The Book of Mormon Musical is coming to Nashville. Since I live in Nashville, make my living directing plays, mostly musicals, and since I am a Mormon*, I've had several people ask me what I think about this.
It goes a bit deeper than this for me because I currently have children out serving two-year stints as missionaries, and I have dear friends who also have children out--and dear friends who are themselves working as missionaries.
I have a couple of thoughts. First of all, I really like the way the Church has responded to this. I think it's fair to say that the musical is not terribly flattering to Mormons and what they believe. But the Church hasn't called for boycotts or made threats or tried to shut things down, gone after the sponsors, etc. In fact, the Church bought an add in the playbill (the photo above). Well played, in my opinion. I'm a bit tired of the constant outrage in which our society seems to live these days, so I find this refreshing.
At any rate, here's my take. To me, The Book of Mormon is a sacred book. We read and believe in the Bible, but the The Book of Mormon (BOM, hereafter) is an additional book of scripture. It tells the story of a group of people who left Jerusalem about 600 B.C. and travelled to the New World. Like the Bible, it records prophecies and religious teachings. The culminating part of the book is when a resurrected Jesus appears to the believers in this part of the world, who have long been expecting him.
I love this because the message is that God is a personal God. He knows and loves his children everywhere, and that he actively and regularly intervenes in the lives of those who love and seek to follow him.
I love the idea that he knows everyone, that he speaks to all nations through their own prophets, and that his dealings with humanity wasn't limited to one region of the world.
I love that the account of Christ's visit shows him personally healing and caring for and loving a huge multitude. One by one, he heals and blesses them.
I could go on and on, but if the Bible is peanut butter, the BOM is chocolate. Or ice cream and hot fudge. You get the idea.
I do wonder a bit at the drive to make fun of something that people hold sacred. I've never quite understood that. But, I'm an absolutist about the First Amendment and free speech. The same freedom that allows me to worship according to my beliefs gives others the freedom to poke fun of them. You can't have one without the other. I had a high school teacher who drummed into me the idea that, "I may not like what you say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it." I really believe that.
As a musical theatre lover, I do feel a bit wistful that Jews got Fiddler on the Roof and Catholics got The Sound of Music while Mormons got this musical. Those first two respect the religious traditions instead of poking fun at them**. As someone who loves musicals, I think it would be cool to have an iconic show that treated Mormon faith and culture serious. But, that's life, and some Mormon needs to write one.
Finally, I'm concerned about our culture. I think it is coarse and getting coarser, and I don't think that's a good thing. So all the profanity in this show concerns me on those grounds.
For those reasons, I won't personally be going to see it. But I don't begrudge those who do go see it. So, go see the musical--but let me know if you want a copy of the book. And let's talk.
*The official name of the Church is: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "Mormon" is a nickname and most of us have sort of embraced it. It's a lot shorter than saying, "A member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint."
** I understand that there are other satirical musicals about these faiths. My point is that there are no warm-fuzzy analog to those plays for Mormons.
There has been a big flap about the rocket scientist's shirt. In fact, it may have eclipsed the actual event that brought that guy into the public eye in the first place.
The response seems to mostly be in two camps. Camp A is outraged and says that this shirt is an affront to women in general, and demonstrates why more women don't go into science.
Camp B says that Camp A is overreacting and being bullies. In a diverse world, they say, we all have to basically relax a bit and don't get to impose our views on others. They also point out that in many feminist circles, there is a strong tendency towards defending a woman's right to wear anything at all and insist on respect.
Frankly, I think both sides are engaging in a lot of hypocrisy that really bothers me, but there is something else I want to point out.
For starters, the shirt was totally inappropriate. It just was. When I think of my female students seeing that and processing what it means, I feel literally sick inside. But, leaving the merits (or demerits) of that shirt aside, it was most certainly not appropriate for the workplace, and not appropriate for a worldwide media broadcast. It just wasn't. In what world is that professional attire? Had the guy just worn a shirt and tie, or even business casual, none of this would have happened.
We used to be governed by good manners and common decency. Our dress reflected that. Professional dress shows respect to those around and also to ourselves. Yes, formality can be taken too far--but I think we're a safe distance away from that right now.
In my theatre work, I've noticed that there is magic that happens when actors first put on their costumes. Wearing that costume has a profound impact on how they act in a multitude of ways, small and large. The way we dress influences how we act. It just does.
So, out of respect to those around us, and out of respect to ourselves, we ought to dress appropriately for the venue. That used to be a matter of common decency and basic civilized behavior. And many of those on Team B normally agree with this proposition--thus their hypocrisy. But I do think a little more self-restraint, a little more formality and dignity would not hurt us. And many of those on Team B normally agree with this proposition--thus their hypocrisy.
The second point is closely related. We live in a world where traditional mores, standards, and cultural agreements are either decaying or being thrown out. As a result, our culture is coarser and uglier in every way. Many of the people on Team A have either helped drive this or have welcomed it.
Those of us who don't think it is good to live in a coarse, violent, and in this case, sex-drenched culture are often called prudish or censorious. But standards are like guard rails or speed limits. They keep us all going relatively safely in the same direction, even in different cars and going different directions. They provide necessary social cohesion, and that seems more important than ever in a world of growing diversity.
If you want to start throwing out traditional standards of behavior, if you accept (and encourage) the relaxing and coarsening of the culture, then you can't be shocked or outraged when the culture is coarse. You can't get indignant when someone is coarser than your sensibilities allow.
You can't laugh at comedians or musicians dropping F-bombs, and you can't breathlessly ogle the shirtless Twilight guys, or the Victoria's Secret models, or carry around porny Abercrombie and Fitch bags and then complain because the culture is too sexualized and coarse--or that one guy's shirt is inappropriate because it has sexualized images on it.
Likewise, you can't accept and defend bad behavior simply because your political opponents are upset, or argue that lower standards apply only to you and your allies, not no one else.
Culture is formed by the decisions of millions of people--what we think, do, and especially, what we support with our money. If you watch crass, coarse movies or TV shows, you are helping creating a culture that allows coarseness. You have that right, of course. But you don't then get to define when and how others will be crass.
This scientist guy simply did what millions of other people did: he did whatever he wanted with no regard for others and no regard for what used to define good manners. His shirt was coarse and ugly in a coarse and ugly world. No more. No less. He is part of a culture that we have collectively made.
If you don't like what he did, and I don't, then you need to help start unmaking that culture pretty fast. But it can't be selective. If, on the other hand, you like the way things are, then you really can't be offended when others exercise their right to be as unrestrained as you.
Note: I've been thinking about this for several days and drafting this in my mind. I just now saw that Jonah Goldberg had written some similar things. So, it seems like the decent thing to provide a link to his column.
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