Sunday, August 09, 2009

Why "Twilight" is Poor Mormon Analogy

There has been some speculation recently, particularly among non-Mormons, of the Mormonism that can be found in the "Twilight" vampire series. The recent conjectures of John Mark Reynolds and a writer at the blog Forks High School Professor adds to the discussion. At best these comparisons of the series and Mormonism are problematic. Like the original Battlestar Galactica series, the background is far too often treated like the actual story. Understanding the relationship between story and theology cannot be done without vigorous oversimplifications and outright unwarranted conclusions. To put it another way; to see the Mormon analogies in the books ends up distorting both.

Probably the most troubling idea that these analysis make is that Stephanie Meyer has consciously preached Mormonism in the series. This has been a subject of criticism toward Orson Scott Card as well, although he states openly that it isn't preaching more than using his culture. There is no reason why either of them should apologize for doing this, because all authors write what they know. Even if S. Meyer did use Mormonism, I don't think she has demonstrated enough sophistication in her writings to make any lasting impressions. The books are mostly romances with vampires made for young adults. Arguments with any real merit made against the books can be related to any number of literature from the same traditions. The fact that another writer can issue a lawsuit for what has been described as "Mormon" elements should make critics reconsider their conclusions. Mormonism is either more universal or the books are less Mormon than has been supposed.

Even if there is Mormonism in the "Twilight" series, it is so hidden that there isn't much of a practical value. Like the "Harry Potter" criticism, what is said reveals more about the critics than the author or writings. Calling out the evils of witchcraft in its pages (much like the Mormon labels) end up sounding like unreasonable conspiracy theories put out as facts. No one is going to actually become sorcerers or even learn about real magic from the books. Similarly, the idea that readers will become a member of or really learn about Mormonism by reading "Twilight" is highly unlikely. Context of fantasy has supplanted any viable discussion of real beliefs outside of speculative literary interpretation. The average reader could care less without pre-conceived notions of what they want to find. That goes for Mormon and non-Mormon readers involved with subjecting the series to religious examination. Again, the worthwhile criticisms have been what can be used in examining any literary production.

An analogy can be so hidden or convoluted that it becomes very hard for casual readers, in isolation from other sources, to get anything out of them. The highly praised "Lord of the Rings" and "Narnia" series are examples of this that the "Twilight" series shares with them. It is hard for casual readers to understand how wizards, goblins, faeries, soldiers, and talking animals have anything to do with the theology of Anglicanism or Catholicism, much less vampires for Mormons without troubling biases. Books and papers might explicate the themes, but the original writer might as well have written straight forward papers to get the points across. Doubly so for audiences that are no longer steeped in the cultures that define the analogies meant by the authors.

A real Christian or Mormon literature wouldn't need images and characters to hide behind for mass consumption. The last real Christian stories for the masses since Shakespeare might have been the "Left Behind" series by Tim LaHaye that didn't use mere analogies for the stories. Milton, Dante, Shakespeare, and even the writer of Beowulf were not playing Johnathan Swift like games in their literary achievements. The exception might be "Pilgrim's Progress" by Bunyan, but that is borderline. At any rate, they had specific theological and moral messages and images not stunted behind hidden stories and characters. Heaven, Hell, Satan, Creation, Angels, Devils, and much more were not disguised as something else that had to be guessed at in papers and explications. Even the nearly allegorical Beowulf didn't need much work determining what the Grendel and mother Monsters or the Dragon stood for in relation to the hero.

Playing the analogy game with the "Twilight" series doesn't work very well. There are too many assumptions that have to be made about Mormonism, Stephanie Meyer, and the purpose of the books. Sources that are obscure to every day Mormons often have to be trotted out to make a case that is speculative at best. What is brought into the discussion by the critics is at least as important as what the series brings up. In the end the proof is manufactured because the reality cannot be proven without a direct quote from the author accepting or denying the connections. It can be fun, but unprofitable. In the end, the books have to speak for themselves and the readers decide.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Rise of the Mormon Singers

When Mormons are asked to name famous Mormons in music, Gladys Knight and The Mormon Tabernacle Choir might be the first that come to mind. Recently another name might be the pop sensation David Archuleta, the American Idol second place winner. There is a growing diversity of Mormon musicians who are, if not proud, at least not shy about their Mormon faith. It isn't the lip service recognition of Mormon roots such as the Hollywood actors who mention upbringing as an afterthought. They express that they are still practitioners, even if imperfect.

More surprising is up and coming Mormon singers are coming from a traditionally hedonist genre; the Rock band. The most famous of them is Brandon Flowers of "The Killers" who has been mentioned before. At least two articles about almost famous bands have interviews were his name comes up almost as a comparison to them. Alan Sparhawk of The Low said, "There are a few of us [Mormons] here and there. It would be fascinating to meet him," when Independent.IE seemed to bring up the subject of any relationships. More directly, reported that Neon Trees has been touring with The Killers after the drummer spotted them and enjoyed what he heard.

The juxtaposition of Mormonism and the Rock Band lifestyle is a constant theme in the interviews. As Sparkhawk stated, "He [Flowers] is an odd one. He's not at all perfect. There are plenty of instances where he's shown his ... ah weaknesses." Yet, Brandon has acknowledged those weaknesses, but also expressed his Mormonism is part of his life. More surprising is that Mormons in both The Low and Neon Trees declare that they are reserved in their behavior. In a business where drinking, drugs, and sexual promiscuity are considered part of the life, for some reason they haven't fallen victim. It is true that Tyler of Neon Trees said, "we all kind of dabbled in our teenage years . . ," but they are apparently no longer involved with the more party element of the work.

What makes it easier for members of a Rock band to be practicing Mormons where Hollywood actors fail? Perhaps its because singers have more of a hand in creating their roles. They aren't stuck with the script handed them, but often are the ones writing the lyrics and making the music. If they don't want to do something, there isn't as much pressure from a director, writer, and producer telling them they must for the integrity of the production. There is also a niche called "straight edge" that rebelled against the hedonistic lifestyle if not the music. A similar movement is unheard of in the cloistered Hollywood movie hills. In fact, the Bishop in the Hollywood area said, ""The honest truth is when people call me, I attempt to persuade them to go elsewhere . . . This is an extremely tough, tough town." As he stated, they have to compromise and make the career their lives.

Maybe it is just a coincidence that the music business has more admittedly practicing Mormons in the spotlight. Whatever the reason, there is something to be learned. Art doesn't have to get in the way of Religion. They just have to be placed in proper perspective.

There are still some holes to fill. None of the work done by the mentioned artists (other than Gladys Knight and obviously the Mormon Tabernacle Choir) seems to have any Mormon influence. Secondly, on politics they also lean toward the Left; such as supporting Obama or attacking George W. Bush. It is still unbecoming to be Republican and Conservative, even if Mormonism isn't a problem.