Hardy started his Mormon beefcake calendar, he says, to challenge people's assumptions about Mormons and show they are capable both of sex appeal and laughing at themselves. He scoured MySpace and hit Mormon dances and even church parking lots to find his models, and eventually, word got out and the guys started coming to him. Not shockingly, the Mormon Church didn't find the calendar, which featured shirtless Mormon hunks posed against backgrounds that suggested the sites of their respective "missions," that hilarious. Not only was Hardy excommunicated, but he was denied a diploma from Brigham Young University, which requires grads to meet ecclesiastical, as well as academic, standards.
The timing was unfortunate: the calendar's 2007 release coincided with the federal raids on the Texan fundamentalist communes, as well as lurid portrayals in Carolyn Jessup's memoir Escape and on Big Love. The way the LDS saw it, the calendar was just another means of sensationalizing and campifying the church at a time when they just wanted to keep a low profile. Far from backing down, Hardy's upped the ante. Not only is he launching the yummy mummy version - or, as he refers to them, "Mormon muffin" pinups, which BYU deemed "contrary to the value of living a chaste and virtuous life" - but the men's calendar this time takes on actual tenets of the faith. Take this description of a recent photo shoot from the Los Angeles Times:
A male model wearing a kilt of black vinyl strips, a red belt with a gold buckle and little else is flexing his muscles amid fake oil derricks and Roman columns in a photo studio. All chiseled pectorals and tanned thighs, he is playing Captain Moroni, a battlefield hero in the Book of Mormon who rallied troops with the Title of Liberty banner.
Oh, and the cover model? Dressed in a loincloth, he represents the second coming of Christ.
Hardy is suing the church and the university, and his punishment has gotten him a lot of publicity. "Though we understand not everyone agrees with the project," Hardy replied, "the individual expressions of those involved have reshaped perceptions, removed walls, and shown . . . . acceptance and tolerance around the world." He talks a big game about wanting to challenge stereotypes, but at this point, now that he's not longer affiliated with the LDS and his calendars have become more explicitly provocative, we have to wonder: what did he think was going to happen, especially as familiar as he was with the strictures of the church? BYU is an explicitly religious university, and, however harsh the punishment, it seems they were technically within their rights to deny someone a diploma who'd failed to meet their imposed - if somewhat arbitrary - standards. And he's clearly well aware of the camp value of what he's doing. As he puts it, "You know why people love this calendar? You go from dorky church boy to hunk."
The fact that, as his "Mormons Exposed" website explicitly points out, Mormons abstain from premarital sex only adds to the "forbidden fruit" allure. The website's merch - which includes images of praying figures titled "Missionary Position" - further undermines the message of pure altruism. Obviously, Hardy is playing both sides of the coin. We understand Hardy's original goal, believe the calendar was started in fun, and that, given the response it generated, there is a real wish amongst certain Mormons to "normalize" their image in the wake of recent events (Chet, anyone?) But it's also arguable that reducing the church to pure camp - a line it already walks with a lot of the secular population - isn't the way to do it. And, it seems pretty inarguable, after his recent experiences, Hardy's motives are a bit more worldly, and a lot more complex. And we ask that Chet not be involved in any future calendars.