Clarification on the B o M

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Ok.  As I said, I enjoyed the Book of Mormon but it made me strangely uncomfortable.  It wasn't actually the poking fun at Mormons that made me uncomfortable (and I will explain that in a minute - because I had to think about it) but it was the stuff about Africa.  If you haven't seen Book of Mormon and are worried I might spoil it for you, skip this post.  If you have seen it, you know what I mean.  It was supposed to make you uncomfortable.  It's an upbeat humorous musical set in a village that is rampant with AIDS and terrorized by a raping and pillaging warlord.  When I worked at the Shoah Foundation, we called it gallows humor. It is when you find something to laugh about in the most horrific of situations.  I actually like gallows humor (with limits), which is why I enjoyed the show, but it is meant to make you feel uncomfortable.  Plus, in this case, it's how the show makes it's point - which I am not even quite sure I've figured out yet.

As to why I didn't mind them poking fun at Mormons.  I did at first.  I was thinking, "This is a whole show about making fun of a group of people"...so I wasn't sure if I was comfortable with that.  Usually when I am trying to decide if I am comfortable with something, I put myself in that position.  Needless to say, there has been endless entertainment and similar satire written and performed at the expense of Jews since the beginning of time  - some produced by Jews and some by non-Jews.  Most of the time, I hardly think about it.  With that in mind, I don't think that Book of Mormon really crossed a terrible line but that is why I wanted to hear what Mormons would say about it.  It obviously exaggerated a lot of stereo typical Mormon traits like - being super upbeat/glass half full, being all-American goodie two shoes-y, and being super white.  But, I really have no idea what kind of sense of humor Mormons have about themselves.  Is Book of Mormon to Mormons like the Passion of the Christ is to Jews (not that any of us have seen it but we hate it)?  Or is there a more "Woody Allen" vibe?  I have no idea. 

I can laugh at a lot of Jewish stereotypes - like the Jewish mother stereotypes, and the Jewish American Princess stereotypes, and all of the Jewish neurosis.  But I get offended when people make jokes about Jews being super cheap....or using "Jew" as a verb or adjective meaning cheap.  I have met my fair share of cheap Jews - and my fair share of cheap every other kind of person also.  I also find that most people who make the Jew=cheap joke to me are people who I consider to be kind of cheap, so I am not sure about how that one came to be.  But, generally speaking, I find "my people" to be generous and philanthropic...but of course, that isn't always the case.  I am sorry about the others (though I don't think of them as my responsibility).  And, there are other stereotypes of Jews that I find offensive and disgusting... but whatever, I don't need to list them.  You know what they are (and if you don't, even better).  I don't mind provocative, and there is a fine line, but I draw at racism. Anyway, I'm not sure which stereotypes push a Mormon's buttons.  I've never really discussed it with a Mormon.  

Regardless, I liked the music, the sets were awesome, everyone in the show was amazing.  So, I enjoyed it.  It's also possible that I've over-analyzed a little too much - like:
Was the point of the show that Mormonism is a made up  religion?
Or, were they saying that who cares if Mormonism is made up if it brings happiness and hope to a village.
Or, maybe they were saying that when religious people go on these kinds of missions that they are getting in way over their heads.
Or, maybe they were saying that we need to be paying more attention to Africa.
Or, maybe they were saying that Mormons are not in touch with their emotions. (All of the Mormons I know are pretty in touch with their emotions but maybe this is a stereotype of Mormons?)
Or, maybe that Mormons are unusually upbeat, even when the world is crumbling around them? (That would be the opposite stereotype than the Jewish one of complaining even when things are perfectly fine).

I'm going to leave it there but would love to hear what you think.  I know I have some Mormon readers so I'd be interested to hear that perspective.  For me, getting Ted to a musical is what it was really all about.  He got us tickets for my birthday.  He came up with the idea all on his own.  Such an awesome gift.  The last musical production we saw together was Wicked (also for a birthday several years back - also at the uncomfortable Pantages theater).   Let's just say that Ted is not a fan of musicals.  Perhaps he'd be more interested if someone could produce a musical about the zombie apocalypse.  He did, however, watch "Rock of Ages" with me last weekend, and I'm pretty sure he enjoyed it, since he joined me in singing most of the music out loud in our living room.  (Rent "Rock of Ages", especially if you were a teenager in the 80s.  I promise you: every song is a hit).  I love musicals.  I often wish life were a musical - the last few years would be filled with sad Les Miserables type songs.  I'm hoping the future features a few more upbeat numbers as well.

And by the way, look what I just found:
http://www.vice.com/en_uk/read/i-asked-some-mormons-what-they-thought-about-the-book-of-mormon
&
http://articles.latimes.com/2012/sep/07/entertainment/la-et-cm-mormon-mormons-20120907

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

I LOVED Rock of Ages....totally took me back to a much more simple time for me. The worst worry I had was if my Mom was going to catch me sneaking back in from the Poison concert!!! Which fyi she did because my sister ( my partner in crime) was suppose to stay away so she could come back downstairs and unlock the door for me. She fell asleep, I got caught and was grounded for a month. The concert was totally worth it!

Unknown said...

Are you talking about the BOM play? if it is so, Mormons have NOTHING to do with it. It will be like saying that Muslims and Catholics are the same. or making a play about the Muslim prophet about him been a homosexual, and not having 72 virgins waiting for you up there. nothing to do with the Koran.
Get your thoughts together and then write something coherent.
take care.

Abby Leviss said...

Thanks Unknown....for putting me in my place. I will work on getting my thoughts together before I say a thing about anything. I appreciate your commentary.....

Abby Leviss said...

And, by the way, I'd say that we Jews have a pretty good sense of humor about ourselves. Note exhibit A: http://www.frumsatire.net/2014/01/22/reasons-girls-should-put-tefillin-on/#more-17896

Lindsey said...

I haven't seen the play, so maybe my comment doesn't really apply, but I am a mormon. Like, straight from Utah, Mormon and I appreciate your caring and non-judgemental attitude.

From the outside looking in, Mormons are a little kooky, I get that. But when you really get to know our religion and us personally I think you'll see a different story. I love all the stereo-types on us, mostly because they have a little truth to them.

From what I've gathered, it's a silly play that we CHOOSE not to get offended over. Actually sounds like a good time. I'm glad you got to spend some time with your husband.

If you ever want to know more about the LDS church www.lds.org

Lindsey said...

P.S. Unknown, you're cute :) :) :) :) I appreciate your commentary too, in fact you should take it somewhere else :) :)

Abby Leviss said...

Thank you Lindsey! I'm glad that you understood what I was saying! I love Mormons quite honestly. I've been very supported by many Mormon ladies since losing Max. It seems like an incredibly supportive community to be a part of as well.

Anonymous said...

btw, i watched BOM over the weekend as well.

unknown said that Mormons have nothing to do with the play. Not true. Check the playbill. The Church LDS has actually purchased advertising space in the playbill. Says something like if you like the play you will love the book.

so as far as i can tell, the Church has a great attitude and sense of humor about the obviously fictional play.


Abby Leviss said...

I saw that too! That was an awesome move on their part! Really smart.

Taryn said...

It sounds like it was a fun night for y'all! How cool of Ted to think to get you show tickets?! From all you have shared about him, he sure is a great guy and amazing husband and father! Happy Belated Birthday to you!!! You deserve all the best!
I thought your take on the play was an interesting one. I'm a Mormon, but don't live in a place where The Book of Mormon is playing, so I can't really give my take on it (yet:).
As a former missionary myself, and an having graduate with a degree in International Development, I can say that, if anything my mission created a spring board for my deep interest in the problems plaguing the world, and THAT ultimately drove me to focus my university education on development upon my return. I'd like to hope that I, and many of my church-going friends, don't fit the stereotypes we all hear, but you never know :).
I think, from what you said, I too would probably be more disturbed by the Africa content being used as the backdrop of a silly show poking fun at Mormons than the actual Mormon stereotypes that provide comic relief. I hope that the very real issues of genocide, war, rape, genital mutilation, deadly disease etc. etc. etc. are not overshadowed or downplayed for some laughs about how quirky/out of touch etc. Mormons are. That's what would bother me about the show as a Mormon who actually takes these human issues very seriously. Hopefully that wasn't the case though, and some attention was drawn to the real problems facing the world, because more of us certainly need that!

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