Apropos of Something

This is me losing a game of chicken for the second time in a row.

1. I don’t have HBO. I have never seen an episode of Big Love. I once saw a few minutes of The Sopranos in a hotel room. It was not a life-changing experience. Some friends who have HBO introduced me to Flight of the Conchords. This cracks me up. Recycling’s not part of it, but it’s still very important! I am not into boxing. I am very close to canceling my current non-premium-channel-included cable package. It is expensive, and a vast majority of the programming sucks anyway.

2. I have read a fair amount about Big Love, including the bloggernacle’s recent Big Love-a-palooza. Also, it was interesting to read David Byrne’s thoughts on composing fake Mormon hymns for the show. The attempts of some mainstream media outlets to make Big Love’s recent temple scenes seem very controversial was predictable and kind of sad.

3. I like seeing Mormon characters, themes, and stories in wide circulation. And Big Love apparently gets some things right–some Mormons I respect actually like it. Yet it also seems to get a lot wrong. More troubling: like an unconstitutional raid in Texas, Big Love apparently blurs certain lines because doing so serves an agenda, increases entertainment value, or both.

4. I have heard speculation that Tom Hanks is using the show to exact his revenge against Mormons for their involvement in Proposition 8. As you know, the guy who played Buffy Wilson on Bosom Buddies has declared Mormons everywhere unAmerican! Other speculation I have heard: Big Love exists to increase tolerance for non-traditional family arrangements. Both items seem plausible, but who knows? Either way, I doubt that the glib show people behind Big Love are doing the show because they have genuine respect or sympathy for Mormons, fundamentalist/polygamist Mormons, or any other similarly tradition-bound group of people.

5. Polygamy interests me as a writer. I have a story coming out in the next issue of Dialogue called “Triptych: Plural.” Flannery O’Connor talked about the South being a “Jesus-haunted” place. The characters in “Triptych: Plural” are mainstream Mormons who are “polygamy haunted.” Also, I thought it was funny to have a character (a missionary) use polygamy to change the subject in an interview with his mission president in this story. And I am working on yet another story right now about mainstream Mormons grappling with polygamy. I have even worked up the basic outlines of a mystery/thriller about a former lost boy/converted Mormon law enforcement officer who attempts to infiltrate Hilldale/Colorado City. My point: part of me feels like I should check out Big Love for research purposes.

6. Setting the Mormon content aside, Big Love sounds like a tacky soap opera with a fair amount of awkward, simulated sex. Does the fact that such a show seems culturally significant say anything about the state of narrative art? Or is this just bad TV? Bad TV has always been with us, right?

7. The temple is a sacred place to me. Temple ordinances are sacred to me. I understand that these things are not sacred to some people. Still, it is wrong to take other people’s sacred things, remove them from their sacred context, and exploit them for entertainment purposes. I understand what it means to hold something sacred, so I would never do that to other people’s sacred things. I wonder if the people behind the Big Love temple scenes simply do not understand this. Maybe they hold nothing sacred. That thought makes me sad for them. Anyway, I think it is natural for Mormons to feel injured by Big Love’s exploitation of sacred Mormon things.

8. I feel absolutely no shame about the temple, temple ordinances, temple garments, or anything else. I actually like the idea of the temple and everything it entails seeming less secret and cultish to outsiders. The church PR office struck exactly the right tone. The church is strong, and there is no need to lose our heads. There is no need to act ashamed or more cultish than we actually are.

18 thoughts on “Apropos of Something”

  1. I could have written most of this (even though I didn’t — and I also already refuse to pay for cable) except for #5. I’m very excited to hear about these projects. I can’t wait for Triptych.

  2. Good for you, Shawn! Interesting list.

    Personally, it makes me nuts that so many, many Mormon writers are obsessed with polygamy but maybe that’s just because so few have done it “right” yet. What I mean by right, I’m not so sure. I guess I keep thinking I’ll know it when I read it. Maybe yours will be it!

  3. I have a polyANDRY project in the works, although it is post-apoc and enforced by martial law. Besides exploring our own history through it (turning it upside down), I’m digging deep into Nazi genetic experimentation.

  4. .

    Mojo—when I told my wife about that book she said Now that one sounds interesting.

    And Shawn—you ruined the surprise. Dialogue told me there were two (very different) polygamy-themed stories in the new issue and I was excited to see who wrote the other one. Ah well.

    I just can’t work up anything to say about the actual nothing so I shan’t.

  5. Th., I have to build that world from the ground up. I’m actually doing rules, laws, regulations; morphing the politics into a totalitarian regime; researching emergency procedures for utilities (water, electricity, gas, etc.). I’m using storyboards. I’ve never built a “world” before and it’s…daunting.

    At least, for me it is.

  6. That kind of stuff is fun, though. If you want some Romanian-influenced insights, e-mail me.

  7. ‘Big Love’ portrays how a non-traditional yet sincere form of romance and marriage (in the case of religious polygamy) can be fully human and worthy of understanding if not respect from the members of the wider culture.

    Four groups are portrayed.
    – “The Misunderstood” (the series’ flawed heroes): a protagonist family of indie polygs (sorry; “family living in plural marriage as a religious principle”)
    – “Quirky Run-of-the-mill Religious People”: various mainstream LDS
    – “Bad Guys”: FLDS-type extremist leaders and duped followers
    – “Peeps-who-provide-a-touchstone-of-(secular, of course)-NORMALCY”: some of the protagonist family’s kids, etc.

    Yep, mainstream Mormonism gets the habitual Hollywood treatment accorded organized Western religion, through its being lampooned some. But this is nuthin like the treatment accorded the series’ true heavies, the organized Utah fundamentalists. Does any of allathis come off as “hamhanded” at times? Absolutely. Still, in my opinion, once the basic stock pieces of the show’s drama are accepted or taken into account(…which, in any case, reflect the default positions/assumptions of the general-American, secular mainstream), one can come to appreciate the series’ achievement of a pretty uncommon level of naturalism for a televised soap opera — and some pretty good acting!

  8. Actually “Duped followers” aren’t necessarily Bad Guys. But the show does try to portray that such victims often cycle themselves into
    their being bad guys. (Nonetheless, the stark judgements woven into how the compound polygamists in general are portrayed is a weakness of the show IMO)

  9. Wm.: Thanks.

    Laura: A correction to my original post: I wouldn’t say that I am doing polygamy itself. At this point, for example, I don’t see myself writing an actual polygamous family. I am interested in mainstream Mormons and the cognitive dissonance surrounding polygamy.

    Mojo: That sounds pretty wild. Good luck!

    Th.: Sorry to blow the surprise. But I am excited to read your story. My request to you: give us a preview right here in the comments!

    Justme: Sounds very stereotypey. Is that HBO’s shtick? Sucking up to their audience by confirming their reductive, conventional-wisdom views of “others?”

  10. .

    Mine would only look like a polygamy story to a Mormon. Other people have that reset button called Till Death Do We Part.

  11. 1) My wife and I saw the first and half of the second seasons of Big Love on DVD. We tried to edit content some by have a trigger finger on the fast forward button– but eventually gave up on watching the series due to the content.
    However, we actually really enjoyed the storylines and characters. One would have to watch the series to truly judge it (not something I necessarily recommend… nobody’s obligated to understand every little piece of culture or entertainment and sometimes it’s better to be left out of the loop). But it does have some layers of complexity and empathy for even some of the traditional LDS characters (while others are reductive and nothing more than hatchet jobs– there was a portrayal of LDS missionaries which was particularly stupid and uninformed).
    However, the news about this episode with the temple has sworn me off of any interest I had in continuing with the series. Tom Hanks’ involvement with the series and his avowed ax to grind with the Church over Prop. 8 deflates any objectivity the series may have had. It’s intent was pretty clear to begin with, but after Prop. 8, I don’t expect it to be anything but a crusade against Mormons. Even if it turns out otherwise, airing the temple ceremonies is the fastest way to raise a Mormon’s anger… myself included.

  12. 2) That said, polygamy’s certainly not off topic within my own work (thus my initial interest in _Big Love_), especially since I’ve written a number of Church History plays. My most recent take on the topic is my upcoming play _The Fading Flower_ about Emma Smith and her children (especially David Hyrum Smith–the most interesting–, Joseph Smith III and Julia) and the conflict between the LDS and RLDS faiths. I think polygamy is a subject we as a people need to come to terms with, but not on HBO’s terms.

  13. That was interesting, especially considering that is a MINORITY view that the gay community seems to have toward polyamory.

  14. Well — yes:

    Part of our initial schematic was that we were going to explore the American family in relationship to marriage, to religion, to culture. It wasn’t an agenda, so much as a response to the way that certain people in America felt they could define families that weren’t traditional. So we started there, and we definitely started before Prop. 8, and we definitely mapped out Season 3 before Prop 8, so that we were almost finished shooting before Prop 8 really became an issue. —-WILL SCHEFFER (Big Love’s co-creator, March 30 LATimes)

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