Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Mormon Culture and the Evil Beard

As readers of this blog are aware, I am fascinated by the intersection of religion and culture. Of particular interest are those cultural aspects and influences on religion, whether recognized or not, but those in various religions and spiritualities.

I was reminded of this today while reading the Patheos electronic newsletter, with this issue focusing on Mormonism. One article caught my attention with the title "Beauty and the Beard: Facial Hair, Film, and Mormon Culture." As the title indicates, the article looks at the depiction of a character in a recent film for Mormons as evil through the inclusion of the symbolism and cultural coding of a beard. I had heard that facial hair is frowned upon in Mormonism, but never really took this seriously until this article. Brigham Young had a beard, as did many early Mormons, although you don't see many men today sporting them. Beyond this, as Eric Thompson, the author of the article notes, "LDS artwork from Arnold Freiberg and others (which, despite one's opinion for or against, is undeniably prevalent in LDS houses of worship), has given us bearded Nephis, Almas, Abinadis, Helamans, and Captain Moronis. (See here for background and examples.)"

But even with these precedents for beards in Mormonism, Thompson continues:
To what, therefore, could Holt be referring when he claims that giving Woodhouse a beard was an "unconscious" and "stereotypical" choice? The answer is almost certainly Mormon culture. Somewhere along the line, Mormonism began to identify facial hair as evil on an "unconscious" and "stereotypical" level, at least cinematically. Surely, every Mormon can reference a benevolent mustachioed role model from their own Mormon life, but can they do so from Mormon cinema?
I'm intrigued by this and would love to hear from Mormons on this. Do you agree with this portrayal of Mormon culture in regards to facial hair? If so, is it something conscious or unconscious? And what is the "cultural logic" for this?

As a bearded evangelical I'm curious.