Polygamy Versus Pop Culture: A Study of Big Love, Utah Culture and Mormon Fundamentalism

Ms. JoSelle Vanderhooft
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The HBO television series Big Love, which focuses on the trials, tribulations and triumphs of a member of a fundamentalist off-shoot of the Church of Latter-Day Saints, his three wives and their several children has proven to be a controversial program for many viewers, particularly in the state of Utah where the drama is set. Weeks before the series premiered in April, 2006, it was the subject criticism from Utah polygamists who said, among other things, that it misrepresented the spiritual idea of plural marriage by overemphasizing sex. Anti-polygamists, on the other hand, argued that the series has not done an adequate job of portraying the sexual and psychological abuse inherent in many Fundamentalist LDS communities. Additionally, leaders of the LDS (Mormon) Church castigated the show's writers for once again erroneously linking the practice of plural marriage with church doctrine and with the state of Utah. The LDS Church dispensed with the practice of polygamy in 1890, and members engaging in the practice today are excommunicated.

The research will examine Big Love’s accuracies and inaccuracies in its treatment of contemporary polygamy, as practiced by members of various fundamentalist LDS groups and polygamists not affiliated with these churches. It will examine the impact of the show on Mormon and non-Mormon Utahn’s perception of their culture, and national and international perceptions of Utah’s culture, which has often been misperceived as exclusively Mormon and universally accepting of polygamy, particularly in light of the addition of FLDS leader Warren Jeffs to the FBI's top ten most wanted list.

Keywords: polygamy, plural marriage, media, television, Utah, Big Love, television, Mormonism, Western Americana, LDS, LDS church, FLDS church
Stream: Media, Film Studies, Theatre, Communication, History, Historiography, Political Science, Politics, Sexuality, Gender, Families, Religion, Spirituality
Presentation Type: Virtual Presentation in English
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Ms. JoSelle Vanderhooft

Independent Researcher

JoSelle Vanderhooft graduated from the University of Utah in 2004 with honors degrees in English and Theatre Studies. A Steffenson-Cannon fellow from 1999-2001 and now an independent scholar, her diverse research interests include Jacobean and Elizabethan drama, mental illness, speculative and children’s literature, film studies, LGBT studies and Western Americana. She is the author of several papers including "Ready for the Action Now, Danger Boy?”: A Look at Gender and Politics in Peter Chung’s Aeon Flux and Of Dementors, Dark Lords and Depression: A Study of Mental Illness in Harry Potter, which she is expanding into a book with co-author Kimberly DeCina. She is also the author of poetry collections 10,000 Several Doors (Cat’s Eye Publishing) and Desert Songs (Cross Cultural Communications), novels The Tale of the Miller’s Daughter and Owl Skin (Papaveria Press) and editor of the forthcoming anthology Tiresias Revisited: Magical Tales for Transfolk (Lethe Press, 2007). She currently lives in Salt Lake City, Utah and works as a freelance journalist.

Ref: H06P0612