Boring the Saints


A few days ago I finally finished watching the Helen Whitney documentary on The Mormons. I know, I know: this is old news; most people watched it months ago and I could have done so too if A) my tv got decent reception of PBS, but it doesn’t, or B) I was willing to watch it on my computer screen, but I wasn’t, or C) I had moved the disk to the top of my Neftflix queue weeks ago, but there were other things I wanted to see more.

Anyway, I watched it, and it was pretty good, I guess--it seemed balanced and reasonable and accurate. The voices presented included those of the faithful, the dissenting, the ambivalent, the scholarly, the mainstream, the extreme. There was nothing particularly objectionable about it, aside from this Terryl Givens guy, who embodies so many things I despise about a particular type of Mormon and set me teeth on edge every time he appeared on screen or opened his mouth. What a sanctimonious, prissy prig! How pig-like in his appearance, how like a mosquito in his intonation and speech. Ick.

But aside from that, nothing upset me, or moved me, or challenged me, or informed me. Watching it was like watching “The Trouble with Tribbles” and a few other episodes from the James T, Kirk series of Star Trek: OK, they were pretty good to begin with--at least, I enjoyed watching them at the time--and it has been a long time since I last watched them, but STILL, I saw them so many times in my youth that they remain really familiar and not that fun to watch. All that’s different now is that my TV is a lot newer and the commercials are more sophisticated.

So that’s my main reaction to the documentary: It bored me, not because it was badly made or anything, but because I already knew everything it contained, even down to the Reed Smoot hearings. Which is fine: it means I had a decent education about the church in the first place, that not that much has changed since I left over 18 years ago, and that I haven’t missed all that much by being gone.

But it did make me reflect on just how little most people outside the church really know about it. The documentary had to be so basic and and rudimentary because most non-mos don’t know much about the church except that A) the Mo-Tabs are a really big choir housed in a really funky building and B) the missionaries are annoying and C) Mitt Romney probably can’t get elected because he belongs to it.

And that lack of information has made it hard for me to write about Mormonism for a non-Mormon audience, so I am actually quite grateful that Helen Whitney chose to bore the saints.


True it was awhile ago, but I'll see what I can remember...

From my standpoint, I really liked certain things about it. I didn't know many of the people interviewed, and I liked that she (Whitney) didn't tell me who they were, other than their name. I had never heard of Givens and I don't recall being bothered by him. But I remember really liking Ken Verdoia. And those two seemed to get a lot of coverage.

Probably my favorite part was hearing Dallin Oaks apologizing for what happened at Mountain Meadows. I may be wrong, but I think this was the first occasion a general authority has apologized for this. Not that it does much, but there is something to be said for the church to finally come to terms with its past. I think this was a big step in the right direction.

Like you, I thought it was balanced, and even quite positive towards the church and its past. I was shocked the next week to be at a father/son campout and hear the people bagging on it like it was the most negative thing they had seen and how it so poorly represented the church. I think it's because even the little she presented is unfamiliar to many Mormons, not just non-Mormons. I think many Mormons have not had a decent education in the church, and as such, shy away from scholarship that isn't "official".

Hi GMA--

I had to google Ken Verdoia to remember who he was--there were just so many names! I thought his comments were interesting, and you're right, he did show up a lot. Dallin Oaks bugs me in general, though here he wasn't as annoying as I usually find him. I thought Margaret Toscano did a good job, but then, Margaret always does. The one guy I wanted to dislike but couldn't was Marlin K. Jensen (also had to check to remember his name). I see that he's a GA but he became one about the time I left, so this was the first time he was ever brought to my attention in a significant way, and I found him just so squeaky-clean and doctrinaire. But it also seemed to me that he had a good heart and some genuine humility, so I quickly gave up trying to dislike him and accepted that he really believed what he was saying and tried his best to live a good life.

Most of the discussions I've seen of this documentary have been in Mormon forums. I just spent some time at the PBS website, reading comments there; most are from Mormons. Of course Mormons have an obvious and great stake in how we are portrayed by and to others, but I am curious as to what non-members who saw it thought of it, and as I say, I get tired of dealing with what people don't know about the church, so the wider the audience this reached, the happier I'd be.

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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on January 25, 2008 2:58 PM.

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