“Meet the Mormons”

The UK’s Channel 4 aired a documentary last night called “Meet the Mormons” which followed the life of a British missionary on the streets of Leeds. I haven’t yet watched it, and if I do, I’ll say something more. In the meantime, here are some Press reviews:

The Guardian: “It’s . . . dead sad. Because Josh . . .  sorry Elder Field would be such a likable, normal boy if he hadn’t been indoctrinated with such nonsense, and if he was just a little more questioning. There are doubts there, clearly. He would have given up and gone home, he admits, if Elder Bauman wasn’t there the whole time, watching over him. Elder Bauman, further gone, is both less likable and less normal – a bit creepy too, to be honest.”

The Independent: “Morgan, a plump, blustering young man in a blazer and T-shirt combo . . .  managed to contribute a few thoughts on pre-marital sex before being firmly led away by Des the PR man. ‘I went on a date with this girl and we went to go watch a movie and – let me tell you – that was as fun as any form of sexual relationship could be,’ he announced with confidence. ‘You haven’t had sex, presumably?’ ventured Alleway. ‘No, I haven’t. But the thing is, I know the chemical equation of it, so I can guess.’ Final score: Mormons 1 Documentaries 0.”

The Mirror: “Here are seven extraordinary Mormon beliefs the excellent doc also uncovers . . . [garments, etc.].

The Daily Telegraph: “Too often . . . we were denied what we most wanted: answers. The companion arrangement meant that Alleway could not speak to Field about his feelings alone. A member of the church’s PR team was always lurking in the background, too. The film ended, as it had begun, with Field’s faith: he was certain he would be ‘blessed’ with a perfect life after the ‘sacrifice’ he had endured. Thanks to the constraints imposed on filming, we will have to take his word for that.”

The Times: “To be blunt, Lynne Alleway’s Meet the Mormons was a PR disaster, for while it confirmed my suspicion that the Mormons mean and do no harm to others, it revealed what they inflict upon their own.”

Any Brits see it?

_______

I have now seen it. I am a little frustrated that the church made it so easy for Channel 4 to tell the story it wanted: “Nice guy drinks the Kool Aid while being watched by creepy PR guy.” That was a documentary that needed to be made with full, private access or not at all.

Comments

  1. Predicted UK Mormon reaction: pride in Elder Field; defensiveness at perceived sleights.

    Predicted UK Mormon non-reaction: any application of the Scientology Rule (http://bycommonconsent.com/2006/10/06/the-scientology-rule-or-dont-be-cultish/).

  2. Mark Brown says:

    Predicted US Mormon reaction: this is yet another instance of persecution by the liberal media, which consistently fail to understand our unique level of righteousness.

  3. I got bored after about 15 minutes, but I must say it felt like the filmmaker had an agenda. it also felt like the church learns nothing from the PR people of the Scientology circuit. Sometimes it is better to just be sewn as unusual, rather than act like some outmoded nerd trying to act cool. it ends up making us appear even less inviting.

    The most telling was the use of General Conference footage that made it look as though we essentially sit and make had gestures at each other all evening. It turned sustaining into some creepy scene from ‘The Wave’.

    There is no denying that the church has a heavy dose of oddbods, but it appears that they were the ones specifically sought out for the sensationalist aspects. Which, as you can image, is a nightmare!!!

    This was NOT a film about missionary work, this was a propaganda peice about the secrets and weirdness of Mormonism.
    Which is fair enough, if that’s what she was after, but I hate that it was advertised as something neutral.

    What I wouldnt give for one day just to see a regular normal member interviewed about the church.

  4. scott grover says:

    Elder Fields was suffering…from the normal greenie homesickness/adjustment to mission rules that any RM can tell you about, but the show decided to make an issue of it and portray it that he was suffering from being isolated like it was some form of torture. The presenter was trying to put across that she was a caring individual and was trying to protect Elder Field “Oh I just want to cuddle you but they won’t let me” “I wanted to speak to Elder Field alone to make sure he was OK but wasn’t allowed” The PR guy was the usual advisor that any fly on the wall documentary but they decided to make an issue of him with us. It was a very slanted & biased attack whilst trying to come across as caring.

    Yes, the guy they interviewed at the dance, Morgan, was an idiot who shouldn’t have been allowed loose near the camera and did us know good, and he’ll realise how much of an idiot he made of himself after the first time he has sex!

    Yes, it was a PR disaster because of the slanted nature of the presenter, and her obsession with our underwear!!

    Yes Elder Fields did an amazing job, and from what I hear having a successful mission!

  5. Brad, in my experience, even when “regular normal” members are interviewed it still doesn’t work. The interviewer still wants to talk about the magic underwear, and the member still follows a flawed a PR script in their head.

  6. Ronan

    what we need is someone to say something like “yes my underwear is very magical. we get it from Hogwarts. plus it helps protect us from white walkers. now you can see why we don’t want everyone to see it, cos, you know, Paul Daniels might figure out how to emulate it. in other words, do you know the average person is afraid of walking under ladders? or at least Des’Re was.”

    that’ll undermine everything and make us seem a little more like we get it. we get the fascination with our more unconventional ideas.

  7. It would be easy to blame C4 for doing a hatchet job. But I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt (naive, I know) and believe they started with the intention of doing an in depth and relatively balanced piece but found themselves frustrated by all the restrictions on what they could ask and of who. So then they’re left with the option of either doing a powder-puff piece or what we saw last night (ditch all the media-friendly stuff I’m sure the Church provided, dig out some audio/visuals from the 70s/80s then add in creepy PR guy hiding round corners, crying missionary not allowed to call his mum, white handbook sent from God, etc).

    Last night I was pretty mad with C4, but this morning I can kinda see why it ended up as it did. I have no experience of how PR should work, but I’m guessing the #1 PR rule is never let PR become the narrative. FAIL

    On the plus side, I’ve had a pretty in depth conversation this morning with a couple of colleagues about what my mission meant to me and how it has shaped my outlook on life. They probably still think I’m bonkers though.

  8. Totally agree, Brad. Or when asked about Kolob, “oh that old chestnut!” For some reason, we always have to Defend the Faith in a Deadly Serious Way.

  9. >#1 PR rule is never let PR become the narrative. FAIL.

    LOL, gomez, because that never happens!

    What I constantly come back to is this: Mormons are terribly bad at self-awareness. We have no idea what we look like to others, and so when we look weird or creepy it can only be because we were unfairly made to look that way. “Know thyself” is something we need to be better at.

    Kudos to Elder Field, though. He seems to have done well. Good lad.

  10. Lorraine says:

    The PR section the church desperatley need an overhall, they are the ones that make us look idiots and weirdos, I agree that to go and speak to some normal saints and let us tell how wonderful the gospel is and how our lives are blest by it, and as for a crying homesick Elder, common, our son is currently serving in St George Utah, the only time he was a little emotional was when we dropped him at the mission home in London to wait for his visa then flight out, yes its hard, but its hard on all the family especially mums, so the whole crying thing was inaappropriate really. Why are they so fascinated with us?
    We are just a christian people trying to live our lives and be better people, why done they do this to other churches, the church in my opinion should not allow this sort of thing, and do we EVER defend ourselves…oh no, lets let people ridicule us and thoink we are weird but never have an answer or come back…thats why people think the way they do \about us, cause we NEVER put it right……well done pr section!! YOU JUST ADD TO THE WEIRDNESS!!!

  11. I have not seen the documentary yet but am not surprised that we come across poorly. The missionary experience is odd. There is really no other way to spin it. It is certainly very meaningful to lots of the young people who serve but that does not change the fact that it is unusual and unintelligible to most other people, especially those who are not religious.

  12. “it also felt like the church learns nothing from the PR people of the Scientology circuit”

    Exactly. Church PR must be familiar with the infamous John Sweeney rant at Scientology PR stalker guy. And yet from the first minute when I realised a Church PR guy would follow Elder Field everywhere it felt very Scientology-esque. I can’t believe nobody in the PR dept thought that move wouldn’t end badly.

  13. Aaron, that’s true. But it would have been much better if they had just given Elder Field some space to talk through his feelings about going, his motivations and difficulties, his progress and hopes. The film maker could still have spun that badly and I’m sure however it was spun it would have come across as very ‘other’, but that’s got to be better than controlled and manipulated, right?

  14. gomez, orders of magnitude better. I am just not sure even that would achieve what PR hope to achieve through these documentaries: which is make us seem normal and nice.

  15. Yes, a PR guy following the missionaries sounds unnecessary. We should just trust the elders enough.
    I remember seeing a Norwegian show, where a reporter spend the day with missionaries, which gave actually pretty good picture of us. Maybe it was because, it was really short (maybe just 20 minutes) and thus superficial anyway.
    I also remember a Swedish show, where the missionaries were okay, but the ordinary members with their huge home storage were made to look weird (well the members were cool, the storage was weird). The reason for this is that the latter day saints is actually translated in Swedish as last day saints.

  16. As I watched from behind a cushion I cringed at the sight of the secret service guy taking notes and trying to duck and dive out of sight of the cameras. I understand the need for the church wanting some control but it just looked weird and made members look controlled and weird. Our sustaining of leaders was called saluting. General conference looked like a modern day hitler rally. Obviously biased, but that should have been expected. We have not done ourselves any favours here. Ps. The shot of garments on a headless mannequin made them look far more sexy than they do on me.

  17. Anecdotal I know, but briefly this is my experience with a work colleague this morning:
    I’ve known her for a while and we get on pretty well. She’s not religious herself. She’s respectful but we’ve had some fairly blunt conversations. Her take was that she could see the value in young people sacrificing their own interests to give to others and felt that potentially it could be a great experience. Therefore, it was a shame we saw so little of Elderly (as she called him) Field after the first few days/weeks of his mission. She hasn’t mentioned the garment thing or the baptisms for the dead thing, I’m sure because she thinks that’s weird and would be an awkward conversation. We talked mainly about my mission experience. Her take on some of the characters involved:
    Elder Field – seemed like a really nice guy. Shame he wasn’t trusted to talk more about his experience/feelings.
    Elder Bauman – seemed a bit controlling but looked like he was just wanted to help Elder Field.
    PR guys – creepy.
    Morgan – sorry dude, she thought you were weird.

  18. Morgan is extreme special needs. Not his fault but he shouldn’t have been put in that position.

  19. That’s really unfortunate.

  20. Sorry, Morgan. Yes, that’s bad all round (C4 and the Church) that he was put in that position.

  21. “…while it confirmed my suspicion that the Mormons mean and do no harm to others, it revealed what they inflict upon their own.”

    This one kind of made me laugh. I haven’t seen the show, but in my experience, this is true to some extent, though I think it’s generally unintentional. Sometimes I feel like we, as a church, do peculiar things for peculiarity’s sake. I’d like to see us move away from that and just be a little more normal. There are enough peculiar things about our religion without striving for that end goal.

    And yes, get rid of PR. I don’t think they’re helping.

  22. I watched the programme. Of course, it was never going to be a glowing report on the Church, and leave viewers desperate to contact their local missionaries so that they could be baptised. It was always going to be largely negative, twisted, and a portrayal of the ‘dark side’ of our faith.

    There were a couple of moments where I felt uneasy.. but rather than the garments, it was the DJ playing the Spice Girls cheese that shocked me the most. That, and the rather depressing dancing going on in the hallway of the chapel. YSA events never change..

    I would agree with the above comments that the guy at the dance talking about his view on sexual relations was embarrassing, and the PR guy was right to speak to Alleway about it. The question was entirely inappropriate.

    The thing to remember is, the intention of the programme was to project a creepy, brainwashed image of the church that most people wish to pretend is real. As Channel 4 (and not the church) put the programme together, they have liberty to edit out all the good bits. No matter what is said, it is always possible to twist it and make it look bad.

    The PR guy could have been super friendly, and happy. He could have talked at length on camera, and expounded on the church teachings very well… but we wouldn’t see it.

    Alleway was full of it, and that was obvious. She pretended that the PR guy was a shock to her (do we really believe the Church had not arranged with her for the PR guy to accompany her?), she pretended she didn’t know why he would sit outside the room (again… seriously?), she pretended she had no idea what the garments were for, and what they looked like (again… who is she trying to fool?!).

    Overall, I feel we managed it very well. It could have been a lot worse, but credit to those involved (well, most of them), they ensured that we came over as best as we could. I see the programme as a positive. A lot better than the “I’m a Mormon” campaign that the church pumped £millions into.

    I just wish our PR people would be able to do what PR people do… answer questions! For example, how could the PR guy not answer a simple question of ‘why was he present during her interviews?’. He stumbled, he backtracked… he had no clue what to say.

    Lastly, I wouldn’t worry about the UK media. Their ignorant slant on the message is no surprise. Many of the reports sound like the writer did not even bother to watch the programme. And of course, the comment sections are there to give opportunity for the Mormon critics to throw up there typical…. Joseph Smith had X wives, was charged for fraud, etc. etc. etc.

    In all, the ignorant will remain ignorant. The critics will have more talking points to point, laugh, and stir it up. That doesn’t matter. The open minded and reasonable people however may have new opportunity to consider the church. If even a handful of souls have been touched, or hearts softened by this programme, and are now willing to speak to missionaries because of it…. God in Heaven will smile.

  23. I haven’t seen the documentary in question but I have had some limited dealings with the Church PR department. A TV broadcaster donated airtime to some community groups including the Church. We were going to use our segment to interview missionaries who had interesting backgrounds and stories. We had an LDS producer who would be interviewing the missionaries live to tape. The elders/sisters would be given the questions in advance so they could prepare their thoughts. We coordinated all this through the Mission President. So far so good right?

    Then the PR department became involved. They wanted meetings to vet not only the questions but also the answers and to control the final edit. There was a lot of anxiety that the missionaries might use a wrong word or phrase. They kept raising the bar for what was acceptable until finally we ended up scrapping the segment in favour of a taped program. Surely a lost opportunity.

    I don’t fault the PR people. They were only doing their jobs, which is to protect the brand. If the fault lies anywhere it is with American corporate culture which has been overlaid on the gospel of Jesus Christ. The problem is the more tightly controlled the message is, the less authentic it seems. If the producers of this documentary had an experience that was anything like mine I am not surprised that they came away with an impression of an organization that wants to micro-manage the message. That they chose to make that part of the story is perfectly fair.

    I think the Church would benefit by loosening its grip a little. The fear is palpable. We need to trust the membership a little more. And dare I say it, trust our message a little more, that is if we do indeed believe we have the restored gospel.

  24. Watching it now. Why oh why do they get sucked in to letting the PR chaperone be portrayed as the archetypal cult minder? It had to be Josh on his own or nothing.

  25. OK, I don’t think I can watch any more.

  26. Jack of Hearts says:

    Are you watching it online? Where did you find it?

  27. Jack of Hearts says:

    Ah! It says it’s not available in my area. Thanks for the link though.

  28. Christian J says:

    “The thing to remember is, the intention of the programme was to project a creepy, brainwashed image of the church that most people wish to pretend is real.”

    Sounds like my mission. Putting it more favorably, the mission can be a lot like the military – but with a young adult zeal. I get it, but its almost always going to look bad. I cringe myself looking back – though I had a wonderful mission on the ground. I would be wary of any missionaries being interviewed on camera – print maybe. That Times story was nice.

    I will say, however, that the MPs running the NYC So. mission run their missions with a lot less of the Jarhead allegiance. Also, the new business casual dress code helps too.

  29. Christian J says:

    young adult *religious* zeal

  30. I got through it. I am a little frustrated that the church made it so easy for Channel 4 to tell the story it wanted: “Nice guy drinks the Kool Aid while being watched by creepy PR guy.” That was a documentary that needed to be made with full, private access or not at all.

  31. A local German TV station did a much better one of two missionaries in my district — completely without involvement of Church PA and with only a phone call to the mission president to say that it was happening. Of course this was 1996 and the segment that aired was only about 5 minutes long — nestled in a longer documentary about the street where the missionaries were living. But the missionaries — two very diligent, obedient guys — let the film crew into their apartment, let them film them praying before going out to tract, and knocking on doors.

  32. I’m not a Morman, but have some friends who are. I found this program really irritating. She was so biased and had such an agenda that we learnt nothing of what what being a Morman is really about. I find them to be the nicest, giving, friendly and genuinely caring people I know. Surely that is of much more importance than what pants they wear!

  33. Just finished it, felt like it left me hanging. I kept waiting for the substance of the documentary to come into play and suddenly it was over. I didn’t feel it was sinister like I thought it was going to be from some of the earlier comments, instead I thought it was just poorly done. The main take away is that there was a young Mormon who left on a mission and felt homesick at the beginning of it. Could they have made it more boring? There a so many interesting narratives to choose from in missionary life, and that’s what they decided on?

    I’ve never been to the UK – is this a main/large television station? From the documentary it comes across as more of an obscure low budget channel. idk.

    Honestly, I don’t really blame the PR department; it is what it is. I think the open-minded like Tama will see it for what it is. I suppose they did briefly mention some of our beliefs, and I thought most of the members they showed looked/seemed really nice, maybe for someone out there this can be something positive yet.

    But overall, I’m just disappointed… and bored. I need more Sherlock, or maybe they can resurrect Spy (I loved that show).

  34. C4 is one of the main broadcast channels over here. Has a reputation for being a bit edgy.

  35. Left Field says:

    Business casual dress code?

  36. Well done Channel 4….. within your limits with that creepy PR guy hanging around all the time you produced and insight into the Mormon cult. It showed itself to be what it clearly is – an offshoot of mainstream Christianity where man made ideas and values have been added which have no relevance to Christianty wnatsoever. Josh is obviously a very intelligent, likeable young man. I feel so sorry that he has been brainwashed by this sect.

  37. Well, I’ll admit that Mormons don’t help themselves sometimes, mostly because they seem to be wholly unaware of how strange they look when they do things that are considered Mormon normal. That said, I wouldn’t draw too many conclusions from a 45 minute documentary whose thesis — aided by church PR, alas — was *always* going to be that Mormonism is Scientology + 100 years. Lived Mormonism, especially outside of the missionary experience, is much more banal.

  38. Brindisi says:

    To introduce myself: I’m not Mormon or even religious, but I know a good deal about the LDS Church and I’d count myself as a friendly critic. I live in Britain.

    Accusing the film maker of having some anti-Mormon agenda seems wide of the mark. She was telling a story about what it’s like for a young adult to give up two years for the sake of his religion. Her aim was to inform and to be interesting. We can have different opinions about whether she was successful, but it was certainly far more sympathetic than some other efforts (e.g. the 2012 BBC documentary ‘The Mormon Candidate’).

    Documentaries need a story, and unfortunately the Church handed her one on a plate: a heartless, controlling institution subjecting a nice guy to a gruelling and pointless ordeal. On the plus side, the missionary himself emerges as likeable, very human and relatively normal. That’s a great result. On the down side, the failure to give the interviewer free reign ended up (whether fairly or not) looking totalitarian.

    What the PR people should have done was to prepare Josh and others to answer the inevitable questions about sex, garments, missionary life, and so on. There are better and worse ways to deal with these issues, and particularly with garments and the business about missionaries remaining in each other’s company at all times, they stumbled badly. The scenes near the end with the companion being ‘protective’ verged on the chilling.

    British society is unreligious, and Mormonism is never going to seem ‘normal’. The most that one can hope is that Mormons themselves are shown as being normal. To that extent the overall impression was favourable, but the Church itself didn’t emerge with great credit.

  39. Agree.

  40. Excellent commentary, brindisi. Thank you.

  41. Elder Field had two people at church on Sunday as a result of the documentary!

  42. Just make sure you watch “One Born Every Minute” on 13th August … a nice “normal” mormon couple, no agenda, no script, just candid honesty. ;)

  43. An Anglican view (from this week’s Church Times):

    “At all times, an official minder had to be present – by his account, merely to facilitate the process; but what seemed far more likely was that he had, first, to ensure that the wrong questions were not asked, and, second, to check that Elder Field did not stray from the party line. It created ludicrous situations: the minder was supposed to be out of sight, but within earshot; and so many frames had a glimpse of his feet or elbows as he tried to hide in corners.”

    “There is not the smallest moment of privacy. This is pre-sented as positive support, but it is impossible to see it as anything other than a mechanism of control.”

    “Brought up to believe that God requires personal sacrifice as a prerequisite for bestowing blessings, Elder Field is convinced that the salvation he is preaching will bring eternal joy to his hoped-for converts; but his tears were stronger witness of a harsh and sadistic deity.”

  44. Abascus says:

    It was so odd how they made the Mormons look like they’re controlling their members!? The church isn’t like that at all. It’s interesting how the camera can make you see what they want you to see. Besides, Joshua Field is a friend of mine from school, and I’ve known him for years. He’s very happy on his mission. They filmed him at the beginning of his mission where he was very anxious about leaving his family and friends…. That guy’s gone through a lot. He’s had to look after his family at a young age. Of course he’d be very worried to leave them.

  45. I didn’t like how they made the church looks sinister and controlling. I thought they were taking the mickey when they put that kids’ music at their party. I’ve met a few Mormons and I honestly couldn’t fault them.

  46. Lily ……….meeting a few Mormons doesn’t give you an insight into the church and how it is run. It is all controlling and is way off beam in comparison to the message and lifestyle Jesus came to teach. Abascus…….how can you know Josh is happy ‘on his mission’ when he is not allowed to make contact with family and friends ? It is well known that Mormonism is a controlling organization. That’s simply what it is too…. an ‘ism’……. an offshoot of mainstream Christianity. There are many other ‘isms’ similar to Mormonism, such as the Brethren ‘Taylorites’, who are also prepared to follow what another human tells them to do rather than god Himself.

  47. Graeme, it’s interesting to see a commenter completely oblivious to the irony of his/her own comment.

  48. and the forum at which s/he is commenting

  49. Ray….its a shame you cant distinguish the sex of the poster from ‘his/her’ name !!!!!!!!

  50. “That was a documentary that needed to be made with full, private access or not at all.”
    Exactly. What was the presenter going to do to the missionary if she spoke to him on her own? If you are going to give extensive access, at least make it truly extensive.
    On a slightly more positive note, it has provoked some interesting and helpful contacts here. Friends of my wife were quick to text her and tell her that they could not reconcile the programme with what they knew of our faith by watching her. Is any publicity good publicity? Mmm….

  51. Part of the 3rd hour combined lesson I taught last Sunday included the advice, “Don’t feed the trolls.”

    Sorry, everyone, for not following my own advice.

  52. All anyone can do is offer enlightenment and illumination, everyone has the choice to ignore it, or not. At the very least, it has prompted people to ask any Morman’s they know for more information. Information helps to get rid of prejudice, based on fear.

  53. I’m a Mormon and have been since I was 18. If my church was a control freak, I’d be the first one to run! I am not criticising the producer of this programme, I’m just saying if you want to find out about the church, ask directly the members of the church or visit lds.org or you may simply visit the church on Sundays 10am.

  54. Hedgehog says:

    It gets very wearing that the church, in Britain at least, really doesn’t come over well with the media. Maybe it’s done better in some other countries. But I am reminded of the 2008 Beyond Belief R4 programme, in connection with Mitt Romney’s first attempt to become a presidential candidate, in which the church member came across very poorly, being so obviously reluctant to properly address the questions asked. That programme was rescued by the academic on the discussion panel. And then again of the R4 Woman’s Hour programme taking to one of the fMh bloggers and a UK public affairs lady, in which the latter came across as so resolutely sticking to the party line, she didn’t seem to be listening to the blogger at all, or be prepared to acknowledge that the experiences of others differed with her own. It’s like we shoot ourselves in the foot because we seem to arrive all defensive with the expectation of bad faith, and don’t give the other parties a chance.

  55. Debra Mayer says:

    I found this documentary incredibly sad in soooo many ways. I am sure that a young mormon missionary’s life does not have to be quite so proscribed and restricted, surely the “sacrifice” of two years unpaid service plus a financial contribution of 6000 pounds is enough to prove one’s faith in the church?

    Yes, I see the point that if its easy its no sacrifice, but …… !!

    I kinda got the impression that if the church minder and the companion were not around, we would have gotten much more from Josh ……. sorry, Elder Field. Any religion that feels the need to quash all forms of independent thought or questioning, in all of its followers seems to me to be a church with very little “faith”. After all, faith implies that in the face of any temptation, or any question, you behave within the tenets of your religion, and continue to believe.

    If the LDS have so little faith in their young followers that they have to mind them 24/7 as if they were infants, doesnt that say an awful lot more about the LDS than it does about young Elder Field?

  56. I agree with you 100% Debra Mayer. A really nice young lad who’s life is being ruined by this offshoot of mainstream Christianty who follow man’s ideas and thoughts rather than God’s

  57. Debra Mayer says:

    Oh, and to amplify, I am not a Mormon, dont know any Mormons, am not even religious, but I do believe in an individual’s right to believe whatever they want, and in their freedom to pursue those beliefs

  58. Interesting thoughts Debra. I was curious how this would look to someone mostly unfamiliar with Mormons. I can definitely see how you would get that impression from the documentary, and after I’ve thought about it more given what Ronan said about C4’s reputation (I’m from the US), I’m guessing it was intentionally the narrative and impression the editors were trying to give. I’m sure it’s nothing against Mormons, but probably just wanted to find an edgy angle to try and captivate more viewers. From my perspective though, having also served a mission for the LDS Church, I think the documentary misleading if those are the natural conclusions your coming to.

    I think most likely the Church was sending the PR guys not to mind the missionaries (as it’s portrayed), but the interviewer from overstepping her bounds – which from an insider’s view it was very clear she was trying to do. Assuming she is a professional who did even cursory research, she would have known that it was against one of the primary missionary rules to be fully separated from their companion, yet she pressed and pressed the matter with feigned sincerity. With the editing job, from an outsider’s perspective I can see how she would look sincere in her efforts, I think they got what they wanted, but I’m confident that the tension and confrontation was intentionally manufactured by the interviewer. And how is it appropriate to ask young kids about their sex life on what will be broadcasted on national television? Idk, maybe it’s different in the UK?

    While it looks like the PR guys fell right into their narrative, and perhaps they should have been more wise and seen it coming, on the other hand I can understand why the Church sent somebody to oversee the situation when the documentary makers did exactly what they were worried about – tried to push the boundaries of what was appropriate.

    Honestly, I see the motivations of both sides and don’t really fault anyone for it, but without previous familiarity with the subject matter what you get is a misleading idea of what it’s like to be a missionary. Interviewing someone that’s volunteered for a difficult two year position, show their reaction in the first weeks of that difficult job in the midst of homesickness and before they really have a chance to get settled, manufacture some tension while feigning sincerity, and then edit to make the nice unassuming trying-to-stay-out-of-the-way PR guy look like Big Brother, and your probably not going to get an accurate impression. Again, not anyone’s fault considering the motivations of each party, but just unfortunate for those looking for accuracy instead of edgy.

  59. Debra, thanks for your sincere, honest comment. I also served a mission (in Japan), and the documentary was a horrible (and I mean completely terrible) portrayal of what a missions is like. SteveF explained the disconnect well enough that I don’t feel the need to elaborate further, but, please understand, missions are not like the picture presented in that twisted, biased, intentionally manufactured presentation.

  60. I’m a convinced agnostic atheist (I really don’t know what’s possible in this universe, but I certainly don’t believe in a God I’ve never personally met), but I recently got interested in Mormonism when I accidentally started reading “Speculative Grace” by the Mormon theologian Adam Miller. It is a life changing book for me. I live in the Netherlands and my knowledge about Mormonism and the kind of life of it’s followers is close to zero. So I watched this documentary and it is actually not as bad as I expected. Everywhere (work, family, college, pubs) there are people trying trying to suck the life, the joy and the truth out of you. Very often these people manage to maneuver themselves in dominant positions; that’s the whole point of their behavior. I’m not really interested in them at this moment, they are in no way representative of real people trying really hard to live truthfully. I actually learned a lot from Josh by showing his reality within a religion he didn’t choose to be born in, but committed himself too nevertheless. And no documentary filmmaker can resist total craziness from a PR dep. when it’s thrown before your eyes like this. This had nothing to do with having an agenda by the journalist, it’s just stupid PR 101.

    What I really would like to ask – since this is obviously not a balanced introduction to what it is to be a Mormon – can somebody here recommend me another documentary that is interesting from an anthropological standpoint and as neutral as possible (preferably not something made by a mormon)?

  61. Villate says:

    Jonathan – I don’t think there’s any such thing as a neutral documentary, actually, especially not about something as subjective and politically/culturally charged as religious devotion. It’s not a documentary and it was made by a Mormon (at the time a devout one), but I’d recommend the movie “God’s Army,” which is a pretty realistic portrayal of both the difficulties and joys of being a missionary. I thought it also captured very well some of the mundane aspects of missionary life, in large part because it had no ax to grind and just aimed to tell a story. I think there’s a rather ham-handed plot device with one of the characters to make some of the points about acting on one’s principles, making the most of what one is given in life, etc., but it’s forgivable in the context of the film. It is not propagandistic (i.e., made to promote missionary service) and is entertaining to watch.

  62. It was sad to watch a previously happy young mans dissent into depression.

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