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.