Thursday, January 26, 2006

Utah and Mormon Culture.

I hope that my title did not scare anyone away. This is not a rant per se, I am not about to complain about someone else's culture but have to get this off my chest, I grew up Mormon in Utah so this is about my culture.

An L.D.S. ( Latter Day Saint: Mormon) friend of my wifes lent us a made for Mormons by Mormons, movie titled Singles Ward. I watched it with a certain amount of trepidation; it would not be funny, I would have to explain all the jokes to my wife, it would be too much like what they show in church.

I was surprised at how funny it actually was. The director really had a good time with Mormon cultural norms, without making fun of church doctrine and without a bunch of jokes about its polygamous past. The funniest part of the movie, for me was when the main character has a "spiritual"(spirchtal: in Utah speak) epiphany and begins to "bare his testimony" when his three friends (who provide most of the comic relief throughout the film) interrupt him with " who are you talking to" and " you were starting to sound like a seminary video." (every Mormon kid in high school is expected to spend part of their day in religious instruction, taught by church approved teachers.)

Being able to bare witness to the belief that the LDS church's teachings are true, in most Mormons stories, is a climactic moment. That the film maker was able to lightly mock that particular moment in this characters story was nothing short of amazing to me.

Despite these moments and jabs at Mormon culture, deep down it was a pretty typical Mormon story. A guy, who has grown up in the Mormon church, falls into inactivity after divorcing his wife. (The ex wife , a convert, decides she has had enough, leaves him and the church.) He ends up meeting a beautiful Mormon woman and is compelled through "sexual attraction" ( Women in the church stories are always portrayed as being much purer than the men.) to come back to the fold. He resists a little but eventually sees the truth has an epiphany and comes back. He, of course, "marries" is sealed to the woman who has managed through love, purity, perseverance ,not to mention the best looking woman in the singles ward, to bring the wayward son back. Mormons love this story and is not to surprising that these Mormon movie pioneers used it as a vehicle.

How non-Mormons in the movie are portrayed was what bothered me the most. They basically spent their time smoking, drinking beer, and laughing at Mormons. The sentiment seemed to be that the only reason to leave the church or to remain a non-member was so you could do what you want; as if non-members are a bunch of perpetual teenagers smoking and drinking because ruining their bodies is really what they want. This stereotype is not so surprising, I remember while growing up that if I saw someone smoking I immediately assumed that they were lost and possibly evil. This rule applied to people who I spotted buying beer or going into a bar, since I never did see anyone actually drinking alcohol, I had to assume that they were partaking of those insidious beverages that were forbidden to me.

This typical, non-Mormon stereotype, is another way that Mormons are able to support their beliefs. If you have fallen away from the church, it is because you don't want to give your time to God and would rather spend that time on more worldly pursuits. Never mind that plenty of former Mormons leave for philosophical reasons and not always because they would prefer beer over worshiping God. (If it were just about beer for me I would have gone back years ago.)

If you don't know anything about Utah-Mormon culture many of the jokes won't make sense but it is a good look at what the culture is like. If you are an ex-Mormon you may find yourself laughing one moment then rolling your eyes the next.


KC said...

Wow I hadn't thought of the Mormons stereotyping us heathen quite that way. That said, is that some sort of key to their evangelistic success? People feel like crud and somehow thing that giving up on caffeine and other stuff will provide Heaven on Earth?

Anonymous said...

Leave the Mormon church, move to Moab, drink beer and hike a lot. I have become the perfect heathen!

Love Collette