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.)
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Frasier (II) (1998)

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1998 - Season 5, Episode 12
"The Zoo Story"


Context: Seattle radio psychiatrist Frasier Crane has fired his unscrupulous agent Bebe in search of someone who can perform their duties while still maintaining the highest ethical standards. He ends up hiring Ben, a man who delivers Meals on Wheels, makes and distributes toys to needy children, leads scout troops on nature hikes, is a recipient of the Seattle Samaritan Award, and more. Frasier has found the only ethical agent in Seattle; a "good and decent man." Ben has arranged for Frasier to have a crane at the zoo named after him, and just before the press conference, in front of Frasier's former agent, Ben possibly sheds some light onto his religious background...

Frasier

Exegesis: Frasier maintains throughout the episode that it's possible for an agent to be decent and ethical while still being effective at their job. Everyone in Frasier's inner circle is skeptical, and Ben doesn't allay their fears with each kind, selfless or otherwise boy-scouty thing he says or does. (For the critical salary-negotiation meeting at the end of the episode, Ben literally shows up in a boy scout uniform.) Whether an agent must be unethical to perform their duties well is beside the point, but it's interesting that the episode suggests that a Mormon is incapable of being ruthless in business. "When there's a dirty job to be done, you can't go wrong with a Mormon," Bebe says sarcastically, before bursting into laughter.

Mormons have a long, proud history of being known and respected for their honesty and integrity, and those attributes have served Mormons very well, generally, in many positions. Mormons are valued in the corporate and financial world in large part due to these attributes that Mormons tend to share. (There's a whole website dedicated to this phenomenon, and books, too.)

As the links in the preceding paragraph make clear, Mormons are a force to be reckoned with in the business world, but as this episode of Frasier underscores, we're still largely seen as a bunch of idealistic, out-of-touch, do-gooder rubes; too naïve to deal with the harsh realities of the dog-eat-dog corporate world. I suppose this is a stereotype attributed to many deeply religious people, but Mormons seem particularly prone to characterization as bumpkins.

Whatever the reason, the stereotype appears to be that anyone who is truly honest or ethical is too naïve to successfully navigate the corporate/secular world, and those who are less overtly religious will therefore be better equipped to adapt to that world. This conventional thinking simply doesn't bear the weight of much scrutiny, and certainly shrivels in the face of actual real-world examples. But the ingenuous naïf is a popular archetype, and Mormons just seem to embody those particular virtues that are widely regarded as idealistic at best, and unsophisticated, if not downright pathetic, at worst.

View another Frasier clip on this site.
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