My Night With “Southpark” Creators’ “The Book of Mormon”

WARNING: there are some off-color references and descriptions in this blog post. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Having lived in Colorado for many years, I’ve heard the story of how Trey Parker and Matt Stone went from being the clowns of their high school to being some of the most prolific and important humorists on the planet today. It all started, as I’ve heard the story spun, when they created an animated short that got circulated via video tape to various film festivals and caused quite a stir. The figures were nothing more than paper cut-outs at the time, and though the “Southpark” series now is animated by computer, the same paper-like figures and “crappy animation” remain part of their trademark.

I feel more in love with the duo’s work when they released their first full-length feature film in 1999, “Southpark: Bigger, Longer and Uncut.” Yes, it’s incredibly crude and sophomoric with scores of fart and penis jokes. But beneath that was an undercurrent of spot-on cultural criticism that was nothing short of profound.

So when a couple from our church (yes, really) called at the last minute to invite us to join them for a local touring production of “The Book of Mormon,” written and composed by Parker and Stone, we accepted immediately.

Basically, the play follows two new elders of the Mormon Church (Elder Price, the Golden Boy and Elder Cunningham, the class screw-up) on their two year mission trip to Uganda to spread the Good News. They arrive in their assigned village and begin to share their testimony, only to be interrupted time and again by a villager who declares he has maggots in his scrotum.

Abrasive? Well, it is the Southpark guys. But there is a greater point laid out over a few musical numbers, including one that effectively extends a middle finger to the Creator for submitting the village to such dire circumstances. Incidentally, it was during this song that my wife, Rev. Amy Piatt, whispered to me that this song was, in fact, a sort of Psalm. And she’s right. Though perhaps a little less graphic, the Psalms are rich with such appeals to God.

The point: bring your whole self to God, including the parts that are broken, suffering and perhaps even hating God or doubting God’s existence. Bring it all. So in this sense, the scandalous song, “Hasa diga eebowai,” which translates to “F— you, God,” is a more earnest prayer than many of our neat-and-tidy missives we share during Sunday worship.

And yet the missionaries miss the point. A majority of the village suffers from AIDS, the innocent are being raped, women are systematically being castrated by rebel forces and the poor guy continues to remind them of the lowly state of his scrotum. So why, they ask, would they be open to the Good News from some Western book while they drown in such misery? And why should the villagers invest themselves in some rhetorical promises from two white boys who will go back to their comfortable lives in the States once they’ve won souls for the Church?

They have a point, you know.

The play takes on more than the cultural insensitivity for much Christian mission work, including considering the Bible (or even the Book of Mormon) seriously but not literally, and boiling it all down to what really matters: putting others ahead of ourselves.

Sound familiar?

It’s too bad, really, when non-Christians have a clearer window into both the tragic flaws and the often-lost core message of our own faith. But sometimes it takes a prophet from the outside to point out what few within can see, in a way that everyone can hear. Yes, many Christians will shut out the message of the play (and anything else Parker and Stone touch)_ because of their shock-and-awe style, but they’re missing an opportunity to learn not only something about themselves, but also an awful lot about how the rest of the world looks at Christianity.

 

 

About Christian Piatt

Christian Piatt is the creator and editor of BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.

  • Allison

    Couldn’t have said it better myself.

  • http://alessandrareflections.wordpress.com/ Alessandra

    While it’s true that many of the criticisms made in the play are warranted (by what you describe – I haven’t seen it and wouldn’t go watch it), as it often happens, it’s people with an even more destructive ideology that criticize religion. Doesn’t South Park normalize homosexuality, pornography, promiscuity, hookups, and adultery? Would the South Park guys ever do anything to help anyone in Africa – regarding AIDS, hunger, rape, or war? The South Park kind of folks are not motivated by any good intent to help oppressed peoples anywhere else – they want to bash and trash American religious groups that uphold morality and ethics – something they hate.

    And them being so crude and vulgar – it’s another way that they shove their destructive and their dehumanized culture of sexuality as normal and as acceptable forms of entertainment. People are supposed to enjoy or find someone saying something like “maggots in his scrotum” is funny. Only if you have a deformed psychology about sexuality will this happen. Incidentally, this is related to the enormous increase of scatological and prostitution jokes in sitcoms and late night shows. It’s like hearing grown men who remained in a weird, retarded 13-old mindset about sex and poop, and who make crude jokes to an adult audience that apparently loves the consume them. Arrested development en masse all the way, always promoting the lowest common denominator.

    • Lolly

      Nice to see you illustrate the exact point the author was making, right down to the closed mind. If you’d even bother to see the play for yourself, you’d realize that nothing you’ve written about here is true. Many Mormons have seen the play and enjoyed it, and the religion is not being bashed. Get a grip.

      • http://alessandrareflections.wordpress.com/ Alessandra

        Oh, nothing that Christian Piatt wrote about the play is true? It’s what I based my commentary on. Really, he just wrote a bunch of trash above? Who knew that he can’t write anything coherent about the play he watched! And I suppose you did watch the play and can tell everyone what is the Truth. You are a know-it-all about the play, mormons, religion, and society! My, no wonder you call others “close-minded.” I’m glad you’ve proven your superiority and broad, broad mindedness. What a relief. For a moment there, you had me thinking you are at quite the opposite side of the spectrum…

        • Lolly

          You sound completely unglued. Take a breath and calm yourself.

          You wrote a comment you yourself admitted was based on rumors of what other people told you, you just believe what everyone else tells you, then go on someone’s blog and rage about it as if it’s fact.

          You invented convenient stories about Parker and Stone. Do you know them? Do you know their work or what they do in their personal lives? No, you just said you didn’t, but you’re so holier than thou, you feel qualified to pass judgment and bear false witness anyhow. You’re just terrified of holding that mirror up to your own face, you’re afraid of seeing what everyone else sees in you when they read comments like what you’ve written, and fear leads to anger and anger leads to unhinged Internet rants. I’ll pray for you, that maybe someday you too will become “wet with salvation”. (Lyrics from the play you never saw but know everything about)

          • http://alessandrareflections.wordpress.com/ Alessandra

            You have so much self-awareness about Internet rants that it’s funny!

            What you’ve said so far is that I am: ” unglued, close minded, short breathing, enraged, believing anything I hear, holier than thou, judgmental, bearing false witness, afraid, angry, and unhinged.”

            That’s all. Your superior civility and broad-mindedness on display.

            LOL!!!!

            Thank you for confirming what I wrote on Parker and Stone is right. And that what Piatt wrote about the play is right too.

          • Lolly

            I agree 100% with what Piatt wrote, never said I didn’t, it was a good article. I’m defending what he wrote. I never said that penis and other obscenities isn’t used in the play, you just assumed that’s what I was talking about. The humor used in South Park is just a given and that’s not the issue. Your “triumph” is kind of a nothing.

            What I disagreed with are your baseless accusations about the people who created South Park, the crass and demeaning way you speak of the people who wrote it, that they bash and hate religion, and the audience who like it, It’s entirely unfair to say those things about people when you’re coming from a point that is utterly biased, and, as you yourself admit, uninformed.

            “The South Park kind of folks are not motivated by any good intent to help oppressed peoples anywhere else – they want to bash and trash American religious groups that uphold morality and ethics – something they hate.”

            What an ugly thing to write about someone, what gives you the right to claim to understand their motivations, All this because they use “pooh pooh” jokes?

            And, contrary to your claims that religion is “bashed and trashed”, as much as you seem to wish it was the case – it just isn’t so. The characters in the play are treated quite sympathetically. You might realize that if you actually saw the play.

          • http://alessandrareflections.wordpress.com/ Alessandra

            “What I disagreed with are your baseless accusations about the people who created South Park,”

            Well, first, I know a very large number of people who are exactly as I described. And there are millions more like them that I don’t know personally, but which fit the very same profile.

            I did see that you disagreed with my accusations of the SP creators however. Why? What have the two done for anyone in Uganda? You must be very well informed.

            And what have South Park fans done for anyone in Uganda? Every single SP fan that I know of has never done anything and it’s quite sure to say never will.

            I’m sure, however, you spend your life laboring away for the oppressed in Uganda. Every minute of your life, except when you aren’t overwhelmed with more noble priorities like calling other people “unhinged,unglued, close minded,etc.” on here.

          • Lolly

            No, just you. Your Hitler comment, well that just takes the cake. That kind of talk, used to try to score points, demeans the survivors who suffered, as well as their descendants who live their lives with the phrase “never again” meaning justice. Justice for everyone, everywhere, believing it and living it.

          • http://alessandrareflections.wordpress.com/ Alessandra

            Thanks for confirming that what I wrote on the SP creators and fans is spot on.

            Yes, Hitler was popular, Lolly. There goes your grand theory that if people are popular they must have quality.

            This kind of talk doesn’t demean any survivor. It does show what hypocrites SP fans are however. How many Ugandans have you saved today, btw?

            Thanks for the laugh.

          • Lolly

            How many Ugandans have I saved today? So now to we went from bashing religion and personal motivation, to the bar now being helping people, but only in Uganda. Maybe the people in your life aren’t generous and giving, but the vast majority if the people I know are and if I don’t know, I have faith that they are. I would never go on the Internet and smear people the way you have here, say ugly things about them, the way you have, with just an assumption and a healthy bias. Maybe that’s what seemingly religious people like yourself do.

          • http://alessandrareflections.wordpress.com/ Alessandra

            Me smear anyone? No smear at all. How have the SP folks helped anyone in Uganda? Feel free to provide any facts that show us they devote themselves to Ugandans. I don’t see you posting any information that contradicts what I said.

            When you lie about me smearing others – and show no proof that I did- you’re the one doing the smearing.

            Every single SP fan that I know of has never done anything to help Ugandans. That goes for the creators and everything I know about them. Therefore, it’s certainly not a baseless assumption. How many Ugandans have you ever helped? Zero? Unless you are purposefully omitting information about helping Ugandans, it seems you are just one more example of the typical, hypocritical SP fan who does not help any Ugandans.

            “I would never go on the Internet and smear people the way you have here, say ugly things about them, the way you have, with just an assumption and a healthy bias. ”

            No, with your profound self-awareness, these are the “beautiful” things you go on the Internet to say about other people- they are:

            ” utterly biased, demeaning to Shoah survivors (!), unglued, close minded, short breathing, enraged, believing anything I hear, holier than thou, judgmental, bearing false witness, afraid, angry, and unhinged”

            You love to demean others and rant about them.

            You also wrote: “What I disagreed with are your baseless accusations about the people who created South Park, the crass and demeaning way you speak of the people who wrote it,”

            Crass? Me? No, crass was the play you went to watch and loved so much. The vulgar, ugly, crass and demeaning language and jokes, which demean people and sexuality – you just love it – because you have such a crass taste.

          • Lolly

            “No, with your profound self-awareness, these are the “beautiful” things you go on the Internet to say about other people- they are:”

            Just you Alessandra, my words are targeted just to you, not to “people”. You are targeting your words to everyone just because they see something different in Parker and Stone’s work than you do, work that once again, you haven’t seen. If you’d seen it, that’s one thing, but you haven’t.

          • Tony

            zzzzzzz…….

        • Lolly

          Oh OK, I get it, you think that I thought that Piatt was “lying” saying that Parker and Stone use a lot of penis and fart jokes. That part’s true. Hate to break it to you though, penis and fart jokes have been extremely popular since the dawn of time. Penis and fart jokes have been popular in theater since the dawn of theater.

          What Park and Stone do, both with South Park, and The Book of Mormon is discuss controversial societal issues, and use the penis and fart jokes as a tool to help the medicine go down. When hearing about FGM in a musical number, if all you’re going to do is get all offended and drag out your self righteousness every time someone says “scrotum”, yeah, you’re gonna miss all that.

          • http://alessandrareflections.wordpress.com/ Alessandra

            Then again, if a person has to make weird, retarded 13-old boy jokes about sex and poop in order to discuss societal issues, they’re not as sophisticated and “glued” as you claim.
            Just sayin’…

          • Lolly

            Well, people seem to love the show, how many Tony’s has it won? Let’s see… 9 Tony Awards. Sold out performance after sold out performance. Oh well, guess it’s not as “retarded” as you claim. Just sayin’…

          • http://alessandrareflections.wordpress.com/ Alessandra

            Oh really? Popularity is what determines quality now? How can we not make a reference to Hitler here? (even though it’s not considered good Internet etiquette to do so…) Imagine that millions of people can think stupid things all at the same time! And they give awards to each other! Whodathought?

          • Lolly

            Ummm, we’re talking about entertainment, not world takeover, at $400.00 a pop that people are more than willing to pay for years and no one’s complaining but you. But, points for classiness on demeaning the atrocities that actual people endured during the Shoah by comparing them to a liking a Broadway show.

          • http://alessandrareflections.wordpress.com/ Alessandra

            I see that you got the comparison wrong – was it on purpose or because of your high level of classiness? I wasn’t comparing the Shoah to a Broadway show – I was giving you an example of someone who was extremely popular and was simply horrible. It’s too bad the point of my comment went right over your head. The truth is millions of people can have grotesque little views, make shows which reinforce their little views and give awards to each other. Doesn’t change the fact that they lack quality, no matter how popular they are.

          • Lolly

            You’re saying anything that is popular that you don’t approve of = Hitler. YouTube is popular, is that OK? It has a lot of poor quality stuff on it, or do we have to compare it to the rise of a dictator who became so popular because the crowd loved his speeches praising Christianity and motherhood? Christianity and motherhood. Grotesque.

            Quite a sweeping judgment you allow yourself to pass over everyone. On something that, need I say it again, you have not seen. You just assume it’s horrible and tasteless. You assume the people who like it are grotesque. You haven’t heard the music. It’s great music, an homage to Broadway, very clever. Once again, Mormons really like it, the church sent people to see it, they were fine with it, so you must believe Mormons are grotesque, too.

          • http://alessandrareflections.wordpress.com/ Alessandra

            “You’re saying anything that is popular that you don’t approve of = Hitler.”

            LOL – the funniest thing or the saddest thing is that I would guess you aren’t completely distorting what I say on purpose, consciously.

            I said that simply because someone or something is popular, it doesn’t mean it’s good. That was your claim: the show is popular, therefore it’s good.

          • Lolly

            Alessandra. It is a good show. Yes, sometimes people will like things you don’t. But

            “People are supposed to enjoy or find someone saying something like “maggots in his scrotum” is funny. Only if you have a deformed psychology about sexuality will this happen.”

            Really? Mormons like “The Book of Mormon”. You’re passing judgment on people that is just not so. Mormons also have a “deformed psychology about sexuality”? Mormons are “the lowest common denominator”?

            http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/16/book-of-mormon-musical-ca_n_836797.html

          • http://alessandrareflections.wordpress.com/ Alessandra

            Anybody of any religion can have a twisted psychology about sexuality, humor, and culture. Religious people can have any problem on Earth.

            “maggots in his scrotum” is a completely crass and crude image. Along with other things that were mentioned, only if you enjoy thinking about perverse things happening to people would you find it amusing.

            Yep, that’s the deformed psychology that a lot of people have.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Suzanne-Harper-Titkemeyer/1605911351 Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    Sanest explanation on why to see BoM I’ve read yet. Satire many times holds deeper truths of life behind the yucks & guffaws. Can’t wait to see the show, already love the soundtrack and yes, I am a Christian.

  • publius01

    Actually, I don’t think Stone’s and Parker’s premise–”why would they be open to the Good News from some Western book while they drown in such misery?” as you put it–is particularly novel, or particularly controversial.

    Indeed the biggest problem with the musical is that it is a superficial rehashing of an already superficial discussion about religion. It is a straw man. They put these two young Mormon Missionaries in a place they would not be, doing work they would not be doing. They do that precisely because their “prophetic” message might be lost if they were to convey the reality that much of Mormon missionary work in Africa and elsewhere in the developing world is of a humanitarian nature–providing healthcare, building wells and infrastructure, distributing food aid, and providing agricultural assistance–precisely because Mormons (and other Christians) realize that such people are not in a position to “be open to the Good News from some Western book.”

    My problem with the musical is not Parker’s and Stone’s crass and irreverent style–although that does make it harder for me to take them seriously–but that its themes are contrived and unconvincing.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X