Why I Relate to Tyler Glenn’s “Trash”
Yes, the controversial music video defaces sacred LDS symbols, but in doing so it brings to visceral life the nightmare journey of the apostate.
This essay was written in 2016.
“Trash” exploded across the online Mormon world last week, causing the faithful to recoil and apostates to jump up and down in a fever. Glenn is the lead singer of Provo’s Neon Trees. A lifelong member of the LDS Church, he made headlines two years ago by coming out as gay in the pages of Rolling Stone. He still believed, though—until six months ago, that is, when the church issued draconian new guidelines for the ecclesiastical treatment of children of same-sex couples.
Now comes “Trash,” a video in which Tyler Glenn drinks liquor from the bottle, spits on a defaced portrait of Joseph Smith, enacts all four of the secret handshakes from the temple endowment ceremony, draws a red X on his face, and ultimately crumples amidst a blizzard of printed pages possibly meant to represent Mormon scripture.
It’s hard to overstate how powerfully this video affects those of us who have also gone through the painful process of separating ourselves from the Mormon church. It’s also hard to overstate how powerfully it must affect faithful Mormons. “Trash” renders one of the most familiar images in LDS iconography, the portrait of Joseph Smith, into a gothic nightmare. Even a viewer like myself, separated from the church by more than two decades, can’t help feeling a stab of horror as Glenn viciously spits at the painting. This is the rankest blasphemy, a gut-punch to the deepest recesses of Mormon symbology. That gobbet of spit strikes the indoctrinated viewer like missile from hell.
What’s so thrilling about “Trash” is how it seizes us and drags us through the first stages of the apostate journey. Mormons in good standing may quake at the treatment Joseph receives, but to the apostate an angry repudiation of the building blocks of his or her identity is necessary for overcoming the power the symbol still exerts over both the conscious and subconscious minds. Everyone who found it hard to leave the church but did anyway had to perform the metaphorical equivalent of spitting at that painting.
From there, Glenn seems to feel a flash of spiritual inspiration as he regards the angel Moroni in a robe painted pink. I can only imagine that this is his realization that he needs to forge an identity for himself separate from the environment in which he was raised. But that’s more easily said than done. He enters an elevator, running through all the handshakes that are meant to gain the Mormon faithful entry to heaven.
But an elevator is an ambiguous space, especially viewed from the inside. Will it lift him up or drag him down? It’s this doubt about his new course that swirls as a tempest of scripture rages around him. Paradoxically, the only way he can preserve his own identity in this maelstrom is to excommunicate himself, visibly and irreversibly, from the ideas and culture and even people that created him.
I can’t tell you how much this video resonates with me. These are all the same arguments and emotions I was grappling with back in 1995, when I first started writing about—and often ridiculing—the Mormon church. That’s what my journey was like—not a straight line out but a weaving, meandering stumble, never certain whether or when true escape had been achieved. I suspect, especially from the reactions I’ve seen to this video, that many apostates have had the same experience.
Now, at last, thanks to Tyler Glenn, we have something we can point to and say, “This. This is how it felt, and sometimes still feels.” ∅