BYU Associate Librarian Trevor Alvord gave the annual S. Lyman Tyler Award Lecture examining the portrayal of the Church in pop culture and media.
PROVO, Utah (May 30, 2019)—This year’s recipient of the S. Lyman Tyler Award Lectureship was Trevor Alvord, curator of Twenty-First Century Mormonism and Western Americana. The lectureship is given in honor of S. Lyman Tyler, who served as director of the Lee Library from 1954 to 1966 and established the Special Collections Archive that still exists today. As the newest recipient of this award, Alvord gave a lecture on his most recent project, which examines how The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is portrayed in modern media.
Alvord began by sharing several depictions of the Church in pop culture, citing movies and shows such as Yes Man (2008), Mom (2013– ), The Simpsons(1989– ), and South Park (1997– ). Each example typically portrayed members as overly-cheerful, annoyingly-persistent, and definitely not of this world. Alvord explained how these few examples represented the many perceptions and misconceptions about the Church that persist today.
To better understand these perceptions of the Church, Alvord decided to combine his love of comics with his expertise in Twenty-First Century Mormonism in a new project. Alvord travelled to several different comic conventions around the world, including events in Salt Lake City, San Diego, Phoenix, and London. At each event, he spoke with the attending artists and commissioned them to draw whatever came to mind when they thought of the Church or its members.
For the past four years, Alvord has collected the resulting artwork, noting similarities and differences that spanned across the artists’ interpretations. The responses are varied; some artists portray a very sympathetic or deep understanding of the Church and its doctrine, others returned critical or satirical pieces, and others still had never thought or heard of the Church. In one case, Alvord explained, the artist could only offer a blank page with a signature to reflect what he knew about the Church.
To conclude, Alvord emphasized the importance of this project, both for those observing the Church and those within it. The project, he said, is really all about “identity and understanding who we are as members of the Church.” Alvord went on to express his hope that the project will help identify, combat, and eventually overcome the misconceptions about the Church that still persist in the media today
—Jensyn Eubank (English ’20)