I had the following thought recently: does Mormonism need its own version of the Bechdel Test?
The Bechdel test (to quote from the BoingBoing post linked to above)…
asks three questions: 1. Are there two or more women in it that have names? 2. Do they talk to each other? 3. Do they talk to each other about something other than a man?
I bring this up because, to be frank, I’m tired of the same stuff coming up again and again in both cultural products and news commentary that involve Mormonism, especially when it ignores the realities and complexities of modern Mormonism. Almost of it flattens us a people and elides vast parts of our beliefs, socio-cultural practices and history. Actually, let’s ignore the news commentary — that’s probably a separate list of tropes that should be put together (and that list starts with magic underwear and the Mountain Meadows Massacre). The same is true of some of the cultural references; however, where there are actual Mormon characters in narrative art, there needs to be some sort of way to evaluate how they are being deployed (or not-so-much deployed).
I don’t think we can formulate this quite like the Bechdel test. Almost every work of narrative art has women in it; most don’t have Mormons. So perhaps it’s something more like: Do the Mormons have names? Do they get to talk at all? When they talk or are talked about is it about something other than Mormonism? If it is about Mormonism, does it go beyond the tired tropes? Are the Mormons being used as stand ins for generic cultural conservatism? This all lacks the snap of the Bechdel test which is devestatingly awesome in its simplicity so help me out here. What would you suggest?
I also want to be clear that this not a call for Mormon apologetics in culture. Not every use of Mormonism needs to be positive or thorough or even super-nuanced. Certainly it’s valid for writers to use Mormons as a type of cultural shorthand in some cases. But by the same token, creators of Mormon narrative art should be attuned to how they’re doing it. The Bechdel test is an effective piece of criticism. Perhaps Mormons need their own version.
Oh, and I propose we call it the Pratt Test in honor of Orson Parley P. Pratt who vigorously defended Mormonism by emphasizing its unique doctrines (and yes, there’s a bit of a mean pun there, which is fully intentional [as in those who fail the test are…]. Hmmm. So maybe that’s not the best idea. Maybe call it instead the Orson test in reference to Orson Pratt, Orson F. Whitney and Orson Scott Card).
12/4/2011: edited to reflect the fact that it was Parley — not Orson that I was thinking of. Although Orson also did write several defenses of Mormon doctrine.