Monday, June 20, 2011

Winner of 9 Tony Awards

[NOTE: I have not seen the Book of Mormon musical. I have read lots of reviews on it, I have heard and read interviews with the creators, and I have listened to a lot of the music. I don't claim any authority on the matter, but I also refuse to unilaterally declare it unfit for all human viewing.]

I'm sure many of you--especially my fellow Mormons--have read this article from the Washington Post about the Book of Mormon musical, calling it the modern-day equivalent to the Amos and Andy show.

I'm a pretty sensitive person--I get my feelings hurt if someone honks their car horn at me!--but this musical just doesn't bother me. Maybe part of it is because I heard an interview on Fresh Air that really led me to believe that there was absolutely no malicious intent to the creation of the show ("I don't think anybody would want to see a two-hour-long Mormon-bashing, and we wouldn't want to see that either."), but I just can't work myself up about this, like any self-respecting Mormon would.

It is caricature. And yes, we Mormons are portrayed as being naive, overly optimistic, and repressed. But what Mormon can honestly look him or herself in the mirror and say that at least some of that isn't true? Who has ever looked at a 19-year-old greenie on his way to PerUruGuateMexiCaliFiji without thinking about how innocent and enthusiastic he is, and how he's in for a harsh reality?

Here are two lyric samples. Which do you think portrays Mormons in a better light?

Example 1:
Crooked generation, we demand your veneration.
Will you shake your heel at us as we call you to your knees?

Crooked generation, will you scoff at ordination?

We are warriors by a rite, so respect us if you please!

Example 2:
I've always had the hope that on the day I go to heaven
Heavenly Father will shake my hand and say, "You've done an awesome job, Kevin."

Now it's our time to go out and set the world's people free.
And we can do it together, you and me – but mostly me!

Those of you better versed in Mormon Culture may have recognized the first lyric sample, from the song, "In Our Humble Way," from Saturday's Warrior, a musical written by, for, and about Mormons. The second is from the song "You and Me--But Mostly Me," from the Book of Mormon musical. Both are taken out of context, of course, but the sentiments of both songs are strikingly similar: "We are going to make the world a better place, because we are awesome!" Seems pretty innocuous to me.

Mormons do tend to suffer from a persecution complex, a result of our heritage of being tarred and feathered, unjustly imprisoned, and forced into migration. True, it hasn't been an easy road for us (though I take serious issue when people say--as they do at times--that we have had it as bad as the Jews and / or the slaves), but that doesn't mean that everyone is still out to get us.

We often talk about the difference between faith and logic, and any religious person knows that faith absolutely defies logic. The Book of Mormon musical shines a light on this fact (the song "I Believe" highlights it), but I get the feeling that people get uncomfortable with this kind of scrutiny just because they've been afraid to question things for themselves--or to recognize that, to an outsider (or even--shockingly!--some insiders you may sit next to in sacrament meeting!), the gospel presents some ideas that challenge previously held beliefs. But when these challenges arise, instead of confronting them head-on, we get defensive--and that actually pushes people away from hearing what we have to say.

Yes, there is explicit language. Yes, they literally curse God. Yes, Mormons are portrayed in a humorous light. But I'm still not offended, and I can only find one other difference between the Book of Mormon musical and Saturday's Warrior:

The music in the Book of Mormon is wayyyyyyyyyyyyyy better.

[P.S., I watched an episode of Amos and Andy, but I actually think that there are more offensive examples that have taken place much more recently in our history. See below.]


  1. You are a gifted writer, Rachel. I love reading your perspective - one that is unique to Mormons and progressives alike!'

  2. I loved your perspective! I haven't taken offense to the musical either.

  3. I haven't seen the musical, and I admit what I've heard from it actually makes me smirk a little. I'm not particularly offended by it, just like I don't take it personally when others live in a way contrary to my own lifestyle.

    On the other hand, I think there's more encouragement than censure for ridiculous and immoral behavior in the world today. Whether it's a Mormon or a non-Mormon doing producing something inappropriate (Saturday's Warrior, BofM musical, odd publications at Deseret Book, anti-Mormon lit/hate-speech), it takes courage to speak up, demand respect, or stand up for your beliefs. I think you did that well in this post, and I applaud you for not taking offense in the process.

    What what!