Tuesday, May 01, 2007

PBS: "The Mormons"

People have been asking me all day: "What did you think?"

I found it boring, believe it or not. And I follow this stuff closely because of Article VI Blog, which I help write. Anytime a movie has me looking at my watch 30 minutes in, that's a bad sign.

I woke up this morning and asked myself: If I were completely new to Mormonism, and "The Mormons" were my first exposure to the Church, what would I come away from last night's episode thinking? These thoughts came to mind:

1. Joseph Smith was a charismatic rogue (and perhaps a charlatan), much like modern-day cult leaders. I would know very little of why so many normal, everyday people loved him.

2. The Mountain Meadows Massacre, rather than being a horrible atrocity that is not part of virtually any modern Mormon's religious life, is in fact critically important to the history of the Church and has some modern-day significance. (Otherwise, why would the event get 20 minutes of the documentary's time?)

3. Will Bagley is simply a "historian" who sure seems to know a lot about Mountain Meadows. I would have no idea that Bagley has published a book sharply critical of Brigham Young's role in the matter.

4. Margaret Toscano is simply a "writer" and just another keen observer of Mormonism, not someone famously excommunicated over disagreements with the Church leadership.

5. A talking head's status as a "former LDS educator" apparently does not raise any questions about his possible bias. I mean, if Ken Clark (the talking head) were part of an organization called The Exmormon Foundation, the filmmakers would have disclosed that. Right? Oops, looks like he is, and they didn't mention it.

6. Mormonism is all about polygamy, the splinter groups that still practice polygamy are a significant part of the modern Mormon experience, and many modern Mormons harbor a suppressed longing for the practice. (If I were a very careful and discerning viewer, I might wonder why a non-member anthropologist was the source of that latter interpretation of what Mormons think in their hearts.)

7. Boy, do those Mormons like to dance! (Anyone else find that emphasis a bit bizarre?)

I could go on. But those are the items that would stand out for me.


Blogger Jettboy said...

Nice look at the problems with the program. I admit there was nothing new or very enlightning about the show. Despite what the producer has said, it didn't have anything that would change anyone's views of Mormonism - in fact, reinforces some.

However, I have no idea what the average non-Mormon thought. Almost anyone who seems to have watched the show has been A) Reporters, B)Mormons and C)former or disgruntled Mormons.

My personal reaction for the first part? Whatever.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007 11:39:00 AM  
Anonymous Robyn Geantil said...

Even my 82 yr old sister who left the church in the 70's over the ERA said " It was a grim program, dark,dismal, and very strange"

Tuesday, May 01, 2007 1:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I woke up early this morning (Australia) with a headache, after taking a tablet I thought I would check out if PBS had placed the program online. It was an exciting 2 hours. I feel that they were fair to both sides. While it is many years since I was LDS I still feel some sympathy for them, can see the positive things but feel frustrated at some of the historical and theological issues

Tuesday, May 01, 2007 1:28:00 PM  
Blogger glskankey said...

As an active LDS and a history grad. I find this program much less than meets the eye. This much I can say I'm not interested in part 2.
Some observations: they didn't have Sandra Tanner, but Will Bagley filled those shoes well. As to Mountain Meadows they still lacked important contects, to wit that Brigham Young had sent the Mormon Raiders (Lot Smith, Porter Rockwell, and Others) to slow the advance of Johnson's Army. They were instructed by Brigham Young to NOT KILL anyone in the Army only to harrass them in there progress to Salt Lake. This also ment stealing horse (which were returned) and burning Army property and the Prairies ahead of the Army. The reasoning Bagley gives contradicts the politics of the time.
Further as to polygamy. I have Three Great-Great Grandfathers who were Polygamous, I'm proud of them. But there sons and son's sons weren't polygamous and I'm proud of them too!! In other words, that was then this is now. If anything I view my polygamous ancestor like an Australian views their Convict past. That is it was once scorned but now embraced. i have pride in my faith and heritage. Unfortunately, "The Mormons" is nothing to be proud of

Tuesday, May 01, 2007 5:26:00 PM  
Anonymous macfan1950 said...

The program was indeed dark on many levels. My daughter, a musician, picked up immediately on the eerie background music at the beginning. Even the narration contained a lot of strange wording, for instance:
- (When discussing “Church adaptation”) "Even the Tabernacle Choir has a new emphasis on Jesus and Biblical themes."
- "Over 50% [of new converts] will fall away."
- "...the new and strange practice of baptism for the dead..."
- "...baptized deceased people..."
- "...the Manifesto, which Wilford Woodruff only later called a revelation.

Then, how about all the weird stuff from the Tal Bachman's missionary experience with swamp scenes and saying that if his mission president asked him to be a suicide bomber, he would have done it!

Basically, it was a very secular piece. The narration talked about people doing things, but rarely, if ever, said anything about God or Christ directing the work.

On the positive side, the very best part for me from Elder Jensen when he told of his mission experience. That is what the Mormon experience is about.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007 9:26:00 AM  
Blogger Stephen said...

I only caught part of the disaster relief segment, which was nicely done.

As for the rest, I'd guess it was just typical pandering and stretching for market share and attention and resale value.

Thursday, May 03, 2007 6:22:00 AM  
Anonymous Scotty said...

You've captured the same feeling I got while watching this train-wreck. I felt this was a platform for Excommunicated Mormons to vent their spleens a bit. But to give some balance they spliced in the "apologetics" viewpoint. I think they had about a 70/30 split of anti/apologist views.

I also had a problem with the production value. I think they showed the same "art work" 50 times, over and over again. I'm not positive but I belive that art was done by (you guessed it) an excommunicated mormon artist. And those chairs, those empty chairs, oh those horrible, awful, empty chairs. Please don't make me look at those chairs anymore.

There were a few bright points but you had to wade throught too much garbage. I feel "The Mormons" was overall a poorly produced documentary.

Thursday, May 03, 2007 12:52:00 PM  
Blogger buyer said...

After watching this "documentary" it made me wonder if PBS were to produce a similar documentary on Blacks, would they ask the KKK to research and present their history. It's amazing to me that after all this time that Mormons are still persecuted.

Saturday, May 05, 2007 8:47:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very impressed by Mormon's work in disaster relief. Much said on this blog about a negative spin on the Mormons. I think it's been very balanced.

Monday, May 14, 2007 12:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to say that as an outsider (my previous idea of mormons were 2 men in black suits walking together and polygamy), I found this film quite eye-opening. I don't think the OP can tell what non-mormons will get out of this documentary since as a mormon you will only see it through your own eyes. But thanks for trying though.

Monday, May 21, 2007 3:48:00 PM  

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