Why The Book of Mormon Musical Was Made Now
(NOTE: the song above doesn’t have any bad language, but it is irreverent and makes fun of Mormon beliefs. It has a couple of cringe-worthy moments for me, but I don’t find it too egregious — even found myself laughing in a place or two. However, I don’t want to offend anyone, so if you’re worried about it, I recommend that you skip it.) 🙂
There’s been a ton of buzz about The Book of Mormon Musical lately, due to the fact that it took home about a bajillion Tony Awards this past Sunday. I haven’t seen the production, of course, because I live very far away from Broadway — and because I’m not sure my little heart could take it* — but I think there are some very specific reasons why something like this could be made about Mormons at this particular moment. I’d like to explore them here…
1. We are in the public eye. As a people, we’ve arrived at a place where our public exposure has reached critical mass. We have Mitt Romney, Glenn Beck, Jon Huntsman, Harry Reid, David Archuleta, Gladys Knight. We contributed openly to the “No on 8” campaign in California. We buy millions of dollars of ad space in major metropolitan markets. We send young men and women clad in suits and skirts to people’s doorsteps, asking them to change their minds about religion. We’re no longer tucked away on the edge of civilization — we’re becoming solidly integrated into mainstream American culture.
2. People don’t like us all that much. Despite the strides we’ve made in terms public visibility, people still aren’t sure what to make of us. According to a 2007 Gallup poll, the only groups less likely than Mormons to be elected to the Oval Office are homosexuals and atheists. We’re just plain unpopular. The left doesn’t like us for our less-than-progressive history with human rights. The religious right doesn’t like us because they believe we’re un-Christian, heretical, and dangerous. With that kind of animosity out there, it’s no wonder word gets around that there’s something a little “off” about the Mormons.
3. People are fascinated by us. Still, people want to know more about us. (And rightly so, because we’re totally fascinating!) 😉 My hunch is that the fascination stems from our squeaky-clean, highly successful exterior, contrasted with whisperings they hear about a “dark” and mysterious underground: polygamy, “secret” temple rituals, “magic” underwear. Something doesn’t add up, for how can such weirdness produce such seeming normalcy? They’re curious and suspicious and dying to get inside.
4. We don’t let them inside. Here’s where I think we need to accept some of the blame. Even though people are curious, we hold them at arms’ length. We take a solidly defensive and apologetic stance with society at large, expending massive amounts of public energy justifying our existence as opposed to just, well, existing. We are careful to give the right answers, dress the right way, put our best foot forward. At times we avoid engaging difficult issues about our past because we are afraid that by admitting faults or showing weakness we’ll confirm to the world that we really don’t deserve a place at the table. Of course, we do deserve that place, notwithstanding our human error, but until we can make peace with ourselves we will have a hard time making peace with others. Fortunately, this is one area where I see tremendous progress among our people, and something about which I am extremely optimistic.
5. We don’t tell our own stories. Perhaps as an extension of the point above, we’re afraid to tell our own stories. (And even when we do, the stories we tell are often from that apologetic, defensive stance, which just isn’t that interesting to most everyday people.) But because of the fascination factor, there is a demand for stories about Mormons! So what happens? Outsiders tell them. And they tell stories like Big Love and The Book of Mormon Musical and Under the Banner of Heaven. There is space here that we just aren’t filling, and this is another area where I believe we can make great strides as a people.
[EDITED TO INCLUDE] 6. They knew we’d be nice about it. I think another factor is that The Book of Mormon producers knew we wouldn’t freak out about the production, like what might have happened if they’d targeted fundamental Islam or even Christianity. In fact, they’ve been quoted as saying exactly that: “There may be protesters, but they probably won’t be Mormons because [they’re] just really nice.” They also said,
“The official church response was something along the lines of ‘The Book of Mormon the musical might entertain you for a night, but the Book of Mormon,’ — the book as scripture — ‘will change your life through Jesus,’ ” Stone says. “Which we actually completely agree with. The Mormon church’s response to this musical is almost like our Q.E.D. at the end of it. That’s a cool, American response to a ribbing — a big musical that’s done in their name.”
“Before the church responded, a lot of people would ask us, ‘Are you afraid of what the church would say?’ And Trey and I were like, ‘They’re going to be cool.’ And they were like, ‘No, they’re not. There are going to be protests.’ And we were like, ‘Nope, they’re going to be cool.’ We weren’t that surprised by the church’s response. We had faith in them.”
So there you have it. My take on why The Book of Mormon Musical was made now. What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Are there other factors contributing that I haven’t considered?
*I want to make a quick note here that I’m not offended or angry about The Book of Mormon per se, I’m just not sure it’s something my tender sensibilities could take. I don’t love bad language and blasphemy, which I’ve been told is in this production in spades, and I’ve become a bit of a sensitive soul in my old age when it comes to making fun of people’s religious beliefs. Having said that, I don’t doubt it’s a brilliant bit of theatre, and I totally recognize that people have different tastes. I’m not troubled by anyone, Mormon or otherwise, who enjoyed the show.
Posted on June 17, 2011, in Mormonism, News and Current Events, Pop Culture and tagged art, book of mormon musical, broadway, david archuleta, gladys knight, glenn beck, harry reid, literature, matt stone, mitt romney, Mormonism, mormons, proposition 8, religious tolerance, stories, theatre, tony awards, trey parker. Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.