Last night, NBC’s Rock Center ran an hour-long special called “Mormon in America.” Twice in the course of the program, the question of Mormons’ underwear came up. The accompanying images included a photo of Mitt Romney in a white dress shirt thin enough for the scoop neck of his temple garment to be discernible. Not content to merely tantalize, the program also aired a photo–culled from the Internet, I’m pretty sure–of a man and woman standing side by side, facing the viewer, their heads cut out of the photo, wearing nothing but temple garments. (Unattractively lumpy ones. Temple garments can look more aesthetically pleasing than that, depending on the fabric. For those who want to know. NBC thinks there are a lot of you out there.)
During the program, Brian Williams asked one of his interviewees (Abby Huntsman, there to speak from her experience as former LDS) whether she thought that he could get senior church leaders to show him temple garments. He was visibly worked up when he asked her–as if to say, “I can’t believe they won’t show me the garments. What’s the big deal?” Now, I can’t speak for LDS leadership, but I can say that I’m not in the habit of laying my underwear out to show people, even when it’s freshly laundered. In point of fact, though, if Williams were to leave his hypothetical interview at LDS headquarters in downtown Salt Lake City, cross the street to the new City Creek Mall, walk into Deseret Book (an LDS Church-owned business), and head for the temple clothing distribution center in the back, he could take temple garments off the shelf and examine them through their plastic wrapping. I was a little surprised to see that when I was in Salt Lake last month.
Anyway, Williams’ treatment of the subject in “Mormon in America” suggested to me that he’s interested in the temple garment as a symbol of a Mormon penchant for secrecy–they want to look normal, but they’re keeping certain things out of your sight they don’t want to talk about. I suspect, further, that Williams intended his discussion of temple garments to insinuate to the American electorate that Mitt Romney is someone who keeps things out of your sight he doesn’t want to talk about–from his real views on abortion to his tax returns. That subtext would be consistent with a prediction I made a couple months ago about how Romney’s Mormonism would be used against him.
But why stop at Romney, if we’re going to make national news out of what politicians wear under their clothes? How about some journalistic attention to which Catholic politicians wear scapulars? I’m not being entirely facetious here: it might actually tell us something meaningful about the nature of these politicians’ Catholic identities:
Paul Ryan? Not entirely implausible, though certainly not predictable either.
Joe Biden? Ehhh… I’d be surprised.
Anthony Scalia? I’m genuinely curious about that one, though I can imagine how his hand might respond to any journalist who asked him about it.
Or how about this guy? Jason Bedrick, a New Hampshire state legislator from 2006-2008. He was the first Orthodox Jew to be elected to public office in that state. He’s a baal teshuva, meaning a Jew who “converted” to Orthodoxy (in Bedrick’s case, by way of Chabad) after having been raised non-Orthodox.
I assume he wears an undershirt with tzitzit. Is that a newsworthy subject for him to field questions about in a media interview?
Or how would it be perceived if someone were to start a website collecting photographs of Bedrick at political functions in which his tzitzit can be seen sticking out from under his suitcoat (as people have done with photos capturing glimpses of Romney’s temple garment)?
I pose those as open questions.