Card beats Lund (a “Bushman beats Brodie” derivative)

February 2, 2004 | 68 comments
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Since we’ve been talking so much about Mormon art lately–particularly literature, but also in our liturgy and environment, and in our films–I thought it was time to drop the other shoe, set aside issues of aesthetics and ethics for the moment, and do what every likes best: make lists.

My wife is a voracious reader of fiction. (I once was, and I hope someday to be so again, but graduate school knocked that out of me, and I probably won’t have the time to recultivate that skill until I’m safely tucked away on some tenure-track somewhere. For now, I’m more a movie guy.) She’s always on the lookout for good books, and will take recommendations from anyone. She (and I) have read very little Mormon literature in recent years, however; it’s not like were anywhere near the epicenter of Mormon art, and so she (and I) are probably missing some good–or at least pretty good–stuff. When we lived in Utah, we were both much closer to the Mormon arts/intellectual scene, and were able to stay on top of things. But now, we’re dependent on word of mouth. So, if you have any preferences, likes or dislikes, why not use this thread to discuss them. My wife and I thank you.

Get things rolling, some provocative, perhaps ill-informed judgments:

1) I’ve never read a word of Gerald Lund’s The Work and the Glory. However, I am prejudiced against it, on the basis of two admittedly weak reasons: a) people whose artistic judgment I seriously question have told me that it’s wonderful reading; b) because the success of that series has spawned numerous imitators, about which we receive Deseret Book advertisements all the time, which I find annoying.

2) Orson Scott Card isn’t as good as he used to be. His 70s and 80s short fiction was some of the best I’ve ever read; over the last decade or two, however, he’s turned philosophical, pedantic and moralistic. (This I should, note, is an extremely ill-informed judgment, begging for critique: I haven’t read a Card novel since “Enchantment,” which I thought dragged.)

3) The very idea of a Mormon romance genre makes me ill.

4) Richard Dutcher’s second film, Brigham City, was not only far superior to God’s Army, but was a fine thriller and powerful psychological study on its own terms. There are numerous big-time, critically-acclaimed directors of serious films who have produced work that lacked the moral coherence and tautness of that movie. The fact that the Mormon audience did not respond well, thus sending Dutcher’s fortunes into a (I hope temporary) tailspin is a tragedy.

5) Melissa’s wants to know: good grief people, we’re a family-oriented church–where’s all the Mormon children’s and youth literature? The Deseret Books catelogues have picture books for 2-year-olds, and then they jump up to off-to-college/Jack-Weyland/dating-guide-type stuff. Is no one writing for adoloscents? (Melissa, by the way, is convinced that this is where the very best fiction writing is being done today.)

Have at it.

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68 Responses to Card beats Lund (a “Bushman beats Brodie” derivative)

  1. Davis Bell on February 2, 2004 at 12:28 pm

    When I was a teenager, my Mom was constantly foisting on me books targeted at LDS teenagers; I hated 90% of them. Two exceptions: “The Search for Wallace Whipple” by Donald Smurthwaite, and “The Miracle of Miss Willie” by Alma J. Yates.

  2. lyle on February 2, 2004 at 1:25 pm

    Russell:

    I think the “Tennis Shoes/Nephites” series is aimed at Teens. I haven’t read it. Also…how much do Teens/Tweens really read? DB/Signature, etc. are all aiming at the 1st two standard deviations of readers…to maximize their profits; i.e. if they don’t think they can sell 10,000 copies…they won’t print it.

    Also, a friend of mine, Ian Thompson (BYU Law, 2003), questons whether Mormonism has any significance to any genre; i.e. he avoides LDS Blogs and LDS anything…except for Church.

    With that caveat:
    1. Card recently wrote prequells to his Ender’s Game series. I found them to have the same quality of the originals…and very good reading. Highly recommended.
    2. Why is a Mormon Romance genre bad? If it follows secular types…either with RMs sleeping around, etc…bad writing, etc…then yeah, that’s bad. Yet…why cede an area that admittedly alot of women, and some men, are really into?
    3. Lund’s books can be very insightful re: church history and ‘visualizing’ what may/may not have happened. However, his writing style is boring, the same, the same, and the same. He has ‘set’ sentences to describe the same type of event (her eyes teared up with the spirit, or something similar, etc)…and while I’ve felt some spiritual nourishment…and can get quite wrapped up in the books…i’d like someone to do what he is doing (I happen to love proto-neo-historical fiction)…but with more writing talent.

    of course…i might fit into your Lund disqualifier #1…lol.

  3. Kaimi on February 2, 2004 at 1:32 pm

    I haven’t read any Lund. However, I have sat through more than one testimony meeting where a member bore their testimony of Lund’s books. . .

  4. Bob Caswell on February 2, 2004 at 1:32 pm

    Russell (and all)-

    I probably should agree with you that Card isn’t as good as he used to be because I too loved his 70s and 80s short fiction and Ender’s Game will always be a classic in my mind. But I want you to tell me more on why you thought Enchantment dragged. I nearly read the whole book in one night and absolutely loved it. In my mind, it’s a close second to Ender’s Game. But that could just be me.

    As far as Mormon movies… Here, I also agree with you that Brigham City was far superior to God’s Army. I hate to be the one to break this unfortunate news to bloggers, but it looks like due to lack of funding, Dutcher has officially scrapped (hopefully just postponed) his “The Prophet” project and just barely started filming “God’s Army II” largely because he got a chunk of money from good ol’ Larry H. Miller. Isn’t that sad? Even in Mormonism, it’s more movie business than movie art.

    I know I’ve mentioned this, but when “Saints and Soldiers” comes out (probably in April), go and see it! To me, it’s the best Mormon movie yet.

  5. lyle on February 2, 2004 at 1:37 pm

    I’m still predicting that The Passion will be the biggest “LDS” watched movie of the year.

  6. Julie in Austin on February 2, 2004 at 1:38 pm

    (I have been lurking for awhile; this is my first post.)

    I would recommend the series about African-American LDS pioneers by Young and Gray. While it isn’t the *best* fiction I have ever read, the writing is above-average and the story is engrossing.

    I am a published author (nonfiction, however) and my very limited experience in LDS publishing leads me to conclude that the small market (composed in large number of people who prefer warm fuzzies over critical engagement) explains the current state of LDS lit more than anything else.

  7. Bob Caswell on February 2, 2004 at 1:41 pm

    Lyle-

    Have you ever been in Utah for six months or longer? I hate to keep revisiting this issue (and I just posted on it at http://www.bobandlogan.com)but if “The Passion” is rated R, there is not a snowball’s chance in hell that it could be the biggest LDS watched movie.

  8. brayden on February 2, 2004 at 1:46 pm

    Here’s a bet I’m willing to make: The Passion will fair better among LDS viewers than The Last Temptation of Christ. Sorry but I couldn’t resist comparing the two R-rated films.

  9. Bob Caswell on February 2, 2004 at 1:56 pm

    brayden-

    You’re probably right but all I’m saying is that any R rated movie knocks out more than half of the Utah Mormon population. So those of us who are R watchers better watch “The Passion” twice if we want it to be the biggest LDS watched movie.

  10. Renee on February 2, 2004 at 2:50 pm

    I read the Work and the Glory. It was alright. It is an entertaining way to learn some more of church history. His Kingdom and the Crown series is good, IMO.

    I think _The Dinner Club_ by Curtis Taylor is the oddest LDS fiction I’ve read. It involved a strip club, drugs, and general self destruction.

    Robert Farrell Smith always entertains me but I don’t think it’s epic art. Just a fun read. His books give us an opportunity to laugh at our idiosyncrasies.

  11. lyle on February 2, 2004 at 3:25 pm

    Bob:

    I guess I just have an eternal hope that individuals will not blindly follow culture over counsel. I have NEVER read anything by an Apostle stating Rated-R movies should be avoided. If there is please, correct me. I have read that we should avoid sex and violence.

    So what if The Passion has an R rating? The Church produced the Lamb of God…and I thought that was rather violent. Should we not watch it?

  12. lyle on February 2, 2004 at 3:35 pm

    pre. s.: Add Jennifer Government from Max Barry to the list. Ok, so it isn’t “LDS” written fiction; but…there is a chapter (29) in the book that takes place in a “The Church of Latter Day Saints Charity Hospital, King’s Cross” in Sydney.

    p.s. Bob, actually, I grew up in Utah and only left last april to live in Philly. I was just there for the holidays. And yes, I think too much ‘leaven’ in one place means that it isn’t as efficient and is likely to start going bad.

  13. Greg Call on February 2, 2004 at 3:54 pm

    A shameless notice of my sportswriter brother’s entries into the Mormon-young-adult-fiction genre: Jeff Call’s _Mormonville_ (AML review here: http://www.aml-online.org/reviews/b/B200268.html ) and _Rolling with the Tide_ (Meridian mention here: http://www.meridianmagazine.com/books/031208christmas.html ).

    I can think of only one Mormon fiction book I’ve read, which was _Dancing Naked_ by Robert Van Wagoner. It’s prevalent Freudianism got annoying, but it was sharply written and had a few moving scenes.

  14. Scott on February 2, 2004 at 6:13 pm

    Lyle,

    In the Priesthood Session of the April 1986 General Conference, President Ezra Taft Benson said, “Don’t see R-rated movies or vulgar videos or participate in any entertainment that is immoral, suggestive, or pornographic.” (You can read the full text of the talk at the Church’s web site in the May 1986 Ensign. The talk is titled “To the ‘Youth of the Noble Birthright.’”)

    Scott

  15. Scott on February 2, 2004 at 6:28 pm

    Lyle,

    In the Priesthood Session of the April 1986 General Conference, President Ezra Taft Benson said, “Don’t see R-rated movies or vulgar videos or participate in any entertainment that is immoral, suggestive, or pornographic.” (You can read the full text of the talk at the Church’s web site in the May 1986 Ensign. The talk is titled “To the ‘Youth of the Noble Birthright.’”)

    Scott

  16. Melissa on February 2, 2004 at 6:42 pm

    Bob –
    Enchantment dragged for the same reason I find myself annoyed at most of Card’s recent fiction: he spends way the hell to much time philosophising and not enough time just telling the story. Period. _Rebekah_ is probably second to _Speaker for the Dead_, which in my opinion is his finest bit of science fiction. _Ender’s Game_ is a great novel, but doesn’t pack the moral weight that Speaker does. I liked _Ender’s Shadow_; it was a good parallel companion to Enders Game. But in _Shadow of the Hegemon_, Card fell back into his usual ruts. And I thought _Shadow Puppets_ was just bad.

    Lyle –
    Teens do read fiction; some of them read a lot. And they expect it to be good. When I was a teenager, I skipped what I figured was crap in the youth fiction section and went straight to adult fiction. I’m now making up for what I missed.

    Melissa Fox

    P.S. Part of the problem with living in Jonesboro, Arkansas is that there’s a lot we can’t read because of availiabilty.

  17. Kaimi on February 2, 2004 at 6:52 pm

    Melissa / Russell:

    Perhaps you could clarify a little by what you mean by “writing for adolescents.” Are you talking about writing for the 8-10 year old ages? For what it’s worth, I’ve always thought that Weyland and such were aimed at about ages 14 and up. So you’re talking about the pre-Mia Maid audience?

  18. Russell Arben Fox on February 2, 2004 at 6:54 pm

    “In the Priesthood Session of the April 1986 General Conference, President Ezra Taft Benson said, ‘Don’t see R-rated movies or vulgar videos or participate in any entertainment that is immoral, suggestive, or pornographic.’”

    Over the years it’s fun (for me, at least) to keep track of all the different ways I’ve heard this comment spun:

    1. Presidnet Benson is dead–and I don’t follow dead prophets; I follow the living one.

    2. If he’d really meant it, he would have made it one of the temple recommend interview questions.

    3. It was part of an address to the Aaronic priesthood; if he’d meant it to apply to everyone, he’d have said it during one of the Sunday sessions.

    4. If something isn’t regularly repeated during subsequent general conferences, then it probably isn’t an “active” principle (this is, of course, a variation on the Hobbesian “silence of the law”).

    And this just scratches the surface. You can get really hermeneutical with this one if you want to.

    Me, I watch a lot movies, a fair number of which are R-rated. I’m quite certain that means President Hinckley would not approve of my entertainment choices. For now, I’m dealing with it.

  19. Kaimi on February 2, 2004 at 6:55 pm

    Okay, continuing to think this over, are you asking where the Mormon analogue is to A Wrinkle in Time? Harry Potter? The Dark is Rising? (Can you tell I like fantasy). Or is it more of the Encyclopedia Brown genre you’re aiming at? Or the Island of the Blue Dolphins genre? Or is it really either one?

  20. Nate Oman on February 2, 2004 at 6:56 pm

    How?

  21. Kaimi on February 2, 2004 at 6:59 pm

    Nate, you’re not allowed to post one-word questions (such as “how?”) in an unthreaded comment board, where no one has any idea what prior thread you’re asking “how” about.

    That’s 1 1/2 demerits. :)

  22. Melissa on February 2, 2004 at 7:01 pm

    My problem with Mormon “youth fiction” (other than the label, but that’s another story) is not that there isn’t any — it has been demonstrated here that there’s some — but that none of it is stuff I’d read, or would like my children to read. None of it is “good”. It’s trite, poorly written (read Lyle’s comments on Lund, they apply to anything Jack Weyland has written), and lack any weight. How many times can I cry because someone left the Church and came back? Or is dying of cancer and finds their soul mate? Whatever. Granted, I’m just going off assumptions: I haven’t read a Mormon youth fiction novel in years. [That's why we're asking for recommendations.--Russell]

    Also, Russell was wrong: the last time I was in a Church bookstore (in Nauvoo, in September), I couldn’t find a single picture book for my girls (ages 3 and 7) that I was willing to pay money for.

    Melissa

  23. Russell Arben Fox on February 2, 2004 at 7:15 pm

    Kaimi, Melissa tells me to write (she’s had to sit down and feed the baby):

    “Yes, all the above. You’ve just named five good works of youth fiction. Most Mormon fiction for teen-agers, from what I can tell, is specifically meant to keep teen-agers in the church. After a while, why would you want to read that? If your testimony is dependent upon a work of fiction, you’re in trouble. To me, Mormon fiction shouldn’t be out there to inspire anybody; it should use Mormons (people an LDS teen-ager can relate to) to do things that entertain, that tell a good story. I’m not greatly concerned about the lack of stories for adolescents or teen-agers, because there is, as you note, a lot of good stuff out there. I’d just like to see one of these stories one of these days have a Mormon as the main character: not to inspire, but to just show that it can be done, that not all of our stories have to be about churchy things.”

  24. lyle on February 3, 2004 at 12:19 am

    Russell:

    Thanks for the more comprehensive list.

    Scott: I’ll take Russell’s option #3. The talk was aimed towards the “Youth.” Does this prevent me from becoming ‘childlike’? Perhaps. But there are different standards for what is appropriate entertainment for adults, youth and children. I challenged you because this is the ONLY talk by an apostle on the subject. Several GAs have opined on the topic…and aimed at the general membership, but it has always been couched in “violent” or “nudity/sexual” warnings…not Rated R per se.

    Melissa:
    I relate. I did something similar and now hope to acquire/read all the newbery books.

  25. Bob Caswell on February 3, 2004 at 1:31 am

    Russell (ALL)-

    Thanks for your take on the GA quote. One classic reason that didn’t make your list, but is one of my personal favorites, is the fact that most things GAs say don’t have an invisible “thus saith the Lord”. Heaven forbid a prophet gives us plain “advice” rather than “commandments”.

    But still, the rated R dilemma is rampant in Utah. Am I the only one interested in this? Does anyone else want to analyze why many Mormons treat the R rating like the plague?

    Oh, and Russell, I have been asked as part of the temple recommend interview if I’ve watched rated R movies. When I answer “yes”, the next question is funny, “Do you plan on watching more?”

    What do you say to that?

    I feel like I’m the only person who recognizes this as a strange phenomenon worthy of talking about. Maybe my hundreds of silly experiences growing up in Utah are all isolated incidents of Mormons publicly denouncing R rated movies. But maybe not.

    Regardless of how we feel on the subject, there are many Mormons who loathe the R rating. Why is that? It can’t just be the Benson quote, can it? I’m perplexed here.

  26. cooper on February 3, 2004 at 1:44 am

    I find that most Mormon fiction is bad. Most read constrained; kind of like the author is trying so hard to not be “mormon” or “be mormon”. It just doesn’t flow realistically at all. I am a HUGE historical fiction fan and find James Alexander Thom one of the best. I also enjoy Grisham.

    We will go see The Passion. We are very conservative. We also have a hard time with the rating system. Yes, many R rated movies are just unworthy of viewing, but there are some that are worth the time. My favorite all time R rated movie is Immortal Beloved (again historical fiction). Many PG13 movies should never have been made much less seen.
    As far as Dutcher is concerned what was that train wreck called Brigham City? I would like the world to see mormons as normal people. The stupid Sacrament meeting scene made me ill. Good grief, does it all have to be so melodramatic?

    And UGH! romance novels. Is there any purpose for them?

  27. Aaron Brown on February 3, 2004 at 4:26 am

    Bob,

    You say you want an analysis of why LDS members avoid R-rated films. I think the simple answer is that they believe an LDS leader of sufficiently high authority has pronounced them anathema, and this settles the matter for them definitively. That’s it. I don’t think there’s anything more complicated going on. I’m not particularly sympathetic to this view myself, but there it is.

    What is interesting to me is that most LDS people who hold this view cannot cite the specific authority upon which they base their convictions. I rarely hear people say, “I don’t watch R-rated movies because Ezra Taft Benson said not to in 1986.” Similarly, I don’t hear the anti-cola drink crowd citing specific admonitions against Coca-Cola (though they could find them if they looked hard enough). It’s enough for some people that somebody important (probably the prophet) uttered a prohibition once upon a time, never mind the details. Then they add the prohibition to their checklist of “Don’ts,” and feel good about themselves for being more compliant than those other LDS slackers who aren’t as enlightened as they are. Perhaps you didn’t know this, but on Judgment Day, there’s going to be a special awards ceremony for those few righteous souls who’ve collected and adhered to every prohibition ever uttered since 1830, and “Most Legalistic Interpretation of the Gospel” medallions will be handed out to these choice few. :>

    By the way, my own reaction to Benson’s admonition is to invoke a modified version of Russell’s hermeneutical principle #4: I think it is legitimate to draw certain conclusions about the status of counsel that is given and then never repeated. I say “modified,” however, because it’s not like the underlying concerns haven’t been repeated a thousand times by Church leaders; it’s just that the admonitions have taken a different form – one not couched as a bright-line rule. Now it may be that the G.A.s don’t mention the R-rating prohibition for fear of implicitly appearing to countenance the viewing of PG-13 films. But of course, they could easily make definitive prounoucements against these films as well. I like to think that the refusal to reiterate the R-rating prohibition is consistent with the general trend, illustrated by the General Handbook of Instructions (that we’re not supposed to read :>), of ultimately leaving most moral judgment calls to members’ discretion, rather than micromanaging their every decision.

    Aaron B

  28. Adam Greenwood on February 3, 2004 at 12:28 pm

    We don’t watch r-rated movies, so I’ve decided its time to out us as members of the Self-Righteous Brothers and Pharisees for Jesus, although Aaron might have already known that about us.

    Seriously, I’m making light of it, but I’m not really comfortable with the tone of condemnation for those of us who don’t make a big deal about being willing to watch R-rated movies. At home, at BYU, here at Notre Dame, and on this board, I notice that people have made a talisman about watching R-rated movies. If you watch them, you’re a good person. If you don’t watch them, you’re simple-minded, rigid, dull. Unlike Us, who are independent, thoughtful, fun-loving, and creative, because we watch R-rated movies. Bunk. I’m inclined to believe that this an assumption that people havent’ thought through yet.

    To those blindly obedient Saints who won’t watch R-rated movies in their folly, I salue you.
    To those over-solicitous Saints who worry that their equivocating would affect the young and the weak, I salute you.
    To my brothers who’ve realized that missing a movie does them almost no harm, I salute you.
    To my sisters who think sex and violence can degrade no matter how aesthetic or contextual, I salute you.
    And to my opponents on this board, I salute you, because I like you. I like you all.

    Ah, the Saints, the Saints. I wouldn’t trade a one of them–a one of you–for all the filming in the world, no matter your taste in literature.

  29. lyle on February 3, 2004 at 12:37 pm

    Adam:

    Thanks…glad to know that even if the gospel can be commodified (see previous thread) at least you won’t commodify me. :)

    So…in the interests of equivocation, I want to state that there is value in a bright-line rule such as No R movies, regardless of: historical, aesthetic, etc. value. Sure, you might miss out on some few poignant scenese that help the rest of us laggards grow spiritually. However, you do have 1.5-2.5 more hours to do something more fun, entertaining and kingdom building.

    Sorry to provoke such a strong discussion re: R.
    I guess I would just like to see The Passion, and be edified and don’t want to feel like there is some type of invisible, or visible a la Pres. Benson/GAs, condemnation of this.

  30. Russell Arben Fox on February 3, 2004 at 12:37 pm

    Nate–Was that “How?” directed towards me? As in “How do I deal with my almost certain knowledge that President Hinckley would condemn many of my film viewing choices?” Well, I guess the answer is: we disagree. I strongly suspect that he doesn’t see many movies anyway, so we’re obviously approaching the issue from different points of view. Being in disagreement with the prophet about something that isn’t in the scriptures or published revelations of the church probably isn’t a wise course of action, and I would never want anyone to think I was advocating otherwise (I’m quite convinced that Adam’s position is superior to my own in terms of faith, and I admire him for it). But that’s where I am, right now.

    Bob–You write, “I have been asked as part of the temple recommend interview if I’ve watched rated R movies. When I answer ‘yes,’ the next question is funny, ‘Do you plan on watching more?’ What do you say to that?” I guess I would say: “Yes.” If that then led into a discussion of whether or not I sustained the prophet, I would probably say something along the lines of “Yes: sustaining is a public act, and I don’t publicly encourage anyone to go see R-rated movies.” But I strongly doubt it would ever get that far.

    Cooper–It’s too bad you didn’t get into Brigham City. But where was the absence of “Mormons as normal people” in that movie? The film was loaded with “normal people.” Indeed, everyone was “normal,” except for the evil psychopathic murderer. That’s why it was called a “thriller”–such films are generally about normal people being confronted with psychopaths. If you don’t like those kind of movies, fine, but that doesn’t constitute a criticism of the genre. (Or were you referring to the sacrament scene when bemoaning the movie’s lack of “normal people”? To be sure, that was a melodramatic scene, and completely abnormal. But as a cinematic convention, I think it worked extremely well: the movie was a meditation on innocence, evil, and culpability as well as a thriller, after all, and that scene provided the film with the sort of language necessary to spell out a conclusion to its larger moral story.

  31. Mary on February 3, 2004 at 12:41 pm

    Adam, it’s true. There is a stigma on those who choose to not watch rated-r’s by those who choose to do so. And vice versa. I think in a lot of ways we are just trying to justify our choices. I know a couple who I admire greatly who do what they please without ever filling us in on the details. I like that in a person, and it is something I greatly lack.

    The problem with the r rating, and something I think the the church authorities recognize is, it is such a broad category. To get a G rating, you have to jump through hoops of all sizes. It is a relatively well-defined rating in terms of what can and can’t happen/be said/shown. The PG category is broader and onwards to the R where anything and everything could be included. Woody Allen’s film, Everyone Says I love You is rated R, why? a rap song, played in the background that contains some slurred F-words. A Clockwork Orange is rated R, why? violence, rape, nudity. With an R rated film, you don’t really know what you’re getting into. I like how now, on most new movies, with the rating on the box, there is also a list of the reasons why the show go the rating, in order of prevalence. (Kind of like a list of ingredients ;->) I find that more helpful than the rating itself.

  32. Adam Greenwood on February 3, 2004 at 12:47 pm

    I have to agree with Russell on Brigham City. The acting was a little uneven, but it had a very good conception.

    Like many fictionalized things, the sacrament scene wouldn’t have worked in real life, but it worked in the movie. Given the significance we ascribe to the sacrament, it worked symbolically.

  33. Bob Caswell on February 3, 2004 at 12:51 pm

    Wow! Some good comments here.

    Adam- I know you’re a busy man, but I’d really like it if you’d read my post on R rated movies over at http://www.bobandlogan.com. There, I explain that I have a sister who doesn’t watch rated R movies but I respect her immensely. It’s only those people who refer to it as some sort of Church doctrine that I have a problem with because I feel indirectly attacked as to going against this Church doctrine that I feel doesn’t exist. But you, Adam, are not one of these people.

    Russell- Thanks for your comments. I completely agree with you on both the temple recommend interview and on the Brigham City point. I loved the movie and was trying to think of good way to respond to cooper’s comment. You did me the favor, thanks again.

  34. Adam Greenwood on February 3, 2004 at 3:58 pm

    Bob, Son of Mosiah,
    I read your post, Bob. I guess your experience is different from mine. I get attacked or treated as a killjoy a lot more frequently for not watching R-rated movies than I got flack back in the days when I did. I notice that you denounce those who claim that R-rated movies are under the interdict, but say nothing about those who go around trying to treat it as a sign of moral indifference and movie-watching sophistication. I guess I have a lot more sympathy with the Fox view–’No R-rated movies’ has its defects as a rule, and isn’t on the most solid footing as a rule, but there is something there and if we’re going to break it, best keep it to ourselves. I’m not quite saying that watching R-rated movies is a commandment, but I am disagreeing that its a matter of indifference. There is at least a presumption.

    The movie is very rare, very, very rare, that seems worth going against the sense of the Saints about the standards of the Church (‘but for Wales?’). To give Lyle his due, ‘The Passion’ might be an exception. I’m still mulling it over. But in my own judgment, even very worthwhile films like Saving Private Ryan just aren’t that worth it, especially when I think on the boundless supply of plays, books, and family time that I’ll never get through.

  35. Scott on February 3, 2004 at 4:34 pm

    Lyle, et al.,

    In the October conference of 1993, H. Burke Peterson (emeritus member of the 70) stated that, “I know it is hard counsel we give when we say movies that are R-rated, and many with PG-13 ratings, are produced by satanic influences.”

    In the same conference, Joe J. Christenson (of the presidency of the 70) said, “Some parents seem to be almost pathologically concerned about their children’s popularity and social acceptance and go along with many things that are really against their better judgment, such as…R-rated movies, and so on.”

    Christenson and Hartman Rector, Jr., both categorically condemn R-rated films in the Ensign in the ’70s. President Hinckley is quoted as condemning them in “Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley.” President Hinckley allowed a description of Mormons as avoiding R-rated movies to go without correction in his “60 Minutes” interview with Mike Wallace. (He also ratified a description of Mormons as avoiding caffeinated soft drinks in that interview, but that’s for another controversial thread.)

    Benson’s counsel to avoid R-rated movies was not a singularity that somehow exploded in an overzealous Mormon popular conscience. The prohibition came from the top down. And, over time, it has been expanded, not retracted. In the April 2003 Conference, President Hinckley condemned the PG-13 film “Chicago” in the same breath with pornography. Condemnations of vulgarity, profanity, violence, and sexual content in media turn up in every General Conference in ever broadening terms. Refusal to accept the message is recalcitrance (or, perhaps, denial), not clever hermeneutics. And we do it at our peril.

    Scott

  36. Bob Caswell on February 3, 2004 at 4:51 pm

    Adam-

    When you said, “…but there is something there and if we’re going to break it, best keep it to ourselves.” Truthfully, this can be hard for me. I don’t like to talk about rated R movies just for some sort of shock value but when I bring up Gladiator as a movie that truly touched me only to hear someone’s response be, “Now, did you watch that edited because you know that the Prophet said…”

    Adam, let me be clear in saying that this is NOT the type of person I think you are. I guess I just feel (and I may be wrong) that there is a larger crowd of Mormons who have serious problems with their fellow R-watching-Mormons than vice versa. Case in point, in a temple recommend interview, I was asked if I had seen an R-rated movies as this was clearly to be an indication of my worthiness. Why does that happen? The opposite never does. I’ve never heard of a Stake President interview where he asks, “Have you ever watched a rated R movie? Because there are a lot of good ones and if you aren’t the R-watching type, you may not be ready for the temple.” If that sounds ridiculous then why doesn’t my interview sound just as ridiculous?

    Whenever anyone comes to me saying he/she doesn’t watch rated R movies, I always give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they’ve made a personal decision not to. Just like I hope, when people find out that I watch R movies, they don’t assume that I’m into porn.

    Being in either category isn’t a bad thing. It’s just when one category tries to prove to the other that it is far superior because it is endorsed by the Church. When in reality, the Church has purposely avoided this issue. This isn’t a competition; we’ve both made personal decisions that we can both respect.

  37. cooper on February 3, 2004 at 4:56 pm

    Russell, I was commenting on the Sacrament meeting scene. I have many non-member friends that have not attended church. We all sit down to watch Brigham City and they say do you guys really act like that at church???

    I guess I should applaud Dutcher’s ability to get us discussing church in general. It was the same as the scene in God’s Army. Miraculous healing. While I am a big fan of “Mormon Cinema” I think possibly the editing room is to blame for the problems with story lines. It is all good and well to try to give a glimpse into the spirit of “Mormonism” it should be done carefully. Dutcher sometimes approaches a subject from the Mormon side of things and leaves the non-member audience wondering. He doesn’t explain it enough or just enough to make people really question what is going on. Subjects as sacred as reprentance and the sacrament are best left out of “thrillers”. The movie could have been equally as good if the scene had been left out. I don’t think the “scene” made anything clear, and left far too many questions for the non-member.

  38. Russell Arben Fox on February 3, 2004 at 5:48 pm

    Bob,

    “Being in either category isn’t a bad thing. It’s just when one category tries to prove to the other that it is far superior because it is endorsed by the Church. When in reality, the Church has purposely avoided this issue.”

    I think, on the contrary, as Scott has shown, the church has by no means avoided this issue. Numerous general authorites have made it pretty clear which category of film-viewing they consider to be in conformity with the standards of the church, and which they don’t. If you disagree with them (as I do on this issue, often if not categorically), then that’s one thing. I certainly agree that those who would judge you (or me) to be porn addicts or apostates because we saw “The Matrix” are being uncharitable in the extreme. But that doesn’t mean I think I have a leg to stand on in terms of “making my case” to the public church. I don’t.

  39. Adam Greenwood on February 3, 2004 at 6:04 pm

    Cooper,
    Brigham City would have been ho-hum without the sacrament scene. As you point out, it would have been a thriller, and nothing more. The sacrament scene invested it with meaning in a way that, yes, non-members probably won’t understand and, no, I don’t care. You’re talking to the poster-boy for insularity here.

    Scott,
    Thanks for the references. I usually enjoy talking in a vacuum, but every now and again it gets old.

  40. Brent on February 3, 2004 at 6:35 pm

    I knew a CES instructor in Virginia who, as a convert to the church had no problem watching movies regardless of their rating. That is, until an experience he had with a stake president in a temple recommend interview. The stake president asked if he watched R-rated movies. When my friend answered in the affirmative, the stake president’s response was that he would not want his children taught the gospel by a seminary teacher who watched such films. Now, some will view this story in the negative. For my friend, it caused him to question his own position and to prayerfully consider what he should do. Ultimately he decided that a goodly amount of what he regularly viewed was inconsistent with having the Spirit. I think that is what it comes down to. As Scott and others have pointed out, our church leaders have emphasized good and wholesome entertainment and have warned against the salacious, violent and vulgar. In recent years, the talk has moved (at least it seems to me) away from merely talking about ratings but instead emphasizing the elements of “bad” entertainment. A goodly number of PG, PG-13 and R-rated films have terrible content and are in no way morally uplifting. However, I would argue that there have been a few R-rated films that I have seen (some edited, some not) which are superb in both their artistic quality and in their moral teaching. I likely have merely justified my viewing of such films, which is something I have to consider.

    I think overall, we should review what we are viewing on the big and small screen and see if it further’s God’s purposes and promotes a belief in His son or if it has the opposite puroses and effects. (See Moroni 7). I think it is difficult to make the argument in favor of most R-rate films, many PG-13 movies, and some PG movies.

  41. Bob Caswell on February 3, 2004 at 6:36 pm

    Russell-

    Thanks for your comments.

    “But that doesn’t mean I think I have a leg to stand on in terms of ‘making my case’ to the public church. I don’t.”

    I totally agree, at least, if “making my case” means trying to get some GA to say R movies are good. As far as “avoiding” the issue, it depends on your definition. If it’s really a concern, we would have heard much more. But the concern really isn’t with the R rating at all, but rather, with content in movies in general.

    I still feel that Church leaders speaking to our worldwide Church need to very careful in their wording. Using “rated R” is a short hand form of saying what Scott said, “Condemnations of vulgarity, profanity, violence, and sexual content in media turn up in every General Conference in ever broadening terms.”

    I completely agree with this statement. But every time you use a term like “rated R”, you’re causing some pretty big headaches in the translation department downstairs. What does the translation department do? They replace it with some reincarnation of Scott’s quote, for saying “rated R” means nothing to the majority of the Church.

    Hence, sometimes I like to watch Conference in a completely different language (which I understand, of course) because certain American-made issues just disappear.

  42. Scott on February 3, 2004 at 7:53 pm

    I agree with those who say that:

    (1) Some films that receive R-ratings would pass the 13th Article of Faith test. True. However, (a) I think the worthy ones are exceptionally few and (b) there is no reliable way of knowing in advance whether a film will be “good” (in the full moral sense) or “bad” (in a soul deadening, coarsening, and/or corrupting way). Like bobbing for apples in a vat of sewage, claiming the occasional prize gives little cause for celebration.

    (2) Some films that are rated PG or PG-13 are as noxious as some R-rated films. Absolutely true. But this reasoning (as an argument in *favor* of watching R-rated films) depends on a mistaken presumption that Church leaders have been, by the “ever broadening terms” I mentioned earlier, at great pains to dispel–that anything that *isn’t* rated R is worthy (or, at least, permissable) entertainment. In any event, on average, R-rated films contain significantly more objectionable content than PG-13s of the same time period. (Shifting standards over time also impact MPAA ratings’ reliability.) The exception doesn’t disprove the rule.

    (3) An American ratings system is of limited value as a standard in an international church. Agreed. But “limited value” does not mean “no value.” Nearly half of the members of the Church still reside in the US, allowing a ready bright-line test for them. As for the other half, they can (a) go to the Internet Movie Data Base and look up a film’s MPAA rating or (b) failing that, exercise prudence and judgment in selecting entertainment. So far as I can tell, the participants in this forum can readily determine a film’s MPAA rating in advance. The fact that members in the Cook Islands cannot do so is hardly an argument for jettisoning the standard for those who can.

    (4) Most Mormons who punctiliously shun R-rated films have very poor aesthetic judgment, when it comes to film. Agreed. But most Mormons who include R-rated films in their viewing also have very poor aesthetic judgment. (And their efforts to distinguish themselves from their provincial fellow-Mormons arguably does more damage than good to that faculty.)

    Scott

  43. Bob Caswell on February 3, 2004 at 8:31 pm

    Scott, I love and agree with everything you said up until point #4.

    “Most Mormons who punctiliously shun R-rated films have very poor aesthetic judgment, when it comes to film. Agreed. But most Mormons who include R-rated films in their viewing also have very poor aesthetic judgment.”

    Unless I’m missing something, you just said that most Mormons have “poor aesthetic judgment” regardless of their reaction to R rated films.

    There are two problems here:

    1) You just dissed a bunch of Mormons (unless I’m mistaken, “most” of them)

    2) I really don’t think aesthetic judgment is a function of whether or not you watch an R rated film.

    “(And their efforts to distinguish themselves…)” Was this parenthetical remark toward R watchers or non-R watchers? I wasn’t sure, but I think it could be true for both.

    Also, I’m not quite sure what you mean by “distinguish”. What is it called when you answer a question you’re asked and then proceed to back up your answer?

  44. Russell Arben Fox on February 3, 2004 at 8:56 pm

    Bob–

    “Unless I’m missing something, you just said that most Mormons have ‘poor aesthetic judgment’ regardless of their reaction to R rated films.”

    I agree with Scott. I mean, isn’t that pretty obviously true? It’s certainly true of the population in general, so why shouldn’t it be for Mormons? It’s not like possessing the gift of the Holy Ghost turns you into Francois Truffaut.

    “‘(And their efforts to distinguish themselves…)’ Was this parenthetical remark toward R watchers or non-R watchers? I wasn’t sure, but I think it could be true for both.”

    Given that Scott makes reference to condescension towards “provincial fellow-Mormons,” I assume he’s speaking mostly of R watchers. But as you note, the same dynamic holds for non-R watchers as well (though with a different spin; they presumably would be treating those they disagreed with as “sinners” rather than “provincials”).

  45. Brent on February 3, 2004 at 9:05 pm

    Just for clarification purposes, I do subscribe to the idea that R-rated movies have been sufficiently mentioned/discouraged to allow for a bright-line rule. The interesting problem bright-line rules is that some then have no problem with clearly inappropriate movies (even TV movies) and the like simply because “they aren’t rated R.” Again, I think that there has to be an understanding of what really is at the heart of the matter–seeking truth and righteousness through wholesome and uplifting entertainment.

    I have had friends tell me about certain movies and I have read extensive and detailed reviews of a small handful of R-rated films prior to watching them and have thought them so far above so many films that I truly wish the film makers would realize that a small amount of editing would open up their film to a much larger audience. I have a feeling that Mel Gibson’s movie is going to be in this small category of films that really should be seen even though it is given an objectionable rating. I have often wondered what rating a portrayal of Joseph Smith’s story or stories of the early saints would garner (especially during the Missouri period). Of course, none of this dispels the general rule that R-rated films should be avoided.

    Incidentally with companies like cleanflicks and with products like the TV Guardian (which filters out bad language) and Moviemask (which plays back edited versions of films) it has become much easier to see quality films without or with less of the objectionable content. In such cases, these films are no longer truly rated-R, as the objectionable content has been removed. (I could never understand those at BYU who complained about the “R-rated” films played at the Wilkinson center when in fact no film ever was shown there that would in fact carry, at the time of showing, an R rating.)

  46. Bob Caswell on February 3, 2004 at 9:09 pm

    Russell,

    Good point. I suppose Scott’s wording in #4 confused me into overanalyzing his point, which I still don’t understand. I mean, if the population and Mormons in general have “poor aesthetic judgment” of films… great. But how is that relevant to the conversation? Maybe Scott was just trying to say exactly what I said in my last comment, “I really don’t think aesthetic judgment is a function of whether or not you watch an R rated film.”

  47. cooper on February 4, 2004 at 12:58 am

    Adam – insularity, hmmm. Makes me wonder about that every member a missionary thing. But then again I think this thread has proven that we all have our ability to pick and choose what words of wisdom we wish to listen to from our leaders.

  48. Bob Caswell on February 4, 2004 at 2:13 am

    Cooper-

    We listen to all the words of wisdom from our leaders. Then we prayerfully decide how to best apply those words to our life. And last but not least, we don’t give anyone else a hard time for the way they have chosen to live the gospel in their life.

  49. Mary on February 4, 2004 at 11:17 am

    Brent, editing films for television, and products like Moviemask and Clean Flicks may serve a purpose, but you’re still promoting Rated-r films. You’re saying to movie producers, make movies that have objectionable content, that’s okay, we’ll just edit the bad stuff out. It is still an “r-rated” product. If you really think that r-rated movies should be avoided, then avoid them. Send a clear message to Hollywood, (if that is what you, and those who are members of Clean Flicks, want to do) and don’t watch movies that contain objectionable material, even if it is edited. If you buy edited products, Hollywood makes its money either way.

  50. lyle on February 4, 2004 at 11:30 am

    Mary:

    So…you wouldn’t subscribe to my future book editing service? I’ve decided to employ high school kids to black out the objectionable parts of books. Then, we can all read literature w/o having to worry about the Lord’s name taken in vain or the Fbomb.

  51. cooper on February 4, 2004 at 12:27 pm

    Bob, this thread is full of us giving each other a hard time on how we choose to live the gospel. It seems, actually, to be a sport at times.

    My whole point (in my beginning comment) was to say I didn’t like Brigham City. Note the “I”. I was not belittling any one else’s choice to like it.

  52. Bob Caswell on February 4, 2004 at 12:41 pm

    Cooper-

    I think it would be more accurate to say that this thread is full of misunderstandings. You just had to clarify and now it’s my turn. I apologize to anyone who has been given a hard time by me. There was no harm intended. If you don’t watch rated R movies, I still like you just the same as if you did watch them. We’ve all made decisions as to how to live more gospel oriented lives, and I respect all that I’ve heard.

    I had a fun time here. I was more just asking the question, “why”. Why do we NOT watch R rated movies and why DO we? I’ve learned quite a lot and appreciate everyone’s input.

  53. Mary on February 4, 2004 at 2:31 pm

    Lyle, funny.

    I think Clean Flicks is a flawed idea in that it seems like hypocrisy. If the reason is that you don’t watch rated-r movies is because in some way you deem them objectionable, then renting a clean flicks film or an objectionable film still shows that you support the film. If you hate seeing/hearing “objectionable” things, then don’t promote it in any way. Buying an edited version still promotes the system. It kind of goes along with Bob’s view that he thinks it’s weird of non-rated-r watchers to be so militant about their choice. If they are so militant about avoiding objectionable material, then don’t watch edited movies. Kind of like saying “I think cigarettes are bad and cause cancer but I own stock in Philip Morris because it makes a lot of money.” [I don't know if PMorris is a money-making stock, just an example.] If you think it is bad, treat it like it is bad.

    That’s what I have to say to the Clean Flicks crowd.

    I’m not promoting Clean Flicks and the like. I think it is a flawed philosophy that allows us to think that edited versions are somehow okay or superior to the movie in its original form.

  54. Adam Greenwood on February 4, 2004 at 2:43 pm

    In defense of Clean Flicks:
    Actually, the edited movies ARE less objectionable.
    The success of Clean Flicks provides clear proof of a market for a different kind of film.

    Much can be said in objection, of course.

  55. lyle on February 4, 2004 at 2:46 pm

    Mary:

    Ask Adam…I wasn’t joking.

    :)
    lyle
    p.s. flawed or not…i think it is one strategy to live in, but not be of, the world. if you don’t live in the same pop culture world as everyone else who doesn’t share your moral beliefs…it makes communication much more difficult. Also, I doubt that the Amish have much success when it comes to converts.

  56. Brent on February 4, 2004 at 2:55 pm

    Mary,

    I think you raise a more difficult question. I have not made the argument about supporting or not supporting objectionable content by not providing any financial benefit to companies who produce such content. Utilizing Cleanflicks, Moviemask, or watching edited films on television and not in the movie theatre is not supporting objectionable material, as Adam pointed out. If you were to take your reasoning to its logical conclusion, you would have to abstain from purchasing Disney films because Disney produces a host of objectionable materials. Does not your purchase of Mary Poppins improve the bottom line of the company. The same could be said of every other movie company which produce some good and many objectionable films. If you only view or purchase the good, you are nonetheless financially supporting people/organizations that produce objectionable materials too. You aren’t calling for a wholesale boycott of all entertainment are you?

  57. lyle on February 4, 2004 at 3:00 pm

    Actually…maybe she is…and if not…perhaps we all should. Maybe an entire church-wide ban on pop culture might encourage some quality Mormon pop art to emerge to satisfy those that think the current stuff sux.

  58. Adam Greenwood on February 4, 2004 at 3:02 pm

    Of course Lyle isn’t joking, although his business plan is doomed to failure.

  59. Brent on February 4, 2004 at 3:09 pm

    Let me also ask that you more fully explain how ” it is a flawed philosophy that allows us to think that edited versions are somehow okay or superior to the movie in its original form.” The rating system is based on a film’s content. Many PG-13 and PG movies “in their original form” (that is the form the director originally created) would get an R rating. However, the director’s edit out objectionable materials to obtain a more favorable rating. This is sometimes an important aspect of film editing. This is not always the case, but sometimes it is. In fact with the advent of DVD’s there has been a proliferation of Director’s cuts and the like. Under your analysis, an originally released PG-13 movie that has objectionable content added to it would not be bad, because it was originally rated PG-13. It is the film’s content, as shown, that gives a film its rating. Once you edit objectionable content from an R-rated film, it is no longer rated R. The material upon which the rating was based has been removed.

    Note, I am not trying to promote R-rated films. As I stated before, I think nearly all of such films are not worth watching. I do believe church teachings proscribe viewing objectionable films, and prophets and other church leaders have specifically directed us to avoid R-rated films because of the content of such films. I am simply saying, if the ojectionable content, and thus the R rating, are eliminated, where is the problem?

  60. Bob Caswell on February 4, 2004 at 3:25 pm

    I think if people want to watch edited R movies, that’s just fine. They’re trying to live “in” the world and not be “of” the world. I have many friends who are this way, and I respect all of them for their decision.

    But let’s not trick ourselves into thinking that by CleanFlicks having success in Utah that there are millions and millions of people worldwide who would be willing to start an international movement in order for more wholesome movies to be released. Even if there are such people, I think time could be better spent doing other things than organizing such a movement.

    We don’t watch edited movies so that one day the studios start realizing that they’ll make more money by producing cleaner films. Truth be told, they barely notice us. Changing the world in this “wicked and perverse” generation is much harder (and pretty much pointless) than just living “in” the world but not “of” the world.

    We watch edited movies because we don’t want to see objectionable content. I think that’s all there is to it.

  61. Bob Caswell on February 4, 2004 at 3:38 pm

    Let me mention one more thing:

    If people want to make cleaner movies to try and promote cleaner movies, that’s great!

    Mormon cinema is trying to do this but with limited success due to their very limited audience. But if these same filmmakers broadened their material but still kept their movies clean, that would definitely be something worth supporting.

    It’s worth supporting as it is, I go to pretty much every single Mormon-made movie but know that they could do much better by reaching for the bigger audience.

  62. cooper on February 4, 2004 at 4:33 pm

    Bob – I agree with you. Clean movies are just crying to be made. We see everything Mormon made just to show support. (as stated above – not always the best) I will cross the street to support the “Arts – MST” Mormon Standards Type. I know others who will too. We accept a best effort even if it falls a bit short because we want to encourage them to keep going.

  63. Brent on February 4, 2004 at 4:49 pm

    People do support well made, clean films. To wit, look at the success of a movie like Cheaper by the Dozen.

  64. William Morris on February 6, 2004 at 6:33 pm

    Feel free to continue the flow of the R-rating discussion, but a few comments on the Dialogue essay.

    1. The Rectors article repeats themes that appear in the 1980 essay collection _Arts and Inspiration: Mormon perspectives_ edited by Stephen P. Sondrup and published by BYU Press. I bring this up because I was somewhat surprised when I read this collection [which features essays by Wayne Booth, Edward Hart, Candadai Seshachari and others] and saw how little the obsessions of the Mormon art meta-narrative had changed in the past two and a half decades. All these things — lack of time, dogmatism, etc. — also regularly appear as topics on the e-mail discussion list for the Assoc. for Mormon Letters. So if they persist, that must make them true, right? I think they are, but I’m not so sure that they’ve hit all of or even the most important factors, for some reasons that I will briefly go into as this list proceeds.

    2. “We will yet have Miltons and Shakespeares of our own.” — Orson F. Whitney. This quote crops up in almost every essay and forum that deals with Mormons arts. Ripped from it’s context, it appears like a bold prophecy — it is. But the essay that it appears in [which can be found at: http://mldb.byu.edu/homelit.htm ] is not just prophecy, but also prescription. And the irony is that when Whitney tries to follow his own prescription for success, he doesn’t do very well. His poetry is just not that good [TANGENT: although it does have it's moments -- one of which I hope to discuss in an essay I'm working on]. In other words, I don’t think that Whitney is speaking as a prophet here, but rather as someone who was concerned with establishing Mormons in the arts as a way of legitimizing Mormons as a people, a culture, a nation (and not just a group of believers).

    3. The anxiety for legitimization through arts — esp. literature [because it is a less universal form than music or fine art] — is a symptom, according to Gregory Jusdanis, of belated modernity. Jusdanis’ concept of belated modernity — the idea that you are culturally (and technologically — although this gap is more easily made) ‘behind’ or ‘underdeveloped’ — is more easily applied to nations [he uses Greece, but countries like Romania, Poland, and Argentina would also work], but I think that it fits for Mormons somewhat because of the nationalistic-like (call it ethnic if you’d like) Mormon culture that arose in the Intermountain West with the State of Deseret and it’s echoes after Utah joined the Union. Belated modernity is the feeling that other nations [and really the others are pretty much just England, France, Germany, and kind-of the United States] are superior to you in terms of culture and, more importantly, national culture — the idea that you are a legitimate Frenchman because you are tied into a body of ‘great’ art that is written in your national language. The idea is that you develop your own body of great art in order to legitimize your national culture. I’m not sure if this is clear or not, for more, see my review of Jusdanis work: http://www.aml-online.org/reviews/b/B20021A.html — BUT — my point is that if you want to a) inspire your own citizens to feel more like citizens of the nations and b) want to legitimize yourself as a nation, a people in the eyes of those who can help you reach your national goals, then culture is one of the prime ways to do it. I think Whitney understood this and that’s what the whole Home Literature thing is about. I think that modern Mormons still feel this and that’s why some of the anxiety about whether or not we can or will produce great art.

    4. Whitney’s uses of Milton and Shakespeare is not, in my opinion, not just because they are great artists. These two authors (along with Chaucer, perhaps) represent much more than some great universal art — they are they whom legitimized English as a medium for great art. They are, to borrow again from Jusdanis, ‘founding geniuses.’ Every national culture needs a founding genius to help it make its case — somebody who can be grouped in the pantheon of great world (read European [for the most part]) artists. For Romania, for example, it’s their great neo-Romantic poet Mihai Eminescu. The founding genius not only creates great art, he also impacts the themes, forms and, perhaps most important, language in which the national literature develops. Thinks about Shakespeare’s influence on the English language. Eminescu was the key figure in the romanticization of modern Romanian — he created hundreds of words that were based on Romance roots instead of Slavic ones [as part of its move to create a national culture, Romanian purged out many of the Slavic words and also switched from a Cyrillic to a Latin alphabet]. All of which leads me to this: we already have our founding genius, the only problem is that he’s not exactly literary — Joseph Smith. The Book of Mormon translation, the revelations of the Doctrine of Covenants, his other sermons, letters, journal entries and writings. This is why Neal Lambert, Eugene England and others have suggested that the best Mormon literature might come in the form of personal essay and memoir rather than fiction.

    5. So the modern Mormon conception of what our art should look like, and this idea of geniuses, is influenced by a feeling of belated modernity and the concern of our cultural forebearers to reinforce/create ‘ethnic’ Mormon identity via art. And we have this, plus the added baggage that since we should theoretically have greater or at least easier access to the workings of the Holy Spirit, it should be easier for us to produce inspired art. We have this concept, this promise and prophecy, and then were trying to bring it about in a peculiar time.

    Some factors about our time:

    A. The decline of the novel as the dominant cultural form — a form that may or may not be suited to Mormons because it demands of us a critique of bourgeois values that most of our potential readership find comforting. Film may save us. But film isn’t as useful as a cultural tool because it doesn’t lend itself easy to criticism and use in teaching settings. Plus less titles get made because of it’s expensive production needs.

    B. Difficult publishing markets that dampens the inspirational fires of Mormon authors, esp. orthodox Mormon fiction writers. Perhaps they’d find more time [always a problem for Mormon artists as the Rectors point out] if the market was more hospitable. On the national front we have a double prejudice against “Western” literature [i.e. regionalism] — of course Mormon authors aren’t necessarily part of Western regionalism, but at least a majority of them (potential or actual) are — and against religion. Who are our authors who have received national awards, reviews and fellowships? Brian Evenson, Walter Kirn, Brady Udall. Whether they are active Mormons or not, their works deal with Mormons who are on they’re way out [or in Evenson's case who are in, but who are exactly what many liberal, Eastern, educated academics believe religious 'fundamentalists' to be]. On the home front, we have either Signature or Deseret Book. Neither is really committed to fiction. Most of what sells in the Mormon market is modeled after the Christian publishing market.

    C. Related to our belatedness and the Christian publishing model and other factors, a very weak critical culture.

    6. All this is to say that while I agree with the challenges of dogmatism, priorities, and conventionality that the Rectors raise, I think the picture is a little more complex and that solutions may not come and genius should not be evaluated in the traditional way. I personally believe that there will be artists in the next 10-15 years who will produce amazing work that will truly do justice to Mormon history and theology, but that because of the modern state of publishing/media, the American cultural climate, and Mormons peculiar cultural/ethnic situation and history, the way it will happen and the work of genius won’t quite fit in to standard conceptions of art and genius. I used to thing that Mormons were ripe for bringing back the epic form or renewing some older form like that, but I’ve seen the works of some who have tried that. My guess is that it will be in one of these forms: film, graphic novel, parable/folk tale-type narratives, or multimedia.

  65. clark goble on February 6, 2004 at 6:52 pm

    I’d agree with Joseph Smith as our Shakespeare. Even Harold Bloom, the noted literary critic, seems to acknowledge him as a great literary figure.

    Perhaps one thing we ought to be doing is focusing in on the literary aspect of our unique LDS arts. There are portions of the Book of Mormon that are masterful, in my opinion.

  66. William Morris on February 6, 2004 at 7:21 pm

    Hi, clark. Yes, the Book of Mormon, but I find that I respond even more to the Doctrine and Covnenants when I am in literay critic mode. It’s not just the amazing imagery, but the mix of scriptural imagery and language with practical advice with new doctrines all refracted through the events in JS’s personal and political (so to speak) history.

    An example: D&C 128:20-24.

    Maybe you can help me with this, but there’s something about JS’s writings that seem very postmodern. [I'm tossing that word out perhaps much to casually]

  67. Ben on February 21, 2004 at 2:27 pm

    Adam said:I’m not really comfortable with the tone of condemnation for those of us who don’t make a big deal about being willing to watch R-rated movies. At home, at BYU, here at Notre Dame, and on this board, I notice that people have made a talisman about watching R-rated movies. If you watch them, you’re a good person. If you don’t watch them, you’re simple-minded, rigid, dull. Unlike Us, who are independent, thoughtful, fun-loving, and creative, because we watch R-rated movies. Bunk. I’m inclined to believe that this an assumption that people haven’t thought through yet.

    This is similar to the co-opting of the term “intellectual” by the some of the disaffected/excommunicated LDS who have lost all belief in anything (slight caricature, but only slight.) See Julianne Reynolds’ (who studied coptic/gnostic stuff at Claremont) discussion over on the FAIR site (which I like a good bit.)
    “Critics in Wonderland: Through the Looking Glass.”
    http://www.fairlds.org/apol/misc/misc24.html

  68. mike on June 16, 2005 at 12:31 am

    There are several reasons why I will not watch rated R movies.
    My opinion is this:

    1. When the Prophet Joseph Smith recieved the the councel concerning the word of wisdom (D&C 89) it origanly was given as advise. Why? because the church was’nt ready for it. Had it been given as a comandment the whole of the church would have been under condemnation. Instead the Lord introduced it slowly to us to give us a chance to get used to the idea. I believe because He knows his children, and loves us. My sugestion is this than. Could it be that because we are not ready as a whole to fully embrace the consept of not watching R rated movies that it has not been made a comandment.

    2. My other thought is this. And this I believe is the key. That the holy Ghost will tell you in your heart if it is right. And we know from Galations 5:22-23 about the fruit of the spirit being Love, Joy, peace, Happiness ect. ect. If you can honestly feel that a movie is alright to watch go ahead. I feel terible after watching some movies and others I don’t but I don’t want to risk if the movie I am watching has something in it that will be in my heart and mind forever. Some of that is talked about in chapter 8 of miracle of forgivness titled “As a man thinketh”.
    Listen to the spirit.

    3. There are many diferent reasons why people do or don’t do certain things concerning comandments and other councel. Many diferent motives to live the gospel. Duty, expectations, want to look good, want to hide something, please spouce ect. ect. Liveing the gospel because you’r greatest desire is to show Father in heaven that you love him and that you love his children and want to be ready to recieve inspiration from the spirit to know how to in the scriptrual term “lift the hands that hang down”, “morn with those that morn” ect. Each person in this life is strugeling with something the world needs more people who are ready to help someone as the spirit directs.
    The first two commandments are to love god and love our neghbor those are the ones that matter. The lord needs more who have prayed and have fasted for this kind of Pure and perfect Christ like Love. Love one another.