Him and Her (But Mostly Him)

| 19 Comments

First, check this out:

Then, consider this point: It's not the least bit surprising that Parker and Stone get so much about Mormonism right, in ways that entertainment produced by Mormons for Mormons never can. Parker and Stone have talked about doing and obviously indeed do a great deal of research and fact-checking about Mormon doctrines, attitudes and behaviors. Their interest is in discovering and portraying Mormons accurately--including LDS contradictions, such as their arrogant niceness--instead of reinforcing the basic tenets of the faith and avoiding difficult questions. So it's not surprising that the South Park guys arrive at all sorts of great insights about Mormons, and that their portraits of Mormons and Mormonism are faithful and accurate as opposed to faith-promoting and proper.

Over on Main Street Plaza, I've been involved in a series of discussions of mixed-orientation marriages between gay Mormon men and straight Mormon women (or gay man/straight woman MOMs, aka gm/sw MOMs), which many of you will know is a topic I've been writing about for years. Indeed, the discussions were prompted in part by an essay I published in Sunstone a few years ago the subject.

One of my contributions to the discussion was this comment about "You and Me (But Mostly Me)," one of my favorite songs from The Book of Mormon musical. I wrote:

It works perfectly in the show with two male missionary companions, in part because it's an attitude enough 19-year-old Mormon guys have. But imagine it sung with a young Mormon man and his fiancee: it works even better. Both of them very likely accept that she is "the side dish on a slightly smaller plate," precisely because that's how they've been trained to see marriages: he is the captain, she is the mate.

In a subsequent thread, Chanson wrote

it was listening to "You and Me (But Mostly Me)" that made my whole youth and childhood pass before my eyes. Standing there, happy to supportively sing "my best friend..." while somebody Awesome! (in the spotlight) sings his heart out about serving God.

In a comment to that thread, she added

I completely agree with Holly's assessment that this would be perfect sung as a duet between a young LDS guy and his fiancee. I don't think that's reading anything into it that's not there. Hierarchy colors so much about Mormon interpersonal relationships. And the (officially unequal) partnership between missionaries sets the model for marriage.

One point that is pure genius is the fact that their unequal relationship isn't quite the central focus of the song. The leader's earnest desire to do something great for mankind and God is as central (if not moreso). And the fact it's tied in with his own ego is (at most) winked at.

You can see this symbolized in the temple endowment (which I haven't been through, but I've heard about it). The fact that the wife covenants to obey her husband is OK because the husband is making a covenant with God. If you complain (or do anything other than stand beside him being supportive), then you're the buzzing fly that's detracting from a man and his important business between him and God!

I can't imagine any song could more perfectly capture what Mormon patriarchy feels like.

I agree with her assessment of the temple ceremony. But what really got me thinking about the whole gender issue was how well the song reflected the basic relationship between Heavenly Father and our all but invisible Heavenly Mother:

Both: And as long as we stick together
Her: And I stay out of your way
Him: (Out of my way!)
Her: We will change the world forever, and make tomorrow a latter day!
Him: (Mostly me!)

And the song concludes

Him: And there's no limit to what we can do--me and you. But mostly ME!

Yep. That's pretty much what I was told to expect for all eternity. And I was told that I would LOVE my role, because I'd be playing it for the man I loved, and what more could I as a woman possibly want than that?

And I'll add here (and not there, because the discussion of MOMs got somewhat acrimonious, largely due to one particular idiotic and patronizing mansplainer who told all us ladies that we have no right to expect honesty from any gay man who might choose to court us, 'cause such a man don't owe no straight person--not even one he expects to bear his children--NOTHING) that the basic training in how to "stand next to you and watch" is part of what makes gm/swMOMs so insidious and hurtful to women: a woman's job in her marriage is to stand next to her husband and watch--even as he engages in behavior that hurts him, hurts their children, and hurts HER. It's all right and all righteousness as long as the harm and suffering is incurred through a husband's desire to do God's will for him.

p.s. I LOVE the line "I'll do something INCREDIBLE that blows God's freakin' mind!" I used it as a FB status: "Holly wants to do something INCREDIBLE that blows God's freakin' mind!"

19 Comments

I LOVED that line too!!!

I have been listening to the whole musical all day, but especially that song. I'm glad you liked my comments. I feel like this is one of these epiphany moment where I'd call my therapist if I had one. ;)

The thing about focusing the song on HIS grand dream -- that is exactly the right way to illustrate it. There are probably songs where the subordinate sings about his/her feelings about being in someone's shadow. But that's wrong. As soon as you shine the spotlight on the subordinate's feelings, then s/he's now in the spotlight -- and you've completely missed the boat on portraying what it's like in the shadow.

The point is that -- in Mormonism -- the focus isn't on the women and their lower status. The spotlight is on the men and the important, serious business they have to do. So if a woman complains about her lot, then she's just one more petty annoyance that men have to worry about as they (the men) carry out the real responsibilities in the world.

This principle was illustrated throughout Johnathan Langford's novel about homophobia and patriarchy, for example in this passage:

"Richard’s first few months as a bishop had been a learning experience—for them and for the ward as well. During his first three weeks, he’d offended Sister Archibald, the Young Women president at that time, with a comment about the young men being his primary responsibility, without any mention of the young women. The Relief Society president had been upset when one of her counselors was called into Primary without any warning. And an innocent statement from Richard about how most teenagers didn’t pay attention during Sunday school had been taken as a criticism by one of the Sunday school teachers, who had then insisted on being released. Richard had to spend forty minutes talking with Brother Jeffries before he’d agreed to stay on as a teacher."

Apologies for quoting that, but I have never read any other work that portrays the attitudes of Mormon patriarchy quite as sincerely and explicitly.

The point is that -- in Mormonism -- the focus isn't on the women and their lower status. The spotlight is on the men and the important, serious business they have to do. So if a woman complains about her lot, then she's just one more petty annoyance that men have to worry about as they (the men) carry out the real responsibilities in the world.

Yes!

As for Langford's novel--well, you and I both tried to get him (and others) to see that Richard's attitude was patronizing and harmful rather than noble and admirable, and we remember how THAT went.

Also, this:

There are probably songs where the subordinate sings about his/her feelings about being in someone's shadow. But that's wrong. As soon as you shine the spotlight on the subordinate's feelings, then s/he's now in the spotlight -- and you've completely missed the boat on portraying what it's like in the shadow.

This is crucial. I have been thinking about all of this in terms of musicals. In particular I've been thinking about it via "Being In Love" from The Music Man

Being in love used to be my favorite, dream, oh,yes.
I've been in love more than anybody else has, I guess....
Knee-deep in love--what a lovely dream! And yet, somehow,
Me deep in love's only half of what I'm longing for now.
I still love my being in love with someone,
But tell me, why couldn't there be
Somebody being in love with me?

All I want is a plain man; All I want is a modest man. A quiet man, a gentle man, a straightforward and honest man to sit with me in a cottage somewhere in the state of Iowa...
And I would like him to be more interested in me
Than in himself, and more interested in us than in me.

And if occasionally he'd ponder what makes Shakespeare and Beethoven great,
Him I could love 'til I die.
Him I could love 'til I die!

Being in love--what a lovely dream! And yet, somehow,
Being in love's only half of what I'm longing for now.
And so then, tonight I'll be in there dreaming
And hoping that someday there'll be--Just once!--
Somebody being in love with me.

I have always liked the bit about "I would like my partner to be more interested in me than he is in him/herself, and more interested in us than in me." I think that if both partners feel that way, it's a good recipe for a successful relationship.

But in Mormonism, and in patriarchy of the sort Langford writes about, the wife, the subordinate, is typically expected to be more interested in "him" and her "us" than she is in herself, but it's not reciprocated. Too often the husband is more interested in himself than in his wife or his marriage--and the "us" he cares most about, really, is him and God, not him and his wife. This is especially true of gm/swMOMs.

I think this is apparent even in these thoughtful comments from Invictus Pilgrim in a recent post about his marriage:

I was trying extremely hard to be something I could not be. The tragedy is that I didn’t realize it. And my wife suffered as a result of it. Though I couldn’t see this, she would sometimes tell me that she felt resentment coming from me. This, of course, would make me defensive because I immediately became concerned that my true gay self was showing through, which made me try even harder, which made me even more resentful. And my wife suffered.

I would try to tell myself that I was the one making the sacrifice, I was the one who had had to overcome, I was the one who was denying himself in order to “do the right thing.” I was the one who was suffering. But the effort to play my role, to keep up the act, to “do the right thing” was so all-consuming that I was blind to what it was doing to my wife and to my children, and for that – both what I did and the fact that I was blind to it – I feel very deep regret and sorrow. (emphasis in original)

These comments are at the end of the post; earlier, he writes

Thus, the fact that I wasn’t “in love with” my wife didn’t raise any red flags for me at the time of our wedding. I truly believed God wanted us to get married; I liked my wife and I felt that I could in time grow to love her. But, perhaps more importantly (to me at the time), I felt that we could be good “companions” for each other.

It has really only been since coming out that I have realized/accepted that, though I grew to truly love my wife, I don’t know that I was ever “in love with” her.

Do I feel I “cheated” my wife in this regard because I was gay? No. This is partly due to the fact that I had told her before we married that I had “struggled” with “same-sex attraction” since puberty. It is also due in part to the fact that I know my wife brought her own emotional “handicaps” into our marriage which then entered into the total mix.

Whether my wife feels she was cheated, however, is another question, and one that I cannot and will not try to answer (at least not publicly) – except to say that I sensed that my wife, the older she became, felt that something was missing, something she wished she had.

I mention this because I truly believe that part of what most Mormon women really, truly, deeply want is what Marian wants in The Music Man: someone being in love with them. It's not just enough for them to be in love; they want someone to be in love back. Rightly or wrongly, whether this is because it's something that will truly fulfill them or because it's part of the whole Cinderella story of how love redeems us, they want it.

But so often Mormon marriages are entered into before either person in them knows what it is to be in love--and before they discover that their marriages lack it.

Quite a few ills could be avoided if the pressure to marry young and start having children right away were not so relentless and intense. It wouldn't solve everything, but it could improve life for a great many people.

Re: I mention this because I truly believe that part of what most Mormon women really, truly, deeply want is what Marian wants in The Music Man: someone being in love with them. It's not just enough for them to be in love; they want someone to be in love back.

That it absolutely true, and I think it's a key point (if not the key point) when discussing gm/swMOMs. I kind of alluded to it in some of the discussion of MOMs on MSP, but you're right to spell it out explicitly -- since perhaps it's not obvious to everyone.

BTW, I'm also having this same discussion on my own blog, and there are some additional comments over there: http://lfab-uvm.blogspot.com/2011/05/insights-on-mormon-culture-thanks-to.html

I hate to keep copy/pasting the comments back-and-forth, but I'll copy one question for you, since you've seen the choreography: Is is the way I picture it?

In the end of the song: they're both standing in the spotlight, and he's holding her hands and looking into her eyes as he softly says, "And there's no limit to what we can do, me and you." Then he turns to the audience, gets down on one knee, spreads his arms wide to belt out "but mostly me!" -- pushing her out of the spotlight as he does.

p.s. That is an excellent insight about how it illustrates the basic relationship between Heavenly Father and our all but invisible Heavenly Mother. Another exchange that really fits: "'cause I can do most anything"/"and I can stand next to you and watch."

I think understanding patriarchy is the key to understanding Mormonism. One of the things about patriarchy, especially when it has been tied to polygyny, is that males are organized into dominance hierarchies. In other words, in patriarchal cultures, there are no equal relationships. It's always "mostly me" or "mostly you."

Missionary companionships are a real window into Mormon social thinking, and everyone who's been on a mission knows how these are organized.

Hi Chanson--

I don't mind the copy-&-paste approach. I suppose we could have had this conversation at MSP and been done with it, but for some reason I wanted to write about this on my own space--I guess it's partly because I want to write a paper about this, and I figure I should work out my ideas where I have better access to them.

Anyway, to respond to your question about staging--I think your ideas would work really well. Of course I don't remember all the details of the choreography or lighting in the actual show, but I'm trying to remember the stage going dark while there's a highly focused spotlight, and nothing's coming to mind. Maybe during "Sal Tlay Ka Citi".... I'd have to see it again. (I should be so lucky!)

I do have a vague memory that Elder Price ("mostly me" guy) is center stage, arms spread, at the end of this song.

But this song didn't actually register fully for me as it happened in the show. It's now one of my very favorite songs--I listen to it over and over--but it didn't hit me when I first heard it the way "I Believe" did. I remember the staging of that one quite well: it ends with Elder Price clasping hands with an irritated warlord ("General Butt-Fucking Naked") who is too astonished at the guy's audacity to shoot him just yet. Elder Price is raising their clasped hands above their heads and swaying along to the intensity of his conviction, and General BFN is rolling his eyes and tolerating it just so he can see what will happen next.

Hi MohoHawaii:

One of the things about patriarchy, especially when it has been tied to polygyny, is that males are organized into dominance hierarchies. In other words, in patriarchal cultures, there are no equal relationships. It's always "mostly me" or "mostly you."

This is an excellent point, one I had not quite realized before.

in a comment on Chanson's blog, she quotes a humorless TBM named J. Max Wilson who has not seen the show but only listened to the songs. He writes,

From the second song onward it is clear that Elder Price has no interest in the glory of God, or bringing people to Christ. In fact, the elders in the songs talk about bringing people to the church, but not about Christ or the Atonement at all. Price‘s primary motivation is to leave his own mark, doing something great, and change the world– and get the credit for it. While he does progress from wanting to do it all by himself and reap all the glory himself to the point of doing it with his companion, in the end he is willing to knowingly perpetuate false teachings in order to do it.

Well, OK. But that doesn't make Elder Price an inauthentic example of an elder.
All in all, I think the description of Kevin Price is a pretty fair description of what most elders are like. First of all, a standard criticism of Mormons is that they're not really christ-centric--they'll even blow off worship of Christ on Easter, the holiest of all Christian holidays, and substitute general or stake conferences full of talks about the evils of porn. Elder Price is explicitly compared to Joseph Smith in "All-American Prophet," but I think ultimately Elder Price is sweeter and more generous than old Joe. He's interested in helping people and will set his own doubts aside to do it. Joseph Smith didn't seem willing to do that. He insisted women marry him so he didn't get punished by God. Pretty selfish, that--and, come to think of it, a pretty damn clear source for the attitudes and actions regarding marriage for Mormon men subsequently.

Anyway, all of this is what I'm getting at when I write that Parker's and Stone's

interest is in discovering and portraying Mormons accurately--including LDS contradictions, such as their arrogant niceness--instead of reinforcing the basic tenets of the faith and avoiding difficult questions. So it's not surprising that the South Park guys arrive at all sorts of great insights about Mormons, and that their portraits of Mormons and Mormonism are faithful and accurate as opposed to faith-promoting and proper.

Criticisms like Wilson's just convince me more thoroughly that I'm right in my assessment.

Forgot to provide a link to humorless TBM J. Max Wilson's criticisms of the songs. They're here.

Another example from Max Wilson's post is his complaint about the "baptise me" song. Teen girls with crushes on the mishies are a well-known component of the mission experience. But the fact that they're portraying something real doesn't have any bearing on whether or not it's "anti-Mormon".

No kidding! And priesthood ordinances can be a form of courtship even for members. I knew girls who'd ask the guys they had crushes on to give them blessings when they were sick.

And I experienced something similar myself. I was very ill for a while on my mission, with bizarre problems like inexplicable vertigo. The doctors I saw offered me nothing, and getting blessings was the only other thing I had recourse to. I remember getting a blessing from one of my ZL's, a 6'8" redhead I had a massive crush on. He had a "revelation" about me during it, and just stood there, silent, for over a minute with his hands firmly gripping my skull. It was a very intense, intimate moment--and just made my crush on him stronger.

been thinking more about this:

From the second song onward it is clear that Elder Price has no interest in the glory of God, or bringing people to Christ. In fact, the elders in the songs talk about bringing people to the church, but not about Christ or the Atonement at all. Price‘s primary motivation is to leave his own mark, doing something great, and change the world– and get the credit for it.

Indeed. And how similar that attitude is to one Mormon children are explicitly taught to hold through the well-known Primary song "I Hope They Call Me On a Mission."

I hope they call me on a mission
When I have grown a foot or two
I hope by then I will be ready
To teach and preach and work as missionaries do

I hope that I can share the gospel
With those who want to know the truth
I want to be a missionary
And serve and help the Lord while I am in my youth

check out this video to see just how much Christ factors in to a typical missionary's experience of a mission--or an LDS depiction of such.

Or check out this video. It's earnest rather than humorous, but its focus is also entirely on the missionaries themselves, their development, their character. There is not a single reference in either video, either by word or image (aside from the word "Lord," which is used interchangeably for God and Jesus in Mormondom) to Christ and the atonement.

If Mormons don't refer to Christ and the atonement in their own songs and depictions of missionary life, it's hardly appropriate to expect others to do so.

I think it might also be hard for the faithful to recognize a lot of the subtle points that the play got right -- stuff that is not obvious to outsiders, but stuff the insiders take for granted (hence doesn't stand out to them).

Just starting from the first two songs: the fact that the mishies all have the same set script; the fact that they don't choose who they serve with and where they'll go -- and often hope for certain destinations, but are expected to be thrilled by whichever call they get; the way they're encouraged to love their destination country (yet still maintain a kind of patronizing ignorance about the country), etc., etc.

And points like that just keep ringing true throughout the album. The way the Mormon guy says "Excuse me, sir, but I don't think you should be saying that" (about the Africans cursing God). I could go on like this all day. ;)

I could go on like this all day. ;)

Perhaps start a thread on MSP compiling just such a list? It might be pretty fun.

I think insiders are offended precisely by the things the play gets right that they recognize. The play is offensive to true-believers not because it's inaccurate in its portrayal of Mormons, but because it's not flattering. There's scarcely anything to quibble with in "I Believe" except whether Kolob is a planet or a star and if Jesus has his own planet too. But do Mormons believe "Ancient Jews built boats and sailed to America" and "The Garden of Eden was in Jackson County, Missouri"? Absolutely. The problem isn't that the writers made anything up or got anything wrong. The problem is that Mormons' sincere beliefs just look silly when you state them plainly and take them at face-value.

One faithful detail I love is how the mishies typically call God "Heavenly Father," and substitute their own vocabulary for everyone else's. Shortly before or after telling the chief he shouldn't say "Fuck you, God," Elder Price tells him companion to stop singing the African phrase because "they're saying F you to Heavenly Father!" A small thing, but it really made me laugh.

Excellent point, and excellent idea!!!

Can I finally make you an author account so you can write that post?

an I finally make you an author account so you can write that post?

OK, go for it. though I admit I'm saying yes partly just so I can fix my own comments when I screw up the formatting. :-)

Could you expand on the idea of "arrogant niceness"? I definitely recognize that LDS members tend to be overwhelmingly polite and generous, but I don't understand where the arrogance enters the mindset. Do they do it for the express purpose of feeling superior to someone else?

Hi Jeremy--

First, let me ask: have you listened to the BOM soundtrack? I would think that both Elder Price's "niceness" and his arrogance are tough to miss.

Second, whether you have or haven't, check out "I Am Africa". (Sorry, I can't embed video in my comments, or I would.) The guys singing think they are being as respectful and compassionate as a human being can be, but they're actually utterly condescending, clueless, and arrogant.

Third, read this entry and the comments, all about why I don't think the LDS approach to niceness is all that. A primary point:

I think a lot of times people are "nice" so they won't have to strive for the more difficult virtues of kindness and compassion, which involve actually figuring out what will make others' lives easier, instead of just resorting to the familiar standards of "nice" or "decorous" behavior. I'm not saying that there's no such thing as a kind, compassionate Mormon, but I do want to point out that it's much harder to be compassionate when you honestly believe that people who don't think and act as you do are led astray by the devil.

Fourth, consider this: proselytizing, going to other countries and telling people that they live in grave error and must believe like you do in order to be in accordance with fundamental truth is inherently arrogant, no matter how "nice" you might try to be as you do it.

Fifth, I don't think that "LDS members tend to be overwhelmingly polite and generous." In Shot in the Heart (an utterly amazing book everyone interested in Mormonism should read), Mikal Gilmore characterizes his Mormon cousins as "prissy and mean in the way only well-bred Mormon children can be."

I was in my 30s when I read that sentence, and it really upended me. I was horrified because I saw myself in it immediately. Oh, shit! I thought. I was raised to be prissy and mean! And I was really good at both!

I have shared that sentence with many, many of my friends. Most of them look at me utterly stricken for a moment, then say, "Oh, crap. I was prissy and mean, too."

Part of the work I've had to do since leaving the church is to work on being kind instead of what passes for "nice" in Mormonism, because Mormon niceness, politeness and "generosity" (actually, Mormons have historically been known for being stingy and clannish, and helping only their own rather than contributing to society at large--though admittedly the church started trying to change that about 20 years ago) are, I feel, pretty inferior ways of dealing with the other people on this planet.

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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on May 14, 2011 8:34 AM.

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