The year is 2001. I’m a teenager watching “Ocean’s Eleven” at the now defunct Movies 8 in Provo, and out of nowhere I hear it: Have you been to Utah? I think you would really like Provo.

It’s a line uttered by one of the “Mormon Twins” — two of the starting 11 — and it’s a simple throwaway joke. But she stopped me in my tracks. Did Hollywood know about Latter-day Saints? Of I try?

Until that moment, I didn’t realize that for all my participation in pop culture, I never expected to be included in it.

I blasted the Backstreet Boys but turned it down if they ever cursed. My friends and I have found ways to sanitize music and movies. Like a sane version of the phone, we used a combination of denial and CleanFlicks to force popular media into a form we could consume. We didn’t do it with anger or indignation, just a tacit understanding that being in the world but not “of the world” meant accepting the fact that the media would never include us.

But then, there it was! You would really appreciate Provo.

Four words I still remember hearing 20 years later. It’s a reminder that proves what I’ve been trying to do for years: Being included matters, and it matters to Latter-day Saints, too.


I have been running an Instagram account called @MormonsInMedia for a few years. It started as a joke between my writing partner Jill and I, where we would text each other whenever either of us saw the word “Mormon” appear in something we were reading or watching. It was always surprising, rarely accurate, and sometimes painful.

Once we started tracking down the references, we couldn’t stop seeing them. A little effort revealed Latter-day Saint moments in what seemed like every major television show of the past 30 years: “Friends,” “Frasier,” “Cheers,” “Gossip Girl,” “30 Rock,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Stranger Things” — and what every season of “The Bachelor” feels like. There is a Latter-day Saint joke in the first and last episodes of “New Girl.” There are six references in the seven seasons of “Gilmore Girls”. And that’s just TV. We’ve found countless references in books, podcasts, music, and other forms of media.

“Nearly every reference was a casual joke about cultural aspects of our faith that make its members feel unreliable.”

At first, every reference seemed thrilling. But when we had enough to fill a spreadsheet we found ourselves annoyed. Almost every reference was a casual joke about cultural aspects or stereotypes of our faith that make us feel unreliable.

We didn’t feel represented, we felt like caricatures.

Jill and I started to think twice about our instinct to expect nothing in terms of representation. If Latter-day Saints are such an inconsequential bunch that they don’t deserve it, why have we shown up so often? And if we deserved representation, why wasn’t it better?


My definition of quality representation is a representation that expands a group beyond a stereotype. Something that adds complexity or humanity. Over the past four years, I’ve seen so many types of representation that I’ve created a rubric to help me categorize and rate them.

The section Representation

Grade C: Punchlines that play on Latter-day Saint stereotypes.

Grade B: Stories that represent Latter-day Saints well.

A vote: Latter-day Saint stories well told by Latter-day Saint voices.

I am aware that this is a highly subjective rating scale, based entirely on my viewing preferences rather than what is empirically bad or good. But here are the grades I give if I teach the class.

The C:

Until recently, almost all the references we came across fell into category C.

There are the classic polygamy jokes, like in “Two Weeks Notice” where Sandra Bullock says “maybe Utah” could bring two dinner dates. There are the sobriety jokes, like the moment Michael Scott reads a supposed piece of Latter-day Saint literature to Meredith’s speech, or on “Friends” when Rachel argues by telling a date she can’t drink because she’s a Latter-day Saint (she is pregnant).

On “That ’70s Show” we have too many kids. In “30 Rock,” we’re so weird that we celebrate leap day.

By themselves, most of these jokes made me laugh. But taken together, the humor starts to feel lazy. Offensive or not, this kind of reference reduces Latter-day Saints to stereotypes and punchlines. We are chaste, or sober, or polygamous, or nice. In a word, we are made to look like “others” and exist primarily to make people laugh.

The B’s:

To me, representing Latter-day Saints well means making them complete. I don’t care to see perfect Latter-day Saints, I want to see real ones. The complicated ones. And I’m thrilled to have seen them in a few places this year.

When we first learned that Dustin had a Latter-day Saint girlfriend in season 3 of “Stranger Things,” I felt a familiar dread. What would they think of Suzie? A weird one? Another caricature? I didn’t expect a hero.

In Season 4, we not only get more mentions of Suzie, we take a trip to her house! Inside is a happy mess of creative kids and rebellious teenagers. There’s Suzie’s father, who writes her a heartfelt (and painfully accurate) letter about dating outside the church. There are her brothers who are filming a very dramatic stage play. There’s brilliant Suzie on her roof working on her telescope.

I’ve known families like Suzie’s and loved watching their eccentricities staged for the big screen. I loved it, really, because Suzie was more than a token believer. She is a no-nonsense hacker who saves the day. Her eccentricities are endearing, and while her religion is one of them, she is just that: one of her.

HBO’s “Tokyo Vice” follows the story of Jake Adelstein, an American writer for a Japanese newspaper who begins covering yakuza gangs. One of her few expat friends is Samantha, a smart and confident landlady who she dreams of opening her own club if only she can get over her past. Midway through the season, we discover what that past entails: a Latter-day Saint mission and the resulting crime against his faith.

His mission for the church serves as a rich backstory for the character. It’s why she fell in love with Japanese culture, what she so painfully fought against to stay in the country. And the details about her are spot-on, from her SIG ring buried in her jewelry box to flashbacks of her merrily cycling the streets of Japan in a knee-length skirt, nametag, and helmet.

Looking at it, I was certain there was a Latter-day Saint in the writers’ room, but despite extensive Google searches thus far, I haven’t found any connections. Even though the show is based on a memoir of the same name, Samantha’s character in the book is not a member of the church.

But frankly, I don’t care if it was written by a Latter-day Saint, because whoever wrote it did their research. And I don’t care if it’s a little far-fetched, I’m here for the ride. She is experienced and courageous and was once a Latter-day Saint missionary. She’s complicated and that makes her feel real.

The A’s:

To me, it’s a no-brainer that any group’s stories should come from its own people. But what’s interesting when the group is a religion is how much the tone of each voice can vary depending on their experiences.

I understand the frustration of hearing that our stories often come from disillusioned voices, which is why it has been so refreshing to read Jennette McCurdy’s portrayals in her vibrant new memoir “I’m Glad My Mom Died.”

The book chronicles McCurdy’s experience as a child actress and the abuse she suffered from her mother. We also learn that the “iCarly” star grew up in the faith (who knew?) and was significantly influenced by it in her younger years.

Her experiences range from loving the warm, fuzzy feeling she felt in Primary to hating the feeling that people expected her family to become inactive. Her passages about the church are detailed, accurate, and entertaining, and most surprising to me, they seemed neutral. Clearly McCurdy no longer goes to church. But it also seems clear that you feel no bitterness towards him. He treats her time as a Latter-day Saint the same way he does everything else about her in her book—with a biting, honest humor that made me ache for her as a far more complex person than the child actor I thought to know.

“Negative, neutral or positive, everyone’s story within this religion is valid. I just want to see more told.

The most positive example I’ve seen this year was “The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist,” which told the story of superstardom Manti Teo during college and the scandal that later defined it. The show is humanizing both Manti and Ronniah (the supposed girlfriend), adding complexity to a story that millions of people around the world had simplified into a headline, or maybe even a meme.

Teo says the three pillars of his culture are faith, family and football. Throughout his show his faith is a constant factor, behind the scenes, that keeps him grounded. It’s why he chose to attend Notre Dame where his career took off, and it ends up being the thing that helps him forgive himself and move on.

I felt heartened to see a positive portrayal of Teo’s faith. But most of all, I enjoyed hearing the story directly from his subjects.

Everyone’s story matters. And I just want to see more told. And given the explosion of Latter-day Saint content we’ve seen in recent years, I have to think it’s possible.

I am increasingly convinced that Latter-day Saints deserve mainstream media representation, not because we are marginalized but because we are unique. And we have a complicated history and a rich present.

One of us is currently on “Survivor”. One of us was almost the president of the United States. We all have stories to tell. And I can only hope that with this recent wave of shows that we also start to see richer and more varied representation than we’ve seen in the past.

I’m waiting for a still practicing Latter-day Saint to write something honest, beautiful, painful, and funny about the complex lives true Latter-day Saints live. I want a show about a singles ward that isn’t “The Singles Ward.” I want to look at a couple of mixed faiths or a couple who’ve overcome hardships or a struggling missionary or a mega-popular vlogger who also happens to be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Maybe I’m asking too much? But again, we still believe in miracles.

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