Kathy’s post reminded me of our earlier exchange, on the occasion of Segullah’s introduction to the bloggernacle. Rereading, I had two thoughts:
1) I am not very nice when I’m feeling defensive. (Sorry, Kathy)
2) The problem of branding in Mormon publications is a very strange beast.
Let’s take Segullah and Exponent II as examples. I still haven’t seen anything in Segullah that the editors of Exponent wouldn’t have been delighted to have had as a submission. I have seen enough sass and gentle irreverence in Segullah’s writers to think they would be people I’d like to see at an Exponent retreat, and that they might even have a good time. It still pains me that they felt excluded/put off/offended/unwelcome/unreached/??? by Exponent II and didn’t join the party. It hurts me, too, that women I know to be faithful, participating, thoughtful, and committed Latter-day Saints are regarded as unacceptably divergent from some ill-defined “mainstream”–so much so that some of their sisters are unwilling to consider their words or appear in the same pages with them.
There are similar issues in practically every genre of Mo publishing–lots of folks won’t even consider reading Dialogue, but are perfectly happy with JMH (even though JMH prints its fair share of things that ought to be controversial). People publish things in Irreantum that I think are too dark or difficult for Dialogue, but Irreantum never comes up in anyone’s list of “alternate voices.” BYU professors can publish things in Element that would never pass orthodoxy muster for BYU Studies, but they feel their status may be jeopardized by publishing them in Dialogue. And poor Sunstone gets the rap for everything, even though (for instance) Dialogue published most of the articles that got the September Six in trouble. When I asked on the AML list what makes an Irreantum story different from a Sunstone story different from a Dialogue story, the only answers were about people’s comfort with the relative orthodoxy of the other things that were published in a particular outlet. That’s understandable, but it says disturbing things about the development of a robust aesthetic sense within Mormon culture. If we only define “good art” as not containing whatever it is we regard as “bad”, whether that is profanity or sex or heresies that diverge from our own pet heterodoxies, the pursuit of excellence may be subsumed by the pursuit of the unobjectionable. I can’t think of anything less authentically Mormon than such timidity.
I guess what I’m wondering is whether, now that the late 80s/early 90s are well behind us, we can come up with some more vivid and interesting way to define our publications’ niches besides on some spectrum of orthodoxy that really doesn’t describe much of anything useful anymore (if it ever did).