Red Square to Temple Square

11 Oct

Obama’s economic policies will transform us into a Latter-Day Soviet Union.

This poster says it all.

Hammer and sickle squeeze out stars and stripes.  Uncle Joe (Biden?) lurks in the background.

The prospect horrifies, even though more and more of us have no memory of the Soviet Union.  Still, we are afraid of an amorphous red menace.

We may be right.

But, there was more to Soviet Russia than lousy universal health care.

There was also a lousy official culture.

That culture began with an unswerving devotion to the mythology of the origin of the state.

Here, for instance, is Lenin at the Finland Station.  We see him upon his return from exile in 1917, greeted by crowds singing the Marseillaise.  There is a solidity, an inevitability to him and the revolution.  With outstretched arm, he declares: “Long live the worldwide Socialist Revolution!”


“This is the Place!”

This image produces discomfort; the discomfort is my Russian immigrant husband’s birthright and I have perversely adopted it.

When we moved, sight unseen, to Salt Lake City in the mid-1990s, we were greeted by a strangely familiar Brigham Young, no less solid and no less inevitable than Vladimir Ilyich.  He, too, towers above us, arm outstretched.

Perhaps, after all, this is the place.

Did you notice, a local whispers to us, that Brigham Young stands with his back to the Mormon Temple and he gestures toward the bank.  Wink.

Now we feel comfortable.  There is a dissident movement here, too, and we, before even uttering the password, have been inducted into it.

Next stop, the liquor store for more fringe camaraderie.

During our seven years in Utah, we encountered, for the first time, that “if you’re not behind us, get in front of us” variety of American patriotism that we had previously thought was peculiar to the Soviet Union.  No room for equivocation; no room for discussion. There is a right way and a wrong way, in religion and in politics.

And there is a right way in art, a kind of Mormon Realism, I suppose:

“We’ve decided,” said our Salt Lake neighbor, “that any movie that is inappropriate for our children, is inappropriate for us, too.”

Only wholesome, uplifting messages, please.  Chaste love stories; artistic renderings that affirm the goodness of our leaders:

I hasten to add that I admire and feel affection for many aspects of Mormon life, as I got to know it while I lived in Utah.  At home, we joked that it was like living in a foreign country without the benefit of a language barrier; but that was friendly kidding.

Still, those years in Zion were our first inkling that the danger of cultural Sovietization of America may come not from the left, but from the religious right.


39 Responses to “Red Square to Temple Square”

  1. Cheri October 11, 2010 at 8:51 pm #

    What a powerful juxtaposition, jenny.

    But they have such great skiing there…

    I remember trying to find the State Liquor Store in Park City twenty or so years ago. Found it on “Poison Circle.” Went in and bought Absolute vodka and a case of wine for our ski vacation.

    I agree with your premise and Exhibits A (red) and B (BYU)
    But do you not see problems on the left as well?

    • jenny October 11, 2010 at 9:11 pm #

      First of all, you are awesome to read so quickly. I really do appreciate it.

      When I lived in Berkeley, I had plenty to say about the left, Cheri. Drove me crazy.

      Now that I, once again, live in a Republican stronghold, I never see the left, so I can’t see the problems. I’m kidding, but I’m sure you get my point.

      I really do love Utah, as a matter of fact. I’m already feeling a little guilty about exposing it to criticism.

      • Cheri October 11, 2010 at 10:15 pm #

        I’m reading fast because I leave for Southern New Mexico on Thursday. Retracing my parents’ contribution to the Cold War…White Sands Proving Ground (now Missile Range), White Sands National Monument, Alamogordo, and Cloudcroft. Maybe (if the stars align) a private drive up to the Trinity Site.

        I love your writing. Sorry to be so effusive but that is who I am…

      • jenny October 12, 2010 at 7:53 am #

        Sounds great, Cheri. Have fun. From one effusive person to another. 🙂

  2. Thomas Stazyk October 11, 2010 at 8:52 pm #

    A very apt and scary comparison! BTW did you see my comment on Andrea’s post Our Greatest Tragedy? I am seeing scary parallels as well.

    • jenny October 11, 2010 at 9:19 pm #

      Hey, Tom, of course I saw your comment on the HB. I’m in the habit of reading the comment section much as my grandmother used to read the obituaries.

      In fact, I thought: how very daring! And it got me thinking about this topic again. So, thanks for giving a little direction to my thought. And Happy Columbus day!

      • Thomas Stazyk October 11, 2010 at 10:24 pm #

        My grandmother pored over the obituaries as well–I wonder if that was their coping mechanism for not haveing Facebook in those days?

        There are a lot more interesting and scary quotes in that book I mentioned. Like this description of people who were drawn to the movement in the 30s:

        “He did not want to change the world by revolution, but merely to obtain for himself a place in it, if possible with greater security and greater social prestige than before and with more opportunity of exercising influence.”

        My translation: Angry young men join punk rock bands. Angry old men join the TP.

      • jenny October 12, 2010 at 7:54 am #

        @Tom: Could we give those old guys some guitars and a drum set?

      • Thomas Stazyk October 12, 2010 at 2:24 pm #

        Not a bad idea. I’m sure what they would come up with would be an improvement on Lady Gaga!

  3. Iden October 11, 2010 at 11:33 pm #

    Are there conservatives who see the flaws in their side the way there are lefties who see the flaws in theirs? Or are lefties just wimps?

    • jenny October 12, 2010 at 7:57 am #

      I think you’re calling me a wimp.

      So, not only do we see flaws in our own arguments, but we also admit to being wimps.

      It’s hopeless.

  4. Paul Costopoulos October 12, 2010 at 6:36 am #

    “In medio stat virtus”, said the Romans. Extremes on both sides are to be feared and checked carefully. Most people are in the middle, very quiet and discreet. So much so in fact that they end up being driven by the vocal fringes…and only gripe about it.

    • jenny October 12, 2010 at 7:59 am #

      Uh-oh, Paul, blogging is kind of griping, I think.

      You’re quoting the Romans, but I’ll wander into your territory with Voltaire: “Il faut cultiver notre jardin.”

      I’ve been thinking about an essay on that topic for some time. What else can we do?

  5. Paul Costopoulos October 12, 2010 at 8:50 am #

    “Blogg is a kind of griping”? I guess it is and more and more people are at it. Does that make us little Voltaires? The day the powers that be read our blogs as they follow Facebook and other such media we may have some influence. Until then i’m afraid it is coffee table chatting, most intersting and enriching for those involved…but what real influence do we have?

    • jenny October 13, 2010 at 6:35 am #

      Paul: It’s the influence of the coffee table.

  6. david osman October 12, 2010 at 9:58 am #

    It does not come from the right or left. It comes from stupid desire to worship a man be it obama or young.

    The difficulty I have is that you ego to identify all possible dangers coming from cristian right while affording a sympathy at no less rigid and frightening islam.
    Or when obama says : we are the ones we have been waiting for or school children are singing adoration to him – isn’t it the same? Didn’t you see his face on posters, mugs, hats and etcetera?

    Orwell did not write in Uta. He came from a perfectly learning to the left England.

    • jenny October 13, 2010 at 6:47 am #

      David, I’m not comfortable with the idealization of Obama either. We agree on this count. But, I have nothing to add to that discussion.

      If I had ever lived under Sharia law, I’m sure I would have plenty of cross things to say about it. But I have no experience with it.

      I did, though, live in a major American city where I had to buy membership in a private club to have gin and tonic, where LDS culture permeated the public schools, and where I sensed a familiarity with another culture I have experienced.

      So, that is what I write about, and, you are right, I extrapolate somewhat. I suppose that I will keep presenting the thoughts that are on my mind, given my experiences, and hope that you will keep responding with yours.

      • david osman October 17, 2010 at 3:13 pm #

        agreed. one thing for sure i am not planning to move to uta

  7. rosaria October 12, 2010 at 11:11 am #

    When we demand that our way is the only way, we have stopped thinking, evolving and learning from experience and each other. Your post is brilliant!

    • jenny October 13, 2010 at 6:54 am #

      Thanks, Rosaria. I just read your Foreclosed in America. We truly are on the same wave-length because much of my work (including my schedule for today) deals with foreclosure.

      Now that I think about it, there is very little discussion of the foreclosure crisis on the blogs I read. I, myself, steer away from topics related to my job, but it is strange that others aren’t writing about it.

      • dafna October 16, 2010 at 11:25 pm #

        not a blog, but here’s an inspiring story about foreclosures you may already know about this.

      • jenny October 17, 2010 at 7:17 am #

        Thanks, Dafna. I had not seen this particular story, but I am very familiar with this type of tale. Illlinois has been, and continues to be, particularly hard hit.

      • dafna October 17, 2010 at 2:27 pm #


        which type of tale? the “rubber stamping” of the foreclosures?

        the inspiring part is the attorney… a bit david vs goliath – what a change in policy he set in motion!

      • jenny October 17, 2010 at 3:47 pm #

        Because of the type of work I do, Dafna, both parts of the story are very familiar to me.

        I have been following a very inspiring lawsuit in Baltimore for the past few years: The city of Baltimore sued Wells Fargo Bank for damages to the city (reduced revenues, urban blight) caused by the foreclosure crisis. The legal theory is housing discrimination. The argument is that Wells Fargo deliberately targeted racial and ethnic minority communities for sub-prime mortgage loans, despite applicants’ eligibility for more advantageous loan terms. The case is still pending. You can google it and read all about it.

  8. rosaria October 12, 2010 at 11:12 am #

    Funny, I had the same thoughts when I penned my poem, Foreclosed in America, on my blog today. We must be on the same wave-length!

  9. Andreas Kluth October 12, 2010 at 11:42 am #

    I love the way you use “art’ to make a commentary about life. I try to do that, too, from time to time. It works very well here.

    Your blog is getting better as you take more risks (and they’re all educated risks). This particular one could stretch into a fascinating book (or documentary).

    • jenny October 13, 2010 at 6:55 am #

      Andreas, thank you. 🙂

  10. Solidgoldcreativity October 12, 2010 at 5:42 pm #

    “Did you notice, a local slyly whispers to us, that Brigham Young stands with his back to the Mormon Temple and he gestures toward the bank. Wink.” … Vlad wouldn’t have been able to suppress a preen on reading this sentence to Vera.

    Great post!

    • jenny October 13, 2010 at 7:01 am #

      Vlad and Vera! Well, that’s terrific.

      I thought of you last night, SGC, as I watched a scene from Twelfth Night, and Sir Andrew (whom you cleverly claimed) says:

      I was adored once, too.

      I love that line. I just can’t figure out how to explain what’s wonderful about it.

      • solidgoldcreativity October 15, 2010 at 7:55 pm #

        How great we can’t explain how great it is. Sir A has the pathos some of the other fools don’t.

  11. Mr. Crotchety October 12, 2010 at 6:16 pm #

    Yeah, but, but, Mormons have neither the means nor the motivation to send non-believers to labor camp. The subtext of these paintings surely has much different connotations. Boy Scout camp, maybe. Great dairy products, sure. Building roads in the permafrost, no way.

    Speaking of white guys who like to point, I heard that Mitt Romney is the only Republican Presidential candidate not on the payroll of Fox News. Is this conspiracy theory?

    • jenny October 13, 2010 at 7:13 am #

      Mr. C, you are mellowing my harsh.

      You’re right: No labor camps in Utah. Although canning with Relief Society is not very much fun.

      My first thought about white guys who like to point is that women don’t do that. But then I remembered how Hillary Clinton likes to point to someone in the crowd at political rallies. What is that?

      I have not forgotten that you were a boy scout. It’s been tucked away in the “what do we know about Mr. C” file. Talk about conspiracies…

      • Mr. Crotchety October 14, 2010 at 1:12 pm #

        Pointing is key to a winning presentation. You can point with whatever, but you must engage the individual. Mr. Clinton points with his thumbs. George W. pointed with the Karate chop. Back in the day, it was a sceptre. Later it was a riding crop or a cigar. The real pros can say it with just a finger.

      • jenny October 15, 2010 at 7:39 am #

        OK, lemme see if I got this down:

        “Mr. C, ” she said, pointing at him, with her finger, “thanks for the tip!”

  12. Libby October 12, 2010 at 9:50 pm #

    I would love to say it’s changed a lot, and on the surface it has, but the culture war goes on, and has gotten more subversive. Have you seen the Mormon blogs? Or Etsy shops? How about Mormon Times dot com? They are bringing the 1800’s to 2010, and it really scares me.

    • solidgoldcreativity October 12, 2010 at 10:55 pm #

      Etsy’s are an issue? How come? They’re people selling their craft.

    • jenny October 13, 2010 at 7:15 am #

      And, yet, Libby, I miss it. Truly. I sort of have a feeling I already know what the Mormon blogs are like, but I’ll take a look.

      As for Etsy shops and possible Mormon crafts, my mind runs wild.

  13. dafna October 16, 2010 at 11:27 pm #

    oops, where did my comment go?

  14. dafna October 16, 2010 at 11:33 pm #

    jenny check you junk mail for my comment… it’s disappeared twice.

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