Brenda R. Weber is Professor and Chair of the Department of Gender Studies at Indiana University in Bloomington. She is the editor of Reality Gendervision: Sexuality and Gender on Transatlantic Reality TV (Duke 2014) and winner of the Ray and Pat Browne Award for Best Edited Collection given by the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association (2015). She is the author of Women and Literary Celebrity in the Nineteenth Century: The Transatlantic Production of Fame and Gender (Ashgate 2012) and Makeover TV: Selfhood, Citizenship, and Celebrity (Duke 2009). She is presently working on a monograph on gender, modernity, and mediated Mormonism called Latter-day Screens (forthcoming with Duke).
“Vanguards of Modernity: Mormonism as Meme and Movement”
I will be presenting a section from my forthcoming book, called Latter-day Screens: Gender, Modernity, and Mediated Mormonism, which considers the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as both an American-born religion and a media meme rich in associations and imperatives about gender and sexuality. Based on both unpublished materials and mass-produced entertainment, Latter-day Screens charts contemporary media across multiple platforms (blogs, novels, memoirs, television, film, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube) to demonstrate how the idea of Mormonism as a faith fixes the meanings of a gendered modernity marked by flexible domestic labor practices, “progressive” social relations, fluid interpersonal communication styles, and deliberative family structures. The book examines how Mormonism is variously used by those within and outside of the Church and by both amateur media producers and professionals to reinforce and renegotiate codes that align with a democratic norm of the citizen-self, who believes in (and thrives due to) egalitarianism, meritocracy, and self-actualization. Importantly, these values take place in an orientation toward screens, self-reflexivity, and the monetization of identity or self-branding that typifies modernity. I argue that the vast cultural archive by and about Mormonism has served a major role in aiding a distinctively gendered turn in the signifying value of modernity from one more masculine (emphasizing tropes of rationalism, individualism, accomplishment, progress, and competition) to an ideological position that is more aligned with queer-positive and feminist-friendly politics (emphasizing collaboration, liberation, and community).