I have read numerous reviews. I also forced myself to listen to the entire soundtrack, simply because I didn’t want to write this post from a place of ignorance. It was hard to listen to, the soundtrack that is. I wanted to stop numerous times. But I didn’t want to write out of sheer emotion either.
But let me back up–to the day I heard that the creators of South Park were writing a Broadway musical to be titled, “The Book of Mormon.” Upon reading this news my heart sank. And I thought, “Here we go again.”
I wasn’t enraged. I wasn’t hurt, at least not yet. But I was stupefied that my religion had become the punchline of yet another a joke. And not the funny kind. Because the thing is–there are some funny Mormon jokes. Like any other society or culture we have some quirks–funny little nuances that are unique to us. And I’ll laugh at them with the best of them.
Kind of like that movie, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” I found it to be a funny, light commentary on the cultural quirks that make Greek Orthodoxy so wonderful and colorful. But at no point did the movie aim to deride the belief system upon which they hang their hat.
But you see, we Mormons get it all the time. The derision. And few defend us. Sometimes I wonder if we even know how to defend ourselves. We never have been a “fight back” kind of people. And at that, I can’t help but wonder about the level of public outcry if some of the prejudice pointed at us were to happen to any other religion.
One example. In the 2002 race for Arizona governor, Matt Salmon (a Mormon) lost to Janet Napolitano. Now losing is fine. He just didn’t get the votes. Okay. But one can’t help but wonder if the independent television ads about Salmon and polygamy (a practice no longer observed by Mormons) contributed to his loss. Or the posters that were put up underneath his campaign signs that said, “Don’t Vote Mormon.”
I often wonder what the public sentiment would have been had Salmon been Jewish and had the sign read “Don’t Vote Jew.”
But back to the musical. Newsweek said that it “may be the most obscene show ever brought to a Broadway stage.” Entertainment Weekly called it “irreverent” and that “the show is jam-packed with foul language … sexually explicit jokes, and enough blasphemy to knock your church-going grandma right out of her seat.”
Just to clarify, you can spend $487 (the going rate for a ticket to the show that’s now sold out through the year according to Bloomberg News) for irreverence, obscenity, sexually explicit jokes, blasphemy, and 49 f-words (+ additional expletives, calculated from the show’s script and score books). And yes, I do realize that that could be a list of descriptors for any random cross section from today’s American pop culture. But I’m not writing this from a place of judgment. I have my own vices and what one chooses to view, listen to, and spend money on is up to each of us.
My point is, I won’t be spending $487 to see this show and I hope you won’t either. But why?
Well. To begin, it’s because though touted as “parody” and “satire” I, instead, found the soundtrack derisive with an underlying hint of prejudice. “Satire” and “parody” are, in my opinion, simply intelligent words used to gloss over what is essentially at the core.
Please know, I am not opposed to satire, but “A reasonable definition of satire … is ‘a literary manner which blends a critical attitude with humor and wit to the end that human institutions or humanity may be improved. The true satirist is conscious of the frailty of institutions of man’s devising and attempts through laughter not so much to tear them down as to inspire a remodeling.’ The best satire does not seek to do harm or damage by its ridicule.” (source)
At the risk of appearing thin-skinned, after listening through the CD, I felt torn down, hurt, and set apart by ridicule.
But even that–my apparent thin skin–isn’t why I hope you won’t see it.
I hope you won’t see the Book of Mormon musical because I found that many of our beliefs were misrepresented, made fun of, or taken out of context which only further propagates the misunderstanding people have about us. Most people don’t know what we believe. And by and large, what I listened to only digs a deeper gulf between who Mormons really are and what the rest of the country thinks we are. I can’t help but wonder how many people, after seeing this show, will be able to separate the parody from reality. If that’s not damage under a guise of “satire,” I’m not sure what is.
And yet the audiences are flocking to see it, to hoot, holler, and applaud. And then bestow awards and accolades upon it. In doing so, they are rewarding irreverence and blasphemy directed toward a people who essentially are just trying their best to live good lives, raise good families, serve God, and love their fellowmen.
Is that who we are as a nation? As a human race? A people okay with entertainment that belittles and derides? That takes the things one group holds sacred and smears them underfoot?
And again, why did they choose the Mormons? What would be the result had they chosen Jews, or the Amish, or Muslims? Would people still think it’s as funny?
No. I won’t be seeing the Book of Mormon musical. And I hope you won’t either. Because in going, you’re saying that what they’re doing is ok. And it’s not.
Additional thoughts from the Washington Post (a non-Mormon’s perspective)
And another perspective (from a Mormon)