Today, I come not to bury the Book of Mormon Musical creators Trey Parker, Matt Stone, and Robert Lopez, but to announce that they have been named the 2011 Boggs-Doniphan Gentiles of the Year. To the extent that an award half-named for the man who tried to have us all killed, and half-named for a valued ally, can be considered an honor, I say to them: Congratulations!
So the question of the hour must be, is this year’s award a Boggs, or a Doniphan?
Reviews of the musical here at BCC (1, 2, 3), and elsewhere (1, 2, 3), have reflected the deep ambivalence of the Mormon community’s reaction to the show: some love it, some hate it, some are internally ambivalent. The overwhelming majority have reacted with, if not enthusiastic approval, at least a kind of classy resignation best exemplified by the church’s own public affairs staff. (Particularly worth reading are responses by BCC’s Margaret Blair Young and church spokesman Michael Otterson–both provide rich contextual information on what Mormons are actually accomplishing in Africa.)
On the one hand, reports were that Manhattan hotels were scrambling to contact the church and procure more copies of the Book of Mormon after guests began snatching them from hotel nightstands at a brisk pace. White shirts and name badges became a cultural icon. Really, how many of us could imagine a giant crowd of people (okay, other than BYU students), screaming “Yeeaah!” in response to a man with a bullhorn asking, “Who wants to see the Book of Mormon tonight!!” (0:20-0:30 in this video). Our winning trio’s work also seems to have reset the bar for minimally socially acceptable treatment of Mormons higher than it has been in the past. Now, if you want to mock Mormons in polite society, you have to do it with healthy helpings of affection and humor and an admission that we aren’t any crazier than any other religious people. Maybe still not quite as kind as I’d preferto be treated, but (with a perhaps somewhat tenuous reliance on correlation implying causation) I’ll note that, subsequent to the musical’s release, we saw broad mainstream media condemnation of anti-Mormon comments such as those from Robert Jeffress.
On the other hand, by setting eye-popping blasphemy to an irresistibly catchy tune, the musical has ensured that this particular profanity is destined to be with us for a long, long time (I suspect the song I’m thinking of is the same song Jon Stewart was referring to when he said, “There is a song in this that I think, when the aliens come thousands of years from now, it may exist as the only memory of Earth, and I gotta say, I’m happy to go down with it.”).
I present to you Trey Parker, Matt Stone, and Robert Lopez: your 2011 Boggses and/or Doniphans.