Mormons in the Media

I don't know how to react to the HBO-"Big Love"-Temple Ceremony-drama. Granted, I haven't lost much sleep over it, but I find myself thinking about it today. Some of my peers and friends have already reacted very strongly--circling email chains, encouraging boycotts and sending strongly worded complaints to HBO en masse. They are not alone. For the Church's official reaction to Big Love's conflation of LDS theology and practice with some of the more unorthodox polygamous groups in the greater Intermountain West area, go here; and for how the Church encourages members to react, check this very interesting article. As for the actual depiction of the temple ceremony in Big Love, I haven't seen it. I don't know how extensive, detailed, or even potentially offensive it is. I think I can safely say that the whole thing doesn't quite pass the "smell" test, but I don't know exactly how to react. Yet. I'm sure I will develop a more full opinion in the coming days. However, in an effort to find the silver lining in every dark cloud (and fill up my yellow balloon even more), I have to look at this situation as another way to get my sometimes-obscure, oft-misunderstood faith out there in the public eye. I'm a firm believer in the marketplace of ideas, and as such, I view full, frank discussion of ideals--even religious ones--as a good thing. Putting pressure on ideas, questioning them, shedding light on them, can expose silly ideas--*cough, cough* the Snuggie...? *cough*--for what they are and reinforce and give support to the good ones. I love my faith. And I firmly believe that, after surviving decades of polarizing internal politics and scrutiny by heretics, skeptics, scholars, and even the US Government, that faith will survive the scrutiny of a mediocre fictional work on a pay-cable production. Obviously, misrepresentations, slander, and disrespectful portrayals of religious acts we as Latter-Day Saints hold eternally dear is done in bad taste. But if this Big Love episode does one thing, it gets the discussion ball rolling. And that can hardly be bad. One good fruit of this whole hullabaloo? Below you can watch a short clip produced by the LDS Church in order to better explain why our temples are so dear to us, and ultimately why Big Love's portrayal of what goes on in them could understandably offend.


SGarff said...

Thanks for your thoughts Eric. I’m not exactly sure how I want to react to this one either. Just like the Prop 8 controversies, if you get off the internet and look at how people are acting in the real world everything is a lot less apocalyptic. I tend to agree with the attitude expressed in the Church’s statement. The less we make this a big deal the less it will become a big deal. Most news articles that I have read have tried to overstate the Church’s opposition to the show. Bipolarization sells newspapers but it doesn’t always reflect reality.

Daniel Hunter said...

Thanks Eric. You sure have developed a wonderful talent for writing. I haven't blog-browsed in a while, but this evening I got on yours and read your last several entries. I couldn't help but smile several time and just feel more refreshed & relaxed. Thanks!

ebv said...

Thanks, Dan and Steve. Appreciate the comments.

Thankfully, Armageddon is still an awful movie by Michael Bay and starring Bruce Willis. ;)

SGarff said...

I’m glad that so far it’s just a movie as well and that Missouri was over 150 years ago. I also think that you are probably right about a more open discussion of Mormonism. I’m reminded of something that Brigham Young observed. He said: "Every time you kick Mormonism you kick it upstairs."

Mel said...

My personal opinion is.. hey- free speech. Will its mere presence on tv, regardless of how it's portrayed, offend people? Absolutely. But I don't see why religious topics should be off limits and protected just because it's religion. Here is what I love the most about this situation though- people are calling for boycotts and such, but if you're a "good" Mormon, shouldn't you already be 'boycotting' HBO's programs anyway because of their content?

All I DO know is, whether HBO intended this to happen or not, this episode will probably get the highest ratings for the series ever. And the people who are being the most vocal about keeping that information off of television are helping that to happen. Kind of ironic, doncha think?

Cody said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cody said...

Obviously I'm not an expert on this topic, but I will report that this isn't creating any discussion AT ALL here. The only time I've heard about this is from people reacting to it on the internet.

Personally, I think Big Love has always tried to work to create some sort of "peace" among it's show and the Mormon Church...because of the shows topic it definitely becomes difficult at times to remain respectful while going though their storyline, but I've gotten the feeling they've at least made some attempts (like the warnings at the begging of the show). I believe that the one of the reasons that Big Love now is crossing an obvious line with the church is because of the Prop 8 stuff. HBO, Big Love writers, actors, etc, are most likely (and this is a generalization) on the "no to Prop 8" fence... they are also all most likely residents of California. Where they used to tread lightly on the show they are a lot less likely to do so because of the Mormon Church’s involvement with Prop 8. The show is a lot less likely to respond to church members boycotts and messages from the church itself… and unfortunately, this Big Love episode could just be the beginning of the end of the imaginary respect Hollywood and the Mormon Church once shared.

That's my conspiracy at least. But again, I really think this is only on the radar of people in Utah. I have no read or seen anything about this in Texas.

Barb @ getupandplay said...

Well said, Eric. (I haven't ever seen Big Love and I won't be watching this episode either.)

I don't find it hard to just let the whole thing blow over- it just doesn't bother me that much. The writers, etc. of the show knew that they would offend some people and they did it anyway- they do work for HBO after all, pushing the envelope is kind of their thing. It's not like this is some ignorant mistake that we as members need to correct- they knew it would offend some active LDS and all we can do is choose how we will react to it.

I find it ironic and very interesting that the writers' statement refers to how hard they tried to write an accurate portrayal. In most situations, that would be some sort of consolation, but the accuracy is part of the problem here!

Andrew McKnight said...

It's the day after the "Big" show and the sky didn't fall. Dang it... that means I have to go to work.

Actually, I too have found the entire situation of the program itself less than consuming. Like Cody mentioned, I don't think the program caused much of a stir. The first I heard about it, ironically enough, was on the Church newsroom website (I know, however, that the Church needed to post its message and calm down the sometimes overzealous members who leave their charity at home when the faith is presented in an unpleasing way).

But, as Melanie briefly mentioned in her comment, I am somewhat concerned about why the Latter-day Saints who canceled their HBO subscriptions were watching HBO programming in the first place. If these people weren't actually watching anything, then they were simply wasting their money. But if they were, then to me it is like saying "Go ahead, give me a good fill of profanity, violence, and sex. Give me anything the Prophet and scriptures have counseled me to avoid, but don't mess with my religion." Nobody is perfect and I probably have too many beams in my eye to become overly concerned with other people's television choices. But I also think that one of the best defenses I can offer for my faith is to actually live it.

Andria said...

Hello...I'm the person who found your blog via the "I Heart Penguins" post when my daughter and I were looking for penguin pictures. I hadn't checked in in a couple months, but I'm glad I did...your blog is so funny and well-written. I often "LOL," as they say.

I'm only responding here to weigh in, and because, as an English teacher, I enjoy a good exchange of ideas. I'm not Mormon -- I was raised atheist but became a Christian in college, and it "stuck." :) I have also been watching "Big Love" for a couple years. I kind of knew it was a guilty pleasure -- so well-written and hilarious, but I knew that many Mormons did not approve of it. And I felt bad about that. I can honestly say, however, that I have NEVER felt that "Big Love" was about "main line" Mormons. It was about members of the FLDS -- and a rather fanciful interpretation of them, at that -- in the same way that "The Sopranos" was about mafiosos, not normal Catholics or Italian-Americans.

I just never watched "Big Love" thinking that the show was about "normal" Mormons. I never felt like I was watching something that was supposed to be TEACHING me about Mormonism, and I certainly understood that the fictional FLDS family depicted in the series was IMAGINARY. Made up. Not supposed to be real!

That said, I don't think "Big Love" should carry ahead with a scene if there is a large Mormon voice against it. And if this "temple scene" WERE a sort of retaliation because of Prop 8, that's just poor behavior on the part of the directors. (I was opposed to Prop 8, but I consider that political, not spiritual...I mean, you don't retaliate against members of a faith because of a political controversy, even if it is rooted in religious beliefs. Just not cool, "Big Love!")

I fear that "Big Love" will lose me as a viewer if I keep hearing of too many valid, disregarded complaints by the LDS church. Which is the power of free speech and protest working in this country, I guess.

Is it horrible that I have not totally disowned the show yet? Am I putting some shallow form of entertainment (and darn good fiction writing) above the feelings of fellow Christians? I hope not. That would say some bad things about me. Maybe I need to take a harder look at myself.

ebv said...

Andria-- thanks for your thoughtful and well-written comment, and an especial thanks for reading the blog. :D

As to this specific issue, I wouldn't equate your mixed-feelings about Big Love with something so serious as choosing entertainment over Christianity. The show, by all accounts I've had from those who watch it, is well-written, well-acted, and generally intriguing.

While I think what HBO has done is probably in bad taste, may have roots in political reactions, and represents something of a double-standard in the media (would Islam EVER receive this kind of treatment?), it is HBO's speech and should not be shut down simply because it may be derogatory.

Of course, with that freedom of expression, you as the viewer get to choose what to watch and what to support with your time (and subsequent $$$). If the show is no longer worthwhile or offensive to the point that it makes you question whether it's even worth watching, well...again, that's your prerogative.

Finally, as a member of the LDS Church, can I say "thank you for your concern and sensitivity?" It is warmly accepted.

Hope all is well, and that my blog continues to produce loads of LOL'ing along with the occasional thought-provoker. :)

Andria said...

I'm sorry...two last thoughts. (I went off to peel potatoes, began contemplating my crippled soul, and have returned.)

-- Irony. Just look at the picture at the top of this post -- Mr. "Big Love" and his family. That is satire. They don't look real. They look silly. If people are watching "Big Love" and think they're watching a documentary on the LDS church, then I'm sorry, but they are kind of dumb people. Are we working too hard to protect dumb people with no sense of satire from themselves?

-- Lastly. If there is anything I think I have "learned" about the LDS church from "Big Love," it is a sense of respect for the values and ceremonies of the Church. While the show focuses on a fictional, "rogue" family, I do enjoy the moments when "actual" LDS culture shines through....such as depictions of Family Home Evening. If those depictions have made me, as a relatively ignorant non-Mormon, feel anything about Mormonism, it's a huge sense of respect for the role of family in the Mormon faith.

And I do realize that these last two statements contradict themselves. "Big Love isn't REALLY about Mormons. But I've learned so much about the LDS church!" Hmm...

I promise, I am done. I realize that I probably have come across as morally suspect (admitting that I watch "B.L") and woefully uneducated. I do mean well. I just thought a "non-Mormon" perpective on the show and this controversy might be somehow useful.

ebv said...

Andria--you are the proof of the hope of this post. That getting the discussion ball rolling can only lead to good things. I'm glad you are a sophisticated enough viewer to distinguish between LDS and FLDS, and receive what Big Love offers with a grain of salt.

That said, I think this has become a controversy in the LDS community mostly because the episode depicted temple ceremonies that are the pinnacle of LDS Theology, Symbolism, and Divinity. The worry that many will confuse "us" with "them" I think has died down since the show first began several years ago.

As to the Temple Ceremonies, there is little we hold more sacred in our community than those ordinances we perform in our temples. Perhaps only our families and familial relationships carry a more divinely charged meaning in our lives. And our relationship to family and God is the central theme of those ceremonies.

It's interesting to note that everything about our Temples can be found on the internet if a surfer is intrepid enough. But that doesn't diminish how important and sacred they are to our community.

Again, thank you so much for weighing in. It's great to hear a voice from someone with a different perspective!

Andria said...

You know what? I just reread my last post and thought -- This is stupid. I still AM privileging a dumb TV show over people of admirable faith. I'm just treading in moral circles here, trying to make myself feel better about something I'd been suspecting all along.

That's it. Big Love, I'm done with you. I think you HAVE gone too far, and no more shall you fill my red Netflix envelopes.

Thank you for making me think...it's the best thing that could have happened to me this Lenten season.

And I PROMISE that you will not hear from me again, no matter how thought-provoking your next post!!!

ebv said...


Andria, if you never post again, I'll be sad. :'(

Please, comment to your heart's delight. I love to hear others' thoughts on what I write.