Blessed Are The Geeks...
I'm not as avid a webcomic reader as many, but there are a few webcomics I read regularly, and others I catch up on once in a while. As I think I've mentioned before, I even have a webcomic of my own, though I'm currently (and really pretty much chronically) behind on the updates. Naturally, I'm not going to link to or mention the name of my webcomic here, since that would kind of go against the whole anonymity thing...I do the webcomic under a pseudonym, but even so it wouldn't be at all hard to track down my real identity from it. I will mention, though, that somewhat ironically the main character of my webcomic is a god...
Anyway, most anyone who's familiar with webcomics has heard of Keenspot, one of the most prominent webcomic collectives, and as far as I know the oldest such collective still extant. And anyone who's checked out any Keenspot sites lately might have noticed some...unusual advertisements there.
This was the part where I was going to link to an image of one of the ads, except they don't seem to be running anymore. Should have made this post last week. In searching, though, I find references to the ads having turned up in other places, as well, though, including a site called "Gamers with Jobs" (where, however, the ad was eventually turned off) and another called gamedev.net. Still, the KeenSpot sites were the only place I'd actually seen them.
Even if I can't find the ads themselves anymore (though I'd guess they're still running out there somewhere), the current front page to mormon.org displays much the same thing in a different aspect ratio.
Yes, that's right; the ads were for the LDS church. They depicted, on a white background, people looking pensive while questions appeared next to them in gold letters. (All right, on the current mormon.org front page they're gray, but in the original ads they were gold.) Questions like, "What should I do with my life?" And then, after fading through a few of these images, it would settle into an image with the text "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" on the left and "TRUTH RESTORED" and the URL "mormon.org" on the right. (The main church website is lds.org, but mormon.org is also run by the church and is more focused on information for non-members (the idea being, of course, to get them interested in joining the church).)
That someone would see a church as supplying the answer to the question of what she should do with her life strikes me as, well, kind of pathetic. I mean, what, is the idea being that she's going to be devoting her life entirely to the church? Even Mormons (well, some of them, anyway) do have careers and goals and interests other than focusing on the church in every waking moment; that someone would be completely without any idea of what she wants to do with her life and then, on joining the church, would suddenly find the sense of purpose she was missing seems...well, sort of sad, actually. Then again, there is the fact that the endowment ceremony does require members to "consecrate [them]selves, [their] time, talents, and everything with which the Lord has blessed [them], or with which he may bless [them], to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for the building up of the Kingdom of God on the earth and for the establishment of Zion." So I guess the idea of looking to the church as supplying your entire purpose in life does kind of go along with Mormon doctrine, as unattractive a prospect as it may be.
But that's not the main thing I wanted to write about here; no, the main thing is, well, how odd it was to see an ad for the LDS church come up on Keenspot in the first place. Keenspot...well...isn't exactly the sort of place you'd expect the kind of people who'd be likely converts to spend a lot of time. Oh, for what it's worth, there was a webcomic by a Mormon on Keenspot once upon a time, though it eventually jumped ship and later joined up with Blank Label Comics. But by and large, I don't think on average most of the comics on Keenspot are all that religion-friendly. One of the two founders of Keenspot that have their own comics there is quite openly "agnostic" ("agnostic" in quotes because, really, though he calls himself an agnostic, he actually seems to be more of an atheist). Then there's the comic where the two main characters are gay, the one where the main character is a demon, the one that seems to go out of its way to be offensive (especially toward religion)...you get the idea. Obviously, not every Keenspot cartoonist is anti-religion--at least one is a faithful Catholic--but all in all, Keenspot doesn't seem like the kind of site that's likely to attract a lot of people searching for answers in religion. It seems like an odd sort of site for the Mormon church to advertise on.
Not, of course, that that's the only place the church has advertised; like I mentioned above, there've been ads on other sites too. But, well, look at the nature of those other sites. One is a site for gamers, another is about game development. These weren't cherry-picked; those were the first two I found in my googling. It seems the LDS church is, for whatever reason, specifically courting a "geek" demographic, which seems like a very odd strategy. Well, either that or it's just that geeks talk online about the banner ads more, which is also certainly a possibility.
Either way, though, it seems...odd to see banners for the LDS church appear on such, um, worldly sites. I wonder if this might attract for the church at least as much negative attention--making it seem desperate, or associating it with spam or with some of the sites it's advertising on that have most "inappropriate" content--as it does positive. On the other hand, the church certainly has a lot of experience in marketing (a.k.a. proselyting); presumably it's done its research and knows what it's doing. But then back to the first hand, I'm apparently not the only one who sees the church's web advertising as having an odd flavor; I just ran across a blog post by a Mormon who saw one of the banner ads on Hotmail and was uncomfortable about it.
I dunno. Between web ads and Romney's candidacy--on top of the hosting of the Winter Olympics a while back--the LDS church is certainly getting an increasing amount of publicity. The problem is--well, the problem from the church's standpoint, anyway--that not all of it is good publicity. I'm not sure putting banner ads on gaming and webcomic sites is really going to help with that... Then again, if this does end up backfiring, well, that might be a disaster from the church's point of view, but from my viewpoint I can't really see it as a bad thing...