One of the papers I delivered at Sunstone was on Johnny LIngo, a 24-minute film made by BYU and presented "The Deseret Sunday School Union of the COJCOLDS" in 1969. If you're Mormon, you probably know all about it; if you're not, you can watch it all on Youtube: part 1, part2, and part 3.
If you don't want to subject yourself to the crappy, grainy videos, I'll summarize the movie: on some unnamed Pacific island, this hot dude named Johnny Lingo buys a really ugly wife (she's so ugly that her name, "Mahana," is a bit of Mormon slang for a really ugly woman) for the exorbitant sum of eight cows, which confounds everyone, since a totally hot chick sells for four or five cows. But when JL and Mahana return from their extended honeymoon, lo and behold, she's HOT! Totally worth eight cows! Being purchased for eight cows has turned Mahana into an eight-cow woman!
And that's held up in Mormonism as a way to foster female self-worth: buy and sell them for A LOT.
I chose to write about this crappy little movie because it's still a vital part of Mormon culture, still shown (at least in some parts of the world) in Mormon classrooms, and often the object of considerable nostalgia from people who saw it in their youth. It was remade into an even crappier 90-minute feature film in 2003, and that movie's dvd bonus features include a documentary with Mormons discussing how great the original film is, as well as a few men talking about how they replicated the basic gesture of "buying" a woman for eight (or more) cows, because it's so good for a woman's self-esteem--though admittedly the cows in these contemporary American transactions were toys. Still, the basic import is to show how "cute" it is to bargain for a woman.
The paper got a story on the front page of the second section of the SL Tribune, because, as the reporter told me, it was a good paper on a topic that hadn't been already discussed ad infinitum at Sunstone. You can also find the story online, but I'm not going to link to it, because this blog is semi-anonymous (meaning I don't use my last name in it, even though most people who read this know exactly who I am). But if you're curious, you can find the Trib story by googling "Johnny Lingo" and "Salt Lake Tribune." The comments condemn me for all sorts of things: for criticizing the church; for not criticizing the church enough; for not realizing how bad "My Fair Lady Is" (though I actually compared JL to "Pygmalion"), for being a feminist and all-round bitch.
But here's something I wish I had read a week ago, because I would have incorporated it into my paper: a real-life example of what happens when women are treated as commodities. This story, from the Guardian, details what is happening in Uganda, where
The practice of bride gifts has been relabelled "bride price", demanded by families and fiercely negotiated. It has reduced young women to commodities and has made families see their daughters as a source of income. Today bride price isn't a bag of potatoes, it's a list of demands for money, animals or clothing made by fathers and older brothers, who might want to throw in requests for new shoes or school fees. The mother gets nothing because she was more or less purchased herself, and the sisters are ignored too as they are all set to be exchanged for commodities when they reach 12 or 13.
The impact of this commodification on young women is catastrophic. It breeds misery and reduces them to chattels.
Believe it or not, THAT is the main reason I chose to write about "Johnny Lingo": the transaction it finds so "cute" and "affirming" has genuine, concrete and devastating ramifications for real women TODAY, and I knew that, even without reading this article. But it's valuable (I won't say "nice") to have proof.