At this point, the sense I have is that Mormon attitudes towards literature and media stabilized by the middle of the 20th century, and hasn’t changed too much since then. LDS leaders generally praise classic works, especially those from at least 50 years before the discourse, while cautioning against the bad in media, especially the portrayal of sex, violence and profanity. And speakers often complain about the declining values in the media.
Perhaps the following excerpts from an article by Spencer W. Kimball and his wife Camilla will give a sense of what I mean. In most ways their comments could appear in a Church magazine today, except for the references to current technology.
We know you’ve heard this one before, but please bear with us:
So a Jewish grandmother walks on a beach with her beloved grandson when a big wave suddenly sweeps the boy underwater. “Dear God Almighty,” cries Grandma, “how can you do this to me? I suffered all my life and never lost faith. Shame on you!” Not a minute passed by, and another big wave brings the child back to her arms safe and sound. “Dear God Almighty,” she says, “that’s very kind of you, I’m sure, but where’s his hat?”
An oldie we know, but a true classic. What is this joke really about? more →
In the latest issue of Sunstone (the latest for me, at least—I always get the new issues a couple weeks later than everyone else), Jack Harrell writes a provocative and, for me at least, difficult-to-argue-with essay about Mormon writing. In fact, I’m tempted to describe it as a manifesto. Sunstone won’t put it online for a few months, but I want to talk about it now.
He starts with calling Mormon artists out for our attitudes toward “two forces . . . [which] originated outside of Mormonism, and [that] tempt us to work below our station” (6). For simplicity’s sake in this review, I’ll refer to these forces as absolutism and postmodernism, but I want to be on record as saying that postmodernism means a lot of things to a lot of people and if you don’t how it’s been oversimplified in this post, get over it. more →
In all the counsel from LDS General Authorities during the history of the Church, it is easy to find criticism of the media, including suggestions that range from condemnations of fiction for being “untrue” to current criticisms over sex, violence and profanity. Less frequently we find suggestions that members should fill their homes with good media. And even less frequently has come advice that we should support good media—both financially by buying media that support our ideals and also by expressing gratitude for the efforts of those who produce that media.
In the following, then-Apostle Gordon B. Hinckley urgest exactly this latter support of media. more →
Here’s my second (and given the timing, probably final) installment on this year’s Whitney finalists, following my earlier post on middle grades finalists. I’ll remind you of my two caveats: spoiler alert, and opinionated reader alert. Feel free to chime in with your own opinions.
All I’ll say is that Ben’s writing and performance the first time around were powerful and I myself would love to know how he synthesizes what’s happened over the last two years.
Many of the characters in the play are friends of mine. In the last two years, one has come out of the closet and appeared on national television as a faithful, woman-married gay Mormon man. One gave up on his marriage. One is now fully active in his ward. One is getting married to his longtime boyfriend this summer.
And those are just the personal stories. The gay/Mormon relationship has changed in many ways since March 2011 on the macro level as well.
Ben’s work is honest and true, excellent in both art and craft, and exquisitely Mormon.
I’m not going to make any notable efforts to prevent “spoilers” in this review. For a few reasons. First, if you haven’t read the book yet, no one’s making you read this review. Besides—I’m pretty sure you already know the gist of this story. So any spoilers have little to do with what and much to do with how.
2. Uncorrelating the Savior
To start with, he’s generally called Jesus in this novel. Compare that to these instructions from the General Handbook of Instructions:
If the Savior is portrayed, it must be done with the utmost reverence and dignity. Only brethren of wholesome personal character should be considered for the part. The person who portrays the Savior should not sing or dance. When speaking, he should use only direct quotations of scriptures spoken by the Savior. more →
The idea that the audience might somehow control what the author writes could be considered a kind of post-modern concept, given the traditional view that literary works originate with authors and are then transmitted to readers. Somehow there is an assumption traditionally that the author is independent of his audience.
Of course that has never really been true, and even early in the development of literature authors acknowledge that they crafted their works to suit their audience and patrons. Still, the idea that a work might have been written quite differently had it been composed in another place and time can be somewhat jarring if you haven’t thought much about it. And, I suppose, it can be even more jarring if the works you are thinking about are considered scripture.