The Only True and Living Review of the Book of Mormon Musical

MikeInWeHo reads conflicting reviews of the Book of Mormon Musical and is intrigued and troubled by the soundtrack. He determines to seek the truth by embarking on a journey from West Hollywood to New York City.

Some time in the year 2011 there was an unusual excitement in the Bloggernacle on the subject of musical theater. During this time of great excitement his mind was called up to serious reflection and great uneasiness. At length he came to the conclusion that he must either remain in darkness and confusion, or he must fly to New York City and see the Book of Mormon musical for himself.

MikeInWeHo sees the Book of Mormon Musical, returns to West Hollywood, and writes the following review for his LDS friends:

Fear not the Book of Mormon musical! It is like a gift from a non-member friend who admires you but doesn’t understand you. Calling it anti-Mormon is like calling Fiddler On The Roof anti-Semitic.

When I first listened to the soundtrack, I was troubled. There is a lot of crude language, and two songs in particular made me cringe: “Hasa Diga Eebowai” (which shall remain sealed in this review), presents a group of unconverted Ugandans cursing God for their troubles in the most shocking language imaginable. “Baptize Me” conflates a convert baptism with a sexual encounter between two virgins. If you’re looking to offend Mormon listeners, these two recordings would be a good place to start. Throw in “The All American Prophet,” which includes some ribbing about the Book of Mormon story, and at first blush this musical would seem to be nothing more than the best-funded anti-Mormon effort to date.

But it’s not! Context is everything. Listening to the recording, “Hasa Diga Eebowai” is blasphemous. On stage, it’s not offensive and very funny. The foul language is completely overshadowed by the beautiful dancing and the horrified response of the missionaries. I barely heard the language, but the image of the troubled missionaries stuck with me. They were as troubled as you’d expect missionaries to be in that situation. You can’t see that when you listen to the recording.

This continues. The “Baptize Me” scene is very different than it sounds on the recording, and is immediately followed by something memorable: The missionaries baptize the entire village. This scene is beautiful, moving, and wouldn’t offend even conservative members. I was surprised by this.

In the end the chubby, second-rate missionary (Elder Arnold Cunningham) saves the Ugandan village by propagating stories that convert them to better behaviors. The villagers write down his stories and the musical ends triumphantly with the birth of a new religion: The entire cast raises a copy of The Book of Arnold and gives thanks to God.

Secular audiences and Mormons with universalist leanings will love this musical. The crude language is completely overshadowed by the visuals, dancing, and character development. If you can handle an episode of South Park or the typical BCC post, you won’t be troubled. You may cringe a couple of times, but in the end you will join the rest of the audience as it jumps to its feet and cheers the cast at curtain-call.

I’ve seen a lot of theater, but have never seen a standing ovation as enthusiastic as this one. This story will be coming to a theater near you.

The Book of Mormon musical bursts with fondness toward the Mormon people, despite its decidedly secular worldview. It is an olive-branch extended across the great divide between believers and non-believers, not an attack on anyone’s faith. As I sat watching it, I kept thinking “There is so much outreach opportunity here for Mormons. I wonder how they will handle it.”


  1. Velikiye Kniaz says:

    “The foul language is completely overshadowedby the beautiful dancing…”. Hmmm, I wonder if that is enough to get them a pass from the Almighty Himself. Sorry, I won’t ad a penny to their coffers…

  2. Josh B. says:

    I imagine reactions will vary greatly depending on how saint-like a person views lds missionaries. An image of a missionary screwing up changes a lot of dynamics. In some ways it could be for the better as we loose the “fanatically good” label in favor of the “they try really hard to be genuinely good” label. Unfortunately, such a blemished view could also lead governments to be wary of missionary work if the missionary program were to take on a “blemished” appearance despite the crazy amount of effort put in to maintain the program’s purity. Maybe someone can find a better example of this…

  3. Josh B. says:

    @1: Agreed. Dancing (or any kind of talent) should hold no weight in these discussions.

  4. Tracy, you had me at “MikeInWeHo”.

    Now I’ll read the post.

  5. There are far, far greater wrongs in the world for the Lord to take offense to than language in a musical play.

  6. “There is so much outreach opportunity here for Mormons. I wonder how they will handle it.”

    That is a fascinating observation, Mike – and a really good question.

  7. Something something “God will not be mocked” something something.

  8. proud daughter of eve says:

    No offense, Mike, but you’re so far out on the edge that your opinion on this doesn’t count in my books. The view that I have of you from your previous posts and comments leads me not to be surprised that you’re not troubled at all by the implications of the missionaries starting a whole new religion. The only thing that surprises me is that you honestly seem to think that more conservative Mormons could be just fine with that ending. Someone tell me how that can be taken as anything but a sneering commentary on religion in general and the history of the LDS faith in particular.

    I have seen the “South Park” episode on Mormons. I tried to have an open mind to it but as it went on with its chorus of “dum dum dum dum dums,” I had a sinking feeling and my dread was born out. “We think you’re dumb but good folks” is only anything resembling praise in contrast to the enflamed elephant leavings we get from other quarters.

  9. Mark Brown says:

    Fact: It has been confirmed that hotels around the theater where this musical is running have requested hundreds of copies of the Book of Mormon from the NY, NY mission, apparently in response to requests from their guests who have seen the show. Regardless of what any of us might think of the performance — I personally have no intention of seeing it — I think this part of Mike’s review is important: “There is so much outreach opportunity here for Mormons. I wonder how they will handle it.”

    People, this musical is placing more copies of the BoM into the hands of curious non-LDS folks that the entire combined efforts of the elders and sisters in the mission. Let’s not look a gift horse in the mouth.

  10. Steve Evans says:

    MRP, doesn’t that phrase has a very specific connotation relating to covenant-breakers?

    PDoE, I hear you, but saying “no offense” at the beginning of an offensive statement doesn’t exactly fix things, now does it? How about you try that one again and use your imagination to figure out how to get along a little more.

  11. Sam Brunson says:

    Great review. Like I said over at that other blog, if I liked musicals, this one would be at the top of my list. I love what Parker and Stone have said about their vision for the show, and their underlying theme, and I like their conclusion that religion, as crazy as it may seem, can produce good results (although I’d push them a little on their views of crazy). But I can’t bring myself to pay good money to see a stand-out exemplar of an art form I’m not personally a big fan of. That said, though, if anything were to push me over the edge toward seeing it (cheapness aside), this would be it.

  12. People, this musical is placing more copies of the BoM into the hands of curious non-LDS folks that the entire combined efforts of the elders and sisters in the mission. Let’s not look a gift horse in the mouth.

    Mark, I’m not panning the musical or calling for boycotts or anything of that nature. I’m not its target audience — I don’t think South Park is funny, I don’t think raunch or profanity or vulgarity is sweet, and I am glad that I don’t have to see it.

    But your comment strikes me the same way I’m struck whenever I hear someone say that we should be glad for American participation in wars in the Middle East because it’s an opportunity for LDS servicemen to carry the gospel into Muslim nations. Just because something good might — might — result from something evil is no reason to celebrate the evil. (Or if you object to the word “evil” in this case, substitute “raunch” or “profanity” or anything else you prefer.)

  13. Mike,
    My concerns (sight unseen) regarding the musical have more to do with the conclusion than its treatment of Mormonism, per se. That is to say that I think that its understanding of religion as a collection of rules (some rational, some crazy) for living that can lead people to live better lives (sometimes in spite of itself). According to this outlook, joining a religion and joining the elks club or the boy scouts are functionally the same thing. And since I really, really think they aren’t, I find the conflation troubling. Any religion is about one’s relationship to the divine. Helpful rules for living can be a part of it (and usually is a part of it), but for most true believers (connotation intended) there is more to it. Even the “I Believe” song operates (on the soundtrack) in a universe where God is silent (probably non-existent). I’m sure that Parker and Stone like Mormons more than most religions and I’m sure that we come off as the best of a batch of irrational crazies, but being on the near end of a scale that includes frog-sex doesn’t make me happier for the comparison.

  14. Along with John C.’s concern, I think Christopher’s posts on the treatment of Africans (here and here) are important.

  15. Straight Talket says:

    LDS missionaries starting a new religion? There was Church of the First Born in France. Any others?

  16. So I’m teaching a junior-senior level college seminar this summer on Laughter here at Elon University. (Yes, they are indeed paying me to teach a course on Laughter.) I tell all of my students in every class on the first day that I’m a practicing Mormon. Last week a student did a class presentation on the above reviewed musical. I wanted to have a class discussion about it, because I actually think that the students are jonesin’ to know what I think. We really didn’t have time for me to have such a discussion at that time. Thanks for the review, as it reminds me that I need to take advantage of the opportunity. This article will be part of our discussion tomorrow when we talk about Laughter and Power (who gets to laugh, who doesn’t, who gets to make jokes, where, when, how, etc.) Maybe after our discussion I’ll post a follow-up…we’ll see how it goes.

  17. Steve Evans,

    You wouldn’t throw a child in the river because she was born of a whore would you? Of course not. But neither would you have everyone believe that all children should come from whores because, lo, the one child you happen to know who was born in such depravity is a precious and beautiful gift from God — as children always are.

    Also: What Ardis said.

  18. Seen the musical, and am writing a series for Meridian about what life is really like for missionaries in Africa. (I have written to twenty of them. Today I heard from three who are still in Africa. And I get to hear the uncensored stuff.) I found myself deeply moved by the musical at points (to tears once), but I think Richard Bushman’s words describe my own reaction: It’s like seeing yourself in a funhouse mirror.

  19. Steve Evans says:

    “You wouldn’t throw a child in the river because she was born of a whore would you?”

    You obviously don’t know me very well.

  20. What troubles me most is the idea that Mormons should be delighted by anything that isn’t flat-out “anti-Mormon.” Since when is the measuring stick of how we treat a group of people calibrated such that anything above “the worst we could possibly sling at (or, in this case, sing at) them” is supposed to be considered welcome by the target group?

    It’s not as bad as it could have been. Whoop-de-doo.

  21. Mark Brown says:

    Ardis, that’s a fair point. I will respond by saying that raunch and profanity are not necessarily dealbreakers. I’ve sat through plenty of road shows and skits at scout camps which I considered blasphemous, sacreligious, and offensive. And yet others seemed to enjoy the shows and even feel uplifted. For whatever reason, people are showing an overwhelmingly positive response to this production. After seeing it, they are inclined to look upon our church more sympathetically. Witnout condoning the raunch and profanity, I am very curious to understand why that is the case.

  22. Whoops!

    Steve, I meant to reply to Mark’s comment(#9) not yours(#10).

    Sorry about that — your names look so much alike…

  23. Steve Evans says:

    Cynthia, I guess that’s sort of tied to the notion that any publicity is good publicity. That only gets you so far, I suppose.

  24. If, as a missionary, you came upon a village that cursed and blasphemed God in ignorance of the living gospel, would you turn and run never to return? Or would you try to teach them how to love God despite ones trials?

    How many of us, as missionaries, told what we now recognize as unconfirmed and often highly inaccurate and misleading but faith promoting legends in order to influence an investigator’s decision to be baptized?

  25. Aaron B says:

    The only way to resolve these contradictory opinions about the BoM Musical — and make no mistake about it, all good Mormons MUST share the same opinions on this — is for me to go to NYC and see it myself. Thus, FYI, I am scheduled to see the show on October 16th. I will return and report, and tell you all exactly how offended and unoffended you should be. No sense forming opinions until you hear from me. Out.

  26. Given that the South Park boys can’t possibly admit the possibility of a divine origin for the LDS Church, the best they’re willing to allow is that Joseph Smith made stuff up, just like Arnold makes stuff up, and people’s lives are seemingly improved by it, even though they’ve made their best one-sided case for how ridiculous it all is. Nobody’s showing up with the idea that they’re going to hear a fair presentation of LDS beliefs; they go to be entertained. And I’m willing to allow that there may be a few people whose initial curiosity about the play might well lead them to the waters of baptism, but I bet that number is going to be pretty small.

  27. I haven’t seen it but I’m enjoying all the reviews. From the music I heard (two songs) it sounds like Bushman represents my view. I do think it’s a great outreach opportunity, though. The people who made the play aren’t believers, so how could anyone expect them to see the main point of the religion, the partnership with a living deity to reach for a higher form of human flourishing? Of course they’re not seeing that part. They only see the good results, but that’s a huge start.

    It’s obvious that they can’t quite leave Mormonism alone. They keep revisiting it in their work. I think the Spirit is working on the Matt and Trey and may (or may not) someday result in a spectacular conversion story.

    I think the play is useful to us, as well, to give us some idea of the way others view our beliefs. My mother and father told me they decided I must have turned my brain off to be able to join the Latter-day Saints. People really do see it as whacked out, in some places in the world. We need to understand this and know how people feel so we know the starting point from which to show them how we got here from there. I was never able successfully to explain to my parents why I converted. Finding a good way to explain ourselves would make relations with our neighbors more friendly, as well as improving conversion rates. A good explanation has to start with an understanding of what people are thinking now.

    I thought the Southpark episode on Mormonism was good conversion material itself. Sure, it made fun of things, but it also pointed out the goodness, the rightness, and the soundness of the way the Mormon character approached life. I just don’t think it gets better than that from nonbelievers. It’s a huge flag pointing out something curious and interesting, how it can be that these people who on the surface seem to believe come crazy dumb stuff, underneath come to get what’s most important in life exactly right. Definitely a call for deeper investigation.

    Deeper investigation is all it takes, really. I never set out to join a new church! I just got curious about this religion I knew nothing about that so many awesome people seemed to be following. Then the more I learned the more it resonated in my heart and spirit. So I definitely think the play will lead down the road to a lot of conversions.

  28. @22: Well sure. It is entirely possible, even likely, that some good will result under the law of “any publicity is good publicity.” But I seem to be hearing people say that Mormons should be super happy that this portrayal of us was not as bad as it could have been. That’s just not where my bar is set.

  29. I thought the Southpark episode on Mormonism was good conversion material itself. Sure, it made fun of things, but it also pointed out the goodness, the rightness, and the soundness of the way the Mormon character approached life. I just don’t think it gets better than that from nonbelievers.

    This may sound crazy, but, for the sake of devil’s advocate, why not? I’m about as unbelieving in Islam as anyone can be, and yet I think I could make a pretty good movie (assuming I can make movies at all) about Muslims that would not only portray them as a nice, peace-loving people, but actually portray divine involvement in their lives. Something that could include tender scenes of authentic faith. Sure, we’d never get that from Matt and Trey, because that’s not how they roll. But I object to this idea that, in general, Mormons should just accept that the cook will spit in our soup everywhere in the media that we dine because, well, how can we expect more from unbelievers? (and be glad it was just spit and not worse)

  30. All the Mormons I know (or know of) who have seen it and liked it were people who are normally very anxious to speak very negatively about the institutional church anyway. They are almost exclusively “non-correlated Mormons” to use the most recent parlance.

    The fact that they are pleased with seeing it and “love it” or “were moved” by it really doesn’t sell it to me. Quite the opposite, in fact. I live in the Western US and was recently in NY and had a chance to see it, and turned it down: no regrets here.

  31. Thomas Parkin says:

    ‘“We think you’re dumb but good folks”

    This is pretty much what I think about the South Park folks. Should they be offended at me?

  32. To paraphrase the words of the apostles:

    Taking offense when none is intended is stupid.

    This is South Park on Broadway. Anyone who takes it seriously and expects a picture-perfect view of ANY religion downright either does not understand basic business or has a flawed view that because they believe something EVERYTHING written about it has to be Visitor Center worthy.

  33. rayzzle says:

    MikeinWeHo, a-freaking-MEN! I LOVE this review! I saw it, loved it, and think you are just so spot on.

    This especially resonates with me: “but the image of the troubled missionaries stuck with me. They were as troubled as you’d expect missionaries to be in that situation. You can’t see that when you listen to the recording.”
    I also was touched in a new way by the line “if you don’t like what we say/ try living here a couple days/ watch all your friends and family die–” ah. maybe I don’t have room to judge them for cursing God. (I think I would, too, in that situation. I did this morning and I was just looking for a parking space.)
    What really got me, though, was Elder Price. I haven’t stopped thinking about him since I saw the show. His crisis of faith was so authentic. He was so eager to do something incredible, to help the needy, to preach the gospel–and the reality of the situation just smacked him in the face. Haven’t we all had an event–or person, or situation–that shook our faith to the core? Haven’t we all been taught, ‘if you follow the commandments, if you live the Gospel, if you have true desire, Heavenly Father will hear your prayers and you will be blessed’ ?
    If any of you haven’t seen the Tonys performance, I recommend you watch it, and think about this: He commits himself to believing. He has sincere desire. He has faith. He goes ready to preach the Gospel–like Abinadi to King Noah or [another example of a sincere believer preaching to a wicked person]–with full faith that Heavenly Father is on his side.
    And instead he ends up wounded physically and abandoned spiritually.
    I was crushed! Completely crushed for him.

    Don’t be offended that the missionaries started a new religion. These missionaries care deeply about the people they serve. In the end, they stay behind to help the Ugandans, to support them, and give them hope. In the beginning, the Ugandans are cursing God. In the end, they are thanking Him.
    Elder Price’s line: “We are still Latter-day Saints–all of us–even if we’ve changed a few things, or we break the rules, or we have complete doubt that God exists. We can still all work together and make this our paradise planet.”
    What does it mean to be LDS? The final song of the show begins:
    “I am a Latter-day Saint
    I help all those I can
    I see my friends through times of joy and sorrow”
    How cool is THAT? This is totally a pro-Mo show. At the end I wanted to stand up with my friend and squeal, “We’re Mormons, too!” that’s how proud I was.
    I guess what I’m saying is: It’s gotten a lot of praise and good report, and I left feeling completely uplifted.
    I wish Mormons weren’t so offended by it.

    It’s just so good.


  34. Tatiana,
    I think most people view us as “the good Scientologists.” I don’t know how this musical would change that. Nor am I sure that there is anything we can do about it at this point. We just need cooler celebrities.

    I know plenty of people who are generally sympathetic to the church who enjoyed it. My anecdote balances out yours.

    I’m glad that that is how they see us. I just wish that they didn’t also see us as crazy if we actually believe in God and stuff.

  35. Randy B. says:

    Nice write up, Mike. I agree that there is something about taking in the musical as a whole that cannot be replicated by listening to the soundtrack. I don’t doubt that many people would find parts uncomfortable (or worse). But likewise, I think you’d have to affirmatively try not to be moved (for the better) by the show. I thought it was wonderful.

  36. Mike, thanks for the delightful review. As to seeing yourself in the fun house mirror: the distortion lets us see ourselves in new and revealing ways.

  37. MikeInWeHo says:

    So glad that other people who’ve actually seen the musical are adding their comments here. All I really wanted to say is that seeing it on stage is a very different experience than listening to the soundtrack, and that I don’t see the musical as anti-Mormon in any way. Pro-universalism for sure, but is that automatically anti-Mormon?

    re: 29 N, I think you’re on dangerous ground when you indict members who like the play as “very anxious to speak negatively about the institutional church.” You live out west. How many of these non-correlated, Broadway-going, Church-criticizing Mormons to you actually know in person?

  38. Chris Gordon says:

    I’ve been fascinated by everyone’s opinions, so thank you for sharing them. When it goes on tour, I’ll likely see it but doubt I’ll love it. I’m somewhere between a correlated and non-correlated Mormon myself. :)

    I will point out that it’s probably telling that the Church is happy to give out all of those extra copies of the Book of Mormon to Broadway lovers (though I’ll be the folks in the statistics department get irked every time an “Other” box is checked with The Book of Mormon Musical as a referral source), and was more than happy to shell out I don’t know how much money to put those huge “I’m a Mormon” billboards in Times Square.

  39. Steve L says:

    “If you can handle an episode of South Park or the typical BCC post”

    I read BCC all the time, but I never watch South Park. Is something wrong with me?

    I do agree, however, that members shouldn’t be so upset about a show most never intend to see.

  40. Bro. Jones says:

    #20 It could’ve been much worse. They could have portrayed missionaries or Mormon leaders as pedophiles or misogynists. They could’ve portrayed the temple ceremony onstage. They could’ve deliberately focused on less-than-flattering aspects of our history purely for humor or cruelty’s sake.

    As a member of the church I don’t have to like Stone & Parker’s work, but I sure am glad that it’s kinder to us than the works of Mark Twain, Krakauer, and others. And yes, given our history of difficult relations with outsiders in America, that’s a lot to be grateful for.

  41. We haven’t seen it, but do like to read the reviews.

    #16. Shawn, a class on laughter, right up our alley.

    “You wouldn’t throw a child in the river because she was born of a whore would you?”
    Moses’ Mama would like you to watch where you are going with that analogy.

  42. Any religion is about one’s relationship to the divine. Helpful rules for living can be a part of it (and usually is a part of it), but for most true believers (connotation intended) there is more to it.

    I think this is absolutely true, and the best and only good reason for joining a church IMHO. My thoughts, however, are along the lines of whether or not we might take an introspective look at what our focus is based on this musical. Are the “helpful rules for living” becoming the focus, or is the relationship with the divine the focus? For me, the musical hits home as it prominently displays the fact that we ARE obsessed with obedience, checklists, and hedge construction. For me, in my own ward I increasingly feel like my relationship with God is overshadowed by shirt color, the amount of tithing I pay, or whether or not I go out to eat on Sunday. Lessons and talks about the weightier matters of love, acceptance, compassion are outnumbered by talks about obedience, and following the prophet.

    In the b’nacle I feel like there’s a lot of bickering over this issue generally speaking. I feel like apologists generally want to downplay our focus on rules in favor of spiritual nourishment but ignore the culture that grants “revelation” status to earring pronouncements (this was done in our YM lesson last Sunday). OTOH, I disagree that we are ALL about the rules. There is more in Mormonism, but for me, I find myself having to get a bigger magnifying glass to find it.

    I guess I feel like we could, in humility, perhaps try to understand if there is a good reason why outsiders think what they think about us. Perhaps it is a wake-up call of sorts to readjust our focus.

  43. I think the “could’ve been worse!” line of thinking actually *is* helpful, Cynthia. Parker and Stone could have made an equally funny musical that ripped us to shreds, and gotten just as much popular support for doing so (their takedown of Scientology was very funny and full of venom, as was their takedown of Dawkins).

    I face this same dilemma with my clients every day with regards to media coverage. The media, Hollywood, and our office mates are never going to say exactly what we want them to say; it’s totally fair to breathe a sigh of relief that the musical presents us with a situation we can deal with through outreach in NYC (which the church is doing).

    What could have been a conversation-stopper is instead a conversation-starter.

  44. Mike, I’ve been looking forward to your review, and your insights on the content/context are also helpful as I try to form the most informed second hand opinion possible, since I doubt I’ll be seeing the show any time soon. Thanks!

    My sense is that while the musical definite “sends up” of a number of aspects of the church and its members, had Parker, Stone, and Lopez wanted to turn the musical into a true hatchet job they absolutely could have (easily) but did not. Those who have seen the musical, does that seem like a fair assessment? I think that the fact they didn’t take the proverbial boxing gloves off is important to recognize, not in the sense of being grateful it wasn’t “worse,” but in understanding the themes and messages of the show.

  45. Cynthia, I think a better analogy than Mormonism:Islam would be believer:atheist. I think it is easier for believers of any sort to understand each other than for believers to understand non-believers.

    With regard to the way the play treat Africans, again, I think that is a fair objection. However, let’s not be hasty to accuse. As long as we sing Book of Mormon Stories (complete with hand motions) in Primary, and as long as our portrayal of Lamanites in our pageants stays how it currently is, and as long as the church sponsors participation in Order of the Arrow ceremonies, we don’t have any standing to accuse anybody else of ethnic insensitivity.

  46. @40: I’m not sure why you’re telling me that it could have been worse when that’s exactly what I said. My point was that I think we can be grateful that it wasn’t worse while at the same time expecting (and demanding) actual respect, not just “could have been worse” levels of respect. Why are you arguing that “didn’t treat us as bad as they possibly, possibly could” is the measuring stick for how you expect to be treated in society?? It’s like y’all are a bunch of battered wives or something.

  47. @Mark #45: Ok, how about Kevin Costner famously finally gives native Americans a (more) sympathetic, more nuanced portrayal in Dances with Wolves? He wasn’t anything close to a native American. Also, I don’t see why an atheist couldn’t make a sympathetic film about Musilims, or Mormons.

    I’m not saying that we need to protest the musical, or that Matt and Trey are out to get us. I’m just saying, I think we deserve a Dances with Wolves treatment sooner rather than later, and I refuse to be satisfied until we do. Though, in the mean time, sure, I can be grateful for small mercies like this being not as bad as it could have been.

  48. Jenny in NC says:

    I haven’t seen the musical, but I chuckled at a clip I saw from the Tonys.
    C’mon, people, so it’s not factually accurate, nor was it produced by BYU motion picture studios. So what? Do you think the Catholics sit around and get themselves in a tizzy over Sister Act? I’ll bet that’s not factual or endorsed by the Pope… If you don’t want to see it, don’t see it. It’s really not that important, in my opinion.

  49. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 46
    But Cynthia L, I think you’re missing my point: When you see the musical on stages it’s clear that they ARE treating Mormons with actual respect.

    I don’t mean that they get it all right or that they accept the miraculous origin of the Book of Mormon. If you expect either of those things from non-members, you probably should never leave Provo. These people clearly like and respect the Mormon community (and have said so repeatedly in the press). Parker and Stone simply aren’t Ed Decker-lite.

  50. Jenny,
    That really isn’t the objection and most participants here aren’t upset by the factual inaccuracies.

    I believe you. That doesn’t mean that I should be happy about being considered the best of the crazies.

  51. Jenny,

    Actually many Catholics did get into a tizzy over Sister Act.

  52. Mike, thanks for the review. I have my ticket for next month. My active, LDS wife is not going. Mutual decision.

    I have listened to the CD many, many times. Love “Baptize Me’. Has the sexual tension between the 19 year old celibate missionary and the foreign female stuck on an American missionary been illustrated in a more dramatic way? Genius in my mind. Talking about without talking about it. Just like thousands of missionaries have played it out.

  53. This conservation reminds me of the conversation about Helen Whitney’s PBS production The Mormons.

    Some of us loved it and thought it was respectful and inspired, some of us hated it and thought it was damaging. I wish I could understand the dynamics better.

  54. Mark, if you want to understand the dynamic better, you could start by recognizing many degrees of nuance in between the two opposite responses you listed.

  55. Well, I’m eager for my little series in Meridian, which has been slightly delayed. It starts tomorrow (Wednesday) and responds to the musical in a rather different way, acknowledging that it was meant to entertain, not to be a primer on Mormonism. Nonetheless, since the musical really is like a funhouse mirror, I also try to show what missionary life in Africa is really like, and what some of the African investigtors/converts are like. I don’t talk about war lords wanting to do cliteredectomies on every woman in an African village, but I do talk about a revolutionary-turned-missionary, who halted some terribly consequential plans and turned his life over to the Savior. And I didn’t make it up. However, I do not provide music with my series. Pictures, yes.

  56. I’m afraid if I hear the F word in public the Spirit will leave.
    Then my skull will implode because my head is full of nothin but spirit. Spirit is all that is keeping my head from caving in on itself like a black hole on a neck. After my head implodes, a teaspoon of my head will weigh more than world without end. So, I will not be seeing the musical.

  57. TP, FTW, as usual.

  58. Kristine says:

    “I think we deserve a Dances with Wolves treatment…”

    Romanticized condescension really isn’t all that much more appealing than mocking affection, if you ask me.

  59. Okay, so I had my class today. For background, the students read two articles about the ethics of laughter. One article talked about laughter’s power in perpetuating stereotypes. The second talked about how the ethics of laughter is in some respects dependent upon whether one experiences alienation or identification with those that are the subject of the laughter. We watched some clips (dinner scene from Guess Who, some Chris Rock, Mike Birbiglia’s “cracka” bit) to explore how laughter may or may not perpetuate stereotypes and how laughter may or may not be connected with identification and/or alienation. (We also talked about them as an expression of the Bakhtinian carnivalesque–again, I can’t believe they pay me to have so much fun!). After a great discussion of laughter and race, class, and gender, I brought up the student’s presentation about the Book of Mormon. Some of the students said that they felt awkward about the topic since I was there. Again, we had a good discussion about alienation and identification. Over the course of the discussion, most were very surprised to hear about the causes of the Mormon migration. Some were very surprised that some people do not consider Mormons to be Christians, others were much less surprised. We just had it a few hours ago, and, frankly, I’m still processing it–I don’t know how successful it was by any measure.

  60. > If you expect either of those things from non-members, you probably should never leave Provo.

    Mike, as you well know, I don’t live in Provo. This is uncharacteristically snide from you. It’s also a silly straw man. Of course I don’t expect Matt and Trey or any other non-member to believe the divine origin of the church. But I am standing resolutely (if seemingly completely alone) on my turf in claiming that it would be quite possible for non-members to make a film that depicts Mormons exercising faith and interacting with the divine in a way utterly devoid of debunking let alone mocking. They don’t have to make polemical missionary films for us but, if nothing else maybe just an ethnographic detachment? Are you telling me that no exercise of faith has ever been shown in any film, if not accompanied by extended debunking? Again, Matt and Trey aren’t into ethnographic detachment, of course. But what that means is that it is inevitable that they wouldn’t treat us respectfully. It does not mean that because we might have expected worse, then by the magical power of relative expectations, they did treat us respectfully.

    Here’s an interesting tidbit to add to the conversation. I’m actually more of a fan of Savage and Olbermann than probably 99.9% of Mormons, so I cite their conversation from a position of taking their opinions very seriously. Here goes:

    Olbermann loves the show and has seen it three times. Savage also LOVES the show and in fact is flying back to New York in a month to see it again. Keith’s characterization, not uninformed given he’s seen it three times, is as follows:

    You don’t want to spoil for anybody by hinting too specifically at this, but essentially there is an argument is that there is good being done in the context, despite this evisceration of the church and its history and its premises that any other–I think you’d agree with me–any other church about whom this was said, there would have been violence by now.

    For the 1000th time, I believe you that it isn’t Ed Decker lite. I 110% believe Matt and Trey, and Dan Savage when they said (in Dan’s words) that “there’s some heart at its core where there’s some affection.” But can we use the word “respect” for what a not-uninformed (saw it 3 times!) observer calls an “evisceration”?

  61. MikeInWeHo says:

    Thanks for the video link, Cynthia. I hadn’t seen it. Dan Savage rebuts Olbermann’s assertion that it’s an “evisceration,” though, and argues that the Book of Mormon musical is similar to satire done about Catholicism. I’ll take Savage’s opinion over Olbermann’s any day.

    Sorry if I was snide in my previous comment. I think we’re talking past each other here. What do you make of the comments from active members of the Church who’ve seen it?

  62. But I am standing resolutely (if seemingly completely alone)

    I’m sorry that you feel alone here. I’ve been trying to come up with something to say, because I wholeheartedly agree with you. I just find watching a bunch of LDS people try to argue that the BoM Musical is favorable or respectful in any way exhausting and hilarious, and can’t muster the energy to debate it.

  63. “This is pretty much what I think about the South Park folks. Should they be offended at me?”

    That depends. Do you express your opinion about them by mocking them, misrepresenting their beliefs and practices while mocking that misrepresentation, and making jokes about the brutal murder of someone they respect and revere? If not, then no, they should not be offended by you.

  64. I loved seeing Mike’s review. And I’ve enjoyed the discussion. I don’t know where I land yet. I’ve been reading many of these reviews and am curious to see the musical and form my own opinion. I’m really looking forward to seeing Margaret’s post on this too. I work in Africa and work among Africans, I know a number of African Mormons. I too am worried about the stereotypes that the play seems to play off of. If I’m going to find offense that’s likely the place.

    So I don’t know where I’ll fall on the scale of being offended or rejoicing over the play. However, I see Peterson’s Backslider as one of the most important works in Mormon literature. Many of the complaints listed against the musical (language, raunch) hold for his work too. Without question the content of the book is redemptive, however, which I don’t think holds for the play. Still.

    However, the most interesting thing about the musical for me is the effect it as has on us and what it means for us. How did a play written by knowledgable outsiders miss what we think it should have captured? What does this portrayal say about how we are perceived by others? What about us allowed for this kind of treatment? Sometimes holding up a funhouse mirror allows us to see flaws and shortcomings we might miss in a regular glass.

  65. Cynthia L. says:

    One open question I’ll add to steve p’s list is, does this “not as bad as it could have been” treatment ultimately benefit us by setting a new floor on how bad it is socially acceptable to be to us, allowing us to move the goalposts (to mix metaphors) on that issue? Can we say in the future that everybody else takes care to not go further than they did because, well, going further than South Park is just *insane*? Or, on the other hand, does this kind of treatment on Broadway normalize mocking Mormons in a way it wasn’t before? (Granted we haven’t exactly been immune til now.)

    I guess what I’m saying is that I am primarily concerned with just one measure of this musical, and a very selfish one I will admit. That measure is whether it makes it easier or harder to be me. Am I now staring down a future where dinner parties with my fellow Democratic Party activists are even more fraught with danger of major awkwardness, or less? I think there is much in Shawn Tucker’s analytical lenses to inform and frame my concerns here. (very very interesting btw; I hope you continue with more as you process the discussion)

  66. In FHE last night, we talked about Alma 32 and assured our son that a testimony GROWS, that he can begin with a simple desire to believe what’s true. We asked him what he considered that he really believed. He said, “Well, I think the Joseph Smith story is a little bit sketchy, but I like the ways we emphasize families.” He had a few more points, but I thought, “AH! A testimony as filtered through _South Park_.” It’s an okay start, but it doesn’t respect the fundamental doctrines of the Church. We are not the Church of United and Very Smiley Families, but of Jesus Christ.
    Christ is so completely absent in the musical–except for a couple of phrases in “I Believe,” and as the guy who commands (via Elder Cunningham) that a woman’s clitoris not be removed.
    And let’s be honest about the revised Mormonism Cunningham preaches: Joseph Smith decides not to rape a baby and rapes a frog instead, because that’s what Jesus told him to do. (The idea behind this is that Ugandans believe having sex with a virgin/baby will cure AIDS. REALLY unfair to Ugandans.)
    Jesus does appear at a couple of moments, once to call a missionary “a dick.” When He announces himself (“Behold, I am Jesus Christ”), it gets a laugh. I find that disturbing.
    The moment which moved me most (and as I said, there were several moving moments for me, and several good laughs) was when Elder Price was singing “I Believe” and bravely leapt into a village, proclaiming, “I believe Satan has a hold on you!”
    I could see real missionaries leaving their insecurities and even their doubts behind and going boldly into the places where they had been called to serve.
    The musical is satire and flattens its subject. There are good laughs at several points, but I don’t care about how great the dancing is in “Hasa Diga Eeboei.” Any song which tells God where to “f” someone (and there are multiple, profane possibilities) is pushing the limits of reverence into oblivion. Ironically, Ugandans, by reputation, are some of the most reverent people in the world.

  67. Cynthia (and Scott), the approach I am taking is that it doesn’t matter what I think of the musical. I hate, HATE, the Palmyra pageant, even though just about everybody else likes it, and if my family ever schedules a reunion there again, I’ll fake my own death in order to get out of going, if that is what it takes. But the material question is not what do I think of it, but what does the vast majority of other people (who have actually seen it) think of it. Every report I have seen about this musical confirms that the audiences respond favorably and even affectionately to this, admittedly warped, portrayal of Mormonism. So the next question is: Why? What can we learn from this to use in our own outreach efforts? We don’t need to convert everybody, but I think we do want to understand what outsiders think of us, and to increase the number of positive encounters people have with Mormonism. This response has been surprising, at least to me, and that indicates that there is a gap in my understanding. Mike’s review is important because he gets to the heart of it and asks the right question.

  68. Eric Russell says:

    “The idea behind this is that Ugandans believe having sex with a virgin/baby will cure AIDS. REALLY unfair to Ugandans.”

    The musical clearly indicates that only some Ugandans believe this. It also makes clear that normal Ugandans hold contemptuous feelings towards those that believe this. And it’s true that some Ugandans believe it. In fact, multiple sources indicate that many Ugandans have believed this.

    There’s enough material here to take offense at something or other if one is so inclined. But there’s no need to fabricate reasons for taking offense.

  69. Eric Russell says:

    Cynthia, I’m not sure the “does it make it harder for me to be a Mormon” lens is a good way to approach it. There are lots of things that one could say about the church that would make it harder to go about public life as a Mormon. Imagine if a documentary maker, with no ill intent per se, decided to make a film about some of the more controversial aspects of the church, just because he found it interesting. If widely publicized, this could do serious harm to people’s impression of the church and its members. But if the documentary were honest and lacked acrimony, would we have reason to take offense? I think not, and yet I think the damage done by someone publicly declaring that they don’t believe the historical claims of the church is much less.

  70. Eric Russell says:

    Actually, what if someone were to make a documentary that, say, explored the church’s discrimination towards blacks for over a century? Would that make dinner parties with Democratic party activists fraught with a bit of awkwardness?

  71. #70 Ha! Touche.

  72. Eric, you are not Ugandan. Of course, anyone who’s keeping current on the news is aware of cases (mostly in rural areas and now outlawed) where female circumsision has happened, even widely. And there are cases where babies have been raped because of some absurd folklore. Does the musical indicate that “normal Ugandans” reject the idea? Well, there are only two groups of Ugandans portrayed on the stage. How do we surmise who is “normal” and who is perverse? It’s the common problem we find when any outsider presumes to tell the story of a culture where they’ve relied on “multiple sources” rather than significant experience (preferably years) living within the culture.
    The problem goes down to the basic cliche: WRITE ABOUT WHAT YOU KNOW. Parker and Stone do know something about Mormonism, but they have not lived the life, and those of us who have recognize where they just get it wrong. Their portrayal of Ugandans is far more problematic. They are not anthropologists or historians; they’re humorists. And often, their humor is very clever. But they get a whole lot wrong in the musical–especially about the people of Uganda.

  73. That’s why it’s a broadway musical and not a documentary. Iit’s not meant to be factually accurate about either Ugandans or Mormons, and most people get that. When I saw Chicago on broadway, I didn’t go into it expecting to see an accurate historical portrayal of the city of Chicago and its inhabitants.

    The success of this musical is based on the fact that it’s funny (whether you think so or not, the majority of people who see it report that it is, in fact, very funny), it has catchy songs and dancing, fun and interesting characters and a warm attitude that makes people feel good. What that means for mormonism is that more people are going to be curious about it after seeing the musical, which is all to the good.

  74. I agree with that, MCQ. Obviously the musical is not intended to define Mormonism. And good will come of it. But we can’t simply ignore the parts where the generalizations or stereotypes about either Mormon or Ugandans go so far afield that they reinforce misconceptions. That is a high price to pay for humor. Lord knows we saw that in minstral acts of the 19th Century.

  75. First, some apologies: sorry that I’m coming to this party late and that I may be going over well-worn territory + sorry to sound “professorial,” + sorry that Cynthia’s flattery prompted me to write [actually, I’m not at all sorry about that last one].
    In my Laughter class, we examine laughter at racist, classist, sexist, and homophobic jokes. It seems to me that as Mormons we could draw upon what theorists in other fields have said about that laughter to examine the BoM. When I address this with students, I ask them to examine items with three approaches. The first approach is to see it as an expression of the Bakhtinian carnivalesque. The second approach is to see how Joseph Boskin’s ideas about the aggressive nature of stereotyping humor might explain one’s laughter. The third approach is to apply Ronald de Sousa’s ideas about the ethics of laughter as seen in identification and/or alienation.
    Some responses to the musical seem at least somewhat Bakhtinian (my source for this is the introduction to his book Rabelais and His World). Those responses highlight how this is a musical at a theater by humorists who also have a show. Those parameters establish expectations. The theater is like a carnival, a world that is distinct from the world that we normally live in. In the carnival, there is freedom, community, abundance, and equality. It is a utopian space. Carnival laughter is not official or hierarchical. It is not policed. It is universal—everyone laughs at everyone and everything. It often thrives on parody of the “official” world, poking fun at and revealing the contingencies of that world’s seemingly secure and eternal structures and strictures. It is a free-for-all, like Burning Man (especially as shown in a fabulous episode of Malcolm in the Middle), where one can experiment and play. It is also rather “base,” in the sense that it includes a return to strata and experiences often marginalized in the “official” world. It is Mardi Gras, a southern County Fair (with deep fried butter) or a typical hour in an LDS nursery. [The nursery thing is a joke]. The BoM, with its language, subjects, music, playfulness, parody, freedom, abundance, and communal laughter—everyone laughing at everything—is an expression of the carnivalesque, and many responses value it as such.
    But, how completely “separate” is this utopian, carnivalesque world? Do people only enjoy its temporary playfulness and then leave? Are there no consequences, in the “official,” outside world that surrounds the theater, the carnival? Joseph Boskin (essay in Morreall’s book The Philosophy of Laughter and Humor) asserts that laughter is one of the most powerful aggressive, even retaliatory weapons of the human mind. Aggressive laughter, laughter that thrives upon and inculcates stereotypical ideas, slips past the defenses of otherwise thoughtful people. But what is worse is how such laughter belittles and oppresses. Laughter, in this respect, is the velvet glove that covers the brass knuckles. Many responses to the musical seem keenly aware of how its distortions and vulgarity further marginalize.
    Between complete enjoyment of it as a carnival and well-founded concern about it as a damaging, distorting, and hurtful (though covert) attack, is the possibility of seeing the musical as, well, like a joke we might tell among family members. Most families, I’m guessing, have particular family jokes. Those in-family jokes can even be somewhat vulgar and/or mean. One may not realize how particular those jokes are, or how others may see them as vulgar or mean, until someone new joins the family. The unspoken question is: when can the new addition start to laugh at and then tell those family jokes? If you have seen some presumptuous new son-in-law try to early, you have seen how that crashes and burns. If you have seen some otherwise demure daughter-in-law tell one of the family jokes in just the right way at just the right time, and about just the right person, then you know the moment when your whole being screams “For the Win” at her success and “You are In.” Those who cannot yet tell the joke cannot because (according to Ronald de Sousa in his essay in the same book with Boskin’s) they do not yet, thoroughly “identify” enough with the group to make the joke. Insiders can tell such a joke because they are “insiders” and their identification with the group means that there is no malice that accompanies the laughter. Those who are outside are therefore “aliens” to the group, and their alienation means that insiders find either the mere possibility or the manifest reality of malice in their laughter. So Michael Scott in the very first episode of The Office cannot tell the same jokes Chris Rock tells because he is an outsider. His insistence only reinforces his outsider status, his alienation. In my opinion, reasonable people can disagree about whether the makers of the musical are insiders who sufficiently identify with Mormons to joke about them, or if they are malicious outsiders. Many responses seem to take up these issues
    If I were teaching my Laughter class at BYU (HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA—that could be problematic!), I may assign my students to examine different responses in this very thread and in other places to see to what degree these three approaches may insightfully cluster responses to the musical.

  76. Um, please read my comment–I know it is way to long, but I’m a solid 25% sure that it is worth it.


  77. I too am too tired to argue with believers as to why they should be offended at the musical. But I will say a few words.

    I am sure there are redeeming qualities to that famous piece of art created some twenty years ago called “Piss Christian.” It was a picture of a mason jar containing a crucifix swimming in urine. And while most Christians were offended at it, there must have been others who found it moving and touching. In a deep, cerebral way…that only the truly enlightened could see.

    I believe that the secret reason most nonmembers like the play us that they get to mock God and a religion and then feel really good about it because of some significant, didactic ending. The same tactics are used on Jerry Springer.

    As far as Mormons liking it, I am neither bewildered nor perplexed. Use all the high-mindedness you want. Any way you cut it, something is missing within you. Or is it too much of something else?

    You ought to be offended at the vile mockery of holy things. Yet you celebrate it. All I can say is that I am glad that the South Park boys have done it for you once again. You were entertained. And that’s the important thing. Obviously.

  78. Maybe it’s because I take the whole Latter-day Saint thing too seriously… But if I think God the Father wouldn’t watch it for entertainment or enlightenment and would further be a bit saddened at the misunderstanding that must exist so profoundly in his children to make such a thing, why should I bother with it?
    If you’re actually trying to live a life consecrated to the Lord I am not sure where this fits in…
    Now all that being said if good can come out of the slaughter of the anti-nephi-lehis its certainly not a stretch to think God can make something good out of this.
    What’s just saddening is to see not only some handful of Mormons but the rest of the ticket buyers who don’t ‘get it’ and think some kind of postmodern ability to ‘laugh at yourself’ trumps a life dedicated to holiness unto the Lord. We can choose to spend our time striving to be nearer to God in attitude, word, and deed or we can seek whatever amusing or vulgar distractions that appeal to us for the moment. It’s given to us to choose but only those choices which bring us nearer to God will have lasting satisfaction.

  79. “Cynthia, I’m not sure the “does it make it harder for me to be a Mormon” lens is a good way to approach it. There are lots of things that one could say about the church that would make it harder to go about public life as a Mormon.”

    @69: I’m glad to see Shawn return because his comment explains exactly why I don’t have problems with documentary makers, even if they make my life harder, but I do think that musical is problematic in a way that documentaries aren’t. That is, I’m willing to suffer consequences in the name of truth and education and all that. But if somebody’s going to entertain themselves at my expense, I think I have a legitimate grievance if that entertainment and accompanying creation or reinforcement of stereotypes (both true and misleading in this case) makes it harder to live my life. Misogynist jokes make it harder to live my life, and I object to them on those grounds.

    I think the “does it make my life harder” lens also explains why I think that Dan Savage’s comparison to various things doing satire of Catholics is not quite the same. Catholicism is so huge and so widely known and understood that the effects are just not the same. Catholics are 25% of the US population. Mormons are 1.4%. Very rarely will a Catholic be the only Catholic at a large dinner gathering like the one I threw out as an example. Very rarely will a Catholic be the only one in their workplace. Never will a Catholic have somebody exclaim to them that they’re the only Catholic they’ve ever known, and get this look in their eyes of distinct gawking, like the Catholic is some kind of zoo animal. All these things happen to me on a routine basis. For many people who see the musical, the percentage of their total Mormon knowledge and impressions that comes from the musical is going to be very, very high. Because of our obscurity (compared to Catholics), the musical can have a much bigger impact. For this reason, I just don’t think that comparing Catholics and –Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You to Mormons and BoMM makes any sense–even though the content and degree of bitingness in the satire might be the same, Catholics’ life experiences post-Mary Ignatius doesn’t seem (to me) like it would have been substantively impacted.

    That said, once people have seen this musical, they will know that much more about Mormons, so in that way it is contributing to solving the problem that we are less known and less understood and thus any one thing that people experience about us carries outsize influence on their total perception of Mormons.

    Also, obligatory tagline: contra what happened with some Catholics getting into a “tizzy” (seen that word a bunch of times in this thread) over Sister Mary Ignatius, and demanding it be closed down, etc, I don’t think the musical should be shut down.

  80. Perhaps we could look at the flipside argument too. We wonder if there will be conversion from the play. Will we loose members from it?

    My personal opinion is probably not, but I have not seen the play. I think this helps to put the musical into perspective, however.

  81. Thomas Parkin says:

    MRP, dbc, and chris,

    I won’t go see the musical for reasons not unlike yours. All the same, something seems to have been offended in you that makes you want to be small. I think this is why Jesus said ‘resist not evil.’

    Have a nice day.

  82. @dbc: Since my not-entirely-negative attitude towards the musical can only be seen as evidence of loss of the spirit, I was wondering if you’d do me the favor of posting your phone number so I could call on you instead of waiting for the Holy Ghost to help me out in tough situations like this. You appear to be eminently qualified for the job. How about it?

  83. Steve Evans says:

    Shawn (#76), wrong again!

  84. Mark N.
    Come ahnnnnnn…!!
    You can do better than that, canchya? That was like gradeschool material from you just now!

    Tell ya what. Go order yourself a Book of Mormon, and as you read, imagine what any of the authors of that book would say of Parker and Stone’s recent accomplishment.

  85. “We can choose to spend our time striving to be nearer to God in attitude, word, and deed or we can seek whatever amusing or vulgar distractions that appeal to us for the moment.”

    So those are our only choices?

    What a sad little world you must live in.

  86. We Mormons sure love taking offense, don’t we? Where would we be without things to offend us at every turn?

    “I’m offended!” Church just wouldn’t be the same without that term in frequent usage, would it?

    None of that is to say that anyone should see the musical. My thoughts on it are similar to Cynthia’s — and I have no intention of ever seeing it.

  87. I can’t imagine the Book of Mormon prophets (or current Apostles) singing along to the lyrics of the musical.

    Thank goodness, Alma didn’t dilute the gospel in order to convert others after his shock at seeing how the Zoramites worshipped (Alma 31-33).

    There is more to true religion than mere social improvement.

  88. Here’s one anecdote:

    I was recently told by an older Mormon couple, both of whom teach at BYU, that they had a non-Mormon guest out from Johns Hopkins University and he happened to stay at their home while he was visiting in Provo. This couple happened to have relatives also staying with them — relatives who had served several senior missions including two in different places in Africa. This man and his wife who has served these senior missions are a highly educated and soft-spoken couple. The man is a retired professor from a large state university outside Utah who had a good reputation in his scientific field. Over dinner the guest from Baltimore mentioned that he had seen the Book of Mormon musical and whether anyone had any thoughts on it.

    The retired professor and his articulate, sophisticated wife engaged in a very academic discussion with the guest about what LDS missionaries are actually doing in Africa and what life in Africa, including Uganda, is actually like, for Mormons and non-Mormons alike. I suppose that having served two senior missions in Africa gives you the right to override South Park on both Mormons and Africa.

    The report I heard of the evening was that this guest was more or less blown away that there are Mormon intellectuals willing to discuss these things in a detached, academic way while at the same time so completely eviscerating (to use Olberman’s word) the perspective on both Mormons and Africa taken by Parker and Stone.

    This was a much preferred model to taking offense and whining. The returned missionary couple just discussed their observations of Mormons, Mormonism and life in Africa and that was that. The musical is what it is. Real life is something else.

  89. From john f (#88):

    this guest was more or less blown away that . . . the returned missionary couple just discussed their observations of Mormons, Mormonism and life in Africa and that was that.

    From multiple commenters:

    Oh, the horrors . . .

    From Mike:

    As I sat watching it, I kept thinking “There is so much outreach opportunity here for Mormons. I wonder how they will handle it.”

    Well said, Mike.

  90. This might help bring the church out of obscurity even while it also keeps some of our genuine beliefs obscure.

    Still, I think most member would feel uncomfortable watching it between two sessions of general conference, right after a visit to the temple, or in the presence of the prophet, for example.

    Let’s outreach in the right way… with the spirit of charity and without the spirit of contention.

  91. There is opportunity for outreach…there is opportunity for outreach after tragedies.

    It is instructive to consider how others who “like” us see our church. It’s a good reminder-the “I believe in 1978 God changed his mind about black people”-I think that’s worth remembering what it looks like. It makes me consider how others see what we do with our 3 hours on sunday-is it 40% homophobic, 40% tithing, 15% guilt and 5% Jesus?

    It is clever.

    I don’t think there really is an argument about it being offensive or not…it obviously is. Whether you take the offence…whether the heart is enough…whether it matters that it isn’t respectful, or that it’s so funny, or that they mock ugandans as well…how few mormons there are or that we do have a victim complex…

    Now that it’s here we should take outreach opportunities and not hold onto offence. We should learn what we can..

    I just don’t like it. Every time I hear of Elder Price I think of Poisonwood Bible and that doesn’t make me like him more. An intellectual response to be sure. It does make me outraged..just sad. I can’t imagine spending years and years of life figuring out how to be clever enough and funny enough that people will swallow the gallons of offence you dish with it.

  92. Chris Gordon says:

    I remain riveted by the conversation even as I’ve yet to see the musical.

    One of the common themes of why the mockery is acceptable is that there is a strong undercurrent of affection even in that mockery. I’ve been thinking a lot about Shawn Tucker’s essay of a response and trying to picture a real life non-black comedian trying to pull a Chris Rock a-la Michael Scott and having it be well-received. Even if it’s artfully, humorously and masterfully pulled off, I could NEVER see it working. Likewise, I agree that were the BofM Musical about any other faith (except maybe Scientology), there would be outrage if not blood.

    In thinking more about the justification of affection, I get the vibe that there’s a condescension to the affection as opposed to affection born of respect. It’s the backhanded compliment of “I guess you’re not really as nuts as we all think once we take 2 seconds to think it through,” that isn’t the type of praise I necessarily value.

    That being said, I’ll still see it, if for no other reason than to stay informed and I don’t think it would be sinful per se to go. :)

  93. MikeInWeHo says:

    I can think of many examples where other faiths and various minority groups have been similarly teased without outrage. Let me come up with some examples and post them here today. How about this from a hit British comedy series. Precious is a recurring character, played by a white man:

  94. MikeInWeHo says:

    The Jewish community is very comfortable with self-parody. We could post dozens of examples, some very scathing.

  95. “Likewise, I agree that were the BofM Musical about any other faith (except maybe Scientology), there would be outrage if not blood.”

    Because LDS are so much more advanced that the other Satanic Christians?

    As I read these various posts on the musical, I am surprised when I hear an active member wants to go see the play. I don’t even believe in god and even I cringe when I listen to “Hasa Diga Ebowai”.

    The musical is massively popular. From my perspective, I consider it Prop 8 payback. The “Turn it Off” song is ridicule well-deserved. Life in the public square.

  96. I came across a post a few minutes ago by Tracy that she wrote last year entitled, “My Rebellious Heart”. ( I loved it then, and I wrote something about it that applies to this discussion. (I apologize, Tracy, if the following misrepresents what you said in any way.)
    The point I think Tracy makes in the post is that there are LOTS of rules that are cultural – but someone who isn’t part of the group isn’t in a position to demand changes to them. One joins a group; one lives within a culture; over time, one gains the right to point out flaws and ask for change. Thus, those who have walked the walk and continue to walk the walk ARE entitled to question and select and suggest, since they have the proper social capital.

    That’s the reason I really like her post – the grounding she gives to the initial following of defined rules in an “adolescent spirituality” and the sense of responsibility to understand the proper role of rules in an “adult spirituality”. (Those terms are mine, not hers – but I think they are consistent with her meaning.) I believe what she’s saying, **in general**, is that only those who are or have been immersed in the culture have the social capital to critique the culture and be respected by those within it. Children complaining is seen as tantrum throwing – often even if their complaints are correct and/or valid. Outsiders complaining is seen as mean-spirited and mocking, even if their portrayals have an element of accuracy. Thoughtful, believing adults critiquing is another thing entirely.

    Iow, all of us here have invested heavily in the Church and been invested / still are invested in the culture in some way. Therefore, it’s warranted for us to discuss our concerns with various aspects of the culture – even if we might (rightly) bristle at “outsiders” attacking our community.

  97. #88: Great comment. Thanks for sharing.

    Cynthia, I’m with you: I would like for this play not to set the standard for how poorly we (or others) can be represented and we are “ok”.

    That said, the musical is out there. Fundamentalist Christians are out there. People will say what they like about the church, and — while we can hope for better treatment, and maybe even take steps to encourage better treatment — it’s up to us to sort out how to respond.

    Mike’s original question is a good one. The couple described in johnf’s comment (88) is a great response. Otterson’s commentaries are great responses.

    I don’t normally read Meridian, but I’ll be looking for Margaret’s series that sounds terrific.

  98. They had some problems with the pictures, so the series will start tomorrow rather than today. Thanks, Paul!

  99. Chris Gordon says:

    @Brian (95): No, there would be outrage about any other faith being affectionately mocked because it’s pretty darn socially acceptable to publicly insult or misrepresent (no matter how lovingly) Mormons, and I’ve rarely if ever heard the same tone taken with any other religion outside of South Park.

    (P.S. which is why I love South Park–they give equal irreverence to ALL)

  100. Chris–I guess I was responding to the “if not blood”. Olbermann was using hyperbole as he always does. Since it has been repeated on this thread more than once, it seemed like a few people actually believe it.

  101. Chris Gordon says:

    Keith O? Hyperbole!? Surely you jest….

  102. Since it is such good outreach, let’s put it on the BYU channel, and invite nonmembers. Make missionary moments. Make it required viewing at the MTC.

  103. And if only one soul is saved, it will have been worth it. Right?

  104. MikeInWeHo says:

    Actually, the video in #94 reminds me of the tone of this very discussion.

  105. To some extent, I have always viewed the discussions around BoMM as somewhat academic, as I have no intentions of flying across the country to see it. Then someone mentioned touring companies, and my thought process changed. The probability that this will show up at the Paramount or 5th Ave theater here in Seattle sometime soon is pretty high, and I will no doubt get asked questions by my non member friends. I’m pretty sure that I would overall not like seeing the musical, in spite of the occasional warmth and humor, but on the other hand, I would not disrespect or take issue with other church members who might choose to see it. I have mixed feelings about the potential for outreach. I do expect to hear some more questions, but I’m not looking forward to the prospect all that much, I guess.

    The best example I can think of is going to see the musical Jesus Christ Superstar a number of years ago. There were parts that were funny, parts that were very touching, a few offensive moments (actually only one or two that I can recall). And the language was not even in the neighborhood, apparently, from what others are reporting about the BoMM. There were discussions then, about how a good Mormon would never go see JCS, and yet I went and overall had a positive experience. But I’ve had no real desire to go see it again, over the years.

    I’m like Thomas Parkin, and cringe when I hear the F word in public. I’m pretty sure I would not like the overall experience of forking over some significant cash to Messrs. Parker and Stone to see them say we are the nicest and cutest of a large group of deluded fools. And I agree with Cynthia L, and Shawn Tucker, that the ultimate result of this kind of humor is at its foundation, insulting, demeaning, and implying a second class status, as outsiders in the larger society. Think of the Broadway play and movie Cabaret as the Joel Gray character sings about his girlfriend, saying that “She doesn’t look Jewish at all” while the spotlight shines on an actor in a gorilla suit, watched by men in Nazi uniforms. That’s brilliant and biting satire about Germany in the 1930’s, but also a cautionary tale about all sorts of other things in our modern society. Or Lt. Cable in South Pacific singing “You have to be carefully taught”, targeting racial hatreds. I suspect that Parker and Stone and their collaborators have not approached that level of sophistication and nuance in the BoMM. That doesn’t mean that I condemn any of you who have seen or will see it.

    But the, since I am not going to see it, I guess I will never know.

  106. I don’t agree at all with Keith O when he says there would have been blood and riots, or whatever. I probably should have just cut that part of the quote out since IMHO it was wrong and hyperbole (as KO is wont to do).

    But I think we have to take seriously his perception that it was an “evisceration,” even if we disagree with that characterization. As Mike noted, Dan Savage tried to “rebut” that characterization (though I think I would say that Savage tried to nuance it rather than rebut it exactly). KO isn’t what I’d call a deep thinker, in contrast to Savage (who I think is almost superhumanly perceptive and quite a good thinker), so we might want to say that we should just ignore KO and listen to Savage on this. But I don’t think that’s quite right. In fact, most people who see the musical are not what I’d call super perceptive nor deep thinkers (I admit it, I’m an elitist who thinks the average American is prone to sloppy thinking), so KO’s opinion and perception are very key to a discussion about how this musical is really being received by most people in the audience.

    @93,94: Mike, I get that Mormons are not by any stretch 100% unique in being mocked. However, I’m not sure that either of your examples really captures relevant nuances of this discussion and the analogy to BOMM. For the first one, I don’t think that sketch would go over as well in America as in UK, because our racial histories (and presents) are different. And the second one, well, you said it yourself, “The Jewish community is very comfortable with self-parody.” Mormons love self-parody. Check out anything by Divine Comedy, our own Police Beat Roundtable, or feature films like The Single’s Ward and The RM.

  107. “The musical clearly indicates that only some Ugandans believe this.”

    Honest, serious question from someone who has not seen the musical but who has listened to all of the songs several times: Does the musical clearly indicate that only some Mormons believe what the musical pretends are Mormon beliefs? And does it clearly indicate that some of the purported Mormon beliefs that are mocked are not Mormon beliefs at all?

    Thomas Parkin writes:

    “MRP, dbc, and chris,
    I won’t go see the musical for reasons not unlike yours. All the same, something seems to have been offended in you that makes you want to be small. I think this is why Jesus said ‘resist not evil.’”

    I didn’t say I won’t go see the musical. I hate musicals as a general matter, but I’m not generally bothered by profanity (though I usually prefer less sophomoric usage than what is in TBOMM) and I would like to see the musical.

    I would, however, respectfully submit that anyone – Mormon or not – who does not find offensive the mocking of the brutal murder of Joseph Smith is wrong. I’m not saying it’s always bad for things to be offensive or that people should never see offensive things. I like a lot of offensive media and entertainment. But if you can listen to or watch TBOMM musical and not find any of it offensive, you’ve either got your “I want to be kind to everyone” filter turned up too high or you have no moral compass.

  108. MikeInWeHo says:

    Of course you’re right about that, Cynthia. The videos I picked don’t really capture what the point I was trying to make (well, except about the tone of the debate in here…. : ). I’ll try to find something better. But for now, the best Mormon self-parody I’ve seen lately is this:

  109. Kristine says:

    “But I think we have to take seriously his perception that it was an “evisceration,”
    Really? Because I don’t think he’s capable of choosing rhetoric that isn’t over the top. When he says “evisceration,” he might very well mean “slightly cruel satire” or “pointed mockery.” I think parsing his language over-carefully is a dead-end. No, a red herring. No, a dangerous mistake. No, a travesty foisted on us by a conservative cabal. No, not conservatives, fascists!!

  110. “In fact, most people who see the musical are not what I’d call super perceptive nor deep thinkers (I admit it, I’m an elitist who thinks the average American is prone to sloppy thinking)”

    I’m officially offended.

  111. Fwiw, just to make a very narrow point that doesn’t relate at all to much of this discussion but is relevant to some statements here, I’m used to having people think I’m crazy for being a believing Mormon. Since I expect it, I like being seen as part of the nicest group of crazies.

    From everything I’ve read about Parker and Stone, I think they would read this thread and not be surprised at all by the wide range of opinions – and I think they would read the comments, by and large, and say, essentially, “We told you so. That’s why we like them so much. We think their beliefs are crazy, but they are such good, nice people.”

    Given all the possibilities and realities in the world today, that view is not a bad thing, imo – and it’s ironic that it’s a much better, more charitable view than that of our “allies” in some things political. Many people would partner with us to gain their stated goals and then dance in the street for joy if our church was completely destroyed somehow – holding parties to celebrate the expanded number of souls in Hell. I get the feeling that Parker and Stone, otoh, would mourn the loss of good, honest people and the good they contribute to the world.

    I think that’s worth considering, at least – even if it doesn’t change a thing about my view of the musical they produced.

  112. MRP– The Hill Cumorah is prominent, with Moroni, Jesus, and Mormon all rather ridiculously, laugh-beggingly present. It’s the basic no-context summary: Seerstones in a hat, gold plates in a farmboy’s back yard, which are removed from him before he can show them around, because maybe that’s what God “had in mind all along.”
    Elder Kevin Price is completely unprepared for what he’ll find in Uganda, and downs 18 cups of coffee in sheer rebellion, feeling hoodwinked. His companion, Elder Arnold Cunningham, knows hardly a thing about the religion he’s preaching, and admits he hasn’t read the BoM, and also that he has a little problem with “making stuff up.” Ultimately, the converted Africans sing the “Hello” song which started the musical, and triumphantly hoist their new scriptures: The Book of Arnold, which presumably talks about Joseph Smith having sex with frogs.

  113. MikeInWeHo says:

    At this point, people who are paying hundreds of dollars to see this musical on Broadway are mostly likely well above average in terms of education, income, etc. Perception and deep thinking, on the other hand, are entirely different issues.

  114. And MIWH–I am happy to take the opportunity (as an educated ok-income LDS woman) to tell what missions in Africa are actually like for Mormons. I have no problem using the BOMM as a jumping off point. It would be silly to do a point-by-point comparison. That’d be like explaining Dr. Who using ant analogies. Oh wait–I’m guessing SteveP does that.

  115. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 112
    That really mis-characterizes the story, Margaret. Seerstones and the hat are never mentioned. The writers take many knowing liberties with the history and certain other details (how missionaries are paired and called, for example). The Book of Arnold does describe Joseph Smith curing AIDS by having sex with a frog, but one of the African converts exclaims “Of course he really didn’t…’s all a metaphor!” That brings a huge laugh.

    So again: It’s all about context when it comes to this particular musical. The language is too crude for my taste (for me that’s by far the worst part), but seeing it on stage the experience is completely different than listening to the soundtrack or reading plot summaries.

    Please re-read Comment 33. Can you show me a strongly negative review from an active member of the church who’s actually seen the play?

  116. @#113 . . . see the Dalek want to exterminate all inferior species much like a harvester ant nest will remove all other forms of life from around their nest . . .

  117. I am positive some active members of the faith would give it a strongly negative review, MIWH. I know of one who has also seen it who said “It felt like they were mocking my people.” This person is pretty liberal, btw.
    I must be having a false memory, or perhaps am confusing it with the South Park Mormon episode, but I recalled seerstones and hats. You are probably right that I’m confusing the two. (My son showed me the South Park episide soon after I had seen the musical. We happen to have South Park blocked on our television, but Hulu makes pretty much everything available to a kid with a computer.)

    I think the context is pretty much along the lines of the South Park Mormon episode: Mormons–they’re really, really nice but dumb, dumb, dumb.

    Nonetheless, as I said, I did laugh in places, and even cried at one point. But it went way overboard for me. I won’t be reviewing it in my series, simply telling the real story from an insider’s perspective, assisted by about ten missionaries who actually served in Africa (two of them being Africans).

    And Steve, Daleks are SO last season.

  118. The article, part 1: (The Real Elder Price)

  119. MikeInWeHo says:

    Margaret that article is GREAT! I linked to it in the Bloggernacle Friends group on Facebook. The NY mission should print up “Meet The Real Elder Price” and hand it out to people leaving the Eugene O’Neill Theater. It’s by far the best “response” to the Book of Mormon musical that I’ve seen: completely un-defensive and without a hint of the persecution complex that permeates so many of the others. Kudos.

  120. Agree with MIWH — outstanding article, Margaret. I look forward to the future installments.

  121. Wow, MIWH, thank you! I had such a hard day yesterday.. You have no idea how much your kind words mean. Genuinely appreciated.

  122. That is a fantastic article, Margaret. Thank you for writing and posting it.

  123. StillConfused says:

    I think MikeInWeHo is by far the classiest and most Christian man in/on the bloggernacle. No matter what rude or bigoted comments are thrown at him, he always responds with poise and class. I hope to see more writings from him in the future.


    They do come across like a bunch of Mormons! Except the coffee.

  125. MikeInWeHo says:

    I think we need to launch our first-ever BCC bake sale, and send Cynthia L to NYC to see this musical for herself. She then gets final word.

  126. Utahn in CT says:

    The BOMM album is amazing, with lots of memorable songs, with infectious melodies and lyrics. Several songs I skip over, but I’ve listen through the rest of the CD probably four times. “Hello” and “I Believe” are genius, without a doubt. “You and me (but mostly me)” I think exactly captures the views of some (over)confident young missionaries, at least some decades ago. The moment when Elder Price sings “I’ll do something incredible that’ll blow God’s freaking mind!” is just sublime. As for the song “Baptize Me” — the erotic overtones also I think captures something about the missionary experience, at least in places where young women are more likely investigators than any other group.

  127. “Hello” and “I Believe” are genius–even the way the door bells are used musically in “Hello”.

  128. A late entry I know, but I have two thoughts: #1 I’m picturing a Prophet of God, Pres. Kimball, lying on a hospital gurney, asking that the hospital attendant please not use His father’s name in vain. It’s not hard for me to imagine what his response to a certain song from the musical would be, even in the context of the play, and #2 What would Jesus do? Would he laugh with the money changers in the temple (We’re justified! We’re contributing to temple worship!) or would he craft a whip? Mormon culture is very funny and should be laughed at (albeit, good-naturedly). God has a great sense of humor, but no one desecrates sacred things with impunity, no matter how they try to justify their intentions. I’m just sayin’.

  129. For those who are interested, you’d better hurry…not likely to stay up for long!

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