Thursday, March 03, 2005

Shade of Bunuel

Bunuel didn't invent nudist dining, but he could have. He was certainly kinky enough for it. Alas, what was once perverse and surreal has grown commonplace and respectable.

Discreet charm, indeed.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Sure, I'll play ...

There's a new meme trickling through the blogosphere, in which a blogger names the five movie quotes that pop most rapidly into his/her mind. Terry Teachout and his co-blogger Laura Demanski are playing, so I might as well give it a whirl, too. I'll have to confess that I don't usually think of movie quotes while I write. I often remember music from a film, or specific scenes and visual shots. Remembering dialogue takes some work. I should also add that for me, free association comes slowly, with effort, like almost everything I do.

At any rate, here are the five film quotes that leapt into my head today (plus one honorable mention that was too good to pass up). If I tried this exercise again tomorrow, I know I'd come up with a different list.

1. "The London Underground is not a political movement." -- Jamie Lee Curtis, A Fish Called Wanda.

2. "I can't die yet. There are many men I must kill first." -- Toshiro Mfume, Yojimbo.

3. "Buzzards gotta eat, same as worms." -- Clint Eastwood, Outlaw Josey Wales.

4. "Awww, ya remembered! Ya made me fried green tomatoes!" -- Jessica Tandy, Fried Green Tomatoes. (I love to make fun of this line.)

5. "Top of the world, Ma!" -- James Cagney, White Heat.

Honorable mention: "Ah-HA! Pronoun trouble." -- Daffy Duck, "Rabbit Seasoning."

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

A Visit from the Mormons

A few weeks ago, my friend Rick Sincere invited me to his home, so that I could witness and report on a visit from two Mormon missionaries. Most of the LDS members I encounter "on mission" are either college students or retirees. Although every LDS member goes "on mission" at some point, only young men are allowed to perform the door-to-door conversion work (in keeping with the church's strict policy of gender subjugation). Rick's visitors were college-aged, and one was slightly older than the other.

Evangelism is a type of performance, and faiths with a strong evangelical component tend to be demonstrative. My own evangelical-Christian upbringing carried with it a certain impulse toward one-upmanship, and it wasn't for the benefit of outsiders. I desperately wanted to participate in evangelism, as my friends did, but there weren't many opportunities for outreach in the communities where I lived. Perhaps that might explain why some of my more devout friends converted to extreme sects, like Jehovah's Witnesses, which gave them an opportunity to embody their beliefs more aggressively. After all, it's hard to witness for Christ in a community where everyone believes the same things you do.

That might partially explain the peculiar zeal with which "Elder Trowel," a third-year pre-med student, approached his mission. Trowel hailed from Arizona State University, with a strong Mormon community (though not nearly as strong as the one at Brigham Young University, to the north), and he spoke rather intensely, though affably. (Rick and I thought he'd make a fine doctor in time.) Unlike Jehovah's Witnesses, who seem to make their visits as grating and proselytizing as possible, Mormons have evangelism down to a science -- and, for what it's worth, Trowel was one of their better representatives.

I've visited enough Mormon historical sites in my travels, and talked with enough LDS missionaries, that I can claim some general knowledge of the script. Their pitch usually consists of some variant of the following: "I have examined these things in my heart, and I know them to be true." They will try to offer a Book of Mormon -- the most innocuous of three extra-Biblical texts in the Mormon Scriptural canon -- and they will show a devotional film, just to give their presentation a high-gloss audiovisual component.

Since Elder Trowel was technically on a repeat visit, the film was a bit longer and more specific than usual: Instead of a ten-minute video on the life of Christ, we saw a half-hour movie on the spiritual strugglings of young Joseph Smith. I recognized most of the locations -- mostly in and around Palmyra, New York. Other than that, it was the usual series of soft-focus postcards, which I've come to recognize as the official LDS approach to filmmaking. I could make some comment at this point about how all the images feel like establishing shots, which means that none of them ever manage to establish anything. But frankly, the point of these videos isn't good filmmaking; it's to impress Gentiles with the elaborate preparations the LDS Church has made to reach them.

My friend Rick talked with Elder Trowel for the better part of an hour, mostly regarding theological matters. (For my part, I concentrated on Trowel's semi-slacker companion. I managed to get a smile from him every few minutes, just so he wouldn't feel left out of the proceedings.) The discussion was somewhat illuminating: For example, gentle reader, did you know that mild-mannered Mormon menfolk believe that at some unspecified time after they die, they'll become gods themselves, and lord over some little cosmos of their own? Most Christians don't, not unless they happen to live in largely Mormon communities.

But the whole God business applies only to Mormon men; it's sort of the ultimate celestial boys' club. Women do get to copulate with the gods; it's part of the whole "marriage after death" thing. They can give birth to lots of little baby souls, but they'll never rate as gods on their own. The Mormon heaven ought to be a bang-up party for any red-blooded heterosexual male with harassment issues. Which, as Rick noted, may or may not apply to earnest Elder Trowel: The annals of Gay pornography are littered with tales of seduced Mormon missionaries.

Trowel claimed repeatedly that he "has examined these things in his heart," and he "knows them to be true." Of course, if you've actually "examined" these things for yourself, it must mean that at some point the mere affirmation of your family and your church has proven insufficient. One must have some occasion to deviate from religious convention, such as a doubt as to its veracity, or a sense that one's faith is a social reflex rather than an authentic expression of self. Such doubts are common enough among run-of-the-mill Christians, but they're terra incognita for the born-and-bred Mormons I've known, most of whom are as secure as untreated schizophrenics, or Southern Baptists. So I asked Elder Trowel if he ever had a reason to examine his faith for himself -- in short, if he'd ever had a reason or an occasion to doubt his received ideas. Caught off guard for the first time in the interview, he stated that he never had.

Discussing religious belief with someone who has never seriously doubted is kind of like discussing the hundred-yard dash with a quadruple amputee: It's all theoretical, and pretty doggoned useless to boot, but what the heck. As I stated earlier, evangelism is a matter of performance, and our Elder Trowel acted as well as anyone could, under the circumstances. But all the same, I did feel a bit insulted when it was over. The LDS Church had asked me to reject my own beliefs, all on the word of someone who had never seriously questioned his. There was something wrong in that. It occurred to me that I had never seen LDS converts perform this sort of missionary work, even though they would seem well-suited for it. Unlike Elder Trowel, a convert would have actually gone through the process the LDS Church rather smugly asks the rest of us to go through, and might even be able to explain why he did it.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe to Posts [Atom]