A week or so ago, pro-gay marriage groups crashed the Celebration of Marriage event at the Utah Capitol. While polite, the demonstrators reveal a demographic split that exists between the supporters of gay marriage and those of traditional marriage.
The traditional marriage folks were generally 40 and above while the same sex marriage group was well below 40. The gay marriage group also included a good number of LDS members including BYU students supporting same sex marriage under the banner of “Mormons for Marriage Equality.”
This begs the question: Has the LDS Church lost its youth on social/moral issues? If so how/when might this have occurred?
Truthfully, I can’t answer the former. I hope the youth will find it’s bearings and adhere to the morals traditionally espoused by the church. However, in talking about this issue, I recall talking to my father well over a decade ago. He noted that the programming on LDS Church-owned KSL that was often in direct conflict with LDS values. He said the church could have exerted its authority to reject those programs (apparently NBC affiliates can do so). At the time, I poo-pooed him and said the leadership was probably unaware and had so many investments they couldn’t be that involved. That could be partially true but I now regret disregarding the concern. He was not the last to raise a red flag and even in 2004, another group (Steve DeVore’s CleanTV America) raised the issue but, apparently, gained no traction. I guess everyone was too concerned about being called a prude and going along to get along.
In the intervening time, KSL was running Friends, Seinfeld, Ellen*, and…Will & Grace. All had a staple of alternative lifestyles (“noncommittal sex” etc) with the latter considered having a significant cultural impact, “heralded as responsible for opening the door to a string of gay-themed television programs, such as Queer as Folk, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and Boy Meets Boy” and, last year, Vice President Joe Biden “cited the series as an influence in American thinking regarding LGBT rights, saying “I think ‘Will & Grace’ did more to educate the American public than almost anything anybody has ever done“.
While this fare was being consumed by LDS youth (who are now politically active), according to an article on CleanTV America’s website, KSL President, Bruce Christensen, justified the content as necessary in order for KSL to maintain a voice in the community:
KSL’s mission is to establish and maintain a community voice through its news division. KSL is not motivated by ratings for money but ratings for building a large news viewership in order to have this voice…
Again, according to CleanTV America, Bonneville Communication’s President (Reese) then made the case for how shows were chosen to boost the ratings:
KSL’s position, according to Bruce Reese, is that television programming reflects the morals and values of the community and KSL is only giving the community what it wants:
According to Reese, KSL research shows that the primary viewers of NBC’s salacious programming are members of the LDS Church. Research also shows, explained Reese, that the more salacious the programming, the more LDS viewers are attracted to NBC’s programming.
While the LDS Church leadership implored members to avoid the content and turn it off, as owner of KSL, the church investment/communications section was providing the very content that may well have led away a sizable portion of its youth. In hindsight, not only was the church’s leadership precise in their warnings and admonitions but so was CleanTV America in 2004. KSL and the church won the ratings battle but may have lost the war.
The current situation (without reclaiming the youth) will serve as a serious threat to the church’s foundational principles but this is a personal lesson as well. We are now paying the price for poor judgment and have a very good case study on the critical importance of standing by principles even if it lowers your return-on-investment…or ratings.
*Note: Ellen was not an NBC show (ABC produced it) but KSL opted to carry it. KSL did turn some other series down (even in 2012) but as the saying goes, if you lie down with dogs…
EDIT: The original CleanTV link was updated with an archived version of the site as the site was abandoned some time after this post was published original link was http://www.cleantv.net/christensen.htm