Tag Archive: Being different


One fun aspect of Festivals is that, while roaming the areas, you might stumble upon something you are not familiar with.. Or, if you are lucky, something obscure, a hidden gem of sorts. Last month there was a yearly held comic festival, where I ended up buying the small graphic story collection, ”Becoming an Ex-Mormon” (2016) by Cajsa Nordlund. The format she uses is called a fanzine (a non-professional and non-official form of publishing produced by enthusiast in a certain sub-culture or community for fellow members, in Ms. Nordlund´s case Ex-Mormons and people interested in the phenomenon of de-conversion) which entailed a related collection of drawings with dialog.

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Cajsa Nordlund is a Swedish artist who is also a former Mormon. It is hard to find much information on her, but according to her instragram account @tossaniska she´s a painter and graphic story artist, who, in addition to this volume, has just published another comic-based collection, ”Lite Mycket Begärt” (”A Bit Much of a Request”, roughly). In the graphic volumes back cover there is a short biographical explanatory text, where it is informed that Ms. Nordlund was a Mormon for six years, and married whilst a believer and member of the church. At the age of 27 she left the church and got a divorce. The comic collection, ”Becoming an Ex-Mormon”, is, according to the volume, based on real experiences from Nordlund and other Ex-Mormons.

The Mormon church was founded in America and is still predominately an American religion, but due to their global missionary program (in which young men travel abroad to convert others) they have been able to create a substantial following in other countries. Mormonism has been present in Sweden since 1850. Today Sweden has about 9000 Mormons (a fairly notable number, when you take the countries size and famous lack of religious people into account). Missionaries are common in Stockholm, in fact my Chinese significant other had more than one encounter with young Mormon men who approached him using Mandarin as an “in” to begin the missionary moment. A Mormon church also exists in Finland, with about 5,000 members according to the CLDS own reckoning. Finland’s first contact with the Church came from Swedish emigrants baptized in the early 1870s and Swedish missionary brothers who preached in Vaasa. In 1876, the first converts in Finland were baptized, and by 1886, 25 people had been baptized among the Swedish-speaking Finns. My first ever encounter with Mormons was that of a Finnish woman who had converted and was married to an American man, both residing in Finland. (For those who want, check the star below the review for more History of Mormons in Finland*).

The sketches in ”Becoming an Ex-Mormon” are short, pithy, insightful and, probably needless to say, humorous in nature. There is no singular directive story, just the revolution around the denunciation of peoples commitment to the Mormon religion. The sketches are separated into three sections: ”Benefits of Becoming an Ex-Mormon”, ”Downsides of Becoming an Ex-mormon” and ”Before & After”. These three sections work very much to the comic structure benefiting from sharp and short narratives which cleverly embody both the thoughts and feelings of former believers and fleshing out the experience of leaving the calming steadfastness of the Mormon belief and the more generalized condition of loss as Nordlund and others tumble from their former community. In a minimized format of the comic formulation Nordlund is able to give a big and nuanced perspective on a life changing event, both as vast philosophical rupture and the loss of the safety of the social. While self-discovery often is empowering, it also does comes with a vanished connection to both thought and emotion, and Nordlund is not shy of facing this uncertainty doing so, in her work, with passion, humor, and sassiness. While ”Becoming an Ex-Mormon” does ultimately state that leaving the church is an empowering moment to face the many and ambiguous truths of the world, it also never shirks the reality and downsides to leaving a very tight community and wade into the realities of persistent doubts, open bouts of loneliness and the existential fears this entails.

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In the Benefits section, the stories move around the newly found freedom and advantages of not being Mormon. Many of the advantages the stories talk about are quite Mormon specific, like finally being able to drink coffee, whilst others are more generally applicable to a number of different religions (like being able to skip inconvenient, and constant, praying). Some of the enclosed graphic stories in the volume are difficult to understand unless one has at least a passing knowledge of Mormonism, as, for instance, Nordland comments on the relief of being able to laugh loudly after leaving the church. Despite this the reader will never feel abandoned to the mysteries of religion in this compendiums graphic tales as, in the unfolding of the total work, the reader is almost invisibly explained the customs in the Mormon church (such as the pressure to storage food for the latter days, the strict dress codes, and the pressure to marry) while not bogging down the narrative flow which rests instead on the ex-believers journey.

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Nordlund´s stories also touch upon the gender dynamics in the church, bringing up a number of a feminist issues in the tales, for instance with the collection critiquing the notion embodied in church doctrine that the fundamental role of womanhood entails primarily their functioning as mothers. Because of this the ideological community of the Mormon dictates strict rules regarding women´s bodies (a universal critic of religious communities) and their functioning visibility in the social. Nordlund underlines this uneasy genetic behavioral doctrine, and her adamant rejection of its biological determinism, with a strong sketch panel where we find a naked woman smiling with her arms spread out, and a text pronouncing: “Now my body is mine and No One can tell me what to do with it”.

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While Nordlund´s comic is a critic of the Latter Day Saints Church, her sketches are also critical regarding gender roles and expectations inside of overall society; she´s able to play with this dynamic masterfully through her illustrations. For instance, in one segment, the comic notes that one of the supreme benefits young heterosexual couples have in communities (and familial structures) is that people withhold asking them, verses single members/ dating couples of society, when they will get married. Followed by the constant query of when they will have children. A woman in the strip notes, after the later advantage is discussed, that it is useless as: “Just kidding. Pretty much everyone everywhere assume all people want kids”.

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an Illustration by Ms. Nodlund; while not present in the comic, still very interesting.

The Downsides segment is a laugh inducing and poignant examination of more unfortunate sides of losing one’s religion. This section of the graphic stories revolves around the issues of confronting the existential dilemmas of understanding and thought, and the penultimate responsibility for the future (since it is no longer the latter days of the saints of the church Ex-Mormons looks to for morality) in which the individual must generate and embody themselves and their ideas in living. Choices are now the choices made and lived by each of us in the community, and there are no straight-forward answers (give to us by others) in which we can hide from the responsibilities of our decisions. Outside of the rigid theist setting of rules and actions, Nordlund, (as all humans in the field of thought, belief and acts) battles with the questions, not the least the existentialist, of life.

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The last section, “Before & After” differs from the previous two sections in that the situations the individuals find themselves in are explored in two panels, while the previous sections explored themes in one panel. “Before & After” deals with many different experiences with the theme being anxiety and shame before, and peaceful relief afterwards. The sketches deal with topics such as LGBT+, disability**, body issues etc. The issues confronted in this section regard the often, almost subliminal, feelings of shame, nonconformity, abnormality and guilt due to the incongruence between the norms of the church and the (in actuality) normal actions of being an individual. Neverr reductionistic, the group of insights here show that after leaving the church, the journey of exploring who you are, and learning to accept this ambiguous and messy self its founded on a freedom (not only in the lack of pressure to conform to a narrow model of the human) based on the emancipatory realization of the self beyond simple boundaries and contradictory foundations. While less funny, many of these sketches are very moving and show the complexities of becoming human in the greatest sense.

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Becoming an Ex-Mormon” is an easy (I read it in an hour and a half), enlightening, and read, and is without a doubt worth re-reading as well. The illustrations are straight-forward and simple, yet appeasing nuanced in their declarations. Well worth checking out!

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* In 1903, Apostle Elder Francis M. Lyman visited Finland. The Finnish Mission was organized in 1947, when there were only 129 members in Finland. During the next seven years, the Church gained legal status and the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, a companion scripture to the Bible, was translated into Finnish. The Helsinki Stake was organized in October 1977 with 3,642 members. Ten years later, Church membership was 4,100. The main Chruch for latter day saints today resides in Helsinki.

** While many religious people are supportive of disability rights, there are parts of religious texts and beliefs which hold very ableist opinions. This side of religion/superstition is rarely discussed inside of narrative media, and it was great to see it presented in this collection.

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“My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” is a show that gets most of its press regarding the large and diverse fandom which has grown up around it. The surprise comes from a sizeable community of fans of the Little Ponies newest incarnation being a substantial, vociferous, and creative following who trend towards men of about 20 to 30 years of age (there also exist quite a few female adult fans of this age group, as well, but the Male Section of this fandom, going by the moniker “Bronies”, has caused the most stir).

“My Little Pony: Friendship is magic” is a fresh reboot of an old series which has had four versions up to this point and gained some notoriety from the dedicated adult following of this “Fourth Generation” (that is the fourth adaptation of the series) of the Little Ponies animated Television Series. The newest reboot premiered in 2010 and was created by award-winning animator Lauren Faust, who has previously has worked on such shows as “The Powerpuff girls”. Faust, after creating the new reboot, worked with the show for two seasons (there are four seasons out now), and has said this about the working with MPL: FIM: “When I took the job, I braced myself for criticism, expecting many people — without even watching the show — to instantly label it girly, stupid, cheap, for babies or an evil corporate commercial. I encourage skeptics like this to watch My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic with an open mind. If I’m doing my job right, I think you’ll be surprised.”

Lauren Faust, folding a plush toy of her Pony-persona

Lauren Faust, holding a plush toy of her Pony-persona

After watching the documentary “Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans Of My Little Pony” (an excellent film, by the way) I decided to fill out my knowledge by viewing the initial two part pilot of the New Little Ponies series. Much to my surprise, found the show (other than obviously charming) exceptionally humorous, teasingly contemplative and manifesting some of the best character studies on TV right now. One of the best show-cases for the strengths of the series is found in the second season’s fourth episode, “Luna Eclipsed” and it´s intriguing character study of Princess Luna.

Picture from  the documentary "Bronies"

Picture from the documentary “Bronies”

The show takes place in a fictional pony-ruled world named Equestria, which is “ruled” by a Pony named Princess Celestia. This ruling, however, mostly is manifested in her duty of daily raising the sun. Her younger sister, Princess Luna, is in charge of the raising the moon. In the shows pilot, Luna was originally positioned as the villain (she was driven to evil by jealousy and bitterness towards her sister, who was adored and worshipped, while Luna was forgotten and ignored). Luna, moved by her angry resentment, created an eternal night, but, after being thwarted in her scheme, was banished to the moon for a thousand years. Upon returning from her banishment (and seemingly not learning her lesson) she again tried to inaugurate a darkness of the eternal night. However the bookworm protagonist Twilight Sparkle and her friends were able to defeat Luna and, following this second defeat, Luna has subsequently attempted to redeem herself. In “Luna Eclipsed” she re-appears during a fictional holiday based on Halloween, “Nightmare night”, where the ponies go around trick’o’treating and playing games all the while recounting spooky tales of Luna´s former evil persona (Nightmare Moon). Luna sees the night as a chance to appease her past crimes and integrate with the others, due to this being one of the few nights the ponies forgo sleep for a night of revelry. However when she arrives, her social cues are completely off. She talks in a loud, intimidating voice, while using a bombastic body language. The ponies, confronted with this aggressive facade, run away in screaming terror.

Luna arrives in a scary carriage

Luna arrives in a scary carriage

After the shock her personality creates, the episode follows Luna trying to find her place amongst others and society, asking Twilight Sparkle to help her fit in. She tries to adjust her speaking tone, she tries to play games, but nothing seems to work. Luna in frustration loses her temper, while the other ponies, in an ill-advised attempt to play games with Luna, once again are terrified into fleeing Luna’s hostile presence. The episode has a distinct melancholic tone where Luna comes to believe she will never belong and must always be the lone outcast. Twilight doesn´t want Luna to give up, but she does. Despite this being a children’s show, there is no sugar coating when it comes to portraying Luna´s despair and the question of the irreparability of some outcomes.

Luna (left) and Twilight (right)

Luna (left) and Twilight (right)

Every culture has its own codes and unwritten rules, which seem innate to the integrated cultural individual of the culture/society, but which makes integration tricky for those find these rules applied later in life. Confronting a new set of rules, and ones which seem “natural” by the dominate culture/people, can be frustrating and depressing for the immigrant imbued with a divergent set of rules (both implicit and explicit, and which being “brought up in” these valuations, seem “natural” to them). Trying to understand another culture and feelings, the immigrant will continually fail to “get it” as the rules which seem obvious to the ingrained members of a society will always be felt (at some level) as imposed, accidental and arbitrary to the integrating other (and, of course, the reverse as well). Watching Luna try her best to speak properly and learn how to act around the other ponies is heartbreakingly familiar for those who have attempted to integrate into new worlds. Luna´s attempts to be accepted are actually an eerie experience to watch, especially since she keeps failing to get others to accept her, which is how many immigrants feel.

The ponies scream in terror when they see Luna

The ponies scream in terror when they see Luna

When Luna seeks from Twilights kindhearted friend Fluttershy tips on how to speak with a normal tone, it rings true of the struggle the immigrant faces to get over ones culture shock. With the term “culture shock”, I´m referring to unwritten social rules which everybody takes for granted inside certain societies and cultures, and which the outsider to such cultures doesn´t necessarily understand or find as common thought. This causes a feeling of disjointedness for the immigrant/outsider, and makes the insider think that the immigrant seems disconnected from reality because the rule is obvious and natural to them. Twilight first has to explain how Lunas loud voice is intimidating to others, which Luna at first strenuously protests against: “But this is the traditional Canterlot voice!” Luna is used to operating through the way of how things worked a thousand years previously before her banishment and this is reflected as the metaphor of immigrants being socially, and individually, imbued with the way things operate, and are accepted as the “natural way”, within their home country, but are now asked to reject and interject a new set of “natural rules”. As the saying goes; “The Past is a Foreign Country” and Luna encapsulates the metaphor of the immigrant other, par excellent, here. When Fluttershy states that Luna in fact has learned the proper way to speak, Luna is so overjoyed that she picks Fluttershy up and shakes her, while singing thanks. Fluttershy though is paralyzed with fear by this physical joy, something Luna fails to notice within the confines of her otherness. Later Luna gets angered and frustrated over not understanding a commonly played game. All these scenarios ring familiar to those who grow frustrated for not understanding, not “getting it”, always doing something wrong. It also rings true to those who in their enthusiasm don´t notice that others are uncomfortable.

Luna thanks Fluttershy (the yellow pony)

Luna thanks Fluttershy (the yellow pony)

Inside of the show, Luna´s misadventures in fitting in are explained by her past mistakes. However, her struggle to understand and to integrate can also be comforting for anyone who has ever felt that they never really fit in. Luna laments to Twilight that the other ponies have “never liked me, and they never shall”. Often, this refrain is voiced by many outsider groups within a society. Whether it´s immigrants that face prejudice and confusion for not being like others in the society, or other groups which deviate (even ever so slightly) from what is considered the “norm” of a cultural position or social expression within a defining cultural group (nation, ideology, ethnicity or action). Being different, an outsider, is perfectly captured in Luna. But her outsider status seems to stream from being from a different time, a different “world”. Any immigrant, or any outsider, excluded class will find a core concern within Luna’s struggle.

Lunas shock at being liked

Lunas shock at being liked

This being said (and without a recourse to simplify answers to how the other is to find a place within the networks of nation and cultural thought) this was also a hopeful episode. The episode goes on to present that both individuals embedded or excluded within a culture must struggle to find the chance of a new inclusion, a new way of being “together” as a society. This inclusion will become an engine to transform differences and weaknesses of exclusions into the social strengths of the open possibilities which a society can strive towards and attain.
Luna in the end is able to turn her scariness into something fun; despite not coming to a full understanding and a complete integration, one can always find ones place in a strange new world.

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