I saw “The Book of Mormon” and it left me cold. My response to anyone who asks my opinion about the show would be a diplomatic and mostly accurate, “If you enjoy ‘South Park,’ you’ll probably enjoy this” or as Lincoln put it best: “People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like.”
There are some who are curious as to why I specifically didn’t enjoy the show. I do support anything that brings people to the theatre that is not based on a movie, a video game, or an injury-prone superhero. I am also pleased to see job opportunities for black stage actors even if it does involve them raising the ghost of Hattie McDaniel in a misguided (and somewhat inaccurate) send-up of Africa: I don’t mind satire but I do mind laziness, and “The Book of Mormon” has all the racial sophistication of a Tarzan movie.
I underscore laziness here because it’s a rather tiresome trope: Blacks in an awful situation who are powerless to do anything to change their circumstances without the aid of a white savior — one they eventually wind up almost worshipping in “Book of Mormon.” It’s been depicted so often, though, that it’s almost a genre in itself, going back to “To Kill a Mockingbird” and later “Dangerous Minds” (though “Amish Paradise” is a great song).
However, that didn’t bother me as much as the prodution’s overall message, which is a promotion of inauthentic living. The Africans start out cursing a non-existent God because their lives are miserable but they make no attempt to alter them through their own force of will. They are essentially frustrated children who blame their parents for why they weren’t born handsome and tall. Their emotional arc, such as it is, has them embracing and uniting over nonsense. Worse, they know it’s nonsense, which is what Sartre would condemn as the worst act of bad faith. The Mormons themselves, especially the show’s leads, are ultimately no better than Professor Hill from “The Music Man.”
Although the show’s villain comes around thanks to all this hocus-pocus, philosophically, I would prefer the Africans resolve their political and social issues honestly… even if the end result is objectively worse. I believe death is better than willful self-delusion, which is probably why I’m such fun at parties.
Upon reflection, it occurs to me that I might be pathologically incapable of connecting to any artistic work that depicts religion or faith as a positive force in any way. I understand and respect that people think otherwise but it’s possible that I am just hardwired differently.
However, there must be some works on this subject that have moved me. Let’s see:
“Jesus Christ Superstar”: One of my favorite shows and films. It’s almost Shakespearan; although Jesus is more Caesar to Judas’s more interesting Brutus. The resurrection is also not depicted.
Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” video: Jesus is a black guy, and Madonna dances in front of burning crosses. This one’s a long shot.