07 November 2009

8: The Mormon Proposition - Tooth-Gnashing Extravaganza

Disclaimer: This is not my most diplomatic post ever. I'm not going to refrain from posting some potentially controversial thoughts to make sure my readers have something fun and fluffy to read. If you are prone to take offense where none is intended or to read into people's words your own perceptions of what people who say such things are like or what their motives are, you might consider skipping this post or finding a nice, relaxing activity to lower your blood pressure after reading. I will not be intimidated into silence by those who are supposedly looking after my best interest. Progress comes from conflict and constructive criticism, which is what I am attempting. Sue me if I don't pull it off. I'm genetically flawed.

Same-sex marriage supporters everywhere (at least in Utah) are buzzing about the documentary called 8: The Mormon Proposition. Some are touting it as a groundbreaking, bold exposé on the lies and underhanded tactics used to pass Proposition 8 in California, and the vast Mormon conspiracy against equality in an effort to subdue the nefarious homo uprising supposedly seeking to undermine and destroy society! I was intrigued, so I looked up the trailer on YouTube, and for the first minute or so I was really confused: opening the trailer with Chris Buttars, some Utah state senator who is too cantankerous about homos even for most conservatives? Then showing tightly cropped clips of Elder Ballard saying, "When something needs to be done, we know how to do it" all sinister-like? This felt somewhat like a flipside of those ridiculous "I am afraid" NOM ads, but more emotionally charged and using real people instead of those awful, plasticky actors. I was mildly puzzled until I figured out...it must be a sort of mockumentary! Of course! I then didn't feel bad about laughing out loud at a couple of clips.

I'm sorry, I couldn't help it. Actually, I'm not so sorry. I couldn't help but laugh at a couple of clips of over-the-top statements or sensational editing. I mean, I know many people regard this as the great civil rights battle of our time and can't understand how anyone could see it otherwise. I can't fathom someone laughing at Civil Rights Movement proponents in the south as they passionately decry the inequality forced upon them. "Ha ha! Look at those silly black people and their overwrought emotions!" Obviously (today), racial prejudice and fighting for rights based on ethnic background is nothing to mock. When you're dealing with a population which feels downtrodden or which is (undeniably) denied certain rights, obligations, and protections based on sexual orientation or the sexes of partners, that's a real issue with real emotions not to be scorned. This isn't about mocking those silly, drama queen homos (though I think there are plenty of drama queens out there who would do well to take it down a notch). And I am not going to defend my stance on same-sex marriage or other rights based on sexual orientation or partnerships here because that's not the issue. This is about something more, something aside from fighting for equal protection, rights, and obligations. In fact, as I see it, it's about my thinking many in the gay community are shooting themselves in the foot with all of the gnashing of teeth.

I don't mean to be insensitive to the real hurt people feel around this. It's just that some things they say are so old and tired and nonsensical that...I'm sorry (kind of), they're laughable! "They don't want us to love," for example. I don't even care to dignify that nonsense with a rebuttal. Saying that is completely missing the issue in most cases! Do some of you actually believe that's what it's about, or are you just being deliberately emotionally manipulative because you're either out of logical arguments or are convinced nobody's listening? Another common sentiment I hear is one a good-looking, sympathetic guy says in the film trailer, "I can't believe that people could hate us this much. ... I'm a good person!" That's an understandable emotional reaction, I suppose, though I don't identify with it myself, but it's something I'd expect to hear out of a teenage girl. I do sometimes feel like crying when I hear someone speak like him because I feel terrible for them that they are so hurt and that they see it that way: their pain is very real and not something to laugh at. I might rather hug that guy than argue with him when he's in that emotional state. But the statement is a bit logically absurd. Believing marriage is and always was intended to be a religious institution preserved for man-woman pairings and that government should not change that does not equate to hatred just because the two admittedly do coincide in some people. I can only hope that maybe some Prop 8 supporters who see that clip, which I believe to be sincere, may recognize the need for more compassion, even if their opinion or political stance doesn't change. But compassion isn't, I don't think, what the filmmakers are after. They're after political change, are they not?

Which brings me to a side note: this blog is public and can be discovered by people searching for content related to the film, so it's conceivable (though probably quite unlikely, considering I'm just a teeny blip in cyberspace with few readers) that someone involved with the film could come to my blog and read this. I have tried to temper my language, to present a complete response, not my initial, more flippant and dismissive, emotional response to the trailer. Nevertheless, I am probably an enemy to their cause, having written this. I may lose readers because I'm posting this. Some may feel betrayed. Battle lines are drawn, and there's no time for fence-sitters or switch-hitters who aren't "yes men". "You're either with us or you're against us" seems to be the message from my most ardently activist friends. I even wonder, if I were more public/influential and less tempered, if some activists wouldn't do all they can to discover my true identity, make threats, lash out in various ways, try to shut me up through intimidation or harsh criticism, or campaign against people like me who don't jump on the train and toe the line. And no, this has nothing to do with Elder Oaks' talk. I've seen such behaviors firsthand long before Elder Oaks compared them (insensitively and inappropriately, in my opinion) to intimidation during the civil rights movement. I've been petitioned to join boycotts and publicize the names of donors to 8, etc. I declined. That all seemed beside the point, too. Though some more prominent members of the Church have butted heads with and felt the swift, hard action of church headquarters, I feel more threatened and vulnerable opposing gay activists than I do opposing church leaders. But screw it, I'm going to call it as I see it.

I won't completely poo-poo the film based on the fact that the sensational trailer made me laugh. And I admit I may possibly be partially using this film as my punching bag for the consistent pattern I've observed among my friends who are passionate about this issue. People I like and respect in many ways are close to people who were involved in the film. While I may disagree with a lot of their rhetoric or approach or even their beliefs, I can still like and respect them as a person, but I've been informed that if I don't support marriage "equality", I don't love my gay friends and should remove myself from their lives. That seems awfully narrow-minded to me, but I figure that's more an emotional statement than a rational one, so I let it go and figure I'll let them make the call if I were to ever vote to "preserve" marriage as between a man and a woman.

I don't doubt a lot of hard work has gone into the project, and people have likely invested much of themselves. I know what that's like, so I don't criticize such an undertaking ignorant of how much work has gone into it. I've helped build an organization I whole-heartedly believed would help save lives and contribute to the emotional well-being of many people and would increase education and understanding and family unity, and I've listened to some very harsh criticisms of the organization and its founders, including declarations that it is harmful and deceptive or mockery aimed at those who are part of it, but that's to be expected. The attacks are inherently impersonal, since those making them generally don't know me, and the rational criticisms are such that I've taken them into consideration and thought, "Is there validity to that claim? If so, how can we respond to make appropriate corrections? If not, how can we more accurately present what we're about?" Not everyone will agree with your aim, or your philosophy, or your methods, and some will believe you're doing an amazing work, and others will only see the flaws. I don't intend personal assaults or degradation on those who were a part of this film. My criticisms, you may notice, aren't about value judgments of the people involved but criticisms of the methodology and balance, or the lack of logic in the statements of some of the subjects.

I tried to watch the trailer open-minded, despite expecting the film to be at least somewhat sensational based on the rhetoric of some of its proponents. I see that, if nothing else, it may very effectively present a common viewpoint. I just doubt it will be seen by more than a select few of those to whom that viewpoint would be new or eye-opening because it doesn't command the attention of those who don't already agree with it. It doesn't seem to even care about meeting them in the middle, so does it even deserve to be given a fair chance by them?

I mean, come on, folks, if you want to present something even mildly convincing to your opponents, you're gonna have to show that you at least partially understand where they are coming from. Otherwise, what reason are you giving them to show you such respect and consideration? I've said this to both the supporters and opponents of Prop 8. I've become pretty thoroughly convinced it's a futile effort to keep making this point, so I've largely backed off from trying to get either side to see the other's viewpoint. They, by and large, just don't care. Get a grip, activists on both sides, or you'll just look like a bunch of ignorant ninnies on a playground making asses of yourselves, providing a good laugh along the way to the people "in the middle" you're supposedly trying to reach out to. But maybe I have it all wrong. Maybe the film isn't about reaching out and is precisely about making an angry voice known. If so, it should be advertised as such.

FYI, this is from the perspective of someone who didn't support Prop 8 and thought there must be a better way to satisfy both sides and found plenty to criticize in both sides of the campaign, but more so in its promulgation by "Yes on 8". I am interested neither in circling the Church wagons nor gay rights activist wagons where Prop 8 is concerned. But most seem to be doing just that: since a cultural war is on, stakes are high, and emotions are heated, and rational analysis and real dialog seem to be sacrificed to quicker, easier tools on both sides. Maybe that's what it really comes down to: maybe logic and dialog have been tried and failed (could've fooled me), and it's time for war. It's time not for logic, not truth, but popular opinion bolstered by emotion. I worry this documentary is just another example of that, but I sincerely hope I'm wrong. Maybe the trailer isn't indicative of the greater film. I can only hope.

Note: For a post and comments about this on another blog, see Limits on A Mormon Enigma.


Sean said...

Interesting thoughts. I suppose we will not know until the thing is seen who will feel betrayed, vindicated, or just wishing to get back an hour and a half of our lives.

In terms of logical discussion or even debate there are a few too many crazy people, albeit, on both sides to make such things possible.

Regrettably those who defend the church view cannot entertain discourse that could threaten the very existence of the faith. If it were to be irrefutably discovered that homosexuality is a genetic, in born, or otherwise permanent trait, the place for gay people in LDS theology calls in to question with great severity the validity of the Plan of Salvation.

Altering the definition of marriage beyond that which is accepted as an Western cultural norm, or even civil unions, also calls in to question the founding doctrines of Mormonism. Either way when any of the doctrinal tenants of the church are scrutinized it is nigh impossible to get past the usual defense "our faith is being persecuted" to get to the point of having intelligent debate on the issue.

One way or the other it is a corner the church painted itself into since its very creation by Joseph Smith. I think there are plenty of cooler heads on the pro gay side of things that would take the reigns and have meaningful discussions if the other side could produce the same. At this point in time I do not see that happening. The leadership more than ever has elevated themselves to the highest penthouses of the church office building and intentionally refraining from having such interactions with the "other side."
A very convenient place for them as it follows the oldest of LDS traditions, if you can't win run away and live to testify another day.

I think this film demonstrates to all including church leadership that this "problem" as Gordon B. Hinckley put it is not going away. Neither will the gays be silenced by the unjust atrocities being committed in the name of God.

Original Mohomie said...

Sean, I understand your perspective. I think you generalize members of the church too much, but I understand how you see it that way. There's certainly no shortage of members unwilling to even think critically if they're afraid they may have to change their paradigms about something they consider sacred.

And in all fairness, I've seen far more heated emotions and hotter heads in the gay community over this issue than in the church community. But I've seen a lot of emotion on both sides and really hollow rhetoric on both sides.

I'm tired of the whole mess, really, especially since there are more pragmatic measures being taken in states like Washington, finding common ground until further progress can be made, if it can.

blj1224 said...

A very principled argument, as usual, OM. If ever you formulate an elixer that will replace raw emotion, fear and distrust with sincere love, understanding and concern for our fellow man, you will be able to change the world. Keep up the great work. One heart at a time.

Amy said...

That was really good, O-Mo. Thanks for your thoughts. I watched the trailer and also found it faintly ridiculous.

Alan said...

I understand and concur with a lot of your statements. I also think you may have jumped the gun by judging this movie from the trailer alone.

A trailer is advertising intended to provoke sufficient interest that people will pay to see the whole film. Nothing more. Every movie trailer reflects the judgment of production staff & marketing as to what will generate that demand. That's all. It can't hope to convey more than a tiny portion of the whole thing. Trailers are therefore normally quite sensationalized as compared to the whole production.

I suggest that it is better to simply reserve judgment and wait to evaluate the whole film on its merits after seeing it.

FWIW, I also agree with Sean that the Church has painted itself into a corner on this issue. Personally I believe there IS room within LDS theology for God's gay children, and it only seems like there isn't if we admit that we really don't believe the 9th Article of Faith and that Section 132 as now popularly understood is the summum bonum Last Word God Will Ever Say On The Subject. Both seem to be latent attitudes in the Church, and both are IMHO directly repugnant to the belief in continuing revelation which we claim to believe in.

I resolve the conflict by choosing to believe God knows the answers and is willing to give them to us IF we are ready to hear and accept them. I think too many people in the Church, including its leadership, have demonstrated that they're not yet ready.

Ned said...

I had a similar reaction to the trailer. I thought "Church leadership and most rank and file members are going to see this as a hatchet job". For the film to have any traction with those in the middle, it should rationally address issues, show both sides and let the audience find the truth for themselves. But judging by the trailer, it's going to be more in the genre of Michael Moore than Bill Moyers.

It's interesting that Dustin Lance Black is involved (apparently only as a narrator, however). His screenplay for Milk was praised for being surprisingly even handed. Doesn't look like this film will be like that, does it?

Oh well, maybe we'll be pleasantly surprised.

El Genio said...

I don't expect the film to be the paragon of all documentaries Mormon and gay. If that's what your looking for, PBS can do a much better job. I don't expect the film to be about reaching out either. I do expect it to be a detailed look at the church's involvement in proposition 8. A lot of stuff happened here that no one is talking about. If the film is full of nothing more than heart wrenching stories than we obviously have a problem, but I'm hoping for lots of detailed information with a few good through lines of real human stories. We'll see.

FWIW I don't think you can discard the emotions attached to this so easily. I've always liked to think that I'm immune to whatever kind of rhetoric has been bouncing around. I've assure friends and family that they don't have to apologize for things they have said in the past, I can shrug off the gay jabs at work.

But the reality is this stuff takes its toll on me. And as I discovered with Elder Oak's recent talk, it can be really disturbing to me, even though on level it doesn't make a lot of rational sense.

Quinn said...

O-Mo, I feel like standing right next to ya with my arm around your shoulder! Well said bro!

Original Mohomie said...

I appreciate everyone's thoughts so far. I do realize I may be expecting too much of the film, like I'm putting all of my hopes for a measured and rational response from one side or the other into it, which wouldn't be realistic.

El Genio, I agree that the emotions can't just be discarded. I don't think they have much place in any logical debate as to whether any given legislation is legal, discriminatory, blurring or defining the church and state separation, etc. But I think it does have a place in public dialog about how we go about things and how we're treating each other, which is where I can see some of it coming into play in this film. Again, it's just SO much in that trailer. If the trailer shows the film's strongest indictments, they're flimsy at best.

That's a problem I see: if the trailer is meant to be a teaser about the church's actions or tactics which people didn't know or about which the faithful moderates might be troubled, I think the trailer fails on that front. On the other hand, if it's just an attention-grabber on an emotional/energetic level, it probably serves its purpose.

As people keep saying, we'll have to wait and see.

pinetree said...

The movie seems over the top, but ultimately thats what this debate has come down to. I think the gays have it when it comes to a rational argument about fairness. The Mormons have it when it comes to appealing to the gut emotions of the community at large. As of late, an appeal to emotions has been the foundation of a winning campaign.

This seems to me like an attempt by the gay community to throw the appeal to emotion back at the church.

Scott said...

I interviewed for this documentary, back when it was just getting off the ground. Since then I've watched (from the sidelines) as it's been put together.

My impression of Reed (Cowan, the director) when I interviewed was that he was sincere in his desire to put together an honest, unbiased exposé... That is, the film was/is intended to expose some questionable actions that the church (and its members) had taken in its efforts to ensure that Prop 8 passed, but every effort was going to be made to ensure a balanced and fair presentation.

After viewing the trailer, and after observing Reed as he has geared up for the final release, I'm not sure that he has succeeded in his goal.

I worry that in uncovering whatever evidence he has found against the church, and in interviewing however many hundreds of people he has interviewed, he has been heavily influenced and his (already negative) views toward the church have become bitter and vindictive. I worry that those views will be reflected in the choices he has made in editing and post-production, and that the film will turn out to be not much more than a hatchet job after all.

I hope that I'm wrong. I agree with El Genio in that several of the church's recent actions have been hurtful, and I think that an even-handed documentary that held the organization accountable for the mistakes it has made would be a good thing.

But I'm afraid that, as you said, there will be too much emotion portrayed and too much venom spewed. Those who already hate the church will be given more reason to do so. Those who think rationally and logically will dismiss the film and be unaffected by it. And members of the church will be given one more thing to point to and say "see, we're being persecuted!". And none of us will be any better off.

Hope and worry are battling away within me (not that this is a major source of angst--I'm not really giving the film all that much of my attention). Maybe the trailer is just sensationalism at its best (as Alan suggested) and hope will be vindicated. We'll have to wait and see. :)

playasinmar said...

You're apprehensive about a film that may or may-not take to task an institution you love. That's an understandable position. You really didn't need to spend 500 words justifying your feelings.

I bet this film will make Sundance. Go see it. Then you'll be in a position to make a genuine analysis of its slant.

Wouldn't that be more productive than all this hand-wringing?

Original Mohomie said...

Thanks for the more connected perspective, Scott.

Pinetree, I kind of worry you're more right than I'd like about the debate having come down to emotion.

Playa, you may have missed the fact that this post was about a lot more than some documentary, which is understandable considering the title. It's almost cute how you ascribe motives and hand-wringing, though. Precious.

boskers said...

I wouldn't want to get into an argument with you. Or any moho for that matter. I'd probably wither and turn to dust with one glare. Haha. Maybe not.

I don't know what to say about your post. I haven't seen the trailer and don't intend to watch it. Not that I'm against it. I'm just not interested.

This kind of debate scares me because there are both feelings and values getting scrutinized from every angle. I don't know enough to argue either way.

playasinmar said...

Well, I am adorable.

Gay LDS Actor said...

OM,I totally get where you're coming from. I remember when the whole Prop 8 debate was happening, and I saw bad behavior from both sides, but I sadly noticed some of the worst behavior from the gay rights side of things. While this doesn't excuse some of the petty behavior and lack of understanding I've seen from the anti-gay rights faction and both members and leaders of the church, I am always amazed by the lack of tolerance I see in those who are demanding tolerance from others. I think both sides really need to come to an understanding of the other's point-of-view. Attacking each other isn't going to build any bridges. As I've said in my own blog, I'm much less likely to listen to someone if they're saying or doing things in an attacking way.

For example, I thought the gay rights commercial that had two missionaries coming in to a lesbian couple's home to take away their rights was over-the-top. I thought threatening actions and boycotts after Prop 8 passed were counterproductive.

I think members of the church have been more civil at times, but I have read many an ignorant letter to the editor in both the Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News that simply show a lack of compassion. I also think both leaders of the church and members in general need to come to a better understanding of just what it's like to be in a gay person's shoes. I've seen a great deal of ignorance and less compassion than I would prefer from that side as well.

But I do agree with much of what you say regarding the trailer of this film.