A crash course in pop culture's latest obsession
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There are several different branches of Mormonism in practice today, the two most prominent being “mainstream” Mormons, who practice a somewhat modernised version of the Church doctrine; and Fundamentalist Mormons, who hold true to the original teachings of the Church’s founder and prophet Joseph Smith, including - and most controversially - the practice of plural marriage or polygamy, known as “the Principle”. Despite sharing a name and a prophet however, these two groups are diametrically opposed and eager to distance themselves from each other.
I have been fascinated by Mormons of all kinds for many years, from my time living in southern Chile, watching Mormon missionaries going about their preachy business in their cheap suits and skinny ties; to my devotion to the wonderful HBO series Big Love; right through to my recent obsession with the TLC reality series Sister Wives, currently showing on the Discovery Home and Health channel. I have read book after book about the history of the contemporary religion, as well as memoirs by those still in and also out of the Church. I am morbidly captivated by the controversies surrounding the Fundamentalists, namely the persistent practice of polygamy, the widespread instances of incest and child sexual abuse, and the recent trial and conviction of Fundamentalist sect leader Warren Jeffs on charges of child rape, for which he is now serving a life sentence.
Some people have Harry Potter; I have Mormons.
However it seems the world (or at least America) is finally coming around to my way of thinking. Sadly this doesn’t mean that there is now a 24-hour Law and Order: SVU channel, nor is Dolly Parton the President of Everything yet (she will be one day, though, oh yes, she will be). But it does mean that Mormons are hot right now. There are now several US television shows – both fictional and reality - profiling the lives of Fundamentalist Mormons; a smash hit Broadway musical about Mormonism by Southpark creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone cleaned up at this year’s Tony Awards; and a mass circulated ad campaign has attracted high profile Mormons from the sporting, arts and business worlds to “come out” in support of their Church. Plus with two practicing Mormons vying for the Republican presidential candidacy, everybody is talking about Mormonism.
And so I present to you a crash course in all things Mormon so that you two can attend dinner parties and bore the pants off your pants-wearing friends with your incessant ramblings about polygamy and paedophilia. You’ll be the life of the party, I promise.
Under the Banner of Heaven, by Jon Krakauer:
This is an amazing non-fiction book by the acclaimed writer of Into the Wild, profiling the 1984 murder of a Fundamentalist Mormon woman and her infant daughter by her brothers-in-law (allegedly acting “in the name of God”), but also tracing the entire history of Mormonism from its inception until the present day. It is a fascinating, bone-chilling read, and may soon be a film written by Dustin Lance Black and directed by Ron Howard.
Featuring arguably one of the best casts ever assembled on the small screen (Bill Paxton! Jeanne Tripplehorn! Chloe Sevigny! Harry Dean Stanton! Amanda Seyfried! Mary Kay Place!), Big Love is mandatory viewing for anyone who appreciates quality television. Following the lives of a Fundamentalist Mormon family in Utah as they struggle to fit into mainstream modern society while maintaining their religious beliefs and polygamous lifestyle, this is a dark and brilliantly written series that I highly recommend whether you give a toss about Mormons or not.
Rumoured to be the family that inspired Big Love, Sister Wives is a reality/documentary style show about the polygamous Brown family in Utah, recently the subjects of a felony bigamy investigation for which no charges have yet been laid. Kody Brown appears to be your average, poorly coiffed, middle American dude - a dedicated husband, father and maker of terrible jokes - except for one big difference: he has four wives, four adjoining houses, and 17 children. This is actually sometimes a surprisingly dull show, but worth it for lines such as “we don’t go weird”, uttered by one of the wives in relation to suggestions of multi-spousal orgies, and for scenes like this:
The Book of Mormon:
Unfortunately I haven’t had the pleasure of flying to New York to see the much lauded musical from Southpark’s wonder boys, but by golly it is on my bucket list. Also on my bucket list: touch Ryan Gosling in his special place; join a gang. Here is the show’s star, Andrew Rannells, performing at the 2011 Tony Awards, introduced by one of my future husbands, Stephen Colbert.
“I’m a Mormon” Ad Campaign:
Look, I don’t like the Killers any more than the next guy. Unless of course the next guy hates them with a murderous passion, in which case I probably like them a bit more than him. 'Somebody Told Me' was a darn catchy tune, after all. Anyway, here is lead singer Brandon Flowers talking about being a Mormon for a new ad campaign about how awesome it is to be a Mormon:
So there you have it, now you know everything there is to know about Mormons. Sort of. Not really. But isn’t learning fun?
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