Dinner Theater, or Do We Consume Media?

November 8, 2004 | 89 comments
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It was late spring in London, and just as the weather outside started warming up, things inside started heating up, too. I was a BYU sophomore, in England for the term as part of the Theatre Study Abroad program that Gene England and Tim Slover ran for many years. For two months we studied and sightsaw and slacked by day, and by night we soaked in Shakespeare and Shaw and Pinter at the theatre; later at night we wrote papers, played cards, and discussed who in the group was hot. (My future husband was among the participants, and I cast my vote for him—although we didn’t start dating for years after that spring.)

Among the plays we studied and attended that spring was Tony Kushner’s two-part Angels in America. The play seemed well-suited to our curriculum, as the definitive production of a highly-lauded American play dealing with Mormons. Of course, it also included profanity, male nudity, gay themes, (stylized) depictions of sexual acts, and, most offensive to some, a brief depiction of an LDS character in (what were clearly not authentic) temple garments. Gene and Tim knew that the play’s content would shock the tender sensibility, and they made it clear that no student was required to attend the play. Suddenly we were faced with what felt like a moral choice: to see the play, or to abstain. My friend Brian and I discussed what we should do, and though we saw eye-to-eye on many issues, we disagreed on this one: Brian decided not to see the play, I decided to see it.

During one of our several discussions of the matter, Gene read to us from Matthew 15, where the scribes and Pharisees charge the disciples of eating bread with unwashed hands. Christ replies, “Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.� The consumption of images, Gene implied, is different from the consumption of food: it’s not what goes in that makes one impure, it’s what comes out. Christ is making a larger point in this episode, of course, accusing the Pharisees in stinging language of reducing spiritual commandments to meaningless technicalities and quoting Isaiah, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.� But he returns to the issue of consumption at the end of the passage, explaining to Peter, “Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.�

In thinking about media consumption, the alimentary metaphor works, I think, but the passage in Matthew 15 suggests that we need to replace the customary language of contamination with a language of metabolism: we should be focused not primarily on the purity or contamination of the images and ideas we encounter, but on the way we metabolize those images and ideas into thought, language and behavior. I’m not suggesting that there’s no connection between what we consume and what we produce (nor, I believe, did Christ); indeed, a crucial tenet of the social constructionist analysis in which I am trained (and with which I nevertheless have certain quarrels) is that ideology overdetermines subjectivity. The steady diet of sex, violence and materialism on which our culture feed is yielding up its substance in our society, and a change in cultural eating habits may be just what the doctor ordered. But Christ teaches us that what really matters, morally, is not what goes in, but what comes out.

So what about Brian and me? Who made the right choice? I really don’t know; in the intervening years good things have come from both of us, I think. But it is a delicious irony that, all these years later, I’m ensconced in what may be perceived as the most chaste of all academic pursuits, Renaissance literature, while Brian is in what may be perceived as the most salacious, reality television. Tony Kushner couldn’t have plotted it any better.

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89 Responses to Dinner Theater, or Do We Consume Media?

  1. john fowles on November 9, 2004 at 12:30 am

    But Christ teaches us that what really matters, morally, is not what goes in, but what comes out.

    So, what about that which is coming out of Tony Kushner’s mouth? When Christ taught Peter to be conscious of what comes out of his mouth (as a measure of what is in his heart), he wasn’t obviating the teaching “[w]herefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” The problem with this line of reasoning is that people are too eager to use this concept to accuse people like your friend Brian of just being a pharisee (and a prude, for that matter). I suggest that when Christ taught Peter this principle, he wasn’t implying that Peter should go expose himself to filth and that it would be fine (only a Pharisee would balk at it) as long as Peter himself didn’t start producing such content.

    Just because we need to consider the beam in our own eye before pointing out the mote in our brother’s eye doesn’t mean we need to be oblivious to that mote or obsess with it just to avoid being a Pharisee. In other words, I don’t think Christ was depricating the letter of the law by emphasizing the spirit of it; rather, he was saying that giving effect to the spirit of the law helps us better live the letter of it.

    I don’t think there is any scenario in which your friend Brian made the wrong choice in this situation. The real question is whether you made the right choice.

  2. Kaimi on November 9, 2004 at 12:43 am

    Umm, JF, even assuming that what is coming out of Kushner’s mouth is bad, is Rosalynde supposed to alter that somehow?

    On the deeper question, I think that the dichotomy of right choices and wrong choices presupposes that there _is_ a “right choice” and a “wrong choice” and that that choice is the same for each person. However, it’s very hard to say whether many of these little things are right, wrong, or neither. Perhaps Rosalynde is equipped to answer that question as it relates to her. I doubt that she is equipped to answer it as it relates to Brian. And I know for a certainty that I’m not equipped to answer it for either of them. I seriously doubt that any ‘nacle reader is.

  3. Rosalynde on November 9, 2004 at 12:46 am

    John, thanks for the response. I hope it was clear from my post that I wasn’t accusing Brian of being pharisaical; I had and have great respect for his choice, although I chose differently. And I like your provocative opening question about Tony Kushner’s moral choice, although the question of media production (vs, comsumption, which I’m discussing here) raises some different, more complex, issues, I think.

    I think I did make the right choice in seeing the play–the right choice for me, at least. The play presented challenging issues and some unpleasant images–issues and images that were crucial to the play’s themes–but also images of sublime beauty and a fascinating take on the symbols of Mormonism in American culture. I learned from the play, and on many occasions I’ve been able to present a Mormon perspective on some of its inaccuracies and insights.

    Christ doesn’t instruct the Pharisees to begin eating with unwashed hands, and I would never suggest that one has a moral duty to seek out unpleasant or challenging material. But Christ’s words are clear: “But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.â€?

  4. Kaimi on November 9, 2004 at 12:47 am

    My goodness, I sound like a Unitarian sometimes. It must be the sleep deprivation.

  5. john fowles on November 9, 2004 at 12:54 am

    Kaimi, your Unitarian thesis completely speaks past the point I was trying to make. Nothing you said contradicts my statement that there is no scenario in which Brian made the wrong choice in boycotting filth (if that is what he judged Kushner’s “art” to be based on the description of it, as Rosalynde gave us). The real question is whether Rosalynde made the right choice in seeing Kushner’s work; whether Christ really meant that it was okay to see such things when he taught that it is that which goeth out of the mouth that defileth man and not that which cometh in. Or are you suggesting that Brian somehow made the wrong choice, and if so, on what basis?

  6. Kaimi on November 9, 2004 at 1:14 am

    John,

    My comment meant to reflect that we just don’t know, one way or the other. Only God, and perhaps the person involved, know if the decision was right or wrong. There are a thousand possible scenarios in which either choice could be right or wrong. And we don’t know.

    Quick, is it right or wrong if one person chops another person’s head off?

    Or does it depend on context, the Spirit, and a thousand factors that no casual observer knows?

    Do you think that you can offer a solid answer to the scenario:

    “I went to the city with my brother. I tried to negotiate with our foe, and treated him kindly. My brother found him lying helpless, and cut his head off. Which of us made the right decision?”

  7. john fowles on November 9, 2004 at 1:36 am

    Kaimi, you skipped some facts in your Laban scenario. Anyway, no need to respond to an absurd hypo in pressing the point that Brian cannot be considered to have made a wrong choice in this scenario. The Unitarian thesis, which questions if we can ever know if Rosalynde made the right choice, merely reinforces the point about Brian. Christ didn’t teach that it would ever be the wrong choice to eat with clean hands; he only introduced the nuanced view that sometimes, eating with unclean hands might not be the wrong choice either. I am siding with Brian here because I would likely have made the same choice as him and I don’t think that I would have been morally culpable in doing so. (Rosalynde, I am not claiming that you are arguing this point; I am just trying to eliminate that side of the equation from the picture in this discussion–the real question focusing on your choice and not on Brian’s.)

    Anyway, I’m sorry to be so contrarian on this thread and on the peculiar people thread. It’s been a long, hard day and I need to get some rest. Just disregard my comments.

  8. Jack on November 9, 2004 at 1:42 am

    Fascinating Post! Of course, I wouldn’t expect anything less from Rosalynde. :)

    I hope I’m not being too nitt-picky, but the imagery that the Saviour uses is specific as it relates to what goes in or out of the mouth. When in the theater we use our eyes and ears which, unlike the mouth, are designed for one way traffic only – to let in. Well, one may ask; where does all that stuff go? To the heart! If “those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart”, then – how did they get in the heart in the first place – ought to be an obvious question. The real question we’re faced with in any given moment is: is this faith or is this sin? I am of the opinion that pornography will, 99.99 % of the time, be sin. However, I have a friend who, when he was immersed in his studies as a visual artist – which included life drawing – was called to be a veil worker. He told me that he never had one conficting thought because his studies. In that case it was faith. (and appropriately would not be classified as pornography) It simply didn’t go to his heart in such a way as to defile him, and therefore would not come out in anyway but undefiled.

  9. Kaimi on November 9, 2004 at 9:03 am

    John,

    Well of course I skipped some facts. So did Rosalynde; so do all of us. That’s the point. There’s only one person who knows all of the facts, and that is God. We can’t know if we’ve received all of the relevant facts from a simple telling like this.

    I continue to be amazed at your apparent belief that you somehow _have_ received enough facts to make the judgment that “Brian cannot be considered to have made a wrong choice in this scenario.” And I’ll reaffirm — you don’t know this, and you can’t. Is it really unimaginable to you that Brian could have made the wrong choice, under any circumstances? That’s incredible. Please, take a moment and reexamine that assumption.

    I’ll space down a few spaces (the whole “spoiler warning” thing) and lay out at least one obvious potential scenario in which Brian would be making a wrong choice. This isn’t intended to be a depiction of events as they happened or a statement about Brian, rather it’s just an illustration that we don’t have all of the facts, and we don’t know who is making right or wrong choices. Trying to make that call is as inherently futile as trying to judge the Laban scenario with the abbreviated facts I set out above.

    .

    .

    .

    Here is a scenario in which we can confidently say that Brian made the wrong choice: Brian protested that he didn’t want to see the play – as a pretext. Brian’s classmates and professors attended the play. Meanwhile, Brian stayed home. When everyone else had left for the play, Brian met up with his girlfriend to have sex. Did Brian make the right or wrong choice not to attend the play?

    I’ve known lots of Mormon kids who have successfully combined an appearance of piety with a desire for sin. I’ve known people who went to firesides in order to meet up with girls they knew who they would commit sin with after the fireside; I’ve known youth who lost their virginity at church youth camps. The simple question “Bill is going to the fireside and Sally is going to an R-rated movie; who’s making the right choice” may have added variables in play that we can’t see. Again, I’m not saying that this is what actually happened. The point is that we don’t know all of the motivation that went into Brian’s choice. And since we don’t know that, we cannot say that there is no circumstance under which his choice could be wrong.

  10. John Mansfield on November 9, 2004 at 9:38 am

    In connection with Brother Jack’s comment 8, Luke 11:34-35 comes to mind:
    “The light of the body is the eye: therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light; but when thine eye is evil, thy body also is full of darkness. Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness.”

    These verses are followed immediately by a complaint from a Pharisee over the need to wash before dinner, and Jesus response “Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness.”

    So, the consumption of the eyes seems to be on an equal footing with the production of the mouth in ability to corrupt the inward parts.

  11. Rosalynde on November 9, 2004 at 9:38 am

    LOL, Kaimi! A plot twist worthy of Kushner himself.

  12. CB on November 9, 2004 at 11:00 am

    Although I realize this thread is intended to focus on media, I think the principle has broader application as well.

    I really like the idea of *matabolizing* evil. When our Savior enjioned us to return good for evil, maybe this was the point.

  13. Jack on November 9, 2004 at 11:17 am

    Kaimi, Does it follow then, that Nephi would have been justified in killing Laban as a distraction from going any further into the city in which case he might have met up with an old girlfriend and committed fornication?

    I think John is simply saying that when it comes to what we consider to be “standards” or baseline counsel, generally speaking, most people follow them because of a desire to do what’s right, and indeed they are established to help us sense what is right. In the case of Rosalyndes story about the dichotomy between herself and Brian, the real question we are seeking an answer to is: why the dichotomy if both were doing good? I don’t think we’ll find the answer to that question by assuming that what Brian did was wrong.

  14. Steve Evans on November 9, 2004 at 11:29 am

    There’s an old saying: you can’t polish a turd. I think we’d all agree that there are limits on our abilities to take questionable material and reap spiritual blessings.

    plus I really wanted to use that quote.

  15. Kaimi on November 9, 2004 at 11:31 am

    Jack,

    I don’t disagree that we can set general standards that typically inform our behavior.

    I was pointing out that John’s position, as formulated — he wrote “I don’t think there is any scenario in which your friend Brian made the wrong choice in this situation” — was too strongly phrased, and thus not sustainable.

  16. J. Stapley on November 9, 2004 at 11:41 am

    Angels in America: lawyers, gays and New York City. Quite possibly the quintessential T&S thread.

  17. Nate Oman on November 9, 2004 at 11:47 am

    Rosylnde: By a strange twist of fate, the first real post I ever wrote for T&S, lo those many ages ago, was also on Angels in America and the symbolic place of Mormonism in America. See:

    “ANGELS (AND MORMONS) IN AMERICA”

  18. Dave on November 9, 2004 at 11:54 am

    Rosalynde, is there a typo in the post? You said, The consumption of images, Gene implied, is different from the consumption of food: it’s not what goes in that makes one impure, it’s what comes out. It seems like he was saying the consumption of images is NOT different from the consumption of food in that what goes in does not make one impure. Or maybe I’m just misreading your argument.

  19. Jack on November 9, 2004 at 12:15 pm

    Kaimi, you may be right in terms of what one actually does rather than what one actually intends. I think this whole argument is interesting precisely because it is based on the fact that both Rosalynde and Brian had good intentions regardless of the dichotomy between their actions.

    Or am I reading too much into the original post?

  20. D. Fletcher on November 9, 2004 at 12:27 pm

    Hmm, I can’t find my previous post about Angels in America.

  21. Bryce I on November 9, 2004 at 12:37 pm

    Kaimi —

    Regarding your scenario in comment #9, when you say that “Here is a scenario in which we can confidently say that Brian made the wrong choice,” you are presenting a false choice. You offer the hypothetical Brian a choice between attending a play that he may think is not appropriate viewing material and having sex out of the bounds of marriage with his girlfriend as if there were no other options. The wrong choice Brian makes in your scenario is to have sex with his girlfriend, not to not see the play.

  22. Jack on November 9, 2004 at 1:10 pm

    Here you go D.

    If you’ll indulge me, I’ll attach here a response I wrote to a question at TalkinBroadway.com, AllThatChat, about Angels in America (the HBO series). It came from a Mormon, querying other Mormons about their response to the program. Here’s what I wrote:

    I think your question deserves an elaborate response, though I am a little bit hesitant. I am also LDS, currently active in the Manhattan Stake, though I am gay, a conundrum if ever there was one. I am not entirely innocent of the gay lifestyle, but I am almost permanently unattached, which makes it easier to be received in the religious community without too much complication.

    I know the woman who was a student of Tony Kushner’s, and gave him the Book of Mormon (with the Angel Moroni on the cover) and started him on the journey to “Angels…� Her idea was clearly evangelical, but he was fascinated by the history, doctrine and rituals, and eventually borrowed liberally from these to create the play.

    I think Tony is respectful of his Mormon characters in the sense of giving them intelligence, inner lives, and heavy doses of reality. They are not stereotypes of conservative transplanted Utahns, with Spanish Fork accents and Laura Ashley clothes. They are modern people with modern concerns. In other ways, though, Kushner betrayed his disdain for these “believers,� portraying Joe Pitt, for instance, as an impossibly ambitious conservative lawyer on the “evil� side of law briefs (against the common needs of the people). Kushner even has Louis say, “All religions less than 2000 years old are cults.� So, Judaism is excepted (and in this case, much more reverence is accorded Judaism’s religious rituals, notably the Kaddish delivered by Louis with Ethel Rosenberg’s help). But Mormons are all about Jesus (the proper name is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints), a detail that is completely absent in the play.

    Many Mormon details are portrayed, some with accuracy and others with facile disdain. In the movie, Joe Pitt wears one-piece Temple garments with a zipper, something he probably wouldn’t ever have worn. Temple garments today look like Calvin Klein underwear, the boxer-brief kind. Harper wears more up-to-date two-piece garments, though she wouldn’t make love while wearing them. All the LDS characters use rhetoric including the word “God,� as in “as God is my witness,� and “My Lord…� etc., in the exclamatory sense and I find this false. Hannah says to Joe over the phone, “drinking is a sin,� which is very false, because Mormons don’t think of sin this way, and certainly don’t exclaim it as such (more of a born-again Christian trait). I also find the isolation of the couple in Brooklyn to be entirely false. Perhaps Joe Pitt has isolated himself in his closet fantasy, but Harper would be surrounded by other transplanted Mormon wives, and probably would submerge her needs in Church community service. When she separates from Joe, Harper would return to her Church community in her hometown, or wherever she goes back to. I find the character of Harper exceedingly falsely written.

    How Kushner achieves the falseness is with disclaimers, that Harper was always “different,� that Hannah was always “independent,� etc. This is the easy way to explain away the lack of a certain kind of research, how people speak to one another and behave in certain situations. Kushner understood Belize and Louis and Prior and created a hugely compelling, fantastical demigog in Roy Cohn, but he wasn’t really interested in finding the peculiar Mormon rhetoric that I’ve known all my life. Norman Mailer wrote it more accurately in “The Executioner’s Song.�

    But then, I think Kushner’s ultimate point is that one must eliminate the shackles of faith in order to find sustained fulfillment. Hannah and Harper are redeemed by becoming “enlightened� in the sense of… turning away from their Victorian, restrictive faith. And poor Joe Pitt is left unredeemed, something for which I almost cannot forgive Kushner, though in the movie, there is an extra little scene between Hannah and Joe in which it is suggested that she will take care of him, and he will be OK (again, by finding his real self, the gay man, against the tenets of his own divine belief).

    Kushner’s point is very modern, urban, popular, and vaguely clichéd. Be yourself. Ok, but what if your self is slovenly, drug-addled, and untrustworthy? Perhaps a better theme should be… be your “best� self, the self you’d really like to be. Have a few goals. Make yourself into something that’s unique and wonderful. Yes, progress forward (the “progress� message is very heavy-handed in the “heaven� scene of the play) but not just in the (sorry) “liberal, leftist, urban, 21st century� way that these works promote. Faith can be modern too. And anyone who creates beautiful things knows that the best creations come from restrictions, of scales or rhythm, or color palettes, or boundaries of stone, or rhyme scheme, or even, social behavior.

    Comment by D. Fletcher — 10/3/2004 : 2:15 pm

  23. D. Fletcher on November 9, 2004 at 1:40 pm

    Thanks, Jack!

    Sorry, I didn’t mean to subvert this thread — I thought I would link up my little review like Nate did his.

    On-topic: Personally, I don’t think the viewing or participation in any aesthetic project is harmful or negative, and certainly not sinful (as long as one is making an adult choice — I wouldn’t want children to watch Reservoir Dogs, because I think there could be traumatic repercussions). I have made the choice in my middle age to steer clear of violent images, mostly because I am tired of seeing them. I’m also quite leery of “light” projects promoting life choices I don’t really approve of, such as teen comedies about losing one’s virginity. Although I don’t find Angels in America completely successful, I think it was very useful for me to watch it, to consider my own views about the Church and living in New York City.

  24. Bryce I on November 9, 2004 at 1:42 pm

    Rosalynde —

    Thanks for the post. Thinking about metaphors of consumption, there’s lots of stuff going on that could be explored. Jack in #8 picks up on some of this. The Savior in the passage in Matthew that you reference uses the mouth as the locus of two types of activity: consumption of food) and production of words. Food is described as going into the mouth, and words issue forth from the mouth. However, there is an instance in the consumption of food in which something comes out of the mouth, namely vomit. The body has its own mechanisms for dealing with bad inputs, one of which is acknowledged in the verses from Matthew, that of defecation.

    I suspect this is what you’re saying when you suggest that we need a vocabulary of metabolism to talk about how we process images. However, looking at the food metaphors, there’s a lot left unexplored. For example, we know that our sense of taste is strongly informed by our sense of smell. Why should this be? One possibility is that we use taste and smell to discern whether food might be bad or good for us. By smelling that something rotten or foul, we can avoid having to ingest it to discover that it is bad for us. By tasting something on the tongue before we swallow it, we have the opportunity to spit out that which is likely to be deleterious to our health.

    However, there are certainly instances in which these mechanisms fail us. Medicines are famously bad tasting, and anyone who has ever eaten (or tried to eat) nattoo knows that there are foods that taste and smell like they can’t possibly be fit for human consumption, which are nonetheless quite nutritious and health-promoting. (more on nattoo here).

    For some, Angels in America doesn’t pass the sniff test. Some consume it and vomit or defecate it back out. Some metabolize it and make something good out of the experience. Some ingest it and become sick. Each person knows best how he or she will react.

    I imagine that put in the same situation that Rosalynde describes, I would have chosen to see the play. That said, I am not unsympathetic to John Fowles view, which I might rephrase given my thinking in this comment “When in doubt, throw it out.”

  25. Matt Evans on November 9, 2004 at 1:56 pm

    Rosalynde,

    The interpretations you offered of Matthew 15 appear to condone the consumption of tobacco, alcohol and pornography, so long as the person controls what proceeds forth from their hearts and mouths. I suspect, however, that you don’t condone the consumption of tobacco, alcohol or pornography, no matter the persons ability to control what leaves them. If that’s correct, of what relevance is Matthew 15 in helping us to make these decisions?

    Kaimi,

    I agree with Bryce that your noting that Brian could do something worse than see the play is irrelevant to the issue of whether it was wrong for him not to see the play. There are things people could do worse than be mean to babies, but that doesn’t mean that it’s ever wrong for people not to be mean to babies.

  26. Nate Oman on November 9, 2004 at 2:00 pm

    D. Thanks for your posting (or getting posted) your thoughts on Angels. I don’t have any real response. I just wanted to register appreciation. Good stuff.

  27. Kaimi on November 9, 2004 at 2:04 pm

    Matt, Bryce,

    Again, it’s easy to construct a hypothetical where the rightness or wrongness is not dependent on other acts. For example, we could posit that Rosalynde is a person who strongly dislikes gays and normally beats them up at every opportunity. Upon attending the play, she decides that gays aren’t as bad as she had assumed, and stops beating them up. Was her play attendance a bad thing? If she chose _not_ to attend (e.g., if Brian was the same type of person originally, he chose not to attend, and he continued to beat up gays), couldn’t we say that that was the wrong choice?

  28. Bryce I on November 9, 2004 at 2:41 pm

    Kaimi–

    To get back to your initial point in comment #2, you’re assuming that there is a right and a wrong choice. I think that in the case that Rosalynde describes, it is difficult to come up with a realistic scenario in which the choice that Brian makes is a wrong choice (perhaps he has made a solemn promise to someone else that he will see this play?). This does not necessarily mean that it is the right choice either — perhaps either option would be equaly as good, or perhaps seeing the play would be of more benefit than not seeing it. In any case, it’s difficult to show that choosing to not see the place is categorically wrong..

  29. Bryce I on November 9, 2004 at 2:42 pm

    Looking back, I see that John Fowles has made the same point many comments earlier.

  30. Jonathan Green on November 9, 2004 at 3:11 pm

    One problem with digestion as a metaphor for media consumption is that digestion is an involuntary action. Once we’ve ingested, we don’t choose what to do with our food; our body does it all automatically. But we don’t react to images: instead, we choose how we will make use of them. You can, if you so choose, find material for sexual fantasies within the covers of the church magazines. If angels among us are silent notes taking of every action, then quite a few angelic beings spend a lot of hours of the day watching softcore or worse on pay-per-view; in those cases, I imagine the media is metabolized into sadness for the sins of the world. While I acknowledge that people have their limits and know best what they should not allow themselves to see, I do think that we have the same range of choice in our response, from utterly debased to celestial, regardless of the media in question.

  31. Ben Huff on November 9, 2004 at 3:22 pm

    As interesting as consideration of one-time, dramatically controversial events of consumption can be, I think a more pressing problem for LDSaints is the issue of our daily diet of the slightly off. I suppose internet p*rn is a big problem in the church, but what about, say, the degrading effect of a constant drizzle of cheap dance songs about passionate late-night lovin? and their counterparts on the TV etc. It seems hard to maintain that our daily diet is not something that becomes part of us. (Christ said he who does not eat my flesh and drink my blood has no part with me — how does that fit into our analysis of intake? and he warned his disciples against the leaven of the Pharisees). A young lady from my ward recently volunteered to clean up the music offerings at dances she attends at BYU-Idaho. I was really excited to hear about this! Luckily her dad does some DJing and could connect her with some resources so she doesn’t have to go through every song herself. (Does this sound like a familiar saw of mine? ceterum censeo . . .)

  32. Rosalynde on November 9, 2004 at 3:28 pm

    Thanks for the comments, everybody! I’ll try to respond to some of them as I get a moment through the afternoon.

    Jack and John M.: Great cross-references on the eye scriptures; I think they’re important here. It is possible that Gene was wrong, that this passage deals only with the ritual status of handwashing (and thus has no relevance to us, since handwashing is no longer an issue); but if the teaching can be generalized at all, I think it can work in the context of media consumption. Interestingly, the question of the “evil eye” may support my argument: in the ancient world (well, in the Renaissance, at least; please correct me if I’m wrong about ancient Israel), the eye was understood as an organ of output, not intake. That is, sight was understood to result from rays emanating from the eye, rather than from light entering into the eye; thus the “evil eye” is something that one projects, rather than something that one ingests.

    Nate: great and lesser minds sometimes think alike, it seems.

    Dave: it’s funny you should point that out; as I was re-reading the paragraph before posting last night, I edited that sentence to change “no different” to “different.” I have no idea why I made the change, since I am in fact suggesting an analogy between consuming food and consuming media; the sentence should read as you suggested.

    D.: Love your review of the play, and I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of the truths and falsehoods in the characterzation of the Mormon figures. Strangely, his inaccuracy made it easier for me palate the play: because he had no deep knowledge of LDS theology or culture, and was merely deploying powerful symbols and stereotypes of our religious tradition for his own dramatic purposes, it was easier for me to drop my reflexive apologetic attitude and simply experience the play as it was intended.

    Bryce: Nice pick-up on the alimentary metaphor, and I think you’re right on. I certainly don’t advocate an indiscriminate media consumption: there are many cultural artifacts that I personally eschew, because I suspect they would affect me or my children adversely. But because I don’t have an especially active imagination or memory, I am not tormented with unwanted images or phrases returning unbidden to my mind; I’m able to “metabolize” *certain kinds* of media that others would choose to avoid. (Putting pornography in an entirely different category here.) This certainly puts a heavy burden of personal spiritual responsibility and accountability on each individual disciple.

    Matt: my argument doesn’t condone ingesting forbidden foodstuffs, because I’m dealing with an alimentary metaphor rather than the actual activity of eating. Still, though, while I’m one who belives that the WoW does have physiological value as a public health code, we know that the WoW is a spiritual law, not a temporal law; thus the impurity results not from the actual ingestion of the substance, but from the disobedience that the ingestion signals.

  33. William Morris on November 9, 2004 at 3:36 pm

    D:

    I’m happy to join the chorus applauding your review — that sums up quite well my reaction to the play. Beneath the shocking stuff, I found it flat in the way that it treated Mormons and Mormonism and rather didactic and prosaic in its ideology. In some ways, once you strip off the “mature” content (or whatever label you want to use), the play is kind of ‘Mormon’ (using that term in the very specific — art that *has* to mean something and does it in a heavy-handed, often clumsy way).

  34. Matt Evans on November 9, 2004 at 4:18 pm

    Rosalynde,

    Though I don’t share your view on the nature of the Word of Wisdom, I don’t want to take up that issue here. Let’s go straight to the alimentary metaphor: does it work for pornography? I don’t believe it does, and for that reason don’t believe the metaphor helps resolve the question of what images and experiences we should or should not consume. The question, it seems to me, is whether the play is or is not pornographic (i.e., has those elements that make something pornographic).

    Kaimi,

    God may sometimes command someone to violate a commandment because in that particular instance it furthers his purposes (a la Nephi and Laban and your hypo). These possibilites don’t, however, mean that we can’t make blanket statements against killing people or consuming poornography. Yes, it’s possible that someone who despises prostitutes would realize that prostitutes are people too if only they bought more poornography. But that possibililty doesn’t allow you to say that it’s not wrong for them to buy poornography. We always allow people the defense of “God commanded me to do so, despite the rule against it,” but that is the only circumstance by which we discard the rules against killing or pornography. The question is still whether the play is pornographic or not, not whether God might command someone otherwise. It would be quite laborious and tiresome if President Hinckley, every time he tells men to treat their wives as equals, or condemns domestic violence, added, “of course, it’s always possible that God will tell you exactly the opposite, like he did Nephi.”

  35. Ivan Wolfe on November 9, 2004 at 4:22 pm

    I didn’t like AiA (yes, I did watch it and I want those hours of my life back – with interest!) because I don’t like heavy-handed moralizing in art. If I want heavy-handed moralizing, I’ll read the scriptures or listen to a sermon (something I do at least weekly).

    But in art, its inexcusable, IMHO. Kushner commits the artistic “sin” of being didactic.

    Interesting some people will attack LDS pop music for being didactic (even when it is well done, and some recent LDS stuff have very high production values), but give AiA a pass for whatever reason.

  36. Dave on November 9, 2004 at 4:55 pm

    Rosalynde, thanks for clarifying the analogy Eugene England made and you are proposing. However, I’d have to agree with Matt Evans that applying the “it’s not what goes into a person” rule just doesn’t work for images: some things should not be taken in. The problem comes in trying to spell out just what precisley those things are and which images, movies, TV shows, books, talks, or jokes we should avoid.

    At one extreme, some people do not permit television in their homes. Toward the other end of the spectrum, some Mormons see nothing wrong with viewing all variety of R-rated movies and entertainment (and, despite the occasional counsel against R-rated movies, there is no real concern about this practice by local leaders). I don’t see any way to draw an objective line anywhere within this very broad spectrum of “permissible” media consumption. Obviously people can draw their own personal lines: your friend decided to avoid “Angels” the same way I choose to avoid CSI and its offspring. Saying there is no way to draw an objective line within the broad spectrum is another way of saying that one’s personal viewing choices should not be generalized into a moral viewing rule that should be applied to everyone else (not that people don’t think that way anyway).

  37. Keith on November 9, 2004 at 5:18 pm

    One more comment to add to this.

    “Unto the pure all things are pure, but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled.â€? (Titus 1:15) The JST reads “Unto the pure let all things be pure.â€? An interesting tension. I think a similar tension can be found in the ‘not what comes in, but what goes out’ approach, and the ‘if your right hand offends, our your eye offends, cut the hand off, pluck out the eye,’ approach. Similarly, there are the passages that state that if the eye is full of light, the whole body will be full of light and so on. There is also the idea that what is of God is light and edifies and that which doesn’t edify is not of God and is darkness (D&C 50). We are told to leave Babylon, touch not the unclean thing, seek that which is virtuous, lovely, of good report, etc. The implication here is that some things belong to Babylon and must be left there. They can’t be made part of Zion, the pure in heart.

    Clearly what we bring to something, how we take it in, will play a significant role in determining what that is for us. At the same time, a pure heart can’t always make something impure pure. A pure heart will see the impure for what it is. Additionally, there seems to be a sense in which the meaning of something will always have more than a personal meaning—something more than what it means for me, but also what it means for us (saints, the community, the world). I take this to be the case with something like pornography. What it means to us (its use, production, purpose, and so on) would seem to override the argument that it has a personal meaning that one might claim could be pure. There may be other things that one simply can’t change to something pure by bringing a pure heart to it.

    What we bring, who we are, contributes to whether something is pure or not, but it seems not to be the sole factor.

  38. Adam Greenwood on November 9, 2004 at 6:27 pm

    I’m at loggersheads with Jonathan Green; I think that a lot of ways that we metabolize images are automatic.

    Oh, I agree that in certain ways we choose to how we metabolize images. With proper training we can learn to simply reject some messages while still appreciating others, or we can learn to put the images/messages in a healthful framework, they way we already do with, say, Church history (we metabolize the prophet’s mistakes by digesting them into ‘God can make a prophet out of weak mortals like us,’ instead of ‘so-called prophets are wicked frauds.’) As Ben Huff points out, though, even where we control our metabolism we need to be sure to balance the rich foods with enough nutritious fare. Also, we need to realize that our dining is partly a communal project so we need to keep some concern for the health of the other eaters.

    Some images and messages work like metabolism actually works. Our body takes them and processes them without our willing it. Pornography provides just such images. Depending on our age, experience, and sex we cannot control how certain things affect us.

  39. Rosalynde Welch on November 9, 2004 at 6:50 pm

    Matt, Dave: I think you’re right that the consumption metaphor breaks down with pornography (as all metaphors do, eventually; all I’m trying to do here is provide a vocabulary for talking about moral media choices, not delineate all parameters of the choice itself.) I think I mentioned somewhere above that I place pornography in a different category altogether, because I see pornography as different kind–not just different in degree–from other kinds of media. The stimulus that pornography provides is primarily a physiological stimulus deisgned to evoke a physiological reponse; the stimulus that other kinds of media provide, however, is primarily an intellectual or emotional stimulus designed to evoke a response in kind.

    Keith, I absolutely agree with your comments, and, as you say, not everything can be transformed by a pure heart. My point is merely that our emphasis should be primarily on the purity and condition of our own heart–not the putative contaminatory properties of the inappropriate objects.

    Incidentally, and lest readers think me a cultural omnivore, I’m quite leery of certain kinds of media. I’m highly susceptible to doubt, for instance, so I do all my religious questioning and exploring in faithful (broadly construed) contexts; I avoid anti-Mormon materials like the plague, because I know I would be unable to metabolize their messages healthily.

  40. Ebenezer on November 9, 2004 at 6:58 pm

    Brother England’s interpretation of the Matthew 15 reminds me of episode 79 of the Simpsons where Reverend Lovejoy uses the Bible to shows Lisa how the Lord approves of killing snakes on Whacking Day.

    Matthew 15:17 Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught?

    Matthew 15:18 But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.

    Matthew 15:19 For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts,murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness,blasphemies:

    Matthew 15:20 These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.

    I do not think that Jesus is being at all allegorical in his reference to what we consume. It seems to me that he literally means that the food eaten with unwashed hands does little more than pass through your system just like food eaten with washed hands does. Trying to abstract a metaphor for what media is appropriate to consume from this statement seems highly questionable to me.

    Jesus isn’t talking about what was being consumed, rather, he is talking about the hypocritical and reductionist focus of the Pharisees on minor performances, like hand washing before eating (perhaps analogous to wearing a tie to church), while they were at the same time, in secret combination, plotting his murder.

    Not wearing a tie to church does not defile you. However, eating fumets wrapped in artistic paper is going to be bad for you even if you do wear a tie to church! (No matter how long you spend polishing them.)

    I think that we should take Doctrine and Covenants section 50, verses 1-35 as our guide to media consumption.

    If we do want to explore eating metaphors, the story of the Fall, which is certainly one of the most central “alimentary metaphors” of the gospel, makes it fairly clear that if we consume that which is forbidden we will suffer spiritual death as a result. The results of the Fall are offset by another central “alimentary metaphor” of the gospel, the Sacrament.

    Genesis 3:1 Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?

    Genesis 3:4 And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:

    Genesis 3:5 For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

    …Which brings us back to The Simpsons and Snake Whacking Day. ;-)

  41. john fowles on November 9, 2004 at 7:27 pm

    Rosalynde wrote My point is merely that our emphasis should be primarily on the purity and condition of our own heart–not the putative contaminatory properties of the inappropriate objects.

    You still haven’t convinced me about the validity of this statement. Why can’t (or shouldn’t) an emphasis on the “putative contaminatory properties of the inapproprite objects” be the vehicle towards purification of our hearts? Avoiding that which debases the spiritual self can only contribute to “the purity and condition of our own heart,” it seems to me.

    I don’t disparage you your choice to see the play, but I find that implicit in your line of inquiry here is an indictment on those who are too prude to simply get over the collateral filth of such productions in the interest of the “intellectual or emotional stimulus.” I know you will insist that that is not your intent, but don’t you agree that it lurks beneath the surface?

    Kaimi, are you arguing that choosing not to see the play in the interest of keeping an eye single to the glory of god/keeping a pure eye is not a justifiable default position?

  42. Adam Greenwood on November 9, 2004 at 8:05 pm

    “but I find that implicit in your line of inquiry here is an indictment on those who are too prude to simply get over the collateral filth of such productions in the interest of the “intellectual or emotional stimulus.”

    I don’t think that’s really there, John Fowles. I know lots and lots of people make the leap from the kind of arguments Rosalynde Welch is making to the kinds of arguments you’re talking about, but they shouldn’t.

    If I may distort Rosalynde’s argument through my own lens, I think she’s saying we should be utilitarian in our attitude towards media–we should judge it by how it affects us–rather than ontological, making judgments based on the intrinsic qualities of the media. But I could be wrong.

  43. Rosalynde on November 9, 2004 at 8:41 pm

    John, I’m going to ask you to do something totally unfair here. I want you to judge me. Based on what you know of me, our interactions and relationship, do you think that I veil condescending contempt for those who make more conservative media choices than I? (FWIW, that has got to be an exceedingly small subset.) I don’t think that *any* criteria for judgement of others’ choices grows inevitably from the vocbulary I’ve suggested here, because I haven’t even discussed the many elements of the decision matrix that should lead to those choices. I’m not trying to explain *how* we should choose media, but *why* we should be choosy about media at all.

  44. Kaimi on November 9, 2004 at 9:25 pm

    John asks:

    “Kaimi, are you arguing that choosing not to see the play in the interest of keeping an eye single to the glory of god/keeping a pure eye is not a justifiable default position?”

    Nope. I am saying that certain formulations, such as your earlier and much stronger formulation, are probably beyond our ability as mortals to make with any accuracy.

  45. Jeff A on November 9, 2004 at 9:34 pm

    As a parent and a pediatrician I guess I look at the issue of media from a different standpoint. Although I agree generally that the choice to view “offensive” material is one that may or may not lead to offensive behavior, this generally applies to someone who is able and capable of making an informed choice. Several fairly recent studies have shown the affect of violent and sexually explicit behavior as viewed by children and adolescents as detrimental to their behavior. (Pediatrics. 2004 Sep;114(3):e280-9; Science. 2002 Mar 29;295(5564):2468-71.) I spend a lot of time when caring for the teenagers I see in my clinic trying to convince them that sex is not the norm. Not all of their “education” about sex comes from the media but a lot of it does. The same goes for a smaller number of younger patients I see who have violent tendencies at a young age.

    What media an individual chooses to view is a personal choice. I don’t believe there is a right or wrong answer in most scenarios. However, there is a large group of people (our children) that should at least have their media intake monitored and in some cases restricted. I feel like those of us who have the ability to make informed choices about media should do our best to speak out and make the media that is generally acessible safer.

  46. Jack on November 9, 2004 at 10:07 pm

    I think we’ve talked ourselves into believing that a dash – if not a deluge – of realism is necessary to get the point across. For some reason, when dealing with hard issues, artists feel the necessesity of shocking the audience by disrupting the fiction. i.e., naked bodies on the stage etc. (which really are, well just that, naked bodies on the stage) It’s difficult do derive a meaningful metaphor from an image that evokes an unsolicited physiological response. Anything that invades the system without the approval of the intellect ought to be questionable. It is tantamount to a violation of agency and therefore a mockery of the individual’s sensibilities which have been shaped by the pain and joy of personal life experience.

  47. Rosalynde on November 9, 2004 at 10:08 pm

    Amen, Jeff. My personal experience and anecdotal observation supports your claim that children and teenagers are especially susceptible to media messages. I grew up in a home without any television at all (my mother did allow me to subscribe to “Seventeen” magazine, rather unexpectedly), although I did spend a lot of time listening to popular radio stations as a teenager. Here, again, I think it’s useful to consider how a child might “metabolize” a given media message, so that we don’t make the mistake of assuming that anything without sex, violence or profanity is “clean” (the language of contamination) and thus poses no threat.

  48. Jonathan Green on November 9, 2004 at 10:24 pm

    Adam, I appreciate your help, but I can disagree with myself on my own just fine, thank you very much.

    I’ll concede that some images sometimes have a cause-and-effect, action-reaction result on some people, but I cling to the notion in the abstract that we (mature, informed adults, to conded Jeff A’s point) choose what to make of images, no matter how awful. The omniscient God we’re trying to be like has seen every dirty film and every dirty deed without becoming unclean through it, and we should aspire to the same kind of imperviousness to sin. I’m not saying that this makes watching pr0n or R-rated movies OK, just that the reasons to flee from it are not necessarily the exact spiritual equivalent of avoiding arsenic.

    On the other hand, I remind myself, even the very act of looking has consequences. Images—media—are not mere representations, but rather subjective statements about how we should look at the world. When we consume visual media, we look at the world through another’s eyes and in so doing train our eyes how to see. This doesn’t just apply to pr0n: think of Attack of the Clones, for example. It was not only a bad movie, but after I watched it, the previous movies in the series weren’t as good as they were before. The same is true of Ender’s Shadow. For a long time, Ender’s Game was one of my all-time favorite books, but it slipped quite a bit after I read Shadow because I was now looking at the original book through the lens of that later unhappy experience. Even with pr0n, I don’t know if the thing depicted makes us unclean, but the ways it teaches us to look at the world surely will.

  49. Jack on November 9, 2004 at 10:59 pm

    Jonathan, amen to your examples. (though I don’t think Ender’s Shadow pulls the pants off of Ender’s Game as conspicuously as the newer Star Wars movies do to their predecessors)

    “Even with pr0n, I don’t know if the thing depicted makes us unclean, but the ways it teaches us to look at the world surely will.”

    Not only does it shape our perceptions, but it also evokes our responses almost without our consent.

  50. john fowles on November 9, 2004 at 11:25 pm

    Jonathan wrote, On the other hand, I remind myself, even the very act of looking has consequences.

    I agree with this but will cite an example that you left out: one of the consequences of the very act of looking is that in doing so we make a statement or an affirmative decision to act in a way that is either according to God’s will or against it. By going to the play, I am not only making a statement to other people that this is kosher for me, but I am also saying something to God about what I am willing to do.

    Jonathan wrote, I’m not saying that this makes watching pr0n or R-rated movies OK, just that the reasons to flee from it are not necessarily the exact spiritual equivalent of avoiding arsenic.

    It seems to me that the repeated and very direct counsel of our living prophet begs to differ. President Hinckley has specifically compared p*rn to the plague and has admonished all to avoid it as such.

    Adam, you honestly don’t think that necessarily implicit in such posturing is that the subject matter wouldn’t bother you if you were just sophisticated and educated enough? If that were the case, then you wouldn’t become dirty by partaking but rather feel intellectual and emotional stimulus? So far, I haven’t engaged in any of the myriad conversations of this type where that point did not seem like an implicit undertone.

    Something that has not yet been considered here, but which I hinted at in one of my first comments: in choosing not to go, Brian was in effect boycotting that which he believed to be demeaning. We have much more power through our choice not to partake than it might seem at first blush. By abstaining, we are also withholding the Mammon that is often driving the production of such things. Of course, that entails a degree of sacrifice–in the interest of maintaining your separate peace from the world, you forego some of the sophistication that would raise you in the eyes of that very world you are shunning. But in the eternal perspective, that concern seems to melt away.

  51. Jack on November 10, 2004 at 1:37 am

    John, I agree that we can talk ourselves into believing that we’re impervious to the negative infuences of the media, but on the other hand, we have to be careful that we don’t become so provincial in our approach to the arts (and I’m not suggesting that you are) that we turn away from opportunities to be enriched by such works as Michael Angelo’s “David” or Picasso’s “Guernica” (which has a bare breast or two) or any number of other great works.

    That said, I have to admit that the pickings are slimmer when it comes to great R rated movies. As a matter of fact I can only think of a couple that I would consider *great* art. IMO Most of them fail (at least the handful that I’ve seen) in one way or another so as to not make it worth the risk of exposing oneself to their less desirable elements.

    At any rate, I’m suggesting that a little education, while it may tempt one to become overly sophisticated, may help one in a) appreciating works of merit that may be otherwise rejected because of misperceptions, and b) filtering out less than worthy efforts not only because of their content but also because of their poor artistry.

  52. Adam Greenwood on November 10, 2004 at 3:20 am

    I agree with everything that’s been said about Attack of the Clones and, to a degree, Ender’s Shadow. Ender’s Shadow was a good book in its own way, but it made it very difficult to enjoy Ender’s Game, which was a great book. Luckily I’ve expunged Ender’s Shadow from my memory. Attack of the Clones is unfortunately all too seared there.

    No, John Fowles, it’s usually barely-concealed contempt, but not always. In Rosalynde’s case I think she’s just saying that there are different temperaments, skills, and experiences that people bring to the table (note her admission that she has a hard time reading attack-on-the-church stuff, which doesn’t phase others at all). Crumbs, Rosalynde would probably even agree that for some people some kinds of entertainment aren’t an option because they have more spiritual sensitivity than the rest of us. But you’d have to ask her.

  53. Rosalynde on November 10, 2004 at 11:20 am

    Hi John–well I see you haven’t accepted my challenge to judge me. That’s okay, it would probably turn out the way it did when I asked my mission president how I was doing. (“Adequate” was not the answer I had been expecting.) :)

    I guess the reason why I don’t think my position is condescending is mostly personal: I didn’t feel in any way that Brian was less sophisticated than I; on the contrary, he was (and is!) more urbane, experienced, creative and intelligent than I. Remember, he’s now the one who’s the successful TV writer in LA; I’m a nerdy book-type in the midwest. Varying capacities to metabolize media do have something to do with one’s training in the particular medium, I think, but have more to do with imagination, memory, emotional makeup, and other wholly personal factors. (By the way, I wish Brian himself would comment on this–are you reading, Brian?)

    You make an excellent point, though, when you say that the decision to consume a piece of media involves more than the content itself–it’s also a social (and sometimes political) positioning statement. This is an important element of the decision-making matrix in one’s media choices. As I said, my objective here is not to lay out the parameters of that matrix, but rather to explore *why* we should make the matrix at all.

  54. john fowles on November 10, 2004 at 12:16 pm

    Rosalynde wrote well I see you haven’t accepted my challenge to judge me. I wasn’t judging you, if that is what you meant by this.

  55. Bryce I on November 10, 2004 at 12:17 pm

    I find myself with a somewhat inconsistent position on Angels in America. I wouldn’t think twice about reading the play. I might think twice about attending a performance of the play, but would probably go under the right circumstances (I wouldn’t shell out $100 of my own money to see it). I probably wouldn’t feel comfortable watching the HBO production. The content is in some sense the same (although there’s plenty of room for dicussion here), but the presentation is different in each case. I process each differently, and thus have different standards for the same basic material.

    As for Attack of the Clones and Ender’s Shadow, the teaser trailer for Episode III:Revenge of the Sith looks promising — Lucas may yet redeem himself. And Ender’s Shadow is great — I’m not sure why people are so down on it. Perhaps there’s a bit of regression to the mean. The ensuing storyline that Card picks up in Shadow of the Hegemon and Shadow Puppets is completely implausible, but certainly entertaining, and occasionally thought-provoking as he explores the geopolitics of the near-future Earth.

  56. Rosalynde on November 10, 2004 at 12:40 pm

    Oh no, John, not at all! I was referring to my comment #43 (which you may have missed–I posted it quite late last night.) I’m really enjoying the give-and-take, and I haven’t felt personally attacked or judged at all (and I hope you haven’t, either!). Happy smiles all round, I hope.

  57. Brian Gibson on November 10, 2004 at 1:55 pm

    “I didn’t feel in any way that Brian was less sophisticated than I; on the contrary, he was (and is!) more urbane, experienced, creative and intelligent than I.�

    Looks like Rosalynde has finally discovered that flattery is the only way to get me to come out of my shell and comment on this issue. I honestly probably would have said something earlier, but I’ve been busy making bad, or should I say nearly indigestible, television. I’m also painfully shy when it comes to blogging and now that Rosalynde has heaped a bunch of praise on me (or should I call it bait) the pressure is really on.

    I’ve really enjoyed reading all the speculation about why I didn’t attend Angels in America. I love how it’s ranged from the hilarious, mostly triumphed by Kaimi, to the touching. I’m afraid John Fowles’ opinion of me is about to possibly take a nose dive.

    So, as Paul Harvey might say… “and now for the rest of the story.�

    There’s really no irony in the fact that Rosalynde ended up getting a PHD and I ended up working in reality TV. As Rosalynde already pointed out, she grew up in a home where watching TV wasn’t allowed. In my home, watching TV wasn’t forbidden, but it wasn’t really encouraged either. I watched my fair share and when I got into my late teens, I really started to consume TV and particularly films en masse.

    My point is that by the time we were studying in London I had consumed countless more hours of disturbing and confrontational images than Rosalynde. Looking too hard at the one choice we made that day is honestly like focusing on the single meal where the fat guy ate the salad and his thin friend went for the Krispy Kreme donuts.

    In fact, the day the group went to see Angels in America I convinced one of the other kids who didn’t want to see it to go with me to see Short Cuts, a Robert Altman which was probably twice as graphic, disturbing, and gratuitous as what Rosalynde saw on stage that day.

    Afterwards, I felt pretty horrible about myself, I mean the one time I tried to make a good choice I ruined it by following it up with a bad one. So, when I saw Rosalynde’s original post it filled with me nostalgia, of course, and also a vague sense that I used to be a slightly better, more spiritually in tune person.

    I had that one moment where I drew a line I would not cross because I felt and still feel that Angels in America tramples on things that I feel are sacred. I guess my “decision matrix,� to borrow Rosalynde’s term, is a pretty sorry one. Crudely put it’s something like, show me violence, sex, profanity, foul language and I’ll take a look, but disrespect my faith and religious identity and I want nothing to do with it.

    When I heard Professor England and Professor Slover quote those scriptures in Matthew their arguments struck me as false and they still do now. Even then I’d consumed enough questionable media to know that it does taint you and desensitize you to the Spirit. Although, I respected and still respect both those professors deeply (they had a huge influence on my life) they were wrong on this one and I think many people have already done a great job of questioning their reasoning.

    One thing Professor England taught me about in London was “the dyer’s hand.â€? In Sonnet 111, Shakespeare writes, “And almost thence my nature is subdued/ To what it works in, like the dyer’s hand…â€? Professor England pointed out that unlike a dyer whose hands turn the color of the dye he makes, Shakespeare and his art was never corrupted or stained by his line of work—the theater. Shakespeare’s hands remained spotless.

    I’m not sure if we know whether Shakespeare’s hands were so pure, but I do know Christ remained truly spotless after performing his “work and glory.�

    Alas, I’m nothing like him or Shakespeare and there’s no question my efforts to do something I love for a living have dirtied my hands, however, it does put bread on the table, which leaves me with a bit of a dilemma.

    I suppose I’ll just simply have to take a lesson from my younger self and try to return to the days when I tried a lot harder to make better choices.

    Maybe, I’ll start tomorrow.

    Right now, I have to go to work and make more bad television.

  58. Jack on November 10, 2004 at 2:01 pm

    Bryce, don’t count on Lucas redeeming himself. I would be delighted if episode III actually had a decent script, but as history proves, Lucas can’t tell a story to save his life. I think he nailed episode IV because he was naive enough to follow the greek heroic journey. Episode V is also excellent but it rides on the momentum of E.IV. However, episode VI plain stinks. Every character becomes totally irrational. And of course, the new generation of Star Wars prequels sink futher into the abyss.

    That said, I’ll always go and endure at least one viewing of any Star Wars movie because, hey, it’s Star Wars.

  59. Bryce I on November 10, 2004 at 2:18 pm

    Jack, I’m not counting on it, but I’ve got more hope than with AotC, which couldn’t even put together a decent trailer. And if the reviews don’t look good, I may even take a pass on RotS entirely. I see few enough movies that I won’t waste my time on a known turkey.

    To complete the completely off-topic comment, a link to my favorite Star Wars fan film: Super Console Wars.

  60. Rosalynde on November 10, 2004 at 2:45 pm

    Brian! I’m so glad you commented (I was starting to worry you’d been offended). The rest of the story, indeed! Short Cuts, huh? And all this time I thought you stayed home watching “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”, (Wasn’t this in its first blush of British popularity while we were there? There was some quiz show we used to watch.) Or at most haunting the theater section of Foyles.

    You may be right, Brian. The objection you and Ebenezer Orthodoxy (and John Fowles, at one point) mount is really the strongest, I think: it may simply be incorrect to construe Christ’s teachings in this way. If his words are to be understood only in the specific context of Mosaic hygiene law, then they don’t apply to media choices–indeed, they don’t apply to us at all. I’m not sure how to determine whether or not the passage has greater relevance–certainly some of Christ’s teachings can be generalized beyond their immediate context, but probably not all.

    Let me say, though, that the claim that media can desensitize or otherwise affect us is not incompatible with my argument, and I acknowledge that in the original post. Indeed, my point is that we should put our primary (not singular) focus on how the media affects us, not the “cleanliness” or “filth” of the object itself. I think the figures of consumption and metabolism are useful in doing this.

    Most likely, though, I just like the metaphor. I’ve always been a sucker for a good metaphor, just like you’re a sucker for a good ending.

  61. MDS on November 10, 2004 at 2:56 pm

    More eating references for your consideration:

    This is good doctrine. It tastes good. I can taste the principles of eternal life, and so can you . . . . You say honey is sweet, and so do I. I can also taste the spirit of eternal life. I know it is good; and when I tell you of these things which were given me by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, you are bound to receive them as sweet, and rejoice more and more (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Section Six, 1843-1844, p. 355)

    It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me . (Alma 32:28).

    “Feast upon the words of Christ” (2 Nephi 32:3.)

  62. Steve Evans on November 10, 2004 at 3:06 pm

    “my point is that we should put our primary (not singular) focus on how the media affects us”

    I agree entirely with that sentiment, however the mechanism for gauging the effects of the media is unclear. The ultimate test is how such media affect our actions and thoughts, but that’s a post-facto way of judging things, and not helpful if you or Brian once again are deciding what play to watch.

    Worse, we may not be objective in making decisions or in evaluating their effects. Should we rely wholly on our own consciences? That may lead us astray, if we become hardened against negative influences. Should we rely on outside standards such as MPAA ratings? I also find that problematic.

  63. Shannon Keeley on November 11, 2004 at 12:57 am

    I’m glad Brian finally posted. He had a half written post sitting on my desktop for a few days. I can’t figure out why he’s so shy about posting on a blog when he’s usually the loudest guy in the room. I guess he’s only loud in real-life rooms—not chat rooms. Or is a blog and a chat room not the same thing? I’m new to this—you’ll have to educate me.

    I saw Angels with Rosalynde actually, but not the same production she talks about in her post. It was a year later, and Rosalynde was back in London as a TA while I was attending the Tim Slover / Gene England study abroad in London. Rosalynde and I spent four days in Ireland and we caught a production of Angels in Dublin.

    It’s not a decision that I took very seriously or thought much about at the time. I think I was motivated mainly by curiosity—since this was the only production Brian had ever chosen not to see, of course I had to run out and see it! (On our first official date he took me to see “Pulp Fiction,� so you can imagine how intrigued I’d be by something that he wouldn’t see.) Maybe I was just too young at the time, but I don’t recall my theater experience as having a huge impact on me then. The HBO production this year left me with much more conflicted feelings and resonated much longer than that first show in Ireland. Perhaps my sensitivity has increased (although I don’t see how that’s possible), or the fact that I’ve gone through the temple makes the material and the images more difficult to “metabolize,� as Rosalynde puts it.

    I don’t think I made the wrong decision to see the production in Ireland; however, if I had the chance to see it again, I’m not sure that seeing it would be the right decision for me now.

  64. D. Fletcher on November 11, 2004 at 1:56 am

    So Rosalynde saw Angels twice, eh? Kinda puts a new spin on the situation.

    :)

  65. Rosalynde Welch on November 11, 2004 at 1:58 am

    Wow, Shannon *and* Brian, both commenting on the same thread! Never mind the fact that Russell Arben Fox hasn’t commented, my blogging stint is already an unqualified success.

    Yeah, Shannon, I thought about that Dublin production we saw–although I was so tired from the overnight boat trip that the only thing I really remember is a line of rag dolls across the stage at the end. Was I hallucinating? If memory serves (though it clearly does not), we only saw the second part, “Perestroika,” which isn’t as graphic as “Millennium Approaches.”

    Steve, you raise some good questions. I think it is possible to predict one’s own response to something, given some basic knowledge of self and object: for example, I have a really bad memory for the specifics of books, movies and plays; I don’t have a very vivid imagination, nor a great capacity for imaginative identification. So I don’t tend to be bothered by vivid images returning to my mind after the initial experience. However, I do have a great susceptibility to vivid language and strong argument. There have been many occasions, then, when I have stopped reading a very disturbing piece of fiction, or an especially confrontational attack on something I hold dear.

  66. Rosalynde Welch on November 11, 2004 at 2:02 am

    Actually, D., I’ve seen it at least three times. Last year my neighbor starred in a production at UCSD, and his wife invited me to see the production with her. Since she knew we were Mormon, and we had discussed the church in some detail, I decided to go along to do some damage control. As it turned out, we were able to talk about the Book of Mormon quite a bit afterward, and I even presented her with a copy. That sparked her interest in world religions, so she took a religion course at school, which occasioned even more discussion of the church. In fact, that has been my most satisfying post-mission missionary experience.

  67. Brian on November 11, 2004 at 2:59 am

    Now, Rosalynde, I think you conspicuously left out an important detail about seeing your neighbor in the play. I mean when you say you saw him you really SAW him.

  68. Rosalynde Welch on November 11, 2004 at 12:50 pm

    Yeah, Brian, you just *had* to ruin my uplifting story by including that *one* little detail, didn’t you.

    For what it’s worth, I did actually avert my eyes during the nudity scene (luckily I knew when it was coming), and I told him so afterward. Somehow it’s easier to arrange playdates with neighbors you *haven’t* seen naked.

  69. D. Fletcher on November 11, 2004 at 12:54 pm

    I was just pulling your chain, Rosalynde — I think it’s fine that you saw the show a number of times.

  70. Steve Evans on November 11, 2004 at 12:57 pm

    “I did actually avert my eyes”

    Sure, sure. You’re not fooling anyone!

    I don’t think it really hurts Rosalynde’s analysis for her to have later seen the play, SEVERAL times. All it does is again call into question our decision-making mechanisms, and makes us realize that we’re not static individuals.

  71. Rob Briggs on November 12, 2004 at 1:20 am

    #39 ” I’m highly susceptible to doubt, for instance, so I do all my religious questioning and exploring in faithful (broadly construed) contexts; I avoid anti-Mormon materials like the plague, because I know I would be unable to metabolize their messages healthily.”

    Highly susceptible to doubt. Hmm, that’s an interesting way to phrase it. I expect, Rosalynde, you do better than many.

    I suppose I’m situationally susceptible to doubt. (I have my good days & my bad days.) But I’ve found that C.S. Lewis was right (paraphrasing) “When was the last time you heard a really compelling argument against the gospel” (or maybe he said Christianity). Rather, we had to be aware of swings/changes in “mood.”) When mood fails me, doubt is at the door.

  72. Rob Briggs on November 12, 2004 at 1:31 am

    Don’t mean to hijack the thread. On the other hand, it’s been way too long since we had a decent film subthread so . . .

    Jack said, “That said, I have to admit that the pickings are slimmer when it comes to great R rated movies. As a matter of fact I can only think of a couple that I would consider *great* art.”

    Jack, I’m curious which one’s you might include. Then we can go back to strict vs. loose construction.

  73. Rob Briggs on November 12, 2004 at 1:40 am

    Brian, good writing.

    You should be a writer.

  74. Jack on November 12, 2004 at 2:56 am

    Rob, like I said in the same paragraph, I’ve only seen a hand full of rated R movies. So, maybe my statement was a little brazen. However, the reason that I’ve only seen 10 or 12 is because, quite frankly, on the whole I wasn’t very impressed with them. Generally speaking, I didn’t find them anymore “artistic” than the PG’s.

    The Godfather I & II are both miraculous. III is garbage (with the exception of a couple of classic shots)

    Cuckoo’s Nest is a gem.

    I have mixed feelings about Schindler’s List.

    Saving Private Ryan is visually incredible. Can’t say much for the other elements.

    Braveheart stinks.

    Glory, second rate – too sentimental. (I’m suprised this one’s an “R”)

    Airforce I, regurgitated pop.

    Clock Work Orange, almost worked – too lascivious. (It’s hard to enjoy a movie when you have to keep your eyes shut through half of it)

    Shawshank Redemption, somewhat compelling too stereotypical. Definitely overrated.

    There’s one or two others I can’t remember. (probably because there not worth remembering)

  75. Jack on November 12, 2004 at 3:05 am

    I just remembered the others.

    The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now. Both are great, though difficult to stomach more than twice in a lifetime. (for me)

    Alien & Aliens. The former is good solid classic horror. the latter is crap.

  76. Rob Briggs on November 12, 2004 at 4:21 am

    Sorry for leaving the keyboard. Had to go see the end of Saving Private Ryan (no joke) on TV. My dad made the landing on the island of Saipan, 6-44, & lost his arm there. So Saving Private Ryan was something of a “required course” for us. My dad said the storming the beach scene was the closest thing to his experience he’d ever seen.

    Got to disagree on Braveheart, but then I’ve got Scottish blood. It worked for me. I look at those fierce hooligans and proudly say, Them’s my people.

    I like your other picks. Never saw Clockwork or any of the Aliens (me bad). I’d add a couple more:

    Kurasawa’s “Ran” — (“Samurai King Lear”) — the closest thing to the mood of the BoM at its conclusion (the despair for the waste & stupidity) of anything I’ve ever seen or read.

    Was “The Right Stuff” R? Another one I’ve returned to several times. And Last of the Mohicans.

    LA Confidential — I love that film. Sort of a modern noir. Gladiator, The Insider — they all worked for me. Three with Russell Crowe.

    Then there’s DeNiro. Probably shouldn’t confess how many DeNiro films I’ve seen.

    Funny, I guess, how different people have different sensibilities. War & crime, OK for me. But I don’t really like horror and anything with suicide in it creeps me out. I really dislike that. Although I’d make an exception for “Ordinary People” — the sense at the end that unconditional love can redeem a seriously wavering soul is wonderful. One of those rare one’s where the movie was better than the book (IMO).

    Agree that the memorable R’s are a small percentage of the total.

    OK, I’m done hijacking.

  77. Ivan Wolfe on November 12, 2004 at 8:42 am

    I’d say that truly memorable/good movies are a small percentage of the total, regardless of rating.

  78. Jack on November 12, 2004 at 11:09 am

    Rob, I’m also of scottish descent. My sir name is infact, the name of a clan. However, those that make bad movies, regardless of familial ties, are forthwith disowned as there is no greater crime committed against the family name than the embrace or creation of bad art by one of it’s members. (obviously I’m one who fancies himself an artist) :)

    I agree with Ivan “that truly memorable/good movies are a small percentage of the total, regardless of rating” – except that PG’s, because they cater to a larger audience and are not as fierce in their portrayal of the ugly (and therefore more creative and deeply metaphorical in many instances), they will endure longer than the “R’s”.

  79. D. Fletcher on November 12, 2004 at 12:43 pm

    Um, I’m Scottish myself. In fact, when those two movies came out (Rob Roy and Braveheart), it turned out that I’m literally related to both the heros.

    One of the my lines is Wallace, and my middle name (ahem) is Wallace.

    The other one of my lines is McGregor. After the clan wars, a number of clans immigrated to England and changed their names. My ancestors McGregor (as in Robert McGregor, aka Rob Roy) changed their name to Fletcher.

    P.S. Braveheart sucks, sorry. So does Gladiator. But L.A. Confidential, now there’s a movie.

  80. Kaimi on November 12, 2004 at 12:57 pm

    Over at Sons of Mosiah, they had a lengthy discussion of what the best R-Rated movies were.

    See http://www.bobandlogan.com/archives/000151.html .

    Braveheart, Gladiator, not on my list. Sorry. But some seriously good movies — such as Godfathers, The Usual Suspects, American Beauty, Fight Club, Almost Famous, not to mention Chinatown — are R-rated. Many of these probably couldn’t have been made (or made well) without being R-rated.

  81. Brian on November 13, 2004 at 3:01 am

    RE: #73 Thanks, Rob.

    I’m working at it.

  82. Rob Briggs on November 13, 2004 at 4:15 am

    Well, now that I’ve taken several hits for Braveheart & Gladiator I will not share with you that I react to them like I do to other forms of REVEALED TRUTH! (I know, I know, subjective reaction is not the test . . .)

    And I want to politely dissent from Con Air & almost any action-adventure with Bruce Willis in it. I’m sort of similar with Nicolas Cage — great in Raising Arizona & Leaving Las Vegas but as an action hero? I dunno.

    But, Kaimi, the other site was good (thanks for the link BTW). It reminded me of several that just jumped off the screen at me:

    In the Name of the Father (Daniel Day Lewis — for whenever we need a fix of truth and justice)
    Unforgiven (a violent film with a theme that violence breeds violence in really immediate & awful ways) & (drum roll . . .)
    just for laughs — Blues Brothers, 4 Weddings & a Funeral, & Full Monty.

    Reconsidering my criterion, I’m not sure I’ve listed “most memorable” or “classics” but rather “those bearing several viewings.”

  83. Rob Briggs on November 13, 2004 at 4:55 am

    Jack: “except that PG’s, . . . more creative and deeply metaphorical . . ., they will endure longer than the “R’s”.

    Examples??

  84. Jack on November 13, 2004 at 10:59 am

    “Examples??”

    Think of a mad Lawrence staring at his bloody knife after he and his followers have slaughtered a Turkish regiment. The fighting is far less graphic than that of, say, Braveheart, and yet the reality of it’s horror is powerfully conveyed as it is embodied in it’s effect upon a character. David Lean employs the same kind of artistry in Dr Zhivago when we see a mixture of violence and Zhivago’s response to the violence as soldiers are slaughtering demonstrators in the street.

    IMO, these scenes are far more creative and metaphorical in their construct than most of the graphic elements that we see in what are considered “worthwhile” R movies, and will have a tendency to endure longer than the “R’s” because they allow for more creative interaction on the part of the viewer.

  85. Rob Briggs on November 13, 2004 at 12:48 pm

    Good point and good examples.

  86. Larry on November 13, 2004 at 3:04 pm

    Jack,

    Why aren’t you in school getting your Masters or Phd ?

  87. Larry on November 13, 2004 at 3:58 pm

    Jack,

    I’m serious. Chauncey Riddle was in his forties, I believe, when he went back to school. You have a keen mind and a lot to offer.

  88. Jack on November 13, 2004 at 5:16 pm

    Thankyou Larry for your kindness.

    I’ve thought about finishing school, but alas, there are two roadblocks that I don’t know how to get around. 1. I have six children – two of whom are teenagers – and I don’t want to get so busy trying to improve my circumstances that I miss seeing them grow up. 2. I’m afraid that I’ll get so bogged down with school work that I’ll have no time or energy to be creative. So, until I can figure out how to get around those obsticles, I’ll have to take comfort after the manner of Tevye who said (speaking of members of his own family), “they’re so happy they don’t know how miserable they are”. :)

    Thanks again.

  89. Blake Ostler on November 13, 2004 at 10:40 pm

    Rosalynde: Thank God for LDS as articulate, intelligent and puzzling as you are! Your sheer literary wit amazes me to no end. My view with respect to Kushner comes from another metaphor having to do with stain and uncleanness (though I like Brian’s allusion to the dye metaphor). Christ suggests that casting pearls before swine is both unwise and spiritually costly. Who wants to wallow in the muck to get what is valuable? Will the swine appreciate the pearls? Does casting the sacred as profane result in the sacred being cast out? For my part, I would not support a salcious play that profanes what I hold sacred. I am troubled by my owned judgmentalness (is that a word?) that is implicit in the very judgment that those who are non-LDS or who fail to appreciate the sacred nature of the symbols and realities with which they deal are like swine — but, hey, it is Jesus’s parable and picture and it works for me. It is almost as arrogant as remembering that the “S” in LDS stands for “Saint.” How dare we call ourselves such an appelation? There is no right or wrong in this choice — only that which brings light and that which doesn’t. Did attending the play bring you light? Did it edify? I haven’t seen the play and don’t intend to — I admit that my sensibilities are with Brian (or the person who was Brian at that time) who decided not to go; though not with the Brian who decided to go see something at least as graphic and demeaning of the human spirit.

    As for me, my wife is still on me for seeing Private Ryan and The Pianist, both R rated films that I found uplifting and edifying and troubling. However, since I have no conscience about such things, I don’t feel any remorse at breaching the R-rating. I draw the line at profaning the sacred (as best I can see it). The human body is beautiful beyond compare and the act of human intimacy is unspeakably godlike — but beauty can be profaned and the godlike can become mere pornography.