Friday, 28 November 2014

The Book of Mormon Musical and Thoughts about Intolerance

There has been a lot in the newspaper and on TV lately about tolerance and racism, especially with all the stuff that's been happening in Missouri. Son Number Three and I saw a recent segment on the news that ended with an appeal for viewers to send in their experiences with racism or intolerance. My son and I got to talking about it afterward. And he posed some good questions I couldn't really answer.

If someone made a foul and disrespectful musical about the Quran or the Torah, there would be protests and riots. It wouldn't be tolerated. But someone produces such a musical about the Book of Mormon and it wins Tony Awards. Why do we insist on courtesy toward other religions but say it's okay to poke fun at Mormons? My boss got tickets to attend the show and said she wanted to go because she'd heard it was foul. And she told me this with a grin as if she had no idea that this could possibly be hurtful to anyone. She's an intelligent and extremely educated woman who spends much of her life volunteering in an impoverished country. Her heart is good. So what's going on here?

Growing up LDS, and especially living outside of Utah, we've always been taught to just let it roll off our backs, to be peacemakers, to answer disrespect with genuine caring and kindness. We're told to laugh it off and say snappy things like, "Now that you've seen the musical, read the book!" We're to love our enemies. This has been engrained in us since our ancestors were forced out of their homes by armed mobs, since the pioneers trekked across the continent, since great-great-great-grandpa was shot in the back. And I completely agree that getting angry or belligerent is not the solution. I want to contribute to the peace in the world, not detract from it. For the most part I'm able to shrug it off, ignore it, don't let it get under my skin. I'll just quietly be who I am. I'm tough, right?

But when people I know and work with and respect, people who know I'm LDS, don't even realize they're doing something that belittles my religion -- any religion -- I admit it does hurt. How much more, then, does it hurt my child?

So I told my son to go ahead and write to the TV show and share what he was feeling about it. His response? A small smile, a shake of the head. Naah. Don't stir it up. Don't make trouble. What's the point? It's not a big deal.

I'm afraid he's been a good student.

1 comment:

  1. That is a tough one. I have had individual conversations with friends (mostly online) when they have been insensitive about our faith in different ways, and for the most part it has been productive and enlightening to us both. I've rarely taken such a public stance. But I don't believe that Christ's statement to "turn the other cheek" meant we cower or stay idle while His name is trampled. I need to stand as a better witness.

    The one time I really took a stance (well, wrote a letter) was when the HBO series "Big Love" was advertising that it was going to air elements of the temple ceremony on an upcoming episode. I felt sick at the thought. I know a lot of people wrote letters to them. I read an op-ed by a prominent Rabbi stating how disheartened he was to see this happening to another faith. I took the approach of writing to the writers of the show. At the time I was teaching an advanced writing class for students majoring in the arts and humanities (lots of theater and music majors, as well as visual artists). I told them how I often assigned the students to find and respond to professional writing samples of the assignments we were working on (artist statements, proposals, resumes, etc.). I then told them the area I was having difficulty finding samples for or even any decent instruction for my young artists was how to take the sacred of one culture and turn it into the profane. I wondered if the writers of the show could give me any tips of how to so thoroughly trample on the sacred beliefs of a religion or culture while also marketing it to their projected audience. Did they have any tips on desecrating ancient native burial grounds? Perhaps they might offer a lesson for me to give my students on how to mock the religious attire of a particular sect or minority group? I just couldn't find any decent literature or instruction on these matters in all my research for teaching writing to young artists, but these writers had seemed to have mastered the art of offense so completely, I would be indebted to them for such professional guidance. (The computer I was using at the time has since crashed, so I don't have a copy of the actual letter, but that's the gist). Their page assured me that they read every correspondence. I never did hear back, but it sure was cathartic to write.