Massimo Introvigne, “New/Old Mormon Family Values: Italian Reactions to Big Love and Twilight.”
As background for this paper, last year I gave a seminar paper on Italian media and the Romney campaign. It appears in International Mormon Studies 2, published after the conference of the European Association of Mormon Studies. What I planned to do was broaden observations about Italian reactions to Mormonism by taking in to account the year of 2008 and first months of 2009, focusing on Italian reaction to fiction like Big Love and Twilight. Most of you will know the author is a pious member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The second remark is that I will skip something of methodology except to say that popular culture and fiction are extremely effective in marginalizing and mainstreaming. To give you an example in the 19th century, travel accounts, told of the story of polygamy before the manifesto, and one has to consider that nonfiction books always sold some thousands of copies while cheaper novels sold in the millions. That’s the typical example. A novel published in 1902, a Buffalo Bill Story. In it he arrives too late at Mountain Meadows, which of course never happened, but the next one is Buffalo Bill and the Danite Kidnappers, a Mountain Meadows story. Many of these stories were written in monthly installments. Every year Buff Bill sold 70 million copies in the United States, scholarly studies were no match. In Europe, Buffalo Bill was translated into in 27 languages and sold over 100 million copies. So European attitudes on Mormonism were shaped by popular culture like Buffalo Bill.
Another example, 1930, published in an Italian newspaper first, then as a dime novel, was written by George Simonon. Simonon was still claiming that polygamy was practiced in Utah and that Joseph Smith had nothing to do with it, but it was introduced by Brigham Young.
So we have to consider that people in the tens of millions like Twilight and those that read scholarly books about Mormonism are very few.
Google stories about Mormonism in Italian media.
Romney’s Mormonism, 1150 stories
Twilight and Mormonism, 755 stories
Rome Temple, 300 stories
Big Love, 290 stories
Other stories, 15 stories
Fundamentalist stories missing from this list but they appear lumped in with stories about Romney and Big Love.
Romney’s Mormonism still the main story, 45 % of stories mention him. Twilight second. The announcement that there would be a temple in Rome was made Nov. 2008 and generated some interesting media talk, but not as big as the Romney campaign and Twilight. Big Love did not have a lot of discussion because in Italy it’s aired by cable and it is comparatively expensive. Many of the stories under Romney and Big Love also talk about the FLDS, with several hundred mentioning the raid in Texas, but it wasn’t such big news in Italy. It was mentioned by the most important daily newspapers, but didn’t generate a lot of discussion on blogs, etc. The book Escape by Jessup will be published in Italian and will likely generate more interest.
755 stories on Twilight and Mormonism, a significant number of stories, but compared to tense of thousands of stories about Twilight, and it’s not a lot.
Deseret Book decided to pull out Twilight from its shelves. Unforeseen by to whoever took that step, it became big news in Europe. Most of these stories are grossly inaccurate, saying that Meyers was excommunicated, or that the LDS church counseled that its youth are not to read Meyer and that Deseret will sell you the books at special order. It became big news as a ban against Twilight.
413 Meyer a Mormon
Church ban on Twilight 300+ stories.
Stories about Big Love, general, 280 stories
Church’s Criticism of Big Love, 10 stories
The Third season featuring the temple has not been shown in Italy yet. There is a blog by a church member, well read among members, critical of Big Love, but this is a discussion mostly within that community.
It is difficult to classify a story as positive and neutral and negative. Very socially constructed to talk like that.
Most stories on the Rome temple don’t take a stand because the stories are short. Slight majority of negative stories as opposed to positive. But of the two extremes the stories of Meyer and Mormonism are very positive because Meyer is a media darling. She was the best thing that happened to Mormonism in Italy. The alleged ban was the worst thing. People were critical of the Church for banning books that featured vampires. It was seen as sheer stupidity and particular to the Mormons. They had the golden opportunity with Meyer but torpedoed it with the “ban”. Whoever did that didn’t realize what they were doing.
With Big Love, the negative stories were in the majority. I’m not sure this gives you the real picture. The PR department in Italy was very concerned about Big Love, but were not aware of the effects of the Twilight “ban.”
Rome temple, the PR people did a good job because most of the stories are neutral, they got a packet from the PR dept, but still, negative stories double the positive. The Mormon church is still well known for polygamy.
Romney stories, more neutral in factual elements because presumably handled by political reporters who are slightly smarter than popular media reporters [laughter]. The Romney campaign did a good job explaining Mormonism to the media, but again negative stories double the positives.
Summary of the positive, neutral, and negative interviews. The Rome Temple failed to make a difference, but the alleged ban did. Had Deseret Book not pulled the book from their shelves, the overall result would have been much better. That’s the single and most damaging event for the image of the Mormon church and I believe also in France and Germany.
Let me comment on Twilight a bit more. It’s a very strange deal because of course it’s about vampires, some people would say that stories about vampires would not help, people would say that vampires are strange, wouldn’t went that in stores. But not a widespread attitude for Twilight, the Catholic Church in the US praised Twilight for teaching good family values. The evaluation of the move in the conference of Catholic bishops went under the title, “Just Because You Are a Vampire Doesn’t Mean You Can’t be a Gentleman.” It was recommended to those over 14 years old. In Italy’s most authoritative paper, the books and movie were praised as a bastion of traditional conservative values. Christianity today also gets positive evaluation of Twilight. The only evangelical author writing against it is [didn’t catch name], but he wrote that it was evil because the author is Mormon. Twilight was received in a dream, he said, like JS got the Book of Mormon. But she’s a fringe figure. I would suspect that some took that seriously, and perhaps in the Mormon community, there are people following this extreme anti-Mormonism, and perhaps focusing too much on that, Deseret Book probably tried to disassociate Mormons from Vampires. But the effect of that move was not as expected.
During the Olympics, I was trying to help some of the Italian media understand Mormonism. When you say Mormonism, the reaction of Italian journalists is Polygamy. Mike Homer was introduced to Italian journalists as a Mormon, the first question was, “How many wives do you have?” So it took a lot of education.
After attempts to educate the media, there were mixed results. The media largely will not state that there is a separate church practicing polygamy. They are saying a branch of the church practiced it, which is like saying a branch of Catholicism is practicing as Jehovah’s Witnesses [laughter].
Let me give you an example, the official magazine of Fox, which carries HBO programs (no HBO in Italy), introduces the second season by talking about the Mormon Erickson polygamous family, without any attempt to distinguish. The father-in-law is described as the Mormon gangster. So the official magazine is not making the distinction.
One of the higher quality papers compared Big Love and Twilight family values and even threw in David Archuleta. Well researched, but remained ambiguous about the Mormon taboo about polygamy. Polygamy called the darker side of Mormonism.
The Church In Italy has about 22,000 members, 400,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses, 200,000 Evangelicals. So many have family members who are JW or Evangelicals. If the church continues its efforts with the Rome Temple, there should be improvement in accuracy of coverage.
But the PR fiasco of the Twilight “ban” shows the PR efforts in the country may be torpedoed by events in Utah.