Trek IV -->

Exegesis: As I mentioned earlier, it's entirely possible that this scene doesn't belong on this site. Essentially, Kirk transposes two letters when he makes reference to the psychotropic drug LSD, rendering it LDS. As a young boy when the film came out, I was convinced that the writer had intended Kirk's malapropism to change the meaning of the acronym from its intended "lysergic acid diethylamide" to "Latter-Day Saint", a shorthand I was familiar with, but which it occurred to me much later, few others would be. It's perhaps more likely that the joke was merely Kirk's fuzzy 23rd century mind comically misremembering the order of three letters. He could have said "DSL" and achieved the same effect. Nevertheless, I am including the clip on this site, on the slim chance that when Nicholas Meyer (et al.) wrote the screenplay, they had "Latter-Day Saints" in mind when they put those words in Kirk's mouth, even if the resulting acronym makes no sense in the context of the sentence.


Black Christmas (1974)

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1974, Dir. Bob Clark

Like this movie, I am Canadian. Unlike this movie, I am not credited by many as starting the "slasher" genre of horror films. (Besides, wasn't that Psycho?) This film has become a cult classic, and even spawned a critically lambasted remake in 2006 (bringing back fellow Canadian and SCTV alumnus Andrea Martin, whom you can see in the clip below, two years before SCTV began.) The 2006 version of Black Christmas does not retain the reference that earns the original a place on this site.

Context: It's Christmastime at a sorority house! The girls don't know that as they make merry inside, someone sinister is climbing the trellis outside into the attic. Soon after this mysterious and (spoiler alert: murderous) stranger arrives, the phone rings downstairs. The caller is identified by one of the girls as "The Moaner", and as the other sisters gather around to listen to his weird noises, one of the more incredulous girls asks if the sounds coming from the phone could possibly be made by only one person. Barb Coard (Margot Kidder) has a snappy answer...

Black Christmas

Exegesis: Ah, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Their fame is responsible for many of the references on this site. (Like, Fletch for example). Margot Kidder, who would go on to play the iconic Lois Lane in the Superman films, sells the line with her deadpan sarcasm. (You see, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir doesn't really make annual obscene phone calls...)

I recognize that to deconstruct a joke is to destroy it, but I continue to attempt nonetheless. The humour here stems from the dichotomy between the image of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (which is indeed comprised of more than one person) and the deranged pervert making the phone call.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, or "MoTab" as it is called by many Mormons (and perhaps others, I have no idea) is a world-famous choir. They are sponsored by the Church, and as far as I know, comprised solely of Latter-Day Saints, but they are financially self-sufficient, earning money from tours and album sales. (It doesn't hurt that all 360 of its members are volunteers.) You can learn all about them on Wikipedia, or on their very own website.