March 30, 2013


Why British critics don't get The Book of Mormon (Oliver Burkeman, 3/26/13,

The first strange thing about this difference of opinion: you'd have thought it might have been the other way around. Surely, it's the Brits who'd be belly-laughing at the idea of two deluded Yanks leaving their Salt Lake City comfort zone to impose their preposterous religion on sceptical rural Ugandans? And oughtn't it to be the prudish, super-religious Americans pursing their lips at the show's song-and-dance centrepiece, a parody of The Lion King, with its multiple obscene references about what the embattled Ugandan villagers would like to do to God?

The second curiosity is how much the unimpressed Brits disagree with each other. Is The Book of Mormon conservative, as Billington argues, because it allows that there might be some upsides to religious belief? (The show's missionaries are deluded and emotionally repressed, but by the end, you can't help liking them.) Or does it consist of vicious "liberal ... sneers" against Mormons, as Letts claims? (Mormons themselves disagree, actually, but never mind.)

Letts even trots out that laziest of criticisms, never far away whenever Christians are being satirised:

"If you want to attack a religious group, why not militant Islam?"

Ah, yes: Trey Parker and Matt Stone, dogmatic line-toeing liberals, who'd never risk offending the PC left. Quentin Letts, please take the rest of the week off, and spend it catching up on South Park and Team America: World Police.

But all of this points towards the great value of Parker and Stone's comedy, which elevates "take no prisoners" to the status of an ethical principle. Just as you're getting comfortable laughing at others from the safe haven of your smugness, you look down to find nothing but air. Their special talent is to do this without succumbing to hollow nihilism, thanks mainly to the sincerity with which they appreciate old-fashioned showtunes and scatological humour. You come away from The Book of Mormon - if you're more like me than Letts, anyhow - with the sense that religious people can be ridiculous, but not in ways to which the non-religious are necessarily immune. And that, besides, even ridiculous people can have non-ridiculous qualities; they need not provoke only our monotone disdain.

If you'll allow a vast cultural generalisation from the perspective of a British person living in the United States: comfort with this kind of complexity, I suspect, is something at which Americans are peculiarly good. Perhaps this explains the transatlantic disagreement. You can't really function in America - you can't even turn on the television - without a high tolerance threshold for people with absurd beliefs. Many of them deserve condemnation, of course; this isn't an argument for passively tolerating bigotry. But if you can't countenance the idea that even these people might have some redeeming features as humans, too, you'll find yourself ceaselessly embattled, enraged and exhausted.

That last bit is a perfect description of the modern Left--"embattled, enraged and exhausted."  

Posted by at March 30, 2013 9:20 AM

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