Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Book of Mormon musical? I believe

The one thing I like most about “South Park” is the fact that it’s based in Colorado, neighbor to my home state of Utah. It’s probably too much to hope for a show based in Utah that isn’t overtly, sappily religious (“Touched By An Angel”) or that isn’t overtly, scatchingly anti-Mormon (“Big Love”) – so Colorado is going to have to be good enough.

And growing up in the Mormon-concentrated Intermountain West, it’s no surprise that show creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker would show some examples of the faith in their show. What’s surprising, though, is how much of the show has been dedicated to the LDS Church. This includes items such as Joseph Smith’s membership in the “Super Best Friends” (where he uses his ice powers to help save the day) and the fact that in the South Park-verse, although Jesus is Catholic and God is a Buddhist, only Mormons go to Heaven.

Matt and Trey have gotten a good amount of press coverage lately because of the Broadway musical called “The Book of Mormon.” (This Slate article on the subject is great.) Exactly what that entails remains to be seen; obviously the LDS leadership doesn’t like anyone else branding them … but if the episode “All About The Mormons” (available for viewing on the South Park site here) is an indication of their perspective, the musical will treat the religion favorably, which is why predictions that the LDS Church will boycott it are ridiculous.

If you (or someone you love) are LDS, I strongly recommend you watch this episode before forming an opinion about the musical. The basic premise is any religion’s super-natural tenets will look bizarre to outsiders, but the important thing is how those tenets affect their members’ behavior. The LDS family in the episode is portrayed as somewhat silly, yes, but overwhelming positive, loving, and civic-minded, whereas Stan and his family are portrayed as dysfunctional, intolerant, and violent. The episode’s closing lines speak for themselves:

Gary (the Mormon boy): Look, maybe us Mormons do believe in crazy stories that make absolutely no sense, and maybe Joseph Smith did make it all up, but I have a great life. and a great family, and I have the Book of Mormon to thank for that. The truth is, I don't care if Joseph Smith made it all up, because what the church teaches now is loving your family, being nice and helping people. And even though people in this town might think that's stupid, I still choose to believe in it. All I ever did was try to be your friend, Stan, but you're so high and mighty you couldn't look past my religion and just be my friend back. You've got a lot of growing up to do, buddy. Suck my balls.

Cartman: Damn, that kid is cool, huh?

From a rhetorical standpoint, the message of this episode is a more authentic, convincing advocacy of LDS teachings than anything church PR could come up with, because it's their job to say nice things about Mormonism, but it isn't Matt and Trey's. Modern-day audiences are too sophisticated to accept PR as anything other than PRopoganda, no matter how well it’s packaged, whereas an endearing portrayal by outsiders, set against the backdrop of a message about religious tolerance, reaches audiences that would never watch a church PSA. It sounds like "The Book of Mormon" is going to be in a similar vein, in which case I can't wait to see it.

And hey -- at least we have people talking about something other than Prop. 8.

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