How Are We Entertained?

[ 35 ] Comments

by Nick Galieti

I have spent some time in the LDS production world, musically, with documentaries and feature films, as well as podcasting and the world of LDS writing and storytelling. This experience in both producing content as well as networking and discussing the LDS market with others in the market has taught me one thing; LDS people globally don’t seem to like to be entertained by LDS individuals.

There are some who may say, “That’s not true, I go to see LDS movies at the theaters when they come out, I buy books at Deseret Book, I listen to Alex Boye and Hillary Weeks…etc.” I admit, there have been one or two individuals that have cut through the mix and might be considered the exception to this rule. I would argue that this exception seems to be more of a Utah paradigm as opposed to a global paradigm. According to industry paradigm, few have been able to make a living in the world of LDS entertainment.

Perhaps this is a good thing, perhaps not. One could argue that the market is smaller therefore fewer dollars, and the fewer the dollars the lower the demand for quality entertainment, therefore lower quality entertainment (and the downward spiral goes on from there). However, my experience has been that there is actually some quality entertainment that is being produced in the LDS world both secularly and with non-fiction-LDS subject matter.

An example of this can be seen with the LDS writers and storytellers. There are hundreds of fiction books a year that are published by LDS publishers and LDS authors that may or may not have an LDS theme. For those of you that read fiction, when was the last time that you read one by an LDS author? What is the ratio of books by LDS individuals vs. Non-LDS that you read over the course of a year?

Same thing with music. There are literally 1000’s of songs put out by LDS artists each year, not including MOTAB. What ratio of LDS artists do you listen to vs. Non-LDS (secular or spiritual)?

So as to not appear to be hypocritical, I find that I listen more to Non-LDS musicians, and watch more Non-LDS movies. But I also realize that it is okay for that to change. The quality of content coming from LDS artists has drastically increased since the days of Saturday’s Warrior and My Turn on Earth. With movies like Forever Strong, and New York Doll, music from Ryan Innes (recently on NBC’s the Voice), Bianca Merkley, and others from a wide variety of genres

I don’t mean to imply that someone is a “bad mormon” if they don’t buy from other LDS individuals. Not hardly. However, I would like to encourage a shift in paradigm. Perhaps it is time to give quality content from LDS individuals a second look. My time in interviewing LDS authors on my podcast has been a revelation to me regarding the level of good writing that comes from LDS individuals. The same could be said for a variety of entertainment genres.

What are your favorite LDS entertainers (writers, musicians, movies, etc.)? Let’s form a list of quality individuals worth checking out.



35 Responses to How Are We Entertained?

  1. Well said, Nick. I read a lot more non LDS books than I do LDS. I appreciate this post because it’s turned my thinking in a different direction.

  2. Ann says:

    I, too, appreciate this post and it has got me thinking. However, I don’t think we should read a book just because it’s written by an LDS author. I’ve read a lot of books from LDS authors that, in my opinion, are just plain twaddle, disappointing and/or ill-suited for an LDS audience. (I know the same goes for non LDS authors.) I’m just saying that because a book is written by an LDS author doesn’t mean it’s going to be great. And just because it’s sold at Deseret Book doesn’t mean it follows LDS standards.

    I do agree that the quality of content from LDS artists and authors has increased and I enjoy a lot of LDS music and books, but I still think there is much room for greater improvement. I hate seeing LDS authors write books that mimic and follow much of what is going on in the “popular” world. They need to be different. They need to stand apart from the world, not a part of it.

    Just my two cents. . . . .

    • Liz C says:

      Right there with you! If a book or artist has to use “LDS” as a label to sell things, it’s usually my cue that I’m going to find the quality lacking, which is frustrating.

      That said, I like what The Lower Lights do with some of the hymns. 🙂

      • I enjoy The Lower Lights too! “Go Down Moses” and “Ye Elders of Israel” are my favorites. Go Down Moses brings back so many memories of changing in the locker rooms after basketball practice. (I went to school in Georgia). We could hear the black guys start singing and then the black girls would start in too and pretty soon we were all singing and clapping and pounding our feet. Oh I loved it!

        • Liz C says:

          Ye Elders is a HUGE hit around here… kids stomping and clapping the whole time. It feels so anthem-y and bold done that way!

  3. The reason my media consumption tends toward secular, non-LDS created, is because of the dearth of quality LDS stuff. Most LDS artists seem to be behind the times in both their style and business models. It’s nearly impossible to find the newest LDS books on the Kindle Store, because Deseret Book has their own clunky and half-baked platform. It’s difficult to find LDS music on spotify or other subscription services. There are very few LDS movies that are found on Netflix, Hulu, or iTunes. I don’t know all the reasons for this, but it’s the reason I don’t consume what LDS artists and writers create.

    Unless you live in Utah/Idaho, it’s almost impossible to obtain this stuff.

  4. Liz C says:

    Nick, do you have some suggestions for any of these categories?

    Science Fiction (both hard and light)

    Historical Fiction (not Lund. Please, please, please not Lund. His material culture and cultural context are woefully, woefully, woefully lacking for the mid-19th century)

    Children’s fiction without overt religious theming, and with quality artwork.

    • Ann says:

      One book that my family enjoys reading together is called “Voyage of The Bassett” by James C. Christensen with Renwick St. James and Alan Dean Foster. I’m a fan of Christensen’s artwork and came across the book at a library sale. I think it’s a lovely family book.

      I also would love some suggestions for historical fiction other than Lund.

    • Ann says:

      One book that my family enjoys reading together is called “Voyage of The Basset” by James C. Christensen with Renwick St. James and Alan Dean Foster. I’m a fan of Christensen’s artwork and came across the book at a library sale. I think it’s a lovely family book.

      I also would love some suggestions for historical fiction other than Lund.

    • Nick Galieti says:

      I am a bit biased because of my podcast “The Good Word” Podcast (click my name in this comment to link to the show). I hope people give a look at least to anyone that we interview on the show. So, as far as suggestions, I would start there. These are people that are actively trying to promote their books, not just sitting back and hoping people find their work (That doesn’t say much for how the author views their own work if they are not willing to promote it.)

      But I suppose the field is wide open as far as offering a suggestion. What type of books do you like to read?

  5. Since you asked . . .

    My favorite LDS musician is Rob Gardner. His oratorios Lamb of God and Joseph Smith the Prophet are played almost weekly at our house. We also enjoy The Piano Guys and Paul Cardall. All don’t tout themselves as LDS artists per se.

    For books I usually stick with classics, so no LDS authors there, but have found that Al Young Studios produces some wonderful Storybook Home Journals to accompany the reading of classic books. These appeal to my homeschool heart but also are pleasant to read and visually appealing.

    Al Young Studios also sells their original artwork created by Al Young and Elspeth Young as well as Ashton and Tanner Young. My daughters have particularly loved the Women of the Bible series of paintings.

    Actually I just remembered my daughters quite enjoyed the YA books by Shannon Hale. My 10 year old daughter is currently enthralled with The Goose Girl.

  6. Julia says:

    I loved Orson Scott Card’s SciFi work, long before I knew he was LDS. (Although I am surprised by how many LDS parents tell me that he is too secular, and they don’t let their children read his work.) I may read other LDS authors, also without knowing. Honestly, I think the best compliment I could give to most LDS authors, without automatically seeing their work as LDS.

    I do occasionally buy books from Deseret Books, although not many that would be identified as LDS, if they weren’t published by DB. The book that my son and I are reading together, is “The Book of Malchus,” by Neil K Newell.

    I’m interested in trying new authors, LDS or not, if what they write is compelling.

    • Liz C says:

      Julia, OSCard as secular? There’s a whole *series* that’s essentially The Book of Mormon Plus Spaceships And Robots. (I don’t like that series at all, quite frankly.) I think maybe some folks need to read a little more widely, eh? 🙂 I’m with you wholly on the pleasant surprise of finding that an author or artist I enjoy happens to be LDS. When their work intrigues me all on its own, that’s my cue!

  7. Tiffany W says:

    I regularly read books by Anne Perry, who doesn’t bill herself as an LDS per se as her mysteries aren’t LDS. I’m a big fan of Brandon Sandersom, Luisa Perkins, Brandon Mull, and Shannon Hale. I have read Orson Scott Card, but think his books are hit and miss. I have purchased many of those books in both hard copies and e-books. Luisa Perkins is a friend of mine and she has encouraged me to branch out and try other LDS authors. I think the quality of writing and fiction has improved greatly.

    I’m uncomfortable with LDS pop music. I don’t like the voices of many of the artists, but as a singer myself, I’m very picky.

    • Liz C says:

      Tiffany, is it the breathy airy aspect and the weird accent? That’s what gets me about a lot of them.

      LOVE Rob Gardiner (harking back to Montserrat up there…) AMAZING stuff. SO many of his pieces have a very deep, old quality to them, while being thoroughly modern in date. Gorgeous stuff.

  8. Laura S. says:

    LDS Entertainment has been (pardon the language) a crapshoot at best. I agree there has been a slight increase in quality media produced by LDS people, however I have often questioned the motives of someone who, it would seem, felt the need to exploit the Church for monetary gain.
    Years ago it was evident to me after finishing a poorly written book that the author had merely added a brief reference to the Church in order to see their book on the shelves of Deseret Book (since no one else would have sold it) and I wrote off Mormon media for a time.
    Now, LDS artists who don’t mention anything about the Church, but just happen to be members who write books is totally different, I’ve read and liked many of them. However, I’ve also struggled judging many of them for some of the content of their books whether I thought it was too vulgar or violent or whatever. Even a book by a certain Church School professor put images in my head I wish weren’t there -all in the name of realistic true-to-life conflict and believability or something. I applaud those who can make it in the business while keeping a high moral standard.
    To be honest, I’ve been a huge anti-LDS fiction snob ever since I read about a quarter of an LDS romance book written by an author who will remain unnamed, but is highly prolific and has the initials A. S. The themes from the back of the books are off-putting enough, and make me wonder about the propriety of reading such things in the first place, and the actual writing is terrible. Another prolific author I avoid -although I can’t justly criticize since I haven’t read his books- is Gerald Lund. I merely don’t like the pretentiousness of history being made into fiction (what an oxymoron anyway) –especially when it comes to something so near and dear to me as the restoration of our Church and our Prophet. Few people could ever pull it off anyway, (I wonder if even David McCullough could, although it wouldn’t be as rosy as most members would like). Other LDS books are just plain too sappy, (sorry Charly). So I gave up trying.
    As for music, I don’t like Mormon pop, I feel like it is trying too hard to fit in which in my mind a bit worldly. I admit, I liked it when I was a teenager and felt that it was a safe alternative to other popular music out there, but perhaps it was the easy way out of making difficult but significant choices (thinking good better best here). Of course, it could be merely a matter of taste, I don’t like Christian pop in general. I prefer instrumental hymns all the way, with a few exceptions.
    Mormon movies are the worst. Too many of them are written exclusively for Mormon audiences (exclusion really has no part in our system of beliefs), and using Mormon jargon with no explanation, not to mention portraying certain things completely out of context causes confusion and misunderstanding. Some of those movies are made with the idea that “Mormons need to lighten up and learn to laugh at themselves” which is fine, if only Mormons saw them, but they don’t. Is it really a good idea to point out the flaws and imperfections of the members of the Lord’s Church to the world? Not to mention that many of them are doctrinally questionable at best. Lastly, I don’t like many LDS movies because it is nearly impossible to act something that is so spiritual and not come across as, well… acting. That plus the cinematography and musical score all have to work together to really pull it off and I’m sorry but with a small budget, it becomes pretty unlikely. It often comes across as insincere and borderline ridiculous.
    Sorry, that was ranty.

    All that being said…(now that I’ve portrayed myself as the hugest and worst kind of critic) after not watching a Mormon-made movie for years, I recently watched 17 Miracles and was very impressed. I haven’t watched a Mormon made movie that moved me like that since Saints and Soldiers (obviously I can be forgiving of cinematography in certain instances, of course when I saw that I was recently off my mission– a place where I was reminded of WWII daily, and I couldn’t fathom having to fight against the people I had just served.) I highly recommend it. It gives me hope for the future of LDS entertainment. Oh, and I liked The Other Side of Heaven.
    Also, to be fair, I just finished an old LDS Fiction book today –for the umpteenth time, which despite my personal ban on LDS fiction, I own and share with people. It may be a little hypocritical, yes, but I still enjoy it. I found it among my brother’s school books, I think the author visited his English class at BYU or something. It is called Kaleidoscope Season by Sharon Downing Jarvis. I’ll admit it’s a little saccharine, and the ending is a bit on the iffy side of doctrinal, but the rest is sound and I love the depth of characters and the way she writes is so easy to read. My other favorite by her is called The Healing Place, which I almost didn’t read because of the back cover, but am glad I did. I admit though, I think I liked mostly because the setting is in my hometown. It’s all fluff, but good fluff and a nice escape.
    When it comes to Mormon media, the biggest question is… would I share it with a non-member? Most of the time I would say no. Even with my favorites, I would have to say I don’t know, maybe not, it might seem a little pretentious sharing a fictional conversion story with someone you’re hoping to convert don’t you think?

    My biggest question is this though: What is the purpose of entertainment in the big scheme of things? Will it even exist in the eternities? Perhaps in heaven we can watch the proverbial “big picture in the sky” of our lives (hopefully carefully edited) and figure out what happened to missing items, who was right and who was wrong, and hopefully have our own blooper reels (–I’ve worked on mine a lot over the years). But what about during the Millenium, will there be entertainment then? What would it look like? Personally, I’d love to know what the three Nephites have been up to all this time. That could make some awesome entertainment. Course, now I’m just getting speculative and downright silly. I think I’ll go to bed.

    • Liz C says:

      My children were astonished to hear me enjoy 17 Miracles; finally, a movie with enough plot and good characterization to make me ignore the really tragic costuming choices. 🙂 And Baptists At Our BBQ is quite hilarious. And Brigham City is soooo well done and creepy and utterly plausible.

      I’m not “allowed” to read or watch anything that originates from Br Lund. When my husband heard me muttering a wish for the mobs to kill them all and put me out of their misery, he speculated that perhaps I had not emotionally connected with the characters, and should probably not bother with subsequent volumes…

      I like your question about “Would I share it with a non-member?” If it’s good enough to meet the cut, entertainment-wise, and solid doctrinally, that’s a pretty good indicator I’ll both like it, and share it.

      • Emily says:

        I put off reading Lund’s W&G for YEARS because I just couldn’t do it. Finally I needed something to listen to while I exercised and did it, and I even enjoyed it. It was cute, it was fun, it helped me remember my history, and I’d even read it with my kids, for fun.

  9. Jeanna says:

    I think the area where Mormon entertainers are doing really well these days is in YA fiction, especially scifi/fantasy. I’m not talking about Twilight here (that’s a completely different discussion). I’m talking about Shannon Hale, Brandon Mull, Brandon Sanderson (okay, he’s mostly not YA, but some is), Mette Ivie Harrison, Kiersten White, and a lot more. I write YA fiction as well, and so I find it wonderful to see so much good YA lit coming out of the Mormon world. All of these authors have written books that, in my opinion, are of high quality, high entertainment, and high moral value (without being overtly Mormon).

  10. I really loved Kristen Randle’s “Slumming”: it’s realistic contemporary YA fiction.

  11. Ramona Gordy says:

    One thing about the LDS culture that fascinated me as I was investigating was the a number of regular everyday members who when called upon manifested breath taking talent’s of singing, acting, speaking, making art, writing, everything. I had the impression that because of the uniqueness of this Church, a person’s talent could be nurtured throughout their lives and everyone had an opportunity have their talents work for them. I had never experienced that in any of the other church’s I had attended through out my life.

    I have a “before I joined the Church list” and “after I joined the Church list”.

    So in my before “I joined the Church ” life, I read a lot of books, mostly fiction, horror, sci-fi, etc so I was over it. I read self help, picture books, this and that and there was a lot of good, some really bad and other’s just plain ugly. I don’t know if any of the authors were LDS, maybe they were incognito. Would it have mattered? Would something have stood out of that persons’s work that would have let me know if the writer was LDS? Something to ponder.

    The same scenario applied to the music I listened to, which was and still is deep into classic rock; some R&B,jazz and some evolved twang- less country and my personal favorite “Alternative”. So thinking back on the music l listened to and loved then, I don’t know if any of the artists were LDS or not, and what and if being LDS affected the quality or the soul of the music. The same could be said of the movies I watched, the good , the bad and the ugly.

    So in my “life after I joined the Church list”, there is an going re-examination of my old favorites and maybe because of an ongoing conversion process, everything is examined now. So my criteria now is that my entertainment choice must have meaning, it must have a reason for its being, it must have substance and with all of that it has to touch me.

    I love listening to some of the music by Alex Boye’, I had an opportunity to hear him sing with the MOTAB and in his own solo performance. I love the Piano Guys, they exemplify an enormous talent, dedication and hard work in their craft. Could you tell if they were LDS if they had not “told you”? So I have shared this music with my friends and family and even co-workers with enthusiastic results. It can be a great ice breaker or missionary moment.

    What I have been reading is a lot of non-fiction, books like “The God who Weeps”, which is so well written and thought provoking. Even though this book is written in the context of people who are members of the Church, I feel it can be read and enjoyed and understood by others not of our faith. Books written by Ted Stewart “The Mark of a Giant” 7 people who changed the world”. There is an underlying LDS theme, but not so much that one could call this book an “LDS book”. Some favorites are a series of books written by Denver Snuffer, whose point of view is LDS, and is really deep and personal. His books are not the “typical” LDS doctrinal books but they seem to come from his own testimony. On the other end of the spectrum, I did my best to read those popular vampires in love books by Stephanie Myers. What ruined it for me was that in my “before LDS life” , I read all of the Vampire Chronicles by Ann Rice, it was hardcore, so anything else for me was like eating cold cereal. But many of my non LDS friends were hooked on it .

    I have to agree that most of the LDS movies I have watched are geared to that audience. While investigating the Church, I watched quite a few Joseph Smith centered movies and they were good for that purpose. I really like the antics of the Studio C group on BYU TV. They are hilarious with a soft edge, and not hokey. They may or may not all be LDS. They remind me of Saturday Night Live back in the beginning, but not so much.

    I think that if we continue to support our brethren and sisters who are striving in the entertainment field, music, writing etc, then the product will continue to grow and stretch and improve. If we compare our works to the works of the world, do we want to be in comparison? Maybe going forward the world will compare their works to ours and come up lacking and wanting for improvement. We are the lights of the world after all.

    • Emily says:

      “One thing about the LDS culture that fascinated me as I was investigating was the a number of regular everyday members who when called upon manifested breath taking talent’s of singing, acting, speaking, making art, writing, everything.” You are so right. I hadn’t thought of that before.

  12. Cowgirl says:

    I may specifically look for LDS authors when I’m reading religious books, like The God Who Weeps. But I don’t see why anyone would look for LDS authors when choosing mysteries or scifi or other fiction. I’m not doubting the existence of good fiction by LDS authors. I also don’t doubt the existence of good fiction by Catholics or Muslims or Evangelicals. I just don’t search them out on that basis. What is gained by specifically reading good fiction by an LDS author as opposed to a non-LDS author?

    Similarly I listen to whatever music I like. The only religious music I ever listen to is bluegrass or gospel and there aren’t that many LDS artists in those genres, though I listen to a few. What could I possibly gain by seeking out LDS artists?

    • Tiffany W says:

      Cowgirl, if you have never read Anne Perry, you need to run, not walk to your local library and pick up The Face of A Stranger. If you are at all interested in well-crafted, intelligent mysteries, you simply must read her. I read dozens of Perry’s books, before discovering that she is LDS. It just isn’t in your face. Her books are extraordinarily well-crafted, historically accurate and brilliant, and best of all, her ability to really delve into characters is beyond anything I have ever read. I have read thousands upon thousands of mysteries in my lifetime, and in my opinion, Anne Perry is one of the best.
      What I think Perry’s Mormonism adds to her fiction is compassion, justice tempered with mercy, and an unrelenting desire to really get at the truth of all things in a way that I think all members can relate to. Her books are inevitably thought-provoking and powerful.

      In Perry’s World War One series, her characters grapple with essential questions about God, faith, justice, mercy, tragedy, and how and why God allows such terrible evil to exist. I think the conclusions she draws are uniquely Mormon.

      • Cowgirl says:

        I will totally pick it up. I need a new mystery writer. But you mentioned you read her without knowing she was LDS. That was sort of my point. What do we gain from seeking out a specifically LDS author rather than seeking out a good author who may or may not be LDS? Maybe we do gain something. If the proportion of LDS-authored fiction that is good is the same as the proportion of regular fiction that is good (and it probably is) then it might be easier to find books that align with our values if we focus on LDS authors. But I think the harder part is finding good books that I enjoy. So I usually start there. If I restrict to LDS authors I get a smaller pool to draw from and to make it worse there are no LDS bookstores round these parts (Well, Oklahoma City has one by the temple but that’s like an hour and a half away and smaller than a gas station). So I’ve never considered looking specifically for LDS authors unless I was reading something religious.

      • Cowgirl says:

        By the way, no need to even go to the library. Oklahoma’s virtual library had quite a few books by Anne Perry available for checkout. I just downloaded one to my Kindle app.

  13. Ray DeGraw says:

    I look for quality in what I watch and read, and I don’t care a bit about the religious affiliation of the authors and artists – until I find a really good one who is Mormon. *grin* On the other hand, I really detest (and I use that term intentionally) things that are campy, niche Mormon stuff. I hate Book of Mormon action figures, for example. I would burn them all and dance with joy while watching the flame. I can get a chuckle out of things like “The RM” or “The Best Two Years” – but I FAR prefer movies like”Brigham City” (which I can’t recommend highly enough – truly stunning movie) and “Saints and Soldiers”.

    I really like Anne Perry.

    Steven Peck is brilliant – truly a gem.

    Orson Scott Card is a crapshoot – some really good stuff and some that is . . . meh.

    Lindsey Sterling is an astounding musician. Her performances are indescribable – and she talks openly about overcoming anorexia, which is wonderful.

    I love Brandon Flowers and the Killers.

    There have been some classical, instrumental groups over the years that I’ve really liked. The five siblings who attended Julliard and toured together a few years ago come to mind, but I can’t remember their group name.

    I love the Piano Guys.

    • Cowgirl says:

      I’ve only seen a few LDS movies. Saturday’s Warrior when I was a kid. Some of the RM or Singles Ward with some group before I thought of something else I desperately needed to do anywhere else. Then I saw Brigham City. I thought it was fantastic. I will check out Saints and Soldiers. Have you seen Arranged? It’s not LDS but it is about a Jewish woman and a Muslim woman and I think it would speak to lots of LDS people who feel a little out of place in the world.

  14. Emily says:

    When the Mormon movies started coming out, I tried to follow them closely, just to see what what Mormons were producing – somewhat of an academic pursuit in a way. Eventually, they got so dumb, I couldn’t stand it anymore and had to give it up. Lately, though, I’ve enjoyed a few again, which has been nice. I think the upcoming Saratov Approach will be engaging as it seems unlike other LDS films.

  15. Emily says:

    I have to add that I really enjoyed One Good Man and of course the latest Ephraim’s Rescue.

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