by Akim Reinhardt
There’s a lot we can learn about today’s America by observing the Mormon Church.
Last month the Church of Latter Day Saints, as its officially known, issued a strong, positive directive to its 16.5 million members. Vaccines had been proven safe and effective, it reminded them. And please wear a mask in public gatherings, it implored them. The statement’s language was uplifting and unifying: “We can win this war if everyone will follow the wise and thoughtful recommendations of medical experts and government leaders,”
It led to a backlash.
Despite this urging from the LDS’ top ranks, nearly a fifth of church members say they will not get vaccinated. Another 15% are hesitant. Some anti-vax and anti-mask members complain the church is restricting their freedoms. In response, some Mormon vaccination and mask supporters are accusing the mask and vaccine holdouts of apostasy. Even bishops (regional church leaders) are divided. In one Idaho church, bishops stood in front of their congregation unmasked to read the official proclamation encouraging masks.
The Church of Latter Day Saints has one of the most loyal constituencies of any large social organization in America. There is no unanimity of course; small splinter groups have always existed, and as with any religion, some people are always distancing themselves from the church or leaving it altogether. Nonetheless, for two centuries practicing Mormons have been bound together by faith; a history of persecution; geography; relative cultural homogeneity here in the U.S.; a rigorous schedule of activities in the home, at church, and elsewhere, all designed to reinforce membership and belonging; and by a highly organized, hierarchical, patriarchal, and doctrinaire leadership that has wielded tremendous influence over its loyal followers, who typically follow specific dictates such as no alcohol, coffee, or tea.
So if even the Mormon Church is having trouble getting its truehearted constituents to follow simple health directives overwhelmingly backed by science and designed for their own benefit, then you know this about something much bigger than masks and shots. This is about what has happened in America during the last four decades. Read more »
Stuck is a weekly serial appearing at 3QD every Monday through early April. The Prologue is here. The table of contents with links to previous chapters is here.
by Akim Reinhardt
Most people associate the Cold War with several decades of intense political and economic competition between the United States and Soviet Union. A constant back and forth punctuated by dramatic moments such as the Berlin Airlift, the Berlin Wall, the arms race, the space race, the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Nixon’s visit to China, the Olympic boycotts, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” and eventually the collapse of the Soviet system.
But on the home front, the Cold War was often less about politics and economics and more about culture and society. It was a time of Us vs. Them, of Right vs. Wrong. Certain cows were sacred, others were evil, and woe be unto those who milked the wrong teat. The Cold War was about American society demanding conformity, and persecuting those who did not play along.
The Second Red Scare (ca. 1947–57) was the most dramatic example of persecuting non-conformists. People were hauled in front of Congress and, on national television, subjected to reputation-destroying and career-ending interrogations. Senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunts weren’t just about politics; they also disciplined the society and put dissenters on notice: get in line, or at least shut up, or face dire consequences. And the popular culture followed suit.
Americans reacted strongly to the dominant good guys/bad guys narrative. Fears of a possible World War III and accompanying nuclear holocaust were widespread. The culture was soaked through with an Us vs. Them mentality, with a heavy emphasis on choosing up sides. It could be seen in everything from the ubiquitous white hat/black hat Westerns of the 1950s and 1960s to the Rock vs. Disco antagonism of the 1970s. Everyone had to be on the right side. Picking the wrong side marked you as the enemy. And refusing to pick a side at all? That was so strange as to almost be incomprehensible. Read more »
by Akim Reinhardt
David Bowie was a white Englishman. Prince was a black American. Bowie was deeply rooted in the riffs, major/minor chords, and melody of rock-n-roll. Prince was grounded in the syncopated rhythms and arrangements of funk and R&B.
Prince's and Bowie's careers did overlap to a degree. Their biggest selling albums, Bowie's Let's Dance and Prince's Purple Rain, were released within a year of each other. But of course Let's Dance was Bowie's capstone in many ways, his big pop breakthrough after nearly 15 years of churning out music, whereas Purple Rain came fairly early in Prince's career, establishing him as an international pop icon for decades to come. So despite the kissin' cousin chronology of their biggest albums, the respective heydays of David Bowie and Prince were, in many ways, separated by about a decade. That makes sense since Prince was ten years younger than Bowie.
Despite all these differences, however, their deaths, coming three months apart from each other, produced similar strains of public mourning. In particular, many people confessed how one or the other artist had profoundly affected them during their formative years. And this heartfelt influence, many said, came not just from Bowie's and Prince's music, but especially from their artistic personae.
In between Bowie's and Prince's passing came the death of Glenn Frey, one of the two lead singer/songwriters of the Eagles, one of the most successful bands in the history of recorded music.
I have yet to see anyone write an essay, post a facebook comment, tweet, or make any other public expression of their deep gratitude for the vital role Glenn Frey played in helping them cope during their formative years.
Why? I suspect the answer is the Cold War.
Read more »