Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Marketing Normality

I wrote this in response to someone who had mentioned that the guys depicted on the Northstar Website all seemed to be very attractive and wondered about this. For the record I did not say that it was Ty on the cover of his book.


Let's be honest with ourselves how many guys do you honestly see clicking on it if the guys didn't look that way?

My background is public relations and marketing and what is going on here is no different then what other websites and magazines do everyday. Even the church does it in its media campaigns and magazines photos.

Its not so much of a glorification of perfection, youth, ideal body size, hair or style. Its more about an accepted standard of comfortable perceived normality. These models are on one hand very attractive and do draw our attention. On the next level there is nothing remarkably distracting about them that will take away from the message that is being projected. The are comfortable set dressings.

Everyone wants to be and feel normal. Like it or not those images personify normality within the culture we live in. Its easier to hear messages and accept them from people who appear normal and thus make us feel normal.

Many of us read Ty's book because we already knew him. However for those who don't and are in that section of Deseret Book, who randomly pick up the book or are looking for a non threatening book on a very intimidating topic, the photo is effective. This is a good looking guy, on the surface someone who looks like he shouldn't have issues. So the potential reader wonders "What? How can someone like this who looks so normal live a life in quiet desperation?" This is a very effective method to get the message out.

How many photo illustrations in the Ensign portray what Sacrament meeting is really like? The one I went to today had sleepy people, tired and stressed out parents. A lot of overweight people stuffed into shirts to small for them. Lots of pew monkeys, cheerios and screaming kids. I was thumbing through the Ensign and there was a picture of a large young family sitting in church. I don't know what they put in the Cheerios in that ward but its not like and ward I've sat in.

People don't want to be reminded of reality. Those who are into marketing and design know this. Perfection and the perceived normality are tools advertisers use everyday to get their message out. People see it and imagine they relate to the happy, smiley good looking people.

In this case the Northstar, Ty's book and the Ensign have positive messages. Using the most effective tools to spread that message isn't a bad thing. Now yes I admit that I don't fit the image of the guys on the site and yeah it would be cool to see a few "realistic" looking images. But its the message that is more important.

Is this being part of the world or using their methods? Yes to a degree, but as Elder Bednar has said some of our best tools to reach the world are found there, but you have to turn them 180 degrees.

Now yes I do think we need to be more accepting. And yes I think it is wrong to assume that just because someone is thin and therefore attractive, wears Auerostle or A&F or has that faux-moho-hauck is somehow more worthy, normal, less needy or deserving of friendship or Christlike love. Yes, maybe they are easier to accept and love because such association may make us feel "normal" but that kind of normal is what does breed clicks and ites.

I believe this is truly what living in the world but not being of the world means.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

FHE and my friend Dan

I wanted to write about an experience this past conference trip. I haven't had time because I've been on a deadline to finish. But I feel like if I don't write about it, I would be proving myself unworthy of the blessings I received.

Also I apologize for the style this is written in. The only way I feel I can express this is to dramatize it a bit, including dialog so that it reads more like a story. This is very personal to me and I wanted to share it with you guys.

. . . FHE and My Friend Dan . . .

Sitting in a car driving through the Nevada desert at night is typically boring. I decided to come out for conference and I brought a friend. A friend who doesn't struggle with SGA and didn't know that I did either.

Conference would be cool. I work for a newspaper so we would have media passes. This means we get into all the sessions and don't have to wait in lines. And yes we are working, this is awesome because when I get home, I get to write about conference and share it with those not of our faith who read the paper. We get to take pictures and all that. We would be able to meet the new apostle and YW Presidency, and attend the press conferences for them.

It was after conference that I was worried about.

I was a little concerned about the Matis FHE. I really wanted to go, I had made some personal resolutions to mend some fences with some of the guys there.

The speaker was someone I've become an accidental fan of over the years. I had met him when he played "Joseph" in "Savior of the World." I hadn't realized it, I was more interested in meeting the actress playing "Mary." But I was looking at my ticket and realized he had signed it. A year or so later he played Alma Richards in "Light of the World," a production performed at the Conference Center during the 2002 Winter Olympics in SLC. Later I met him again at Deseret Books and he signed a CD. He played Hyrum Smith in the new Joseph Smith movie shown at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building and that new movie about Emma Smith.

The problem was, how do I explain FHE to my friend without explaining the purpose or more specifically the people attending the FHE without "outing" myself.

I had a couple of the speakers CD's, I played on the way hoping to spark some interest at which I could then go into "Well actually if you like his work, I know how you can meet him," type thing. But that didn't happen. I than told him that Monday I would probably go to family FHE and so if there was anything he wanted to do then he could do it. He said, "No, I'm cool with whatever you want to do."

I was kind of stuck.

Being together with someone for 11 hours is a good way to get to know them. At first I wasn't really sure if he wanted to come, he had tried to bring several people along and then when they bowed out asked if we could cut the trip short. Leave on Wednesday. Dan had always struck me as someone I should get to know; I think it was his eyes or something. He seemed to understand things. The only problem was that I don't think he knew he understood things. By the end of the trip to Utah we would learn a lot about each other, that we both struggle with different but equally challenging things that kept us from being open completely to those around us. That we are both more alike then different. And we ended up staying the whole week.


Earlier that morning we had had lunch at Dee's and this server who must have assumed we were a couple started telling us of some cool things we could do in Utah as long as we didn't let the fact that it was a “theocracy” bother us. He then scribbled his number on the City Weekly.

I ask Dan over our Wisconsin Cheese Soup, if he could tell that the server liked guys

"No, he's not, he was just being nice." I chucked and said, "Dan he was inviting us to go to Gossip on Saturday night after priesthood."

By Sunday night Dan had met a couple SGA friends who are trying very hard to be faithful and who are living the gospel and a couple openly gay friends who weren't. As we were laying in the dark, he asked me outright. "What do you think about it? Do you think its a choice?"

I asked him, "Well do you choose to like girls?"

I asked him how he would feel if during the Priesthood Session if Pres Monson announced that from here-on-out men were to only be attracted to men and date and marry other men and that having sex with women was an abomination. "Would you be able to deal with that?" That he would have to “change” his attraction.

He said he never thought of it that way. He always just thought that guys could just change. "But what does the church feel about it? I mean I know it's a sin?" he asked.

I was sleeping on the couch, he was in his sleeping bag on the floor. It was about 4 a.m. conference was still fresh in our minds. We were tired, but at the point where we weren't sleepy. I told him about the pamphlet and what it says. Two days of being exposed to the gospel accompanied by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir tends to do that to you.

I then told him I had been praying that he would ask me about this because there was something I needed to ask him.

I then told him about Brother and Sister Matis and their son, their book, and I told him about the FHE they host. I told him about the guys who go there. I also told him that I would never put him in a situation where he felt awkward and if he didn't want to go I'd understand.

"I would really like to go," he said. "You know up until now I never really thought about it. I mean I know that there are gay people, but I've never really thought about there being gay people who are trying to be faithful to the church. I guess I don't understand because they still like guys but they are choosing not to act on it. That must really be hard," he said.

"So are you telling me that those guys we stayed with are like that, that they are trying hard and being faithful? He asked. “Do you think they can change?"

I asked him again if he could change and like guys? Than I asked him how he would feel if he loved something as much as we both loved the church but at the same time knew it felt about something that feels to us?


A friend of mine was letting us barrow his condo. It was awesome, but he had friends over the night before so we couldn't actually stay there until that night when they left to play in Moab. Its funny how we come to Utah for conference and a lot of people from Utah escape during the week.

It turned out also that a good friend and former co-worker also just happened to be driving with her friend through Utah that night and called me thinking I was at home wondering if I knew anyone in SLC that they could crash. This was why we were sleeping downstairs and the two girls were upstairs in the bedrooms.

The night before we stayed with two friends who also struggle. Dan was oblivious to this fact. After the server incident he had decided that his gaydar didn't work.

That morning I got a text message from one of the friends asking me if Dan was going to come with us or not. I told him yes.

"You do know there will be gay people there." Was the next response.

I was tempted to say something about how we will just tell him that this was a ward that had a large Elders Quorum who happened to all be really well dressed and share the same affinity for faux hocks, girl pants, tight polo shirts and Aqua Gio. But I didn't.

My friend didn't know that Dan already knew.


So we set off to have lunch with another friend and his friend and friends of his friends. Two of them were planning on going to FHE with us.

After lunch and touring around downtown SLC we headed back to the apartment to pool rides to Lehi. I told Dan that one of the guys we were staying with was panicking because he was going. I told him about the message.

Pulling a face and sounding very GA-ish he said, "Now Jerry, we both know that the correct way to refer to it is Same Gender Attracted and not gay."

I could have hugged him, but I punched him instead. It seemed like the most hetro-way to show affection at the moment. We decided to pull the same joke on my panicking friend when we got upstairs.


On the way home from Family Home Evening Dan thanked me.

"You know besides General Conference, I think this will be one of the highlights of my trip," he said. I sat next to him and thought about the anxiety I had been plagued with the few days before we left when I wondered how I was going to either invite him or ditch him so I could come.

"Those people are awesome and the love they show is so Christlike," he said referring to Brother and Sister Matis.

As we drove back to Salt Lake we marveled at how bright the temples were.

"You know this trip has changed my outlook," he said. "I think I will never look at people and their struggles the same again. We all have struggles and those things are things we deal with. It's how you handle them, how you act on them that determines if things are a sin or not. A lot of those guys are really trying and struggling with something really hard, it makes me want to try harder also."

We sat quietly for a bit. I wondered why he hadn't asked me if I struggled? He explained that it didn't matter to him as my friend, and it only mattered how I choose to deal with it and that was between God and me.

"Jerry, thank you for bringing me tonight," he said. "I think I needed to see this in order to realize this and learn that lesson."

We sat quietly a little more and then he added.

"Oh and Jerry, there was a lot of faux hocks, girl pants, tight polo shirts and Aqua Gio there wasn't there?!"

We both busted up laughing.