Massimo Introvigne and Michael Homer tell the interesting story of an Italian author — Oriana Fallaci — who spoke to them about her novel on the 19th century American West. Her story was to include the Mormons and she asked Introvigne about her research. Introvigne introduced her to Homer who gave her important works of the New Mormon History.
Fallaci’s book, in the end, retold the familiar polygamous/cultic tropes one finds in works such as Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet. The New Mormon History may be more accurate than Doyle’s, but sex sells and Arrington is boring.
The persistence of these views of Mormonism — Deseret-bound, Danite-led, harem-centred — cause modern Mormons to wail and gnash. They wonder why the public cannot differentiate between Mitt Romney (nice) and Warren Jeffs (not nice). The answer is simple: once a view is popularised, it is almost impossible to shake. (It is said that Doyle came to regret his depiction of the Mormons, but it was too late — the damage was done.)
So it seems the contemporary LDS cannot escape an outmoded view of their religion. But it gets worse. What images of Mormonism are today seeping into the public’s mind? Here among the Mormon chattering classes, we swoon over RSR or the JSPP. Our Deseret Book-reading cousins have their own staples. But all this is small fry compared to today’s Studies in Scarlet: Martha Beck (Leaving the Saints) and John Krakauer (Under the Banner of Heaven). These are the kinds of popular works that are informing people about Mormonism today (along with the pervasive Christian counter-cult poo).
Beck and Krakauer are the purveyors of the Mormon brand and their wares will live on for decades. Wail and gnash some more. The next one hundred years of bad PR may already have been written.
*Or pray for a popular and friendly Hollywood film.