206 Years ago

Just Before The birthday of Joseph Smith:

So, here’s your task, my friend, and if you fail, well, puff!  Up in smoke goes the entire world…ready?

At the age of 23, after being graduated from the New York frontier homeschool program with a certificate of having spent several years in study, and following that with a career selling gingerbread, felling trees, coopering, plowing, sowing, and sundry useful manual labors, including regular treasure digging, you will be visited by an Egypto-Hebrew-Indian spirit, who will direct you to a hole wherein is placed a stack of gold, diamond glasses, and some other treasures.  But don’t sell them, even though, you know, you might be on the verge of eviction and starvation, ok?

It would be easier if you weren’t flat broke, if you had a name or influence, some education worthy of the name, property, or friends in high places, but, we’ll, you can’t have everything, right?  What are taking with you, there?  Muscles, good looks, don’t forget the charismatic anointing by the Holy Spirit, and, yes, see there, a whole lotta guts and, yeah, well, you’ll know a bit more than anyone else.  So, you’ve got enough inside you to do some pretty cool stuff, don’t sweat the minor socioeconomicopolitical things.

The story on the gold plates is more valuable than the gold, believe me.  What’s on it?  No, not really a happy story.  On the gold plates you’ll find a record of a ruined civilation written in part by said spirit.   They sailed from, ahem, Jerusalem, and landed here in America, down south, probably.  Etcetera, and so on.  After enjoying the instruction and kingship of the resurrected Lord, this people held on for a few centuries before starting churches, and dividing into classes, and then exterminating one another for reasons not yet clear.  They do that sort of thing alot, I suppose.

Yep, that’s the story.  So you’ll have to translate their records…you don’t know Reformed Egyptian?  Hmm, well, that’s what the glasses are for.  You’ll figure it out.  Why?  Well, it’s complicated, but the Lord made some, you know how He is, some ‘incautious’ promises, fell in with a rough crowd…I know, right…yeah, so you’re going to help him make good on those promises.

Yeah, He could reneg on all of it, I mean, they’re pretty rotten down there, but you know how He is, right?  Always love this, charity that, forgive, forgive, longsuffering, kindness…Here, you’ll need alot of those things, too, I guess.  Take some more.

Anyway, believe it or not, most of your neighbors and friends and family won’t be terribly interested in your little translation project.  I know, we tried to make it as cool as possible, Indians, Wars, Gold, magic rocks, intrepid adventurings, but some mortals, well, they just lack vision.  So, you’ll get all this stuff one night, and then…no it’s not easy street from there.  You’ll walk through the night, and arrive home with said treasure, and find that there is no money for procuring a chest.  Get a nice one, about yea-high, and so wide.  Sure, get one with a lock, it can’t hurt.

So, after somehow retrieving these treasures, and avoiding all the thieves round about you, you’ll have to walk another couple miles, and dig a well, to earn a few dollars so you can put a downpayment on a chest.  And then you’ll have to walk back home.  No, it won’t be a party for you, so much as a chance to continue the education of your hands.  You know, pulling stumps, chopping wood, avoiding starvation and thieves.  It is ironic, I know, that you can’t afford a box for your gold, but that’s how we work around here.

So, you’ll start up looking over the gold plates, which your neighbors will call the Gold Bible, just to be jerks.  No, not really easy living after that.  This one guy will help you, only to end up, ahem, misplacing everything you’ve done, and then you’ll have to start over.   Oh, and he’s basically your only friend, the loser guy, but he may be in it for the money, so keep your eyes on him, OK?   Oh, right before that guy loses all your work, and your soul seems consigned to eternal flames, your first born son will live about, like, three seconds, and then die.  Pretty messed up.  And your neighbors, most of them  professing Christians, will mock your loss.  Over and over again.  You’ll see, they’ve got what will be called “issues”.

No, we’re still working on the details about housing, employment, and so on…but don’t worry, we’ll have it figured out by then, I’m almost certain.  What happens after the book is translated?  We’ll it’ll have to be published…no, probably not a run-away best seller.  Oh, yes, there’ll be plenty of “buzz” about your Gol’ Bible, but you know how that can be, mostly negative, right?  You’ll want to start a church…

I know, but all these Christians love their churches, and so we’ve got to play along.  Yep, a real church, sort of.  Right, well, you’ll be invited to remove yourself from one land, and then another, sometimes the invitations come with a bucket of tar, and chicken feathers, and so on, or a vial of poison for you to swallow, or just the usual beatings, but you’ll end up in a really great spot, near the water, neighborhood full of miasmic humors, a view of the cholera, a real gem…it’ll cost like a million dollars, too, but don’t worry about that one.  And there’s a really a solid group of fellas, you’ll see.

Well, some of them sort of have a change of heart, and seek your own life, but that’s how friends, are right?  There’s this one guy, Oh Boy, watch out…Bennett, I think.   And some others will try to undo everything we’re setting up here, and there’s no shortage of trouble to find and avoid…ladies, um, we’ll get that figured out…yeah, well, trouble.  Mostly from mortals in your church.  I know, but that is how they run things down there.  Anywhoo, that’s pretty much it…

How does it end?  Ahem.  Well.  You know how these things are.  After a life starting at zero…yeah, really less than zero, you’re right, you’ll eventually be a popular figure, something like a celebrity, a military leader, a prophet, a newspaper editor, a seer, a husband a few times over, a father, a son, a poet, a philosopher, a brother, a friend, and having sacrificed most of your basic pleasures, like food, health, and, oh yeah, one time your own people will rob you of your favorite silk ribbons, and fancy buttons…and there’s a jail called Liberty you’ll spend some time in…

Well after all these, ahem, ‘experiences,’ you’ll be locked away, betrayed, left for dead by your friends and family, and a mob, well, you know how mobs can be?  Turn on a dime, you know, well the mob…Yes, some of your own people, maybe even friends and family will be mobbing with them, well, they’ll shoot you up, as you fall from the window of the jail, and that’s pretty much it.

How does it go after that?  Oh, yeah, smooth sailing for the Mormons.  Even a musical.

What’s that?

Yeah, it does kinda suck when they abandon almost everything you taught and died for, and then make uninspired art and fake histories about you, but, well, what’re ya gonna do?  It’ll be worth it, really.  Ready?

Oh, and seriously, don’t mess this up, or poof!

…Man, I can’t believe he’s really gonna do it.



Improvement Era Ads

One way to keep good relations with important customers is to support their “cultural enterprises,” such as paying for ads in their magazines.

While the building of churches was during the 1960s directed by “local” leadership, the Church Architect’s office had to approve.  This meant that wise salesmen had to reach widely distributed consumers (e.g., magazine ads), and keep their product message before the eyes of the persons who had to approve the consumers’ purchases (e.g., ad buys).  Synergy!  So long as income could be found outside “The Church,” moreover, these magazines had a measure of independence (even though their subscribers were Mormons, the headquarters didn’t fund the entire operation).  But when Correlation under Lee purified the magazines, and eliminated advertisements, the devil’s bargain that came from advertising, and the independence it granted, was lost.  Yet we inherited many traditions — some bound up entirely with mass produced kitsch — that shape our sense of being “Mormon” today.

So, you’re wondering why churches are built as they are, why that sort of door, that carpet, organ, and lighting?  Would it be a church without Splen-door Folding Doors, a Baldwin Organ, a copper-clad steeple, and Bigelow Carpets?  Is the architecture really designed to serve us as we serve God, or is it because the manufacture of church interiors on an industrial scale happened to immediately precede Correlation?  Are churches, no matter how conservatively built, a necessary expense?  How many Mormon chapels from the 1830s have you visited?

We’ve inherited a design aesthetic, which like nearly everything else now called “Mormon,” derives from the huge capital investments made in the 1950s and 60s, when Americanism became Consumerism, with promises of standardized material and the economies that would make possible a global market growth strategy.  What really is “Mormon,” after we strip out the trademarks, copyrighted material, Sunday scripts, Reader’s Digest Furniture, dress codes and all the other cultural kitsch and superstitious religious paraphernelia introduced over the last 50 years, often with the intent of serving God and Mammon? You have people reading the Book of Mormon.

What else should we add?   Why does standardized curriculum follow standardized building and purchasing?  Do efficiencies in one generate efficiencies in the others?  Are ideas really the same thing as furniture?  Have they become the same thing, in effect, because it is convenient for administrators?

The ads:

Elves On Strike, Fatcat Santa Concedes! Juvenile Instructor’s 1926 Christmas

Peruse this edited Christmas (PDF) edition of the Juvenile Instructor, complete with the usual garment ads, sly attempts at motivating parental guilt, and, best of all, a pro-labor parable of elves on strike at Christmas City, with fatcat management Santa forced to change his ways.   It ain’t The Mansion, but perhaps President Monson might find it inspiring enough to quote next Christmas…


Doing My Part For The Corp

Many thanks to Adam L. who pointed out the Deseret News Holiday Print Ad for The Mansion,


Happened to coincide with Silver Beaver (the appropriate honorific for Scouts of this rank) Monson’s decrying the “commercialization” of Christmas, and the need to turn to one’s heart to the Spirit of Christmas, as found in Van Dyke’s The Mansion.   Synergy!  Boo-Ya!  A horrible cynic who has made a somewhat careful review of his talks might ask, “When was the last time this guy wrote his own material?”

[From lds.org’s summary of the Anti-Commercialist But Anti-Anti-Mall Devotional]

“There is no better time than now, this very Christmas season, for all of us to rededicate ourselves to the principles taught by Jesus Christ,” President Monson said. He spoke of witnessing the annual commercialization of Christmas, of seeing Christmas become less about Christ and more about sales, parties, and presents. And yet, President Monson said, “Christmas is what we make of it. Despite all the distractions, we can see to it that Christ is at the center of our celebration. If we have not already done so, we can establish Christmas traditions for ourselves and for our families which will help us capture and keep the spirit of Christ.” Three Christmas Stories President Monson said that each year for Christmas, he reads the story of the birth of Christ as told in the Gospel of Luke. He also reads A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and The Mansion by Henry Van Dyke, and he remembers the change of heart undergone by Ebenezer Scrooge and the lessons about the true meaning of giving learned by John Weightman. Both characters…[insert ad here].



Manual of Manners Turns To Nagging

A final bit of nagging: Don’t eat so loud, young man!  Are you leaning on my chair?  Elbows OFF the table!  Hold your silverware CORRECTLY!  That is NOT where one rests the soup spoon, young man.  Any doubt that “manners” is code for a certain class, and its claim to control civilization, should be erased with the final installment of the Manual of Young Manners.

Voice and Dress Manners For Boys and Girls, Anytime!

While not officially part of the Young Manners Manual, these graphics nonetheless make explicit how teens should speak, and clothe the body; but like the Manual, the concern is not so much about spirituality, but something else: being fashion-wise.  The first is blithely cruel in its offering of stereotypes with portraits to match.

The second features not only some silly teens, but also Elaine Cannon (editor of the New Era section of the Improvement Era’s 1960s insert, and herself a widely read journalist at the time) at her best, when teen dress norms were less heavy-handed and a good deal more fun to read about.  Skinny jeans are now banned at BYU-Idaho? Why did we begin taking ourselves so seriously?