Mormon media studies and the Bloggernacle

Mormon media studies and the Bloggernacle September 14, 2010

I’ve been invited to participate in a panel at the upcoming “Mormon Media Studies” conference at BYU. The panel will discuss the Bloggernacle, and so I’ll be badmouthing all of you soon (but most especially, Chris H.).  As for my small part, I’m going to talk about some of the benefits and drawbacks of blogging about religion. Here are some preliminary thoughts, feedback is requested.

With apostolic urging following the initial surge, Mormon blogs have been multiplying and replenishing the web for about a decade now, and with the help of some monopolizing aggregatora and group blogs, a relatively tight-knit community has been established where many people recognize others by screen name. The new venues provide a place for more marginal voices on the “conservative” and “liberal” ends of the spectrum (such labels are an oversimplification). The gut interpretation of all this is that the Internet is bringing more Mormons together and creating a tight community spanning several continents. But, there’s always a but. 

This interpretation follows the “Global Village” theory Marshall McLuhan laid out in the sixties. With improving technology in the spheres of travel and communication the globe would shrink into one nice big neighborhood where we all can see Russia from our houses. This same dream was imagined decades earlier, even in Mormon circles.  Orson Pratt, one of early Mormonism’s foremost authors and publishers, exultantly wrote from England in 1850 that the increasing ease and speed of travel had “almost united the two continents into one.” Technological developments enabled Isaiah’s prophesied “swift messengers” to warn the world of coming judgment and gather the elect to Zion. “The extensive circulation of the printed word,” Pratt declared, “has also given an impetus to the rolling of the great wheel of salvation.” The gospel would sweep the earth, turning the latter-day global village into the Kingdom of God on earth (See “An Epistle of President Orson Pratt, To The Saints Throughout Great Britain,” 23 July 1850, The Latter-day Saints Millennial Star vol. XII [15 August 1850], p. 246). Pratt was writing on the tail-end of the invention of the printing press, looking to the future of telegraph and railroads. But even Pratt couldn’t anticipate a latter-day Moses wirelessly Tweeting from a new age Sinai, of course.

Media analysts continue to expect such development to break down walls between nations and cultures, they hope for the ability to create a great neighborhood from the great global village. But not all are satisfied that a global village utopia is just around the river bend. Feisal G. Mohamed, assistant professor of English at Texas Tech University, has noted how digital media aids the rise of “homegrown terrorists” like Colleen LaRose, aka “Jihad Jane” (see CNN, “Jihad Jane, American who lived on Main Street,” 10 March 2010). McLuhan believed the new global village, facilitated by miraculous intercontinental transport and communication by new media, would “put an end to parochialism,” but “quite the opposite has occurred,” Mohamed observes:

Rather than [McLuhan’s] global village, we have become a globe of villages; we live in a cacophony of hidebound parochialisms where individuals seek association only with those to whom they relate by way of primordial intuition…The liberal state, with its dependence on rational association, is dissolving into a collection of masses united by the parochialisms of “religion” and “culture” (Mohamed, “The Globe of Villages: Digital Media and the Rise of Homegrown Terrorism,” Dissent [Winter, 2007], 61-64).

The  phenomenon can be observed among Americans who, divided along political party lines, can seek out news sources that cater directly to their own prejudices. The same sort of phenomenon seems to happen in the Bloggernacle (not homegrown terrorism, but cliqueish in-gathering). Yeah?

Global Mormonism can also be viewed as a “globe of Mormonisms” with new boundaries popping up—not only from geopolitical entities and cultures—but from different  perspectives on what it means to be Mormon. We see new designations like “TBM” and “NOM” crop up online, somewhat pejorative shades of Richard Poll’s “Iron Rod/Liahona” typology. New media provides a place for people to come together—sometimes to aid our sense of isolation by finding a community more suited to our natural proclivities, sometimes to find a community that feels more like home than those in closer geographical proximity. The global village is the globe of villages for better and worse.

I’m looking for a good discussion about blogs and Mormonism, debates and agreements, sloppy humor and well-crafted photoshop images of funny paintings. Historical anaysis and navel-gazing rants. What are your thoughts on the online globe of Mormonisms?

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