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|By Aaron Johnston||May 19, 2005|
I've got a bone to pick with CBS. And it's a big one. We're talking dinosaur-sized bone here. Brontosaurus femur bone, maybe.
The subject of my ire, dear reader, is the May 1 episode of the CBS crime-solving drama "Cold Case."
Now, I don't watch a lot of television. In fact, I've never seen "Cold Case." I've only seen promos for it. I've never been interested in CSI copycats (Or in CSI for that matter). Plus it airs on Sundays. Which is why I didn't see the episode in question, entitled "Creatures of the Night."
The episode was brought to my attention by a thoroughly descriptive column written by Chris Hicks of the Deseret News (Read the column here). Mr. Hicks, like me, is quite perturbed by the episode's depiction of Latter-day Saints.
Apparently the writers of "Cold Case" thought it would be clever to misrepresent us Mormons. We are, after all, just a bunch of wackos. What could be funnier than parading a few stupid Mormons on screen?
In the episode, Roy, a confused Mormon who just happens to be a serial killer and who kills people because he believes God tells him to, is portrayed as the sad product of his religion. It's all right that he hears voices, his Mormon aunt explains. In fact, Joseph Smith and Brigham Young heard "avenging" voices, too.
And when confronted about this character's oddities, his friends simply shrug and say, "He's Mormon," as if that's the perfect explanation for his weird behavior.
Did I miss something? Is Mormonism suddenly a mental disability? If I get a traffic ticket, can I get off now because I'm Mormon?
My attorney: Your Honor, this case is a no-brainer. Mr. Johnston here was clearly not in a state in which he could make coherent decisions and act responsibly. He is, after all, a Mormon.
Judge: Great googily moogily. Then why is he in this courtroom? Take that man to the funny farm where he belongs. <gavel pounding> Case dismissed.
Silly, right? Well, the writers of "Cold Case" apparently don't think so. Because they didn't stop there.
It's not enough to make the killer a Mormon (and by Mormon they clearly mean "crazy person"). They also have to mock a few sacred beliefs of the LDS church while they're at it.
At one point in the episode Roy's aunt urges him to wear his "garmies," which apparently is another word for garments.
Now, I don't know about the rest of you, but I've never heard the term "garmie" before. Perhaps the writers picked this up from one of their LDS friends (assuming they have any, which I doubt), but more than likely they made the word up themselves.
"We can't call them garments," I can hear one them saying during a writing session. "We've got to make a joke out of this. I mean this people have their own underwear, for crying out loud."
The co-writer chuckles. "Yeah, how stupid is that?"
"Let's call them garmentos."
"Ha ha. That's a good one. Like Mentos, the candy. Funny. How about garmentch."
"Ha ha. No, wait. I got it. Listen to this: garmies."
And they both fall over laughing. Oh, how clever they are. Garmies. What a bucket of yucks that will be. Goodness, they should be writing for "Joey," they're so funny.
Later in the show, Roy's date strips him of his clothes while on stage at a screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. And what do we see? Why Roy's garmies of course. There they are, those hilarious garmies. Wacca wacca wacca. Look at Roy's garmies. I can't believe those crazy Mormons. They actually wear garmies. Ha ha ha.
I'd like to give these writers the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they weren't aware of the sacred nature of the garment. Perhaps they didn't know that they were openly mocking an important symbol of our devotion to God. And maybe, just maybe, they actually thought that garmies was the correct name for the garment.
But even if that is true, they're still guilty of gross misrepresentation.
Ignorance is no excuse. If you are going to portray a certain faith or people, then you better be darn sure you know what you're talking about. You better do your research.
Now, are there crazy people in this church? Of course there are. Are there murderers in this church? Maybe.
So is it possible that a story like this COULD happen in real life? Yes, of course it is. But that's not the point. What these writers did wrong was to portray ALL Mormons (Roy and all others) as stupid, wacked-out social oddities.
And that's both morally irresponsible and mean.
Think about it. To openly mock a religion is one thing. It's inexcusable. But to misrepresent a religion and THEN openly mock it is even worse. It's deceitful and fosters greater persecution.
Shame on the writers and producers of this show.
In his column, Mr. Hicks asks an excellent question: Would television ever openly mock a sacred Jewish symbol or a Muslim one?
The answer of course is no.
But Mormons? Yeah, Mormons are fair game. If you want to poke fun at someone, choose the Mormies, I mean Mormons.
I'm fully aware, of course, that this is TV. I know it's make believe. So I should lighten up, right?
Because the boat only tips one way on this one. Mormons, if portrayed at all, are always depicted negatively. Always.
The only exception is when the Mormon "hero" overcomes the oppression of his faith and finds true happiness elsewhere. In other words, the church is the villain.
I put Jon Krakauer, the author of the best-smeller Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, in the same category as the writers of "Cold Case."
In his delightful little page turner, Mr. Krakauer does an expose on Ron and Dan Lafferty, self-proclaimed Mormon fundamentalists who murdered a woman and child because God, they claim, told them to.
But Mr. Krakauer's intent was not to write a book on the crime. Mr Krakauer's intent was to prove that religion is the seed of all hate in the world. These evil men on death row killed those people not only because their psychotic but also because there exists organizations like the LDS church.
Religion promotes socially destructive behavior, you see? We'd all be a lot better off if we could simply get rid of all religion--or at least get rid of what the left so often refers to as the "oppressive Christian right," those small-minded simpletons who'll burn a cross or a homosexual if only they can get their hands on a book of matches.
Books like this do nothing but generate religious intolerance and further disrupt the very social calm they claim to be advocating.
I'll refer you next to another gem of entertainment entitled "Orgazmo." This is a film brought to us by those hilarious guys behind that morally sound television show South Park and the equally tasteful recent film "Team America, World Police."
"Orgazmo," as you can guess from its title, is a real humdinger of a family film (he says sarcastically). In it, a Mormon missionary is hired to portray a superhero named, you guessed it, Orgazmo in a porn film.
Get it? Mormon missionaries and porn. Ha ha ha ha ha. Boy that's funny. Look at that naive Mormon missionary turn all white in the presence of a naked woman. Ha ha ha. Oh, what a maroon. Wacca wacca wacca.
I'm not making this up, folks. This is a real movie. I've seen the trailer. I will not watch the film, of course, but look it up. It exists on DVD.
Oh, and it's not porn. It's a "comedy."
How about last years "Latter Days"? Many of you have likely heard of this film. In it, a gay man makes a bet with some friends that he can convince one of the Mormon missionaries (these suckers again) who live in his apartment building to fall in love with him.
The bet, it turns out, is easier to pull off than expected. One of the missionary is a closet homosexual. And low and behold, what began as a joke blossoms into a beautiful love affair.
But that's not even the part that chaps my hide. What really bites my bunion is that the writer/director (C. Jay Cox) portrays ALL other Mormons in this films as vicious, mean-spirited bigots.
When the Mormon missionary is sent home from his mission for his behavior, for example, he must go report to the high council. There, shadowed in dark mood lighting, the stake president, who could pass as a member of the gestapo, stares down the missionary and says, "I wish my shame was enough for the both of us, not to mention the shame you've brought to this church."
You would think the kid was meeting with Voldemort and all his mustache -twisting lieutenants these guys are so heartless. I half expected the entire high council and stake presidency to start sharpening knives or something. I kid you not, I'd rather face a horde of orcs than report to that crowd.
And the missionary's mother?
Bigot. Right out of central casting. She despises her son and treats him so terribly that you want to strangle the woman.
And the other missionaries?
No different. Bigots. If it were up to them, they'd give this missionary a good hard beating.
And as if that wasn't enough, another gay character in the film says, "I dated a Mormon guy once. His parents put him through shock therapy."
Sounds like a great film, right?
Well, what if I told you that I only mentioned scenes from the TRAILER? That's right, every scene I just described comes from the two-minute promo. I can't imagine what other revelatory scenes on Mormonism the entire film contains.
But, hey, that's how Mormons are, right? They hate homosexuals. They hate all people, in fact, who aren't exactly like them.
All except one, of course. The one Mormon in the film whom we are led to like, the only person who demonstrates an ounce of human decency is the one Mormon smart enough to shed the manacles of his evil, oppressive faith.
In other words, the only good Mormon is the Mormon who doesn't want to be a Mormon anymore.
When the film first came out, I went to the discussion board on the film's official website and read some of the posts written by people who had seen the film. One of the posts went something like this:
"I had no idea that Mormons were so cruel. They're bigots. How can they treat people this way?"
I almost fell out of my chair. Someone actually believes that this films gives an accurate depiction of the LDS church?
And that, my friends, is how religious intolerance is born.
How about "Angels in America," the hugely successful (if winning Golden Globes is any measure of success) film adaptation of the stage plays of the same name.
Like "Latter Days," a Mormon man is torn between his religion and his natural sexual preference. He's married to a woman, but he's not being true to himself. He's really a gay man stuck in a Mormon man's body.
And his wife, is she portrayed as a typical Mormon woman, the kind of woman you see serving honorably in the Primary or Relief Society?
Of course not. She's paranoid, delusional, and strung out on Valium.
How about one more? Remember the creative geniuses behind "Orgazmo"? The guys who give us South Park?
Well apparently they want to play their Mormon card as often as possible. I'm referring to an episode of South Park entitled "All About the Mormons." In it, a new Mormon family moves into town and invites Stan, one of the show's main characters, over for Family Home Evening.
The family is portrayed as nice and kind and sweet and wonderful. And then the Family Home Evening message begins.
What follows is a dramatization of the Joseph Smith story that includes the prophet's First Vision, the visitation of the angel Moroni, the unearthing of the plates, the translation of the Book of Mormon, and Martin Harris losing the manuscript.
Oh, and did I mention it's a tongue-in-cheek cartoon? And did I mention there's singing?
Oh those Mormons. Always good for a laugh.
Ironically, in other episodes, the characters of South Park refer to Mormons as "the only people going to heaven." Go figure.
The fact is, Mormons are never portrayed accurately. We're either close-minded bigots or violent fundamentalists or both. We're never portrayed as who we really are: decent, God-fearing people.
We don't hate homosexuals. We don't believe God tells us to kill people. In fact, we believe God tells us to love everyone.
But he doesn't speak to us as an "avenging" voice in our head. He speaks to our hearts.
"But that's not drama," the studio executives say. "That's boring."
And to that I say, "Then leave us alone. If you don't think the true depiction of us is interesting, then look for story ideas elsewhere."
I don't think that's asking too much.
Copyright © 2005 by Aaron Johnston
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