Facebook and its fellow Zuckerberg enterprise, Instagram, has been having a rough week. First, a whistleblower explained that immediately following the election, the company eliminated its ethics team assuming that the threat was over (or at least able to rationalize the lucrative decision on this basis), resulting in Facebook being a great place for the insurrectionists to plan their attack on the capitol. The whisteblower also described how the company buried studies that show the mental harm Instagram does to users, particularly teen girls. If all that wasn’t bad enough, Monday morning Facebook and Instagram went down and were completely unavailable for hours, costing Zuck billions. Speculation was rampant, and those most active on these platforms were in full panic mode. Others smirked and said they never liked these platforms anyway, or as my son put it, Facebook is where old people go to be old. The real winners were places like Twitter and Reddit which have their own distinct ways to achieve status.
I just got back from a fantastic month in Greece, learning about Greek history, eating Greek food, and watching incredibly vain men and women hogging the primo picture-taking spots with their manufactured Instagram photo-taking. Whenever we saw a woman who was completely overdressed for the activity, like a walk up a tall hill to a windy outlook while wearing a sequined gown or huge wide-brimmed straw hat that was never going to stay on in all that wind, inevitably she and her photographing partner would take up residence in the one perfect spot in front of the iconic building / landscape / sunset, and then take 10 or 15 minutes worth of photos, oblivious to the other tourists waiting to take a photo. In one place, a couple was doing a “spontaneous” romantic photo shoot in front of a Church. They didn’t notice the sign right next to where they were standing that said “This is a holy place. Please act accordingly.” And for those who want a Mormon version of this, we were hiking to Donut Falls last weekend in Salt Lake City, and at the top of the falls was a young man ostentatiously praying for 15 full minutes, literally ruining the photo opp at the end of the hike for dozens of hikers. Even Enos wouldn’t have squatted in the one place people had just hiked 45 minutes to take a picture of. That’s just manners.
I was recently listening to a Vox podcast conversation about status. As primates, we can’t help but be concerned about our social status. It’s hard-wired into us, and yet it’s the exact thing that Jesus taught we needed to curb. Even Pres. Benson in his talk about Pride (that he plagiarized from C.S. Lewis) taught that comparing ourselves to others, whether we’re a top or a bottom is problematic and leads to all sorts of mischief.
Status is more important to us than money because money only matters in that it indicates our status. As the Vox conversation pointed out, there are those who acquire status by being against too much money, those who show that they are better than their materialistic cohorts. In the 70s, there was a rising trend in fashion called “Shabby Chic” as explained in these lyrics Billy Joel penned:
Where have you been hidin’ out lately, honey?Billy Joel, It’s Still Rock and Roll To Me
You can’t dress trashy till you spend a lot of money.
Claiming that you don’t care about status can be a form of status-seeking. Whenever we tear down a form of status that others seek, rest assured, there’s a different group that will laud our rejection of that specific type of status. Not caring about something others care too much about is the very definition of being cool. It confers status.
Moving around as much as I did as a child, I was able to see local status systems as an outsider. Sometimes they were the same as the last place I had lived, but sometimes they were a change. The locals valued something that the locals in my last locale had not. This gave me a sense that these status systems are flimsy, transitory, provincial, not something to get hung up about on any deep level.
The Vox conversation pointed out that while social media has democratized status seeking and given us another way (non-monetary) to measure our status (through friends, likes, comments, follows, etc.) on a daily basis, as primates we will find the status systems around us regardless. Status systems are what hold communities together. We don’t need social media to do that. It comes naturally. They mentioned that churches are very effective status systems, which is ironic in a way because that’s the opposite of what Jesus taught. Jesus said to sit with the people who are unpopular (the prostitutes and tax collectors), and that if we do things to be “seen of men” we have our reward. Churches, like all status systems, rely on a shared story about what’s important. As with our eventual religious rewards, we’ve all agreed that a specific set of actions, a way of talking, a dress code, the people we admire, all confer status.
One’s status at Church could be related to the type of calling you or your spouse have, the status of your children, how many children or grandchildren you have, what types of clothing you wear, where your kids go to school, material things like your house or car, how “spiritual” you are perceived to be, how many people tell you they liked your talk, how well you sing the hymns or other musical talents, your comments in class, the lessons you give, which general authorities you quote, etc.
But your status can also be about the ways in which you don’t conform to these. You can attain status among a subset of Church members if your political views are different, if you wear a blue shirt instead of white, if you sport facial hair, tats or multiple piercings, if you quote rock lyrics instead of General Authorities. Here are a few things I do that I know make me different, and that mark me out as not that type of Mormon, but this other type of Mormon:
- I say Mormon.
- I don’t use middle initials for Church leaders.
- I wear an RBG mask at Church.
- I say what I really think about things others fall all over themselves to praise: garments, temples, church activities, etc.
The thing is, I do enough of these things that I rarely code as Mormon to most insiders. That might be going too far with the anti-status, or maybe the trick is I just don’t like the things most Mormons do and don’t want to be a part of their weird little club. What about you?
- What types of status reinforcement do you see at Church?
- What things give you status at Church?
- What types of Mormon status signalling do you avoid?
 Because patriarchy.
 What a shame.
 Our least favorite of these photos is always the “back of my head while I look at something.”