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Richard Bushman On The 'Book Of Mormon' Musical


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I know, I know. The musical has been discussed ad nauseam, but I thought this was a particularly apt statement by Richard Bushman:

Is like looking into a fun-fouse mirror; the reflection is hilarious but not really you.

For the full article, see here.

Thoughts? Comments?

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I felt this paragraph: "I studied everything and prayed hard for some kind of light. In time I arrived at a rational explanation that allowed for a miracle in the book’s production, but along the way I experienced something more important than the book itself. I caught a glimpse of a higher form of human flourishing, something forceful and ennobling which I can only call sacred. It was this encounter with a kind of elevated goodness in the book that won me over."

was the most powerful portion of the "interview."

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I have been living in California and Utah for the past year while the musical "The Book of Mormon” has been packing the house on Broadway. I have not seen the show, but I have read endless reviews, listened to parts of the score, and talked with Mormon friends who have seen it. Based on what I have heard...

So, an LDS Mormon Scholar who also hasn't seen the play himself claims that Mormons who see the play find it like a fun-house mirror that doesn't really reflect them...?

Fascinating. Which Mormons is he refering to, I wonder?

I do very-much like how he concludes his article:

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if through this funny and outrageous show we got to know one another better?

Daniel2

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So, an LDS Mormon Scholar who also hasn't seen the play himself claims that Mormons who see the play find it like a fun-house mirror that doesn't really reflect them...?

Fascinating. Which Mormons is he refering to, I wonder?

Real ones, probably.

Maybe the bits of the play that can only be known by seeing it are startlingly better than the lyrics and story line we know about. But even if that were the case, it would not make the play itself worth our money.

No real Latter-day Saint should be willing to sit through the profanity that has been amply documented. The notion of an ostensible Mormon missionary producing his own "Book of Arnold" is barf-inducing, and stories about prophets committing filthy acts with frogs cannot possibly appeal to anyone who has any concept of decency. Even if all the bits we haven't seen were a chorus of angels, it would not be sufficient to redeem the filth that we already know about.

I realise that you don't really understand this, Daniel. Frankly, I wouldn't expect you to, so please don't take it to heart.

Regards,

Pahoran

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Real ones, probably.

Maybe the bits of the play that can only be known by seeing it are startlingly better than the lyrics and story line we know about. But even if that were the case, it would not make the play itself worth our money.

No real Latter-day Saint should be willing to sit through the profanity that has been amply documented. The notion of an ostensible Mormon missionary producing his own "Book of Arnold" is barf-inducing, and stories about prophets committing filthy acts with frogs cannot possibly appeal to anyone who has any concept of decency. Even if all the bits we haven't seen were a chorus of angels, it would not be sufficient to redeem the filth that we already know about.

I realise that you don't really understand this, Daniel. Frankly, I wouldn't expect you to, so please don't take it to heart.

Regards,

Pahoran

No worries, Pahoran. If I took a fraction of the things that are said here at MDD to heart, I'd be a basket case. I've learned that most things that people say (including myself--not to mention the authors of "The Book of Mormon Musical") are a far more an accurate reflection of themselves, rather than the subject of their comment.

And, as I've consistently said, I agree with you on a couple points:

No devout Latter-day Saint should be willing to sit throught he profanity this play exudes.

And, by the end of the musical, both Elder's Price and Cunningham are no longer "Latter-day Saints," so far as the term would apply to a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In fact, I've no doubt they both would be excommunicated fairly quickly by the LDS Faith, given the gross apostasy--through the creation of their own, new brand of scripture, and leading an entire village of Africans away from the LDS Faith--that they end up committing while acting under the mantel of the office of an Elder and their callings as missionaries. So, yes--despite their claiming the title of "I am a Latter-day Saint" in the closing musical number, members of the LDS Faith would vehemently disagree.

In many ways, then, the story of "The Book of Mormon Musical" isn't the story of devout Mormons, at all--it is actually more the story of former Latter-day Saints like myself, who no longer believe literally in LDS scripture, but who can still appreciate the metaphorically-spiritual truths that religion can contain and offer to the world. In addition to the obvious profanity that would likely alienate what you call "real Mormons," I've long been pondering that that's probably why the themes of the play resonate with me so much, but are so offensive to many that remain devoutly LDS.

In that sense, Bushman's comments that the Mormonism reflected by the play make sense--as devout Latter-day Saints don't see them in that way; while those of us who are 'Formers' see the ghosts of our former beliefs as distortions of reality in ways that would likewise seem distorted, by those that still believe.

I will always consider myself a "real Mormon" (and I use "Mormon" in a cultural sense, here--not as a religious designation), though no longer a "Latter-day Saint" (which I use as a religious designation).

My view,

Daniel2

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  • 3 weeks later...
That's odd. I swear I have seen Pahoran taking people to task for appealing to the "No True Scotsman" fallacy...

I'm sure you have.

And if this was an example of such, you might have a point.

A Scotsman is a man who lives in Scotland. A Latter-day Saint is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

There are people in Scotland who speak with the Scottish burr, wear tartan and play the bagpipes. They don't stop being Scots because they put sugar on their porridge. However, if they move to England and take up Morris dancing, they might.

There are Church members who don't have missionary haircuts and vote for different candidates than Glenn Beck. That doesn't stop them from being Latter-day Saints. But if they fail to realise that the known egregious absurdities in the play misrepresent the Church and its members so thoroughly that no unknown (and not surprising enough to be worth mentioning) goodness could possibly redeem it, then chances are that they're not real Latter-day Saints in any meaningful way.

Of course, they might just qualify as "real Mormons" in much the same way as a gay UU exMo might imagine himself as doing.

Regards,

Pahoran

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Parker and Stone gaze earnestly at their navels while a writer for the Hollywood Reporter looks on.

[Talking about how the play has wreaked pure havoc on their Parker's and Stone's schedules] And yet its [South Park’s] success comes at a price: When they return to Los Angeles, Parker and Stone will have just two months to produce a batch of seven new episodes, followed by seven more after a brief hiatus. Without their usual two weeks of prep before the season begins — and without their habitual five-day writers retreat — they’ll be scribbling ideas on Thursdays and working nonstop till the early hours of the following Wednesday morning, the very day each episode airs, when it is finally locked.

Awww … cry me a river! Gee, that’s soooo rough! These guys need a serious dose of reality. They should go spend a few days with a sanitation crew or a shift of police officers or an emergency room staff; then I might half-listen about how rough their lives are.

But it wasn’t until they made a much-talked-about video greeting card for Fox executive Brian Graden that they were commissioned to make South Park some 15 years ago. Other than the two forays into film and a TV misfire, That’s My Bush, they’ve remained exclusively with South Park ever since.

Obviously, this writer has forgotten the little gem Orgazmo. If I were Parker and Stone, I would be positively livid at the slight! That was Oscar-worthy material, fer shure!

The Cruise episode was one of many that defined South Park as among the most cutting-edge shows of its era, a creation that made fun of individuals and institutions alike. Which makes it surprising to discover there’s a gentleness and even a kindness about Parker and Stone that’s far from the flipness one might expect.

Given enough time, we’ll produce enough trash that we’ll somehow offend the entirety of the human race in one way or another, but hey, if we’re “gentle and kind” in our personal lives, that’ll make it all better!

Even at their most sacrilegious, Parker says, they never plan to inflict pain.

T’ain’t whatcha actually do that counts; it’s whatcha plan to do! Got it!

When someone goes, ‘Oh, this group is really p!$$ed off at what you said,’ there’s not a piece of my body that goes, ‘Sweet!’ ” Parker asserts. “That means I did it wrong. I’m just trying to make people laugh.”

Oh, please! As long as someone keeps signing the paychecks, Trey, the truth is you don’t give a tinker’s dam what happens “in your body” or who you p!$$ off … :huh:

“Once you get yourselves into things that are working on a deeper level, you just have to keep going,” Stone reflects. “When you reach that deeper level, you can’t go back.”

“Once you get yourselves to the point where people are signing paychecks this big for you, you just have to keep going,” Stone “reflects.” “When you reach that deeper level, you can’t go back.” And oh, by the way, the point of the piece, in case you missed it, is that we now realize that “it’s ‘wrong’ to offend”: since we know it’s wrong but we do it anyway, we flog ourselves mercilessly for at least 30 minutes every week before cashing our paychecks!

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People willing to sell out the church for a few cheap laughs will of course go see it. I wouldn't call them Latter-day Saints. I am sure others who want to denigrate Africans will enjoy it also, I would call that group tolerant.

I am sure there are people out there who "metaphorically" like to laugh at Latter-day Saints and black Africans. And I am sure the metaphore is, for them, profound. Perhaps it is a maturity issue, though I dare say, the issue lies more within the bitterness reflected by anti Mormons (and in this case anti-Africans, making fun of their culture and naivete?).

the play is a cheap parody of the sacrifices made by real missionaries who work in Africa, and real Africans who accept the gospel, and change their lives. For some, the cheap parody is the best they can hope for.

More's the pity.

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...[T]he play is a cheap parody of the sacrifices made by real missionaries who work in Africa, and real Africans who accept the gospel, and change their lives. For some, the cheap parody is the best they can hope for.

More's the pity.

Indeed.

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Yes, I did leave college to serve a mission, and my experience then bears on my reaction to Price’s song. Specific doctrines aside, the lines that will most distress Mormons in the Price lyrics are the repeated phrase “just believe.”

Poor Elder Price has had his confidence shaken and doesn’t know how to react to his dawning disbelief. All he can do is repeat over and over “just believe.” To prove himself valiant, he must turn off the lights and shut the door on his doubts.

Price’s response to uncertainty leaves the impression that Mormons may be happy on the outside, but are hollow at the core. They recognize their beliefs are preposterous but stubbornly hold on.

I suppose it seems obvious to many people that a moment’s reflection about personal planets, Kolob, and the Garden of Eden in Missouri will plant doubts. Any rational person in the modern world who thinks about such outlandish ideas for one second will see they are preposterous. Mormons can’t think about their faith; they must “just believe.”

But for Mormons themselves, the process of just believing is not so simple.

I had my Elder Price moment, as many Mormons do, but during my sophomore year at Harvard. Writing a paper on Nietzsche and Freud had raised lots of questions about religion in general.

When I went off to Halifax to preach the gospel, I was pretty shaky in my belief. For three months I wrestled with questions about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. Was it a hoax, a bold, fraudulent effort to create a myth? Had Joseph Smith hoodwinked his friends—and the rest of his followers including me?

I studied everything and prayed hard for some kind of light. In time I arrived at a rational explanation that allowed for a miracle in the book’s production, but along the way I experienced something more important than the book itself. I caught a glimpse of a higher form of human flourishing, something forceful and ennobling which I can only call sacred. It was this encounter with a kind of elevated goodness in the book that won me over.

For me “just believing” meant turning the light on, not turning it off.

One is not simply permanently and confortably ensconced in the harbor of faith on the one hand, or carried about aimlessly by currents of doubt, with no choice in the matter, on the other. Doubt and faith are choices. One chooses to turn the light of faith on, thereby banishing doubt, or s/he chooses not to turn that light on, thereby welcoming doubt.

There are plenty of things, particularly about Mormon cultural idiosyncracies, which one legitimately could satirize smartly and wittily (and rightly, for that matter) without having to cross the lines which Parker and Stone cross. The best satire begins with a kernel of truth, but Parker and Stone's view of Mormons and of Mormonism (not to mention of faith in general) is so jaundiced that they don't even start from the right place. The best satire involves seeing what one is satirizing, not from one's own vantage point, but from the vantage point of someone who has experienced the subject being satirized firsthand. (There's plenty of irony in Mormon life even for the faithful!)

The Book of Mormon Musical sets out to answer the question, "What does it mean to Mormons to have faith?" and then Parker and Stone proceed to satirize that faith (not to mention satirizing faith in general). The problem isn't that we Mormons are too stupid to appreciate good satire, that we can't appreciate irony, that we feel there's no irony to appreciate, or that we simply can't laugh at ourselves. The problem is that Parker and Stone answer the question of what it means to Mormons to have faith from their perspective rather than from the perspective of devout Mormons. Starting wrong in the first place provides a pretty decent guarantee of ending up wrong in the end.

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