“YSA – Where an expression of an opinion means someone will get offended and a difference of an opinion means the end of a friendship.”

There has here been a wave of discussion on a couple of posts concerning single adults and the role of online forums in expressing criticism of the church. These conversations have prompted me to think about how we raise and deal with criticism.  It was suggested that Facebook groups, blogs and other unauthorised online forums do little to accomplish change and are bitter rants that cause contention and confusion. According to some, blogs should only be used as an extension of missionary efforts and as part of the process in sharing the gospel.

In this post I wish to consider a phenomena that has appeared amongst the British Young Single Adults (YSAs) over the past six months that demonstrates the role that they can play and how they can actually help to make change within church culture.

FML YSA (cached version may be found here) was a facebook page that was created in April. The author and origins of the page are veiled in mystery. Although there are a select few who have been involved in it, including me, the author still remains clouded in enigma. At its height, the page was drawing in 600 views a day, a vast chunk of the YSA population in the UK (considering at the most recent national convention there were 570 attendees, and the average UK dance brings in around 300 people).  It was highly discussed amongst YSA with polarised reactions.  FML YSA was devoted to making fun of the YSA culture in the UK. Reactions were divided between praise for saying what many had been thinking about UK YSA culture and those who saw it as a group of anti-Mormon apostates ranting about the church.

The YSA culture in the UK is peculiar as it is spread over a vast geographical area with only 4-10 young single adults in most wards, therefore, to meet other YSA involves travelling vast distances. At university it was always entertaining when I told my friends that I was going to travel to London (112 miles away) for a dance that evening, and that I was going to return the same evening (that’s about 4 hours driving in total). It seems incredible and insane; yet, for most this is accepted as part of being a YSA.

YSA culture in the UK also creates a pseudo-American culture. There is a fetishisation of all things American:  root beer, Krispy Kreme donuts and Hollister clothing. As one commented on FML YSA: “It’s so sad that the Y.S.A experience here in Blighty is consistently an echo of the American deal.” FML YSA observed: “I’m not saying we’re an Americanised church but if we were British through and through, we’d have five-a-side goals [used for football/soccer] in our cultural halls, not basketball nets.”

FML YSA highlighted these absurdities that had infiltrated YSA culture. It made fun of the fact that we drove so far for a dance and then when we arrived would spend most of the time out in the corridors talking instead of dancing. Why drive 100 miles to stand in a corridor?  It was also noted that 1 in 2 people at a YSA dance would be wearing something from Hollister.

The things raised by FML YSA were cultural issues. Whilst critics said singles should go to the leaders to point these issues out, what can leaders do about what clothes people choose to wear? Nothing. As much as I would love a general authority to get up and tell YSA that they should be original and not all wear the same brand of clothing, it’s just not going to happen. Authority cannot change culture; cultural change comes through individual efforts to change it. Blogs and other online forums articulate cultural issues that otherwise go unquestioned.

Another issue raised by FML YSA was the superficiality that pervades the YSA culture.  As one commenter said:

“We all have “friends” in the YSA that we only associate with because we’re all members of the Church. You know the kind, social leeches basically. If you’re thinking “I don’t have any friends like that” then you’re one of them.”

Another comment discussed YSA who are really friendly for the first minute then start looking over your shoulder for someone else to talk to, leaving you to wonder:  “Am I really that boring that after a minute you are tired of talking to me?!?”  This kind of artificial friendship drives people out of the YSA program.  As one commenter said, “I’ve only been a member for four months and already I want to leave YSA . . . There are far too many self righteous hypocrites running around.”

These social observations made me think twice about my behavior at dances.  That was one thing that made FML YSA so compelling:  recognising ourselves in the criticism.  But there were some who had difficulty laughing at themselves.  This is a key reason some disliked the site: they couldn’t face the truth about their own behaviour.

As the popularity of FML YSA grew, a similar sized group of haters grew. One of them said that “this has gone from generally laughing at the fact how Latter-day Saints luv Krispy Kremes to it being labeled as anti-Mormon.”  Another critic said:

“FML YSA is evil, and a slippery slope into inactivity, first you will make jokes about ride my pony[1. “Ride my pony” is one of the many pointless games that are played in YSA in the UK. Here is a clip that demonstrates how inane and ridiculous it is.  Another game that is often played is ninja, which is covered here in this blog.], then you’ll criticize your leaders because you saw them wearing Abercrombie, next you’ll disagree with your bishop for appointing said leader as YSA rep, and the next thing you know you’re strumbling through an alley, high on opiates, cursing Joseph Smith.”

These critics often conceded that whilst most of what was said was accurate and true, they didn’t think it should be discussed, because it was negative about the church. Speak no evil; see no evil. But by not talking about it, the problem is never addressed or corrected.  On one of the lengthy debates about the value of FML YSA one said that “these things can be brought up to leaders, does that mean we cannot joke about them too? This is in no way criticising the church or its leaders, at most it is a criticism of YSA reps and organisers choice of activities, who are actually our friends and peers, it is not a malicious attack on them personally.”  Yet, critics had no difficulty slandering the site authors who were committed to making the YSA culture better as anti-Mormon.  To create awareness, cultural criticism must be public. FML YSA used humor to make the young single adults think — to question the habits of culture.

Likewise, blogs such as this one allow people to express their frustrations and make others think about them. Perhaps those who dismiss blogs and Facebook groups are right that they accomplish little, but I have noticed less Hollister at YSA activities (the ratio is down from 1 in 2 wearing it to more like 1 in 6), and it has made me think about what I do that contributes to the YSA culture.  FML YSA also gave encouragement to those who disliked the culture but felt like the only person; they knew that others felt the same.  In bringing cultural criticism into the open, people could feel more connection and hope.  To me this is one examples of how blogs and Facebook groups can be a vehicle for positive change within our culture.

What do you think? What role do Facebook groups and blogs have? Do they just result in confusion and contention? How can blogs and Facebook pages help to improve us as members?