This is just a post about a t-shirt and what it may or may not say about LDS culture. I am fully aware that the current U.S. vice president has been asked to speak at BYU and that many LDS bloggers and commenters have very strong feelings on the subject. There are a number of bloggernacle posts (1, 2, 3, 4) and threads dealing specifically with that issue. If you want to discuss that controversy, please take it to one of those threads.

Many years ago you could purchase a Brigham Young’s Excellent University t-shirt at the school’s bookstore. I think this was selling the first semester I attended there. That would be back in 1989 – so yes, it was a long time ago.

Brigham Young’s Excellent University t-shirt

Occasionally since that time, especially when reading blog posts about the mixing of Church and commercial interests (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6), I’ve wondered whether or not it was appropriate. I have mixed feelings about it. Part of me thinks: “It’s just a fun t-shirt. Relax.” Another part of me says “This is a prophet of God and his picture shouldn’t be altered and used to sell t-shirts.”

I feel fairly confident that this could not be done with an image of Joseph Smith or of Gordon B. Hinckley. That is, I think church members would be offended by that sort of thing. But that leaves me wondering why it was okay to do it with an image of Brigham Young. Is it because of Brigham Young’s unique personality? Is it because of the role that he has played in U.S. and Church history? Is it because his name is associated with a university? Is it because his name is associated so much with polygamy?

Do we consciously or unconsciously perceive Brigham Young as different or unique from other LDS prophets in some way? Is his image less sacred or more pragmatic to a degree that makes it easier for it to be used in popular culture in this fashion?

No doubt I’m overthinking the whole thing. Maybe it’s just because in this particular picture, Brigham Young does look pretty cool wearing his Ray-Bans.

[Thanks to Ann Porter for providing me with this picture.]